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  • Conservative media disingenuously demanding context about Trump’s “animals” comment have ignored that same context for years

    Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.

    During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:

    “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”

    Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”

    Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.

    The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.

    Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.

    Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.

  • Don't believe the right-wing lie that auto fuel-economy standards make cars more dangerous

    WSJ and SFC also push false notion that strong fuel-economy standards kill people

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the heels of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement this month that his agency will weaken the 2012 vehicle fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed celebrating the rollback and arguing that President Barack Obama's standards would have led to more vehicle crash fatalities. Other news outlets, both right-wing and mainstream, have also published pieces pushing the message that ambitious fuel-economy rules kill people. But it’s an unsupported claim based on decades-old data. More recent research has found that strengthening the standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.

    WSJ and other outlets push outdated claim that efficient, lightweight cars lead to more fatalities

    On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced his intention to revise the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have required new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In doing so, he ignored demands from many states, environmental groups , and consumer protection organizations to keep the Obama-era standards in place.

    Two days later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Coffee Won’t Kill You, But CAFE Might,” written by Sam Kazman, who's identified under the piece as "general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute." The Journal failed to note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has funders with an economic interest in fuel-economy rules: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and auto companies like Ford and Volkswagen; the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like ExxonMobil; and the Koch brothers

    "CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter," Kazman asserted. To make this point, he relied on one study published in 1989 and another study from 2002 that analyzed 1993 data. Kazman wrote

    A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated the death toll [from CAFE standards] at between 2,200 and 3,900 a year. Similarly, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE had contributed to up to 2,600 fatalities in 1993. This was at a relatively lenient CAFE level of 27.5 miles per gallon. Under what the Obama administration had in store, CAFE would soon approach levels twice as stringent.

    After citing these outdated studies, Kazman tried to make the findings seem relevant today:

    Advocates of stringent standards claim that automotive technologies have advanced since that 1992 court ruling, making vehicle mass less significant. But the basic relationship between size and safety has not changed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which closely monitors crashworthiness, still provides the same advice it has been giving for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”

    Other news outlets have also given industry-friendly voices a platform over the past two weeks to claim that CAFE standards boost fatalities, often citing the same outdated research and CEI staffers. These outlets include: the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an op-ed by CEI senior fellow Marlo Thomas; the Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, and the Media Research Center, which published pieces by their own contributors; and conservative websites Townhall and CNSNews.com, which published versions of the same piece by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst at the oil industry-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

    Latest research undermines claim that CAFE has increased road fatalities

    The National Academy of Sciences revised its view in 2015. The arguments from Kazman and others hinge on a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which analyzed deaths in 1993 -- a 16-year-old study based on 25-year-old data. Basing their claims on such dated information is highly questionable; automotive safety technology and design have advanced substantially in the past quarter century.

    Also, the 2002 NAS study included an appendix with a dissent by two of the report’s authors who argued, “The relationship between fuel economy and highway safety is complex, ambiguous, poorly understood, and not measurable by any known means at the present time.” As such, the two wrote, the study's conclusions on safety were “overly simplistic and at least partially incorrect.”

    Kazman and his fellow CAFE critics also ignored how the government adjusted rules to improve safety after the 2002 study was released, and they neglected to mention a more recent 2015 National Research Council study. The 2002 NAS study recommended tying fuel-economy goals to vehicle attributes such as weight, and the federal government implemented these recommendations in 2009. By 2015, researchers concluded that these changes had yielded appreciable benefits to highway safety.

    As a February 12, 2018, Bloomberg article explained:

    The [2002 NAS] study recommended several changes to the efficiency regulations, including basing fuel economy on an attribute such as vehicle weight. That would mitigate an incentive for automakers to sell smaller, fuel-sipping cars to offset sales of gas-guzzling trucks.

    That change was made in 2009, when NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] began tying fuel economy targets to a vehicle’s "footprint," the area between an automobile’s four wheels.

    In 2015, the academy released a new study that concluded the change to a footprint measurement had satisfied many of its safety concerns.

