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  • Right-wing media's tantrum over a 2015 ad is stoking extreme anti-abortion rhetoric and harassment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion figures recently raised objections to a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express shock and disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online. This isn’t the first time that right-wing media have manufactured outrage that resulted in harassment and threats toward abortion providers, patients, and clinics.

  • An anti-abortion group is parroting a right-wing talking point about censorship to rally midterm support

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the lead-up to the midterm elections, anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has ginned up controversy, claiming to have been censored by Facebook, which removed two SBA List ads urging people to "vote pro-life." Facebook said it removed the ads for violating content rules about depicting medical procedures or conditions. Outlets should not be fooled: Alleging censorship is a well-worn tactic used by anti-abortion organizations big and small to promote misinformation and raise money.

    On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads, which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who “supports painful late-term abortions.” The two ads presented stories of children born prematurely and quoted their parents urging voters not to support what the ads described as “late-term abortions.”

    It is important to note that neither ad depicted the reality of abortion -- performed later in a pregnancy or otherwise. SBA List attempted to conflate the birth of premature infants with an inaccurate characterization of later abortions, claiming those procedures induce fetal pain, which is not supported by scientific evidence.

    In an email exchange posted by SBA List, Facebook said that at least one of the ads was pulled because Facebook doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions”; such content is deemed to “feature sensational or graphic content,” which is not allowed because of its “highly sensitive nature.” Both of the ads showed premature babies in a medical setting.

    SBA List has a history of either intentionally manufacturing or alleging censorship claims to gin up controversy, which is part of a longstanding conservative misinformation strategy. The group’s current cry of censorship is the latest in a long line of similar claims by anti-abortion advocates who use the tactic to generate attention and to raise money. In October 2017, SBA List contended that Twitter had censored the organization when it deleted an ad targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, seemingly for the use of inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.” SBA List also sent out an email in April 2018 detailing instances in which the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies and directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    This latest censorship claim by SBA List is no different. The group sent out a fundraising email after the ads were pulled, asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.” In a press release, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “the clock is ticking to Election Day, and Facebook is stifling our ability to get our message out about politicians who support brutal late-term abortions.”

    Right-wing and anti-abortion outlets frequently report on these censorship claims uncritically, often failing to offer any push back. A particularly egregious source of this media behavior is (unsurprisingly) Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has hosted Live Action’s Lila Rose multiple times to pontificate about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion views by social media platforms and other sources. SBA List’s latest claim was also picked up and promoted by Life News, Breitbart, and Washington Free Beacon. But, more troublingly, it was also treated credibly by Politico in its Politico Pulse newsletter, which briefly reported on the dispute without questioning the claims or including Facebook’s perspective. And Politico’s isn't the only newsletter that has carried water for SBA List. The October 30 edition of The Washington Post's health care newsletter, The Health 202, spotlighted another ad placed by the group targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The Health 202 has uncritically promoted SBA List campaigns or talking points in the past as well.

    SBA List’s tactic of claiming censorship is disingenuous. It is a part of a larger pattern of behavior by anti-abortion advocates -- and conservative media more broadly -- to exploit any perceived slight against them as a strategy to gain attention and financial support for their misinformation. But conservative claims of social media censorship have been soundly refuted. When outlets pick up these claims without pushing back or contextualizing them, they are spreading a false right-wing talking point that conservative voices are disproportionately targeted on social media platforms.

  • Broadcast morning shows and newspapers left out crucial information when reporting on Kavanaugh’s contrived Fox News interview

    Media failed to mention details of Kavanaugh’s formative years that lend credence to accusations against him

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, gave an interview to Fox News in an effort to clean up his image after two women reported him for sexual misconduct in the last two weeks. Coverage of the interview from broadcast morning shows and major newspapers has aided Kavanaugh’s public relations effort by parroting his weak defenses while omitting critical information about his background.

    On September 16, The Washington Post published an interview with Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in the 1980s. On September 23, The New Yorker published a story detailing a separate allegation from Deborah Ramirez, one of Kavanaugh’s classmates at Yale University, who said, as The New Yorker described it, that Kavanaugh “exposed himself” and “thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away” at “a drunken dormitory party” during the 1983-84 school year.

    On September 24, Kavanaugh and his wife took to Fox News to respond to the allegations. ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today, as well as newspapers including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Postuncritically echoed Kavanaugh’s responses, while neglecting to mention important details and follow-up reporting that seem to lend credibility to the allegations against him. Specifically, media described the interview as “deeply personal” and Kavanaugh as “emotional,” and fixated on details like his claim that he “did not have sexual intercourse” during the years in question without ever acknowledging a difference between sexual intercourse and sexual assault.

    Moreover, in their one-sided reporting on Kavanaugh’s unprecedented interview, media largely omitted relevant background reporting on his actions and environment as a young man. While a few reports included quotes from Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate at Yale which characterized the nominee as “a heavy drinker” who was “aggressive and belligerent” when drunk, media largely failed to highlight the misogynistic and boorish culture that Kavanaugh reportedly participated in at Georgetown Prep. A “former student” who attended the school with Kavanaugh told HuffPost:

    That was just normal then. It was an attitude where “No” didn’t necessarily mean “I’m going to stop.” It meant “I’m going to keep going,” and “I’m going to keep going because I’m privileged and I’m allowed to and I’m not going to get in trouble for it.”

