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  • Facebook has a climate-denial problem

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook, well-known as a breeding ground for misinformation, has a particular problem with disseminating false and misleading messages about climate change science. The platform spreads climate-denying videos and other posts, hosts climate-denying ads, and officially partners with climate-denying media outlets and organizations.

    Climate-denier videos get millions of views on Facebook

    A recent video promoting false arguments against climate change science got more than 5 million views on Facebook, The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli reported last week.

    The video -- posted in June by The Daily Signal, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- is titled "Why Climate Change Is Fake News." It features Marc Morano, a longtime spokesperson and blogger for the climate-denial cause, who outlines three things that "the left gets wrong about climate change." Nuccitelli points out that all three are common and easily debunked myths.

    Nuccitelli notes that Facebook's viewership numbers are likely inflated, but the video has still reached a lot of people:

    Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.

    Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.

    As of this writing, the Daily Signal video has now been "viewed" 6.3 million times and shared 102,000 times.

    Other denier videos get traction on Facebook as well. For example, one titled "GLOBAL WARMING IS THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN HISTORY," which features a rant by a climate-denying retired businessman, has gotten at least 2 million views by Facebook's count.

    Facebook is partnering with climate-denying organizations

    In an interview with Recode published on July 18, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook shouldn't remove content just because it's wrong. Using the example of Holocaust denial, he said it's “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

    Zuckerberg tried to clarify his views two days later, writing, "Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."

    Joe Romm at ThinkProgress pointed out that Zuckerberg's approach is a major problem when it comes to climate denial, a particularly pernicious form of disinformation.

    One of Facebook's official fact-checking partners, the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, has at times been dismissive of climate science and the need for climate action. A piece from July 2017, headlined "Dadaist Science," cast doubt on research that found a scientific consensus around the human causes of climate change. A piece from June 2017 criticized arguments being made on behalf of the Paris climate agreement. A long feature in the magazine from 2014 lauded climate-denying scientist Richard Lindzen.

    As Romm put it, "How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?"

    Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with the Heritage Foundation to determine whether the platform displays liberal bias -- a persistent but blatantly false claim made by conservatives. Heritage gets funding from the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests, and it has a long history of spreading climate denial. It brought us the "Why Climate Change Is Fake News" video mentioned above.

    And the Facebook Watch initiative, in which Facebook partners with media companies to produce original videos, has teamed up with Fox News, despite the network's long history of climate denial. Last month, when Facebook Watch debuted a slate of news shows from eight news publishers, Fox got more than twice as many slots per week as any other outlet.

    Facebook hosts climate-denying ads

    Late last year, a climate-denier blogger tried to buy ads linking to his site on five social-media platforms and found that Facebook was the only one that ran them with no pushback or questions asked.

    Leo Goldstein writes a blog at DefyCCC.com that focuses on what he calls "climate realism." The CCC in the URL stands for "cult of climate change." He also writes periodically for WattsUpWithThat, a more well-known climate-denial blog. He claims that climate change is a "pseudo-scientific fraud" and that "real scientists are against climate alarmism."

    Goldstein attempted to buy ads linking to his DefyCCC site. "In November and December 2017, I experimented with distributing the climate realism message using advertising options on Google and some other platforms," Goldstein wrote in a December 31 post on WattsUpWithThat. In a follow-up post the next day, Goldstein described the outcome of his experiment. The short version: Twitter refused to run his ads. Google ran some of his ads for a period of time. Facebook ran his ads with no pushback.

    "Facebook has been acting squeaky clean," Goldstein wrote. "None of my messages have been banned for content." Facebook is the only platform that gave him no problems, he reported.

    Since then, Goldstein has continued to place ads on Facebook, often under the banner of the Science For Humans and Freedom Institute. One ad he ran on Facebook in July claimed, "CO2 is the gas of life, not a pollutant. Climate alarmism is a dangerous cult":

    Facebook's advertising policies prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content," but the company has still allowed Goldstein to purchase space for ads like this.

    Zuckerberg talks the talk about climate change, but doesn't walk the walk

    Zuckerberg has expressed concern about climate change, arguing last year that the U.S. should not pull out of the Paris climate agreement and noting that rising temperatures are melting the glaciers at Glacier National Park.

