Washington Free Beacon | Media Matters for America

Washington Free Beacon

Tags ››› Washington Free Beacon
  • Right-wing media botch GAO report to push myth that taxpayers are funding abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On March 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report about the use of federal funds by Planned Parenthood and several other health care providers for providing “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Predictably, even though the report didn’t show any wrongdoing by the provider, right-wing media used its release to promote the longstanding myth that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding to support its abortion services.

    According to the March 2018 GAO report, investigators sought to answer how much federal funding had been granted to federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America between 2013 and 2015, as well as how those organizations or networks had spent the funds. Right-wing media quickly seized on the data to push the myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded” abortion, even though the report showed no such thing.

    Even before the GAO’s most recent report came out, right-wing media have frequently claimed that U.S. taxpayers fund the provision of abortion services. In reality, under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is at risk. Although Planned Parenthood receives funds to support non-abortion health services, the allocations aren’t a blank check for the organization to spend as it pleases. Indeed, just like any other health care provider -- including the other providers listed in the GAO’s March 2018 report -- Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by the government for the specific non-abortion services it provides to low-income patients via programs like Medicaid. In many other cases, funds that are not reimbursed in this way are specifically allocated to cover a narrow set of health outcomes, such as HIV prevention.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media pushed their misleading reading of the report within their own echo chamber to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In order to make this point, many outlets ignored the reality that the allocated funding did not support abortion services. For example, in a March 8 article, Breitbart reported that the GAO report had shown that “federal and state taxpayers provided $1.5 billion in funding to abortion providers over a three-year period,” yet it failed to note that none of these funds supported abortion services. This tactic was copied by Newsmax, Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, OneNewsNow, and The Daily Signal, each of which repeated the implication that the money went to abortions. Some outlets went a step further in their allegations, arguing that even if the funding allocated wasn’t for abortion services, it would inevitably be used to support abortions. In one example, LifeSiteNews wrote, “Pro-lifers note that money is fungible, meaning that public funding Planned Parenthood uses for approved purposes frees funds from other sources to be spent on abortions.” The Federalist claimed that such “funds are fungible” because when “an abortion provider gets its hands on government money, it controls how that money is spent.”

    This narrative culminated in a March 12 appearance by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the segment, host Tucker Carlson and Black each lambasted anti-choice legislators for failing to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding by making a number of inaccurate allegations about the way the organization used taxpayer funds. In one instance, Black claimed that it was inappropriate for “taxpayer dollars to be going to abortion,” saying that the funding was “set up for family planning” but “abortion is not family planning, it’s family destruction.”

    The GAO's findings rebut the right-wing argument that the federal funding Planned Parenthood received supported the provision of abortion services. For example, in a chart listing the programs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded at Planned Parenthood, there is no allocation that would include abortion services:

    Although right-wing media may be suggesting that the allocations for “Family planning services” or the “Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program” could include support for abortion, a review of each program in the government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance refutes this claim. Furthermore, the GAO not only reviewed the financial documents of Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, but also sought additional documentation and audit information.

    In other words, given the level of scrutiny applied to both the allocation and the expenditure of funds, it is highly improbable money allocated for other uses was spent on abortion care. Once again, the frenzy drummed up by right-wing media appears to be supported with only spin, and no substance.

  • Far-right media seize on flawed Bloomberg article to push bogus "deep state" theories

    Bloomberg suggested that climate scientists doing their jobs are trying to "undermine" Trump

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A Bloomberg article unfairly portrayed government employees who are producing accurate climate change reports as "quietly working to undermine Trump's agenda." Conspiracy theorists and right-wing media figures quickly pounced on the article as evidence for their paranoid "deep state" theories.

    Bloomberg piece claimed that "bureaucrats" working on climate reports are trying to "obstruct" the president

    The December 18 Bloomberg article argued that "some of the roughly two million career staff [in the federal government] have found ways to obstruct, slow down or simply ignore their new leader, the president." The first and most prominent example in the article involved government reports on climate change:

    In report after report following Donald Trump’s election, career staffers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] kept saying the same thing: climate change is real, serious and man-made.

    That’s surprising because Trump has called global warming a hoax. His political appointees at the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, have complained to its staff, but stopped short of demanding changes or altering the findings. So the reports, blog posts and public updates kept flowing. The bureaucrats won.

    By saying that NOAA employees "won," Bloomberg painted them as political operatives engaging in partisan warfare instead of as civil servants employing science in the public interest. The article later acknowledged that NOAA staffers are right on the substance, but still mischaracterized their actions:

    As the case of NOAA illustrates, the most radical example of bureaucratic resistance may also be the simplest: continuing to issue information or reports that are factually accurate, even when they clash with the administration’s policies.

    Issuing factually accurate information to the public should not be characterized as "radical." It should be characterized as people doing their jobs correctly.

    The article also highlights activities by employees at agencies like the State Department and the General Services Administration (GSA), some of whom seem to be trying to make their Obama-era projects align better with Trump-era priorities. The GSA, for example, is now promoting its initiative to buy electric vehicles on economic grounds rather than environmental ones. This, though, is hardly nefarious stuff.

    Right-wing media spun Bloomberg article as evidence for their conspiracy theories

    But while the Bloomberg article doesn't offer much evidence to support its thesis of federal employees mounting "radical … resistance" to Trump, its framing has been enough to get right-wingers and conspiracy theorists excited. They're claiming it supports their belief that career government employees are secretly sabotaging President Trump.

    Infowars, the website run by notorious conspiracy theorist and fake-news disseminator Alex Jones, is touting the story. So is Infowars' D.C. bureau chief:

    The Conservative Daily Post and Before It's News, both of which are known to be fake-news purveyors, wrote up the Bloomberg article on their websites. Drudge Report, the conservative blog Instapundit, and the far-right site American Action News are promoting it too.

    Conservative media figures have also joined in to amplify the story, including a contributor to the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal website and the editor of the Washington Free Beacon:

    Within the Bloomberg news organization itself, there seems to be disagreement about whether or not the article supports "deep state" theories.

    Aaron Rutkoff, a senior editor at Bloomberg, says no:

    But Alex Wayne, Bloomberg Business' White House editor, says yes:

    When the reporting of basic scientific facts is considered radical and political, then we're in trouble.

    The magazine Scientific American warned about the politicization of science in an editorial published during the 2016 presidential campaign: "A respect for evidence is not just a part of the national character. It goes to the heart of the country's particular brand of democratic government. When the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, scientist and inventor, wrote arguably the most important line in the Declaration of Independence—'We hold these truths to be self-evident'—they were asserting the fledgling nation's grounding in the primacy of reason based on evidence."

    Journalists, of all people, should hold fast to the idea that reporting facts is not an extreme or ideological act. It's simply a necessary one.