    Kavanaugh joked about the school’s reputation during a 2015 speech, saying, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” Moreover, almost every report on Kavanaugh’s interview failed to include details about Mark Judge -- the only alleged witness to Ford’s assault and Kavanaugh’s friend from Prep with a history of disturbing views about women -- or about Kavanaugh’s time at Yale, where the Supreme Court nominee was a member of the notoriously misogynistic Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

    Media’s failure to include these critical details in their reporting on Kavanaugh’s sham of an interview not only boosts Fox’s one-sided messaging, but it also assists Kavanaugh in rehabilitating his reputation and leaves audiences in the dark, denying them relevant information that lends credibility to Ford and Ramirez’s accounts.

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups attack Christine Blasey Ford after she reported that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her

    American Family Association: “Unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible”

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and American Family Association have attacked Christine Blasey Ford and worked to discredit her after she reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school.

    Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups united behind his nomination, offering praise for Kavanaugh’s candidacy and saying he would be “strong” on their issues. Many of those same groups have doubled down on their support by attacking Christine Blasey Ford and questioning her motivations after she reported that Kavanaugh groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and rape her in high school.

    Tony Perkins, president of the highly influential Family Research Council (FRC) who was reportedly “involved in discussions with the White House” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, attacked Ford’s credibility on the September 21 edition of Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. During his appearance, Perkins called Ford’s story “very, very suspect,” questioned why she hadn’t come forward sooner, and asked whether or not drinking alcohol may have affected her story. Perkins also questioned whether Ford and potential witnesses “really remember the facts” and whether her attempted rapist was even Kavanaugh at all, in line with a recent conspiracy theory created by conservative media figure Ed Whelan.

    Speaking at FRC’s anti-LGBTQ Values Voter Summit, Perkins urged Republican lawmakers in attendance to “move much more aggressively” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and former FRC President Gary Bauer, declared the “political process” surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination to be “political waterboarding” and a “travesty.” According to The Associated Press, Bauer mockingly re-enacted what a conversation with Ford and law enforcement may have sounded like and was reportedly met with laughter.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has also attacked Ford, including by writing a six point list of so-called “disturbing facts that undermine her story.” Several of those points suggest she came forward for political reasons. The post attempted to discredit Ford by highlighting her political affiliations and those of her lawyer, Debra Katz, claiming the two “have a history of Democratic activism” and anti-Trump advocacy. Liberty Counsel also launched a “fax barrage” directly linking its supporters to the offices of elected officials to send messages of support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The “fax barrage” served as a fundraiser for Liberty Counsel and claimed that Ford’s story does “not align with the moral integrity” of Kavanaugh. Additionally, Liberty Counsel sent an email blast to supporters in which its Chairman Mat Staver called Ford’s story “a shameful, desperate attempt to destroy a person in order to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court” and characterized her as “someone who has an ever-changing story with plenty of political motivation.”

    In a separate email to supporters on September 22, Staver continued attacks against Ford, saying she was “being used to create an excuse to delay the hearing” and listing statements from various supporters of Kavanaugh in an attempt to undermine her credibility. On September 24, Mat Staver’s wife Anita Staver, who serves as president of Liberty Counsel, suggested that Ford was a liar in a tweet: “I believe survivors but not liars!”

    Additionally, former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber, who still co-hosts one of its radio programs, attacked Ford on Twitter, where he likened her to a “suicide bomber” and compared her story’s effect on the Kavanaugh confirmation to a “political witch burning.” Barber also said Ford “would be fully exposed & further discredited,” and that “true victims” will be “distrusted because political vultures cried wolf one too many times.” In a separate post, he claimed, “We have entered the age of #MeToo McCarthyism. Pure evil.”

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association (AFA) has also launched attacks against Ford. Bryan Fischer, host of AFA’s American Family Radio show Focal Point, attempted to use Ford’s political affiliations and her lawyer’s legal career to discredit her story in a September 17 blog post. Fischer claimed that Katz “has made a career out of dismissing sexual assault allegations against liberal politicians.” In the same blog post, Fischer wrote, “The Bible is very clear that no serious allegation should ever be accepted against someone on the basis of one lone allegation.” In a September 18 email to supporters, AFA President Tim Wildmon reiterated that claim and wrote that “unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible.” AFA initially did not support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court but quickly reversed course after hearing the “passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement."

    Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 27, about Kavanaugh’s attempted rape.

  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • Fact-checkers are failing at dealing with anti-abortion misinformation

    And right-wing media are taking advantage to spread misinformation about Brett Kavanaugh's record on reproductive rights. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s rocky confirmation hearings, fact-checkers from PolitiFact and The Washington Post each chose to rebut comments from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) concerning Kavanaugh’s troubling record on contraceptive access. But rather than focus on the substance of Kavanaugh’s rulings, fact-checkers argued about Harris’ semantics, enabling right-wing media to change the conversation and distract from the serious threat that Kavanaugh poses to reproductive rights.