    But he is not using the immense power of his platform to halt misinformation about climate change. To the contrary, Facebook is enabling and disseminating climate denial on multiple fronts. In addition to the problems outlined above, the platform helps bogus climate stories to spread -- like a hugely popular climate-denial story from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that Facebook refuses to ban even though fact-checkers have debunked its stories at least 80 times. And one of Facebook's most high-profile scandals involved handing user data over to Cambridge Analytica, a shady political consultancy that has close ties to fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.

    Media Matters named Zuckerberg as its misinformer of the year in 2017 for leading a company that is spreading misinformation far and wide. In the first half of 2018, he and Facebook have not changed their ways. Rather, Facebook is currently bending over backward to cater to conservatives who falsely claim that they're discriminated against on the platform, when in fact right-leaning Facebook pages get more interactions than left-leaning ones.

    Combating fake news is key to combating climate change. As an editorial in the journal Nature Communications argued last year, "Successfully inoculating society against fake news is arguably essential" if major climate initiatives are to succeed. Facebook could be a big part of the solution. But by kowtowing to conservatives, prioritizing profits over accuracy, and maintaining open-door policies toward misinformation, Facebook is entrenching itself as a major part of the problem.

  • A study about so-called abortion reversal just got pulled because of ethical concerns

    BuzzFeed news reported that a study about the scientifically unproven method to stop an abortion -- championed by anti-choice activists -- lacked "formal ethical approval"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a published study about the practice of so-called abortion reversal had been pulled from a scientific journal due to ethical concerns, further proving that one of right-wing and anti-abortion media's favorite talking points is nothing more than harmful junk science.

    BuzzFeed News’ Azeen Ghorayshi wrote that the study by well-known anti-choice personality George Delgado had “been temporarily withdrawn from” the April edition of the Issues in Law & Medicine journal “because [the study] falsely claimed to have received formal ethical approval.” The study hinges on Delgado’s belief that people seeking medication abortions can reverse the procedure by taking only the first pill required in the two-pill regime. The person would then be injected with “a large dose of progesterone to—in theory—reverse the effects of mifepristone” in the first pill. To prove this theory, Delgado set up a hotline in 2012 for people who were seeking abortion reversals and published a limited study about the procedure that same year.

    Delgado’s theory caught fire in right-wing and anti-abortion media, with outlets including The Daily Wire and Live Action publishing accounts from people who had supposedly successfully reversed their abortions. When pro-choice organizations warned that abortion reversal was both scientifically unproven and potentially dangerous, outlets including The Federalist attacked these organizations as “anti-science” and said they were ignoring “the scientific reality of abortion pill reversal for a more ideological reason.” Anti-abortion site Life News inaccurately claimed that opposition to abortion reversal stemmed from a financial incentive for providers to continue performing abortions. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard alleged that pro-choice advocates didn’t “really want women to choose to change their minds.”

    Then, in April 2018, Delgado and several co-authors published another study alleging the efficacy of the practice in the Issues in Law & Medicine journal. As Ghorayshi reported after publication, “the University of San Diego — which employs two of Delgado’s coauthors — launched an investigation into the study’s ethical approval.” The university then “asked for the paper to be withdrawn, spokesperson Pamela Payton told BuzzFeed News, because it had ‘ambiguous’ wording regarding the university’s ethics board, ‘leading many readers to incorrectly conclude that the [school] reviewed and approved the entire study.’”

    According to Delgado, the issue was “just a technical problem,” and that his team would “redo” the ethics review (although, as BuzzFeed noted, it’s not entirely clear how such a “redo” would work.) However, there is ample reason to believe that even if Delgado could “redo” the ethics review, the outcome would be largely the same because of his ideological viewpoint and the proven structural flaws of his studies.

    As Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, explained to Marie Claire, Delgado appears to have done his work “backwards, with a desired result in mind—one that would support an ideological agenda.” Marie Claire noted that Delgado has previously labeled abortion "a scourge and a plague on our society” and told a caller on a radio show during a 2013 guest appearance that even though the caller had AIDS, “it wasn’t acceptable to use condoms ever.”