    From a press release describing the 2015 study conducted by the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences: “Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy. The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles, the report says.” Still, researchers recommended that NHTSA monitor and mitigate safety risks as automakers transition to lighter cars.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supported Obama's CAFE rules. Kazman also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as he tried to argue that Obama-era fuel-economy rules were dangerous. But a spokesperson for the institute, Russ Rader, said that it supported the Obama plan. "The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past," Rader told Bloomberg in February. 

    A 2017 study found that CAFE standards can cut down on deaths. Research released last year found that fuel-economy standards could actually decrease fatalities. The 2017 study on pre-Obama CAFE standards, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "on net CAFE reduced fatalities.” The Washington Post summed it up with this headline: "Scientists just debunked one of the biggest arguments against fuel economy standards for cars." The Post article explains how lighter cars might lead to fewer deaths:

    Say you observe a crash between two SUVs, both around the same size. If you downsize one of those vehicles to a Smart car, the chance of its passengers being injured or killed may increase. On the other hand, if you downsize both vehicles, the overall risk of fatality might actually become smaller than it was to begin with.

    The researchers argue that, in the past, critics have only examined the effects of reducing an individual vehicle’s weight and not the standards’ overall effects on all vehicles in circulation — an important distinction.

    […]

    “I think one of the findings of this study is that these [safety] concerns have been drummed up as the reason to get rid of this standard,” [study coauthor Kevin] Roth said. “We’re essentially showing that these concerns are probably overblown.”

    Another coauthor of the study said that the safety benefits on their own are a good argument for maintaining fuel-economy standards, even without considering environmental benefits.

    Because the science underpinning vehicle efficiency and safety is complex, industry-aligned organizations such as CEI are able to cherry-pick and manipulate specific data to meet their predetermined conclusions. For those who want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of vehicle efficiency standards and their myriad benefits, there are many useful resources, including a 2012 report jointly produced by the EPA and NHTSA, which details how the agencies took safety into account as they formulated the CAFE standards that the Trump administration intends to roll back.

  • Yes, Kevin Williamson wanted to hang people who've had abortions. Don't let conservatives rewrite history.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, former National Review writer Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic after 2014 audio proved that Williamson did, in fact, mean it when he said people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. In the resulting conservative meltdown, what right-wing outlets seemed desperate to do is have any conversation other than the one actually at hand. Instead, they chose to cry censorship, bemoan so-called liberal bias, and tried to rewrite history by saying Williamson was fired for holding a general anti-abortion stance.

    But this retelling is fundamentally untrue. Williamson wasn’t fired because he holds anti-abortion views. He was fired because he repeatedly, across multiple platforms, advocated for the criminalization and brutal execution of people seeking abortion care. And the fervor to distract from that truth would be truly astounding, if it wasn’t so eminently predictable. 

    When news of Williamson’s hiring first broke, a number of pundits across the ideological spectrum tripped over themselves to downplay and excuse his statements -- defending a so-called “provocateur” whose cherished turns of phrase include calling attacking transgender people as being “delusional,” and arguing that “it just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers.” These writers -- including The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who initially framed Williamson’s comment as an “objectionable tweet” -- argued that Williamson hadn’t really meant what he said about people who’ve had abortions being executed, and asked us to kindly calm down. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “it was a tweet.” Others, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called the rightful outrage over Williamson’s hiring, “weird,” while National Review’s David French implored readers to just “give tolerance a chance.”

    Once Williamson’s meaning proved truly undeniable, leading to his firing, right-wing media outlets raced to reframe the conversation -- ignoring the substance of his remarks to instead cry wolf about perceived ideological intolerance. For example, The Federalist wrote that Williamson “was fired for his opinions on abortion” after “the usual suspects freaked out and proceeded to dig up old tweets and audio.” Washington Examiner published not one, but two, pieces arguing that Williamson was a victim in a larger ideological war. In another example, RedState argued that Williamson wasn’t fired because of his “fanciful views about legal consequences connected to abortion,“ but that he was “kicked out for refusing to back down in expressing that abortion is murder and should be viewed as such even in this current climate.” David French even asked where the respect for Williamson’s tolerance was as he is “the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted,” who would’ve been forced to share an office at The Atlantic with people who support abortion access.