    During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, there were many notable exchanges revealing that the Federalist Society darling has not only made some deeply concerning decisions as a judge, but also potentially lied under oath several times. Fact-checkers seized on an exchange in which Kavanaugh used the term “abortion-inducing drugs” while describing his dissent in a case called Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is a well-known (but inaccurate) anti-abortion term, meant to suggest that contraceptives induce abortion, that abortion opponents use to limit access or even ban their use.

    Recognizing this, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted a video of Kavanaugh’s answer about the Priests for Life case, warning that “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control.” In response, right-wing media attacked Harris, claiming that she took Kavanaugh’s comments out of context, and argued that he used the term only to summarize the views of the anti-abortion plaintiffs in the case, Priests for Life.

    On September 10, PolitiFact rated Harris’ statement “false,” writing that the tweet “failed to include a crucial qualifier: ‘They said.’ In fact, he was citing the definition of the religious group Priests for Life.” The piece noted that Kavanaugh “has not expressed his personal view” on the matter -- despite a plethora of evidence that Kavanaugh would be hostile to abortion rights. The Washington Post Fact Checker similarly awarded Harris “Four Pinocchios” because there was “no acknowledgment by Harris that the original tweet was misleading” and suggested that she and other Democrats “drop this talking point.” Kavanaugh himself later affirmed that he had not been “expressing an opinion” and he used the term “only when recount[ing] the plaintiffs’ own assertions.”  However, as Imani Gandy wrote for Rewire.News, the fixation on fact-checking Harris’ semantics missed the larger issue: Kavanaugh’s decision in that case -- the actual substance of Harris’ argument -- was “utterly bonkers.” The majority decided that requiring Priests for Life to sign a form opting out of providing contraceptive coverage did “not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” However, as Gandy argued, Kavanaugh’s dissent strongly implies that he would “allow evangelicals, by claiming a sincerely held religious belief, to be exempted from laws intended to provide people with contraceptive access through their employers, even when following those laws would require said employers to do nothing more than sign a piece of paper.”

    Anti-abortion organizations and media consistently leverage misinformation and intentional manipulation of the facts to attack abortion access and advance their own agendas. And the anti-abortion movement has never been better funded, better organized, or more savvy in its political machinations. In a February 12 article, PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that the organization aimed to “present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.” But how should fact-checkers respond when the subject of a fact check is explicitly operating in bad faith to promote an agenda? That’s the issue fact-checkers must contend with as anti-abortion extremists and their right-wing media allies continue trying to control the narrative about reproductive rights.

    Fact-checking is based on juxtaposition: comparing fact with non-fact, with the assumption that the objective truth will become clear as a result. In comparison, anti-abortion misinformation is built on equal parts obfuscation and subtlety. For example, take the language used by Kavanaugh and other anti-choice figures to discuss their stances on abortion rights. As Irin Carmon explained, rather than explicitly state their views, nominees and politicians will often use “obfuscating code words around abortion,” such as calling Roe v. Wade “settled law” to signal their opposition to reproductive rights while saying “as little as possible about abortion” in order “not to awaken a public that to this day is overwhelmingly supportive of Roe v. Wade.”

    Just as the anti-abortion movement has relied on code words to obscure its true purpose, right-wing media have spent years haranguing fact-checkers and mainstream media alike for their supposed bias against conservative views. This is exemplified by current right-wing attacks on platforms like Facebook and Google, which conservatives inaccurately argue have “censored” them -- a claim used widely in anti-abortion circles, as well. To avoid perceptions of bias, platforms have bent over backward to accommodate conservatives -- changing algorithms, installing partisan fact-checkers, and even conducting a so-called “conservative bias review.”

    We see the same troubling dynamic at play in how fact-checkers handle abortion-related claims. Anti-abortion media have accused fact-checkers of exhibiting “pro-abortion bias” for years, but they celebrated the fact checks of Harris’ statement -- even praising PolitiFact’s decision to issue a correction for repeating “uncritically a Democratic talking point, that Kavanaugh mentioned birth control by using the term abortion-inducing drugs.”

    In a 2013 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted that the paper “always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation” because “virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts.” However, this begs the question: What do you do if one side’s “facts” are borne of an intentionally deceptive agenda? As Esquire concluded, although Harris “probably should have used the whole quote” (and she did later link to the whole exchange on Twitter), PolitiFact’s ruling suggests that “it's best for us all to be naive and stupid rather than jumping to obvious conclusions” by pretending “we aren't sure about what Brett Kavanaugh believes about ‘abortion-inducing’ drugs.’”

    Kavanaugh has clearly signaled that if confirmed, he’d be a threat to abortion rights -- gaslighting claims by right-wing media to the contrary. By choosing to debate Harris’ semantics rather than engage in the substance of Kavanaugh’s decision, fact-checkers avoided hard questions and aided anti-choice media in the process.