    Delgado’s studies in 2012 and 2018 also suffered from several technical flaws. According to The Guardian, the 2012 study was “not done with the oversight of an ethical review committee.” Jezebel similarly reported that it also relied on an extremely small sample size of seven cases -- and Delgado considered only four of these cases successful. Although the April 2018 study had a larger sample size, it still relied on limited case studies, which HuffPost said are “the weakest form of scientific evidence because they lack control groups.” Newsweek further reported that the study “used a wide variety of injected progesterone protocols, ranging from one to more than 10 injections of unknown doses” and did not assess previous levels of progesterone in the subjects’ blood -- further skewing the reliability of the results.

    In general, anti-choice extremists like Delgado are making claims about “abortion reversal” as a tactic to promote the myth that abortion is pathologically linked to regret. In reality, this idea of abortion regret or, as some anti-abortion activists call it, “post-abortion syndrome,” has been widely discredited. To debunk claims that abortion reversal procedures are widely sought by patients who regret their decision, Rewire.News’ Sofia Resnick spoke to abortion provider Gabrielle Goodrick, who estimated “that she has seen six patients out of about 10,000 who did not want to continue their medication abortions after initiating the process” in the 16 years she has been a provider.

    Medical organizations have also weighed in to say that the science doesn’t back claims about reversal. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a report in August 2017 about alleged abortion reversal procedures, stating, “Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” The report concluded that ACOG “does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medical abortion.” Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, told Refinery29, if a person simply decided not to take the second pill for a medication abortion, “there’s a good chance that the pregnancy would continue,” but “there’s no evidence” that injections of progesterone would work to “reverse” an abortion.

    Despite these issues, the junk science of abortion reversal has made its way into state laws in Idaho, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Arizona, where abortion providers are required to inform patients seeking an abortion that there is an option to reverse it.

    Right-wing media, anti-abortion activists, and some lawmakers may continue to spread misinformation about the dubious efficacy of so-called abortion reversal procedures, but as BuzzFeed’s report demonstrates, the facts are piling up: This practice is based on junk science that is more likely to hurt than help.

  • Myths and facts about California's pro-choice law regarding fake health clinics

    The Supreme Court will hear a case regulating the deceptive practices of anti-abortion clinics

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On March 20, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. This case concerns a California law requiring unlicensed pregnancy clinics to disclose their lack of medical services and licensed pregnancy clinics to post a notice about low-cost or free reproductive health services offered by the state. Some media outlets have pushed the myth that the law compels anti-abortion fake health clinics to promote pro-choice views, including by advertising for abortions.

  • Crisis pregnancy centers hurt people, and it's time the media noticed

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a case about regulating the deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, ruling against the California law regulating fake health clinics. The court "held that part of California's crisis pregnancy center disclosure law is unconstitutional and that another part is likely unconstitutional." [Supreme Court, accessed June 2018; BuzzFeed News, 5/26/18]

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- anti-abortion organizations that erroneously represent themselves as comprehensive reproductive care clinics -- to inform patients about their eligibility for low-cost reproductive health services, including abortion. If previous abortion-related cases are any indication, before the Supreme Court even hears oral arguments, media will be inundated with attempts by abortion opponents to downplay CPCs’ deceptive tactics and instead promote CPCs as harmless institutions simply trying to protect their freedom of speech.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California’s FACT Act, licensed CPCs are required to display a notice at their facility and in their advertising materials that states that California provides “immediate free or low-cost” reproductive services, which includes abortion. Unlicensed CPCs are required to post a notice that they are not a medical facility and do not have a medical professional doing on-site supervision. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of their CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law, and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    Although the case will likely not be decided until summer 2018, right-wing media have already started to spin the California law as an attack on CPC’s free speech rights, as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson did during a November 15 segment of his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to Carlson, California is “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion.” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.”

    CPCs are deceptive organizations that often rely on fearmongering, deceptive advertising, and medical misinformation to scare or persuade individuals into continuing pregnancies. As proceedings around NIFLA v. Becerra ramp up in 2018, here are some of the harmful tactics and impacts of CPCs that media should not ignore.