    What these defenses, and even Goldberg’s original justification for hiring Williamson, ignore is that statements like Williamson’s send a clear message to the one-in-four women who’ve had abortions in the United States: that their lives do not matter, that they are criminal, and that they deserve (even in hypothetical terms) to be brutally executed for seeking constitutionally protected and sometimes life-saving medical care.

    Williamson wasn’t fired because he’s anti-abortion -- he was fired because he advocated for the brutal punishment of those who’ve have abortions. Even if you grant the premise that Williamson was merely expressing what could happen in a future without legal abortion, that he not only carved out an exception to his overall ambivalent stance on the death penalty for those who have abortions, but also advocated for a method that is considered too inhumane by almost all the states that currently employ capital punishment, takes his comments beyond mere speculation.

    As research from Media Matters has previously shown, the people who are often empowered to shape the conversation about abortion are overwhelmingly men. As a result, these conversations reflect not only an incomplete understanding but also treat abortion as some sort of hypothetical thought exercise or as a political bargaining chip, ignoring real impacts that lack of access has on the lives of real people.

    Furthermore, Williamson’s defense of capital punishment for those who’ve had abortions is extreme but not really that hypothetical. Already, policies at the state level punish people for attempting to access abortion care. As Irin Carmon wrote in 2016: “Just ask Purvi Patel, who is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide in Indiana,” or Anna Yocca, Rennie Gibbs, Jennie Lynn McCormack, or Jennifer Whalen. She continued that all these cases all demonstrate how “women have been prosecuted under current restrictions on abortion, at times with major felonies.” Just this week in Idaho, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Bob Nonini was forced to walk back comments that the Associated Press characterized as “women who get an abortion should be punished” including that “that the punishment should include the death penalty.” During the presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (before later backtracking) that he thought there should “be some form of punishment” for people who have abortions. As Robin Marty explained, although the right may claim that punishing people for abortion is merely an “extreme fringe” of the movement, there are already anti-abortion groups and candidates running on platforms incredibly similar to what Williamson advocates. 

    Williamson felt so strongly on this topic that he even confirmed at the time to an anti-abortion publication that he meant exactly what he said. Given that right-wing media outlets have regularly participated in or facilitated anti-abortion harassment, it’s not surprising to see a lack of concern about Williamson’s comments. Conservatives may be desperate to change the conversation, but the fact remains: advocating for the brutal execution of people who’ve had abortions isn’t provocative or tolerant -- it’s cruel.

  • Under fire for scandals, EPA head Scott Pruitt again turns to right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt turned to conservative and oil industry-linked outlets to defend himself after receiving a barrage of negative press coverage for his ethically questionable condo lease.

    In the past week, Pruitt has been facing an ethics scandal after numerous stories came out about a $50-a-night rental agreement Pruitt made with the wife of an energy lobbyist for a condo in Washington, D.C. Pruitt, who has a habit of going to right-wing and conservative outlets for favorable coverage, took to The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal to defend the condo lease and dismiss criticism.

    In an interview with The Washington Examiner for its Washington Secrets column, Pruitt wrote off criticism about his below-market condo lease as evidence of his attackers being willing to “resort to anything” to stop his agenda at the EPA:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday forcefully pushed back against criticism that he won a short-term sweetheart rental deal from a lobbyist friend, claiming it’s just the latest attempt by his and the president’s attackers to “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.

    “There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” he said in an interview with Secrets.

    Pruitt also claimed that he rented only one room of the condo, that his monthly rent was about $1,500, and that the lobbyist whose wife co-owns the condo had no business before the EPA:

    Pruitt dismissed the townhouse controversy, explaining that he rented just one room while he looked for permanent housing. The EPA’s general counsel issued a reporting calling the rent for one room, about $1,500 a month, “reasonable.”