  • Here's a Hurricane Florence environmental justice story that media outlets need to tell

    Spills from coal ash pits and hog manure ponds in North Carolina would hurt low-income people of color

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A handful of news outlets are reporting about the danger of coal ash and hog manure spilling into North Carolina's waterways when Hurricane Florence hits the state. But so far they're missing an important part of the story -- that African-Americans and other communities of color could be hit particularly hard by such pollution. They're also failing to note that the Trump administration has been loosening regulations and oversight in ways that could make spills of coal ash and hog waste more likely.

    The dangers of coal ash and hog manure pollution

    North Carolina is home to 31 coal ash pits that power company Duke Energy uses to store an estimated 111 million tons of toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants. North Carolina is also home to thousands of manure pits, known euphemistically as "lagoons," that store approximately 10 billion pounds of wet waste generated each year by swine, poultry, and cattle operations in the state. This information came from Bloomberg, one of the first outlets to report that Florence could cause the waste pits to spill and create serious environmental and public health risks. The Associated Press also reported on the threats:

    The heavy rain expected from Hurricane Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites in North Carolina, creating a noxious witches’ brew of waste that might wash into homes and threaten drinking water supplies.

    Coal ash pits and hog waste dumps have both leaked and flooded in past years, causing devastating spills in North Carolina -- sometimes in the wake of hurricanes.

    Hurricane Floyd, which struck North Carolina in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, washed 120 million gallons of hog waste into rivers, Rolling Stone later reported. As AP noted this week, that was just one part of the mess caused by Floyd:

    The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers smeared Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their noses to try to numb their senses against the stench.

    After Floyd, North Carolina taxpayers bought out and closed down 43 hog factory farms located in floodplains, aiming to prevent a repeat disaster. But in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew hit the Carolinas as a Category 1 storm, at least 14 manure lagoons still flooded.

    Soon after Matthew, The New York Times’ editorial board warned that such flooding could become more of a threat in the future as storms are supercharged by climate change:

    In states where hog farmers use waste lagoons, like North Carolina and Illinois, flooding is a serious hazard that may become more frequent as climate change leads to more severe storms.

    Unless North Carolina and other states require agriculture companies to change their waste-disposal methods, what happened after Hurricane Matthew will happen again.

    In this week’s Bloomberg article, the head of the North Carolina Pork Council dismissed the significance of the 14 breaches in 2016 and downplayed the threat of spills triggered by Hurricane Florence.

    There's an environmental justice component to this story

    Even if they're not widespread, hog waste spills can still be devastating to those who live nearby -- and many of the unfortunate neighbors are low-income people of color.

    Two epidemiology researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published a paper in 2014 with a straightforward title: "Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina Disproportionately Impact African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians." They wrote, "Overflow of waste pits during heavy rain events results in massive spills of animal waste into neighboring communities and waterways."

    Tom Philpott explained more about that research in Mother Jones in 2017:

    As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, [North Carolina's industrial hog] operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents.

    Even when hurricanes aren't on the horizon, activists are pushing to clean up industrial hog operations. “From acrid odors to polluted waterways, factory farms in North Carolina are directly harming some of our state’s most vulnerable populations, particularly low-income communities and communities of color,” Naeema Muhammad of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network said last year.

    Poor and rural communities of color are heavily affected by coal ash dumps as well. The New York Times reported last month on an environmental-justice campaign against coal ash pollution in North Carolina. Lisa Evans, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, told the Times, “Coal ash ponds are in rural areas, particularly in the Southeast. Those communities have less power and less of a voice.”

    The Trump administration recently loosened rules on coal ash disposal

    The first major rule finalized by Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), loosened Obama-era requirements for coal-ash disposal. The change, which will save the power industry millions of dollars a year, could lead to more dangerous pollution. The Washington Post reported on Wheeler’s move in July:

    Avner Vengosh, a Duke University expert on the environmental impacts of coal ash, said that scaling back monitoring requirements, in particular, could leave communities vulnerable to potential pollution.

    “We have very clear evidence that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater sources,” Vengosh said. “The question is, has it reached areas where people use it for drinking water? We just don’t know. That’s the problem.”

    The Trump administration is also going easy on factory farms like the industrial hog operations in North Carolina. Civil Eats reported in February that there's “been a decline in the number of inspections and enforcement actions by the [EPA] against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) since the final years of the Obama administration.” Last year, more than 30 advocacy groups filed a legal petition calling on Trump's EPA to tighten rules to protect communities from factory farms.

    North Carolina Republicans aren't helping things either -- they've gone easy on coal plants and hog operations. And in 2012, the GOP-controlled state legislature actually passed a law banning state officials from considering the latest science regarding sea level rise when doing coastal planning. ABC reported on the development at the time:

    The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state's coastal Outer Banks region.

    ...

    The bill's passage in June triggered nationwide scorn by those who argued that the state was deliberately blinding itself to the effects of climate change. In a segment on the "Colbert Report," comedian Stephen Colbert mocked North Carolina lawmakers' efforts as an attempt to outlaw science.

    "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," he joked.

    As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, journalists should make sure that their stories include the people who'll be hurt the most by waste spills and other impacts, as well as the businesses and lawmakers who have been making such environmental disasters much more likely to occur.