    The impact and tactics of crisis pregnancy centers

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost service

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Media manipulation and outreach

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs often position themselves as providing a full set of comprehensive reproductive health care services. For example, The Weekly Standard wrote that CPCs have such services as “pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and testing for sexually transmitted infections,” “onsite prenatal programs,” and “material assistance” for low-income individuals. Similarly, abortion opponents often advocate that Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics are unnecessary because some CPCs provide identical or even better care for less money.

    In reality, many CPCs fail to provide the same range of services that Planned Parenthood and other clinics do -- and, yes, that list includes abortion. Broadly’s Callie Beusman detailed the services of one CPC in Hartford, CT, called Hartford Women’s Center, which provided “no STI testing, no well women exams, no prenatal care, no birth control,” although these were all services (in addition to abortion) available at the actual reproductive health clinic, Hartford GYN Center, next door. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) stated that CPCs “use deceptive practices to entice women into the center,” which “purposefully lead women to believe that they will receive comprehensive health information.” However, as NWLC’s explained:

    However, many of the over 4,000 CPCs in the United States have no licensed medical personnel and provide no referrals for birth control or abortion care. What is worse, they fail to disclose this to women who are seeking accurate and timely health information. Once women are in the door, CPCs then give misleading and false information about birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion care in order to stop women from using or obtaining these critical health care services. This undermines women’s ability to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost services

    The inadequate care provided by CPCs exacerbates the lack of access to health services experienced by already vulnerable communities. This problem is compounded by the fact that some CPCs receive federal and state funding through both direct or indirect avenues, depriving programs dedicated to facilitating actual health care access of resources.

    As Reproaction’s Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt explained, “Not only do the individuals seeking information and services from crisis pregnancy centers suffer, communities as a whole pay the price.” As but one example, the authors pointed to Missouri where “funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are diverted to go toward the Alternatives to Abortion Program,” which allocates funding to CPCs. As they described, although Missouri “has the second-highest number of food-insecure residents in the country,” funds for TANF are instead diverted to the deceptive work of CPCs to the tune of $2 million in 2016 and at least $4.3 million in 2017. Missouri is not alone: When Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed a contract giving part of the funding for TANF to the state’s Real Alternatives CPC program.

    Perhaps the most illustrative example of how CPCs can take millions in state funding without providing any comprehensive reproductive services for low-income people can be seen in the failure of The Heidi Group in Texas. In 2016, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract to The Heidi Group -- an anti-abortion organization run by serial misinformer Carol Everett -- for the purpose of providing low-cost reproductive health care. As Rewire reported, “The Heidi Group had never before provided health care services,” and had “focused predominantly on supporting anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.” Unsurprisingly, despite promising to improve health care access, The Heidi Group directed the funding to CPCs, which were unable or unwilling to rise to the challenge. In 2017, the Associated Press reported that the efforts of The Heidi Group were “quietly sputtering” and that the organization had “little to show for its work.” As the Dallas Morning News stated, the group had “no fresh initiative of social media outreach, no overhaul of outdated clinic websites, no public service announcements, no 1-800 hotline to help low-income women find affordable services in their communities.” As a result, in August 2017, Texas took back some of the money awarded to The Heidi Group.

    Low-income individuals who rely on a CPC for either health care needs or material support could find that such services stop once they reach a certain point in pregnancy. Elite Daily spoke with one abortion clinic provider in Connecticut who detailed the story of a woman who went to a CPC and was “promised money, baby clothes, and furniture,” but “once she got to her 24th week of pregnancy, the point at which abortion is illegal in Connecticut,” the CPC “discontinued contact with her.” According to the provider, this situation was not “a rare occasion.”

    Beyond CPCs’ inconsistent support for low-income patients, some of these centers go out of their way to target communities of color. In a 2013 report, NWLC identified that some national associations of CPCs emphasize outreach to black communities because “of the high rates of abortion in certain communities” -- a statistic that gets used by abortion opponents to suggest that abortion providers are engaged in so