    Pruitt said, “I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial.” He added that the lobbyist friend from Oklahoma doesn’t have business before the EPA.

    “When you think of the townhouse, the rent last year. The owner of that is an Oklahoman. I’ve known him for years. He’s the outside counsel for the National Rifle Association, has no clients that are before this agency, nor does his wife have any clients that have appeared before this agency."

    Yet recent reporting contradicts each of those claims: ABC News revealed that Pruitt’s daughter occupied a second room in the condo during her White House internship. Bloomberg reported that Pruitt paid “paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months,” which comes out to an average monthly rent of about $1,000. And The New York Times reported that the condo owner's husband, Steven Hart, is head of a lobbying firm that represents pipeline company Enbridge, and the EPA signed off on an Enbridge pipeline project while Pruitt was staying at the condo.

    In a separate interview with The Daily Signal, the news site of the oil industry-funded Heritage Foundation, Pruitt claimed that media reports about his rental were “not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is.” He described his arrangement as “an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence,” and he once again dismissed concerns about the fact that an energy lobbyist’s wife co-owned the condo. From the article:

    Media reports, Pruitt told The Daily Signal during an interview Tuesday, are incomplete and don’t reflect “the truth.”

    “I think the information has been, as things go, I think very intermittent and very sporadic and not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is,” Pruitt said in the interview.

    “We had a memo and a statement from career ethics officials here that have actually reviewed the lease, that actually reviewed comps—comparables of similar units,” Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, told The Daily Signal.

    “And I think what’s missed in this: I didn’t rent a unit,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t rent an apartment. This was an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence.”

    ...

    Pruitt also pushed back against reports that he rented space from an energy lobbyist.

    “The other thing I would say is that the owner of the residence—people, I’ve heard, say that he’s an energy lobbyist,” Pruitt told The Daily Signal.

    Speaking of Hart, Pruitt said: “He’s the chairman of a law firm. I’ve know this gentleman for years. He’s an Oklahoman, and his firm represents these [energy industry] clients, not him. There has been no connection whatsoever in that regard.”

  • Media outlets are citing a hate group in reports about Trump's planned census change for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media outlets are citing the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in reports about the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which experts say will jeopardize its accuracy.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called CIS founder John Tanton “the father of the modern nativist movement” and designated his organization a hate group because it “churns out a constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants.” Also contributing to the decision to designate was CIS' “repeated circulation of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.” CIS personnel have a record of making racist commentary and portraying immigrants as dangerous criminals. Yet, all too often, media outlets treat CIS as a credible voice in immigration debates, and they frequently fail to identify either its anti-immigrant views or its white nationalist ties.

    This is happening again in reports regarding the Trump administration’s announcement that it will add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. At least a dozen states oppose the move and have indicated they will sue the administration to prevent the question from being added, and census and civil rights experts have said adding such a question will reduce response rates from immigrants, jeopardizing the census’ accuracy. Yet CIS has defended the addition of a citizenship question, and news reports from both conservative and mainstream outlets are discussing the organization’s support of the Trump administration move.

    A Minnesota Star Tribune article quoted CIS, as did a column from the Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen. D.C.’s ABC affiliate station WJLA (owned by the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcasting Group) also cited CIS research, and ABC Radio’s D.C. affiliate WTOP briefly cited CIS’ defense of adding the citizenship question. Four different Fox News shows also cited CIS in their March 27 coverage of the census change: Happening Now, Outnumbered Overtime, The Daily Briefing, and Special Report. A March 28 FoxNews.com column defending the administration’s move linked to a CIS study. Fox host Laura Ingraham’s radio show hosted CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian on March 27 to criticize Democrats’ response to the move, and Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard extensively quoted CIS to justify adding a citizenship question to the census.