  • Major media outlets dropped the ball last year on connecting climate change to hurricanes. Will they do better this year?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets gave Hurricane Harvey plenty of attention when it hit Houston and surrounding areas just over a year ago, but too little of that coverage mentioned that climate change can make hurricanes more destructive and dangerous.

    A 2017 Media Matters study found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows from August 23 to September 7 that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey. An analysis by Public Citizen echoed that point, finding that many major newspapers and TV networks did not give the climate change connection appropriate coverage during their reporting on Harvey. Coverage of Hurricane Irma also fell short on incorporating climate science, and the media did a terrible job of covering Hurricane Maria at all, let alone how climate change might have affected the storm.

    Four months after Harvey hit, two groups of scientists published studies that connected the hurricane's record-breaking rainfall to climate change. Harvey had stalled out over the Houston region and dumped more than 60 inches of rain in some areas. One of the studies estimated that climate change made Harvey’s rainfall 15 percent heavier than it otherwise would have been, while the second offered a best estimate of nearly 38 percent. A third study published in May also connected the hurricane to global warming, concluding that "Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change."

    Scientists are now warning that Hurricane Florence could be affected by climate change in some of the same ways Harvey was, leading to massive amounts of rain over North Carolina and adjacent states.

    Will mainstream media do a better job of explaining the links between climate change and hurricanes this time around?

    There are some encouraging signs. A number of outlets have published or aired good pieces this week that explained the climate science around hurricanes, and some have also taken the Trump administration to task for rolling back climate protections while we are in peak hurricane season.

    NPR's Morning Edition on September 11 included a good segment by science reporter Rebecca Hersher reviewing some of the relevant research:

    Slow-moving storms like Harvey are getting more common. A study published earlier this year by [atmospheric scientist James] Kossin found that tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent in the past 70 years.

    ...

    Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming also affects the size and intensity of storms like Florence.

    Axios science editor Andrew Freedman wrote a strong piece on September 11 that explained, "There are several characteristics of the changing climate that are helping to increase the risks of damage from Hurricane Florence, even though global warming is not directly causing such a storm to spin up." His article included a quote from Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:

    Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways. As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises, the storm surge from these events can be more damaging.

    The Baltimore Sun published a hard-hitting editorial on September 11 that noted the influence of climate change on hurricanes and called out the Trump administration for undoing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions:

    While one can’t say Hurricane Florence is entirely a product of climate change (severe weather existed long before people started burning fossil fuels), it is safe to say that climate change is a major reason why Florence may be bigger and stronger and why there are likely to be more such monster storms in our future. Meanwhile, it’s also quite safe to say that President Donald Trump and his current set of minions, anonymous or on the record, are exceedingly disinterested in lifting a finger to do something about global warming.

    Already this year, the Trump EPA has rolled back limits on emissions on vehicles and coal-fired power plants, two major sources of greenhouse gases. [Weakening methane rules] completes the administration’s trifecta of climate ignorance. And doing so as the Southeast faces such an ominous threat rises above chutzpah into something Nero-like in its lack of caring for the possible suffering of Americans.

    The Washington Post also published a forceful editorial on September 11 titled "Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit." It cited scientific research about climate change exacerbating hurricanes, and it criticized the Trump administration for its policies that will make climate change worse:

    With depressingly ironic timing, the Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan to roll back federal rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the main component in natural gas. Drillers and transporters of the fuel were supposed to be more careful about letting it waft into the atmosphere, which is nothing more than rank resource waste that also harms the environment. The Trump administration has now attacked all three pillars of President Barack Obama’s climate-change plan.

    As we watch how Hurricane Florence develops, we'll be looking for other outlets -- including ABC and NBC -- to put the storm in its proper context, reporting on climate science and the Trump team's efforts to undo climate protections.

  • Media should stop treating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as inevitable

    Activists and concerned citizens are fired up and engaged in the fight against Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MILES LE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill retiring Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat, media outlets have continually downplayed the energy and activism of those working to oppose this far-right nominee’s confirmation, treating it as a fait accompli.

    Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination on July 9, 2018, a week and a half after Justice Anthony Kennedy disclosed that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court (he officially retired July 31). Despite Kavanaugh’s record as “an uncommonly partisan judge” with troubling views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, abortion rights, gun safety, immigration, and more, many media figures portrayed him as a centrist pick who is “within the broad mainstream” and “not as far right” as other options Trump considered.

    In addition, many outlets have treated his confirmation as inevitable. For example, The Washington Post and The New York Times argued that activists weren’t engaged in the fight to stop Kavanaugh. As the Post wrote, “Democrats have all but acknowledged that they are unable to stop the Senate from confirming Trump nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court this fall,” while the Times blamed everything from upcoming midterm elections to activists’ inability to compete with “an almost daily barrage of other Trump administration actions” for the perceived lack of energy. New York magazine similarly argued that “the resistance to Kavanaugh has remained on a low flame, failing to boil over into the righteous fury that characterized the battle over Obamacare repeal last summer.”

    However, as Rewire.News’ Katelyn Burns reported, “Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court is not inevitable.” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund told Burns, “A veneer of inevitability has been the actual strategy that the people backing Kavanaugh have used,” but activists are “countering that and saying, ‘No way.'” HuffPost guest writer Robert Creamer similarly argued that treating Kavanaugh’s nomination as inevitable “plays right into the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Creamer pointed to Kavanaugh’s extremely narrow path to confirmation -- with Republicans having “a tiny effective majority of 50 to 49 in the Senate” -- as well as his incredibly low approval numbers, and the “unprecedented nationwide campaign to resist” his confirmation, as evidence that the fight against Kavanaugh is far from over. As Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca wrote: “When you subscribe to the myth of inevitability, you confirm it as reality, and for anyone who gives a sh*t about equality and/or democracy, that is simply not an option.”

    Outlets may not be reporting on the vast amount of activist energy against Kavanaugh, but people are fired up and making their feelings known:

    Kavanaugh's confirmation isn't inevitable -- he's got the lowest approval ratings of any Supreme Court nominee in decades, in addition to an extreme record on a number of consequential topics. The hearings to confirm Kavanaugh start soon. And media shouldn’t erase or ignore the very real opposition to his confirmation that’s on display across the country.

  • Paris Dennard’s history of commentary on sexual misconduct on CNN

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    CNN has suspended political commentator Paris Dennard after a Washington Post report detailed allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior during his tenure as the events director for Arizona State University’s McCain Institute for International Leadership. During Dennard’s time as a political commentator at CNN, he staunchly defended President Donald Trump against reports that Trump sexually harassed and assaulted several women, attacking the reporting and complaining that such stories “destroy[s] people’s credibility” and “tear people down” using “unsubstantiated facts.”

  • Trump admin claims replacing Clean Power Plan will help minorities. That’s not true.

    White House talking points promote debunked study from National Black Chamber of Commerce, an industry front group

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    The Trump administration has proposed a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, and it's defending its proposal by citing a thoroughly debunked and discredited 2015 study from an industry-funded front group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce. 

    The Clean Power Plan (CPP), finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Barack Obama in 2015, called for reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants while increasing the use of renewable energy. The Trump administration intends to revoke that plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, would allow much more pollution from coal plants.  

    Trump administration cites figures from debunked 2015 study

    The Trump administration's draft talking points in support of the EPA's replacement plan, obtained by E&E News, cite a debunked study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a fossil-fuel-funded group that purports to represent black businesses. The talking points claim that the Clean Power Plan "would have hurt minorities and senior citizens disproportionally," and goes on to list statistics that came directly from the NBCC report:

    According to Harry Alford, President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, CPP would increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent. It would result in cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035.

    But the NBCC report was thoroughly debunked after it was released in 2015.

    Fact-checkers exposed serious problems with the NBCC study

    The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists outlined many of the NBCC study’s flaws in a blog post in 2015. It explained that the study, which was conducted by Management Information Services Inc. (MISI), was itself based on other studies that had a variety of problems (emphasis in original):

    [H]ere’s the first of the study’s fatal flaws: it depends, as it explicitly says (p. 21), on the findings of seven other studies, which it lists. But those seven include:

    • Three studies that came out before the EPA published the draft CPP, meaning they don’t actually study the CPP as proposed—even though that’s the supposed focus of the NBCC/MISI analysis
    • One that was just (self-described) “preliminary analysis” from the United Mine Workers of America, a group you’d be hard-pressed to characterize as an unbiased voice in this debate
    • Three other studies funded by other fossil fuel interests who oppose the Clean Power Plan

    Two of those studies were the focus of a recent UCS webinar showing how such studies use bad assumptions and get used to sow confusion and spread disinformation about the CPP.

    One of those, done by IHS on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is the report most cited in this new work, even though it was one of those that came out before the draft CPP, and even though there was, as the Chamber itself admitted, “a big difference” between what they’d modeled and what EPA put forth (which the new study doesn’t acknowledge).

    The flaws in the study by Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) for Peabody Energy (the largest U.S. coal company) are also clear. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has pointed out that, unlike other studies, EVA’s didn’t even show a business-as-usual case, meaning that any CPP results were floating in a vacuum, without reference to a base case of shifting energy costs and other economic factors.

    Fact-checkers at PolitiFact and The Washington Post had both highlighted severe problems with the 2014 U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that was a main source for NBCC's study. From a 2014 PolitiFact analysis:

    [The U.S. Chamber] study wrongly assumed the administration would set a benchmark of reducing carbon emissions by 42 percent before 2030. The regulations released June 2 actually put forward a 30 percent reduction within that timeframe. The chamber itself told PolitiFact its estimates are not based on the goals as announced.

    For that same reason, The Washington Post's fact-checking team gave Republican politicians who cited the Chamber of Commerce study in 2014 a "Four Pinocchio" rating, its lowest.

    Separate fact-checks cast doubt on another study that the NBCC report relied on, this one conducted by NERA Economic Consulting in 2014. The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote that the NERA study "falsely inflates the cost of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by denying energy efficiency’s proven ability to save consumers money," and went on to explain that the study used "a 2012 study that has been repeatedly discredited" to justify its inflated cost estimates. The Washington Post's fact-checking team also raised serious questions about the NERA study.