    Only WTOP and the Star Tribune mentioned CIS’ agenda, saying simply that the group “pushes for decreased immigration” and has “advocated for tougher immigration regulations.” But those descriptors hardly inform voters about CIS’ problematic origins or its continuing associations with white nationalists and other bigots. Legitimate media outlets should not cite anti-immigrant groups as sources of unbiased information at all -- and if they do, they should clearly label them as such.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Republicans want the media to ignore their draconian abortion bill. So far, the media is playing along.

    The House passed a 20-week abortion ban based on junk science -- and if anti-choice groups get their way, the Senate will do the same

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, MILES LE & DAYANITA RAMESH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-choice politicians are making moves on an extreme anti-abortion bill -- but if you’re watching cable news, you might not have heard much about it.

    In October 2017, members of the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- and if anti-abortion leaders and their legislative allies get their way, the Senate may soon vote to do the same. In a January 24 article, Bustle warned that a procedural vote on the 20-week ban could come as early as “the start of next week” and described the effort as “a new and more aggressive chapter in the Republican fight against women’s reproductive freedoms.” This comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech addressing the 2018 March for Life participants, where he called on lawmakers to pass the 20-week ban and send it to his desk.  

    But if you’re watching cable news, you might not hear much about this draconian measure or the junk science used to justify the harmful and medically unnecessary restriction. Unfortunately, right-wing media are taking full advantage of the silence since last October to fill the void with anti-abortion misinformation and spin:

    Twenty-week abortion bans are built on the inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in pregnancy, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary that such claims do not track with the majority of scientific consensus.

    For example, Dr. Anne Davis, an abortion provider and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon in 2013 that the push for 20-week bans caused patients to begin asking her about fetal pain, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fetus does not feel pain at 20 weeks. Davis said, “It’s just another thing these women have to struggle with. And why? These are created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics.”

    Undeterred, right-wing media seized on the passage of the House bill to promote anti-choice misinformation. Outlets such as Townhall and Breitbart lauded the House vote, with the latter arguing that the legislation was “based on the science” that a fetus can feel pain “as early as 18 weeks.” The Washington Examiner claimed that there was “no doubt” about fetal pain or the necessity of banning abortions at 20 weeks. The Daily Signal criticized the Journal of American Medicine Association for disputing the occurrence of fetal pain by 20 weeks and alleged that there were “subsequent studies finding otherwise.”

    Even the researchers behind studies commonly cited by anti-abortion groups and politicians reject such use of their findings. As The Daily Beast explained in a May 2016 article, one researcher “told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research ‘did not deal with pain specifically’” and was being misrepresented by anti-abortion advocates.

    Although the science behind 20-week bans may be scarce, the harm such restrictions do is anything but.

    A ban on abortion at 20 weeks would disproportionately impact low-income people. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, these patients may have to delay an abortion to later in pregnancy “because they had difficulty raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, or because they had difficulty securing insurance coverage.” But anti-choice politicians and right-wing media frequently vilify people who have later abortions and largely ignore the reality that people who seek these procedures do so for a variety of personal and medical reasons. 

    The bottom line is this: Right-wing and anti-choice media are going to talk up unsupported claims of “fetal pain” before 20 weeks and the harmful legislation that follows. Journalists have an obligation to debunk the junk science and right-wing talking points behind this 20-week ban as it moves through the Senate

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Conservatives have been using a made-up statistic to smear undocumented immigrants for over a decade

    Trump adviser Kris Kobach recently used the number to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake statistic about undocumented immigrants dominating “most wanted” lists hit its zenith last month when Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach used it in a Breitbart.com column. Variations of that statistic have appeared in countless media outlets since 2006 to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous, Media Matters found.

    In his column, Kobach claimed that “75 percent of those on the most wanted criminals lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.” That's a made-up number. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 -- when the statistic was previously making the rounds -- that Los Angeles Police Department “officers confirmed” that the statistic is fabricated. A spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department similarly told Media Matters that the statistic did not come from its department.

    The overall premise that undocumented immigrants are more dangerous than those born in the United States is also false. The New York Times reported that “several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.”