    The NERA study was funded by industries that had much to gain from stymieing the Clean Power Plan, including fossil fuel interests. Among the commissioning groups were the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the National Mining Association.

    Clean Power Plan would have benefited Black, Latinx, and other minority communities

    Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, became a central figure in a disinformation campaign backed by fossil-fuel interests because he was willing to assert that the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan would harm communities of color. He placed anti-Clean Power Plan op-eds in at least seven newspapers and saw right-wing outlets echo and amplify his discredited assertions.

    In fact, the EPA under Obama took steps to ensure that the Clean Power Plan addressed many of the environmental and economic concerns of minority and low-income communities, after pressure was applied by civil rights leaders, environmental justice groups, and environmental activists.

    When the NBCC report came out in 2015, a coalition of environmental justice groups, including Green For All and Voces Verdes, challenged its claims that the Clean Power Plan would hurt minority communities. The groups argued instead that the plan would in fact help marginalized and low-income Americans:

    The report alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will harm African American and Hispanic families, when in fact findings from numerous independent organizations show the plan will actually benefit communities.

    In reality, the Clean Power Plan will prevent asthma and other pollution-related illnesses, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and save families money on their utility bills. Low income and minority Americans, who are most often the hardest hit when it comes to the effects of climate change, will benefit substantially.

    Recently the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a report reaffirming and further outlining these benefits. The report also refutes many of the myths asserted by the NBCC, known to [be] funded by special interests groups seeking to preserve the bottom line for dirty energy companies.

    Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy rule will harm minority communities

    Environmental justice activists point out that the Trump administration's new plan is the one that poses a real threat to communities of color. The advocacy group GreenLatinos issued this statement from its president and CEO, Mark Magaña:

    The Trump Administration continues to put the health of the Latino community and all Americans at risk by gutting the Clean Power Plan, the first and only federal limit on carbon pollution from power plants — a major source of the pollution that exacerbates climate change — which protects public health and promotes climate change solutions.

    The Latino community is hit first and worst by climate change and we suffer disproportionate public health effects with 40% of Latinos living within 30 miles of a power plant. The stakes are too high, with Latinx children being 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children.

    Today, as we continue to witness these severe weather patterns and devastating impacts of carbon pollution on public health, the Trump Administration is moving to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, endangering the health of our communities and undermine the transition to cleaner and safer renewable energy sources.

    GreenLatinos rejects the efforts by the Trump Administration and Acting Administrator Wheeler as they disregard the overwhelming support for increasing efforts to protect our air quality.

    Other environmental justice advocates also spoke out against the Trump EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule. “They’re really putting people’s lives in danger,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus and former EPA advisor on environmental justice, told Earther.

  • In drawing equivalencies between white supremacists and antifa, media outlets obscure ideologies -- and impacts

    White supremacists commit murders in pursuit of genocidal policies. Antifa throws punches. They're not the same, and media outlets should make that clear.

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    Last weekend marked the sequel to 2017’s violent right-wing rally in Charlottesville, VA, that left one counterprotester dead and many injured. Unite the Right 2, as the anniversary event was dubbed, was poorly attended by a small coterie of white supremacists. The media focused a significant amount of their coverage of the event on a sensationalized version of the threat posed by the  loose, decentralized group of anti-fascist activists collectively known as “antifa.”

    “Antifa clashes with police and journalists in Charlottesville and DC,” Vox declared. The Washington Post told its readers that “antifa protesters” had “harassed the press.” The headline of a piece in that paper’s opinion section asserted that “black-clad antifa again [gave] peaceful protesters a bad name.”

    CNN personalities also weighed in with their disapproval on social media:

    It’s easy to understand why the “black bloc” -- anti-fascist protesters who wear black masks when confronting racist groups -- attracts alarmist headlines, as images of masked ranks are both exotic and easy to otherize. And right-wing media have seized on this trend. As Media Matters’ Grace Bennett noted, Fox & Friends’ coverage of Unite the Right 2 entirely obscured the white supremacist intent of the event, instead sowing fear about an “antifa mob,” while The Daily Caller decried “violent antifa protests.” But according to experts on extremism and those who cover fascist and anti-fascist groups’ clashes on the ground, media fearmongering about antifa protesters obscures both the ideology and the real impacts of anti-fascist groups’ opponents -- the violent racists.

    A look at Washington Post and Vox coverage of antifa at Unite the Right 2 indicated that the most serious reported incident of antifa protesters confronting the press they described was when activists cut a local news reporter’s microphone cord, after expressing a desire not to be recorded.

    “Reporters covering protests should also come aware that most black bloc activists do not want to be photographed, for fear of being doxxed by the far right, or identified by law enforcement,” Kelly Weill, a Daily Beast reporter who covers the far-right and its opponents and was present at the rally, told Media Matters. “[Journalists] should take into account the implications a photograph might have for its subject, and why that subject might object. When anti-fascists come into conflict with journalists, it’s in reaction to being filmed. They aren’t hunting the media, unlike their opponents who regularly dox and threaten journalists in attempt to silence them.”

    Weill said the activists’ fear of being targeted by law enforcement is legitimate. She pointed, as an example, to a case in which the government charged hundreds who participated in a protest rally at Donald Trump’s inauguration with felony and misdemeanor charges after some of them were caught on camera at the protest.

    “I've found people can usually tell whether you're making a good faith effort to listen to them, and they respond accordingly,” Weill said. She said she thought the relations between the journalists and antifa protesters “were fairly smooth” when factoring in “the nature of the event -- more than 1,000 journalists, protesters, and police [were] at an emotionally charged white supremacist rally where police occasionally shoved media and protesters together in densely packed kettles.”

    Even though last year’s Charlottesville rally was violent -- it ended with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd and killing counterprotester Heather Heyer -- fearmongering headlines about antifa led to a narrative of false equivalency. And that narrative quickly reached the upper echelons of the conservative movement, most notably the president, who felt empowered to place the “blame on both sides.”

    Despite near-universal shock at the president’s equivocation, media outlets have failed to correct their role in pushing that narrative, continuing to sensationalize the threat posed by antifa and thus downplay the inherent violence of white supremacist activity.

    “Antifa is a subject that’s worthy of exploration. It’s not a subject that’s worthy of exaggeration or hyper-sensationalism,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, told Media Matters. “There have been a number of serious incidents where they really assaulted people over the years. … But white supremacists have committed hundreds of murders over the last 10 years -- aggravated assaults, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks. There’s no comparison.”

    Both Weill and Pitcavage pointed out that media outlets have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of antifa -- a decentralized group which, as its name suggests, primarily emerges to oppose organized fascism when it arises, as opposed to operating proactively.

    “I think most media fundamentally misunderstands anti-fascism, in part because the right presents ‘antifa’ as a unified gang or a kind of catch-all bogeyman that describes everyone from anarchists to moderate liberal Sen. Tim Kaine,” Weill said. “A significant chunk of center-left media has adopted this incorrect characterization, either out of lack of fact-checking or this pundit-style drive to present all conflicts as a clash of two equally valid ideologies. Some research would clarify that ‘antifa,’ as it's commonly understood (as a gang or a central organized group) isn't a real thing.” Weill also pointed out that not all anti-fascists endorse engaging in physical brawls with far-right groups; others focus on online activities and rhetorically countering fascism within their towns and cities.

    “White supremacist violence tends to be both worse and more extensive in general,” Pitcavage noted. According to ADL statistics, white supremacist actions are on the rise in the U.S. Incidents of distribution of white supremacist propaganda -- whether in the form of flyers, overpass banners, or posters -- increased sharply between 2017 and 2018. The ADL also identified 18 murders linked to white supremacy in 2017 alone.

    Portland, Oregon has been a particular locus of physical clashes between right-wing protesters and anti-fascist counterprotesters; last weekend, far-right groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer demonstrated in the city, sparking clashes between themselves, antifa, and the police. The tense standoff resulted in police turning on counterprotesters, dangerously wounding one anti-fascist activist, which prompted an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over use of excessive force by police. The incident, which happened precisely a week before Unite the Right 2, underscored both the legitimate wariness anti-fascists have toward law enforcement and the fundamentally reactive nature of anti-fascist activism. While the Proud Boys arrived in Portland from all over the U.S., with many bused in from Vancouver, WA, the anti-fascists were nearly all local activists, chanting slogans like “Keep Nazis out of Portland.”

    There are many who might sympathize with the protestors’ urge to keep avowed racist groups out of their hometown -- and it’s arguably the potential for newsworthy clashes that draws far-right activists to liberal enclaves in the first place. But media framing often places antifa and white supremacists on equal footing in terms of the danger they pose -- a false equivalence that fundamentally misrepresents the goals and tactics of white supremacists.

    “White supremacists, no matter how they cloak their views, call for genocidal policies, and have committed a rash of attacks and murders. Anti-fascists want them out of their communities,” Weill said. “It's telling that fascists persistently hold rallies in communities where they are not wanted, but that anti-fascists only mobilize in direct opposition to fascist policies. ... The two camps are not comparable, and equivocating them erases all the violence fascists promote and the structural power they hold.”

    Weill pointed out that media outlets often not only equivocate, but also erase the motivations behind anti-fascist activism. Prior to Unite the Right 2, NPR aired a widely criticized interview with white supremacist Jason Kessler, the organizer of both Unite the Right rallies. In contrast, NPR did not conduct any interview with a self-identified member of any anti-fascist movement, as Vox did last year.

    “We're frequently treated to humanizing profiles on neo-Nazis (whose ideologies are widely known before the interviewer starts recording), but few on anti-fascists (whose views are often misunderstood),” Weill noted in an email.

    As white supremacist violence -- and antifa’s mobilization in opposition -- continues to roil the country, media outlets should be meticulous about not drawing false equivalencies between the two sides, whose goals, impacts, and tactics are vastly different. They should also attempt to ascertain the goals of anti-fascist protest and clarify them for audiences. Otherwise, media outlets mislead their readers in service of sensationalized images that obscure necessary truths about white supremacist violence.