    As with much of the fake information passed around the internet, it’s difficult to track the origins of the “most wanted” claim. The number appears to have started appearing on the internet around spring 2006 and originally just included Los Angeles. In April 2007, The Arizona Republic reported that the statistic is wrong and part of a “widely circulated e-mail.” It has also appeared all over the internet, including on message boards and comment sections.  

    But the number’s spread has also been fueled by its appearance in media outlets in the past decade.

    Variations of the "most wanted" claim have appeared in numerous conservative op-eds, including in national outlets like The Blaze (Jennifer Kerns), Infowars (Chuck Baldwin), Human Events and FrontPageMagazine.com (Don Feder), and Newsmax (Pat Boone, Jim Meyers, and Armstrong Williams). And it’s appeared in op-eds in local outlets such as the Sierra Vista Herald, West Hawaii Today, and Lexington Herald Leader, as well as in letters to the editor in papers in places like ArizonaColorado, NebraskaOklahomaPennsylvania, and Tennessee

    In a July 2015 post on his now-defunct website, former talk show host Jason Lewis -- currently a Republican U.S. congressman representing Minnesota -- used the statistic to defend President Donald Trump.

    The number also appeared in an August 24 Washington Examiner piece by conservative pundit Jennifer Kerns, who had previously used it in The Blaze. Kerns, who did not respond to a request for comment, worked on Fox News’ presidential debate coverage and for various Republican causes over the years.

    Media Matters contacted the Examiner, which looked into the piece and found that it contained several statistics, including the “most wanted” number, that couldn’t be verified. The publication subsequently removed the offending paragraphs and added the following corrections note:

    Corrections: The original version of this piece claimed that FBI statistics showed 95 percent of arrest warrants issued in Los Angeles are for illegal immigrants, that 75 percent percent of those on the "most wanted" list in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, N.M. were illegal immigrants, and that 53 percent of burglaries in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas were committed by illegal aliens. None of those claims could be verified using FBI data.

    The piece also claimed that a United Nations report found that 97 percent of illegal immigrants in the U.S. entered via the southern border. That report could not be located.

    The piece also claimed that 25 percent of inmates in California prisons were Mexican nationals. The report linked to actually says 12.7 percent of the California prison population is made up of illegal aliens.

    Kris Kobach’s use of the number in an October 24 Breitbart.com piece is perhaps the most notable given his influence on President Trump and today’s immigration debate. As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School noted, Kobach “has been a key architect behind many of the nation’s anti-voter and anti-immigration policies,” including “Arizona’s controversial 2010 ‘show me your papers’ law,” and serves as an advisor to President Donald Trump and as the vice chair of the so-called Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.

    Kobach sourced the statistic to a 2013 ConstitutionParty.com piece by Peter B. Gemma; the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that Gemma is a white nationalist who has reportedly been “part of the American Holocaust denial movement.”

    Kobach's piece -- which has gone uncorrected despite inquires to his office and Breitbart.com -- unfortunately indicates that the zombie statistic will live on. On its Facebook page, Breitbart used Kobach’s column to create the following “fact”:

    That Facebook post and Kobach’s piece have been shared thousands of times so far.

  • Russian propaganda on Twitter is infiltrating fake news websites

    Fake news websites cited Russian social media accounts, including @TEN_GOP, to attack Muslims, defend Trump against perceived enemies, and attack the press

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news websites have cited multiple Twitter accounts likely run by Russian operatives in articles they’ve posted, undoubtedly helping the accounts’ backers sow discord in the United States.

    On October 17, the Russian publication RBC published a report on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm tied to the Kremlin, and how it impacted the 2016 election via social media platforms. Included in that report were the usernames of multiple Twitter accounts that these operatives used, the most prominent being @TEN_GOP. Other publications have also reported on other Twitter and Facebook accounts that these operatives used. Twitter will reportedly tell Congress that it has since discovered 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency.

    Hyperpartisan websites known to push fake news have repeatedly cited some of these accounts in their articles (specifically @Pamela_Moore13, @USA_Gunslinger, @10_GOP, @Crystal1Johnson, and @Jeblary2016), as the accounts’ tweets can align with these websites’ agendas, and the pieces have then been shared on social media. Last December, multiple fake news websites cited a claim from the account @Pamela_Moore13 that Minnesota Muslims “want Sharia law.” Facebook users then shared the articles, with some commenters demanding that the subjects “be deported” and claiming that they “DO NOT BELONG IN THIS COUNTRY.” Combined, those articles received over 20,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. A fake news website also cited the @Pamela_Moore13 account to attack Starbucks for promising to hire refugees, and the piece was also shared on Facebook and Twitter.

    Fake news websites also prominently cited these accounts to praise or defend President Donald Trump, with the pieces shared on social media. A fake news website cited a comment from the alleged Russian account @USA_Gunslinger that “this video of crowds in Poland cheering the arrival of @realDonaldTrump makes me so proud to be American” to claim that Poland was “ecstatic” for Trump to visit the country. Fake news websites also cited @Pamela_Moore13 to defend Trump’s mass firing of U.S. attorneys in articles that were then shared on some Facebook pages. Such sites also cited the account to push Trump’s false claim that Trump had wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Most often, these alleged Russian accounts were employed to attack Trump’s perceived enemies, with the results again being shared on social media. Fake news websites and others websites cited one of the accounts to accuse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and to claim that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) (already a target via @TEN_GOP) wanted Sharia law and had attacked former FBI Director James Comey. They also targeted former President Barack Obama, citing the same Russian account to claim that Obama tried to sabotage Trump, and used that same account to accuse former national security adviser Susan Rice of “felonies.” YourNewsWire, a fake news website accused of being a Russian proxy, cited that same account to attack former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Some of these articles received thousands of Facebook engagements.

    Additionally, hyperpartisan websites cited the Russian accounts to:

    Combined, these fake news websites' articles citing alleged Russian accounts had at least 140,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Non-fake news websites also cited some of these alleged Russian accounts, along with other alleged Russian accounts @tpartynews and @lgbtunitedcom. Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit repeatedly cited @Pamela_Moore13 to hype a Trump rally in North Carolina, defend Trump’s firings of U.S. attorneys, identify a supposed Muslim gunman, and compare Democrats to ISIS. Another outlet, the conspiracy-minded Infowars, cross-posted pieces citing @10_GOP to hype the St. Louis police protest and @Pamela_Moore13 to push a hashtag calling for the firing of Trump aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Other outlets that cited these alleged Russian accounts included Breitbart, The Blaze, RedState, the Washington Examiner, Fox News (multiple times, including a Fox News columnist retweeting one of the accounts), The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Vox, HuffPost, and The Associated Press.

    It's obvious that hyperpartisan websites acted as a multiplier for the influence of these alleged Russian accounts, as they did with @TEN_GOP, giving them a reach they may not have had otherwise and thus aiding the Russians’ likely goal of ensuring tumult in the country.

  • The right has a new 20-week abortion ban, and it's still built on junk science and right-wing lies.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The U.S. House of Representatives has promised an October 3 vote on a 20-week abortion ban -- misleadingly named the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- that is based on junk science and a longstanding right-wing media myth that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in a pregnancy. In reporting on the vote, media have an obligation to include scientifically accurate information about abortion including 20-week abortion bans at the state level, how a ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and the personal or medical decisions behind having an abortion after 20 weeks.

  • Children’s books about gender identity prompt right-wing media freakout over trans-inclusive education

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures have attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Despite the unique challenges for transgender students in schools, including increased risk of violence and a lack of resources, conservative figures highlighted “frightened” parents and asserted that “schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.”

  • After Charlottesville attack, anti-LGBTQ hate groups attack media outlets for accurately calling them hate groups

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In response to the violent August 12 white nationalist and neo-Nazi protests that occurred in Charlottesville, VA, a number of regional and national media outlets published pieces that informed their readers about regional and national hate groups from various extremist ideologies. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their allies in right-wing media responded to these stories by attacking the media outlets that published them, some of which have since deleted their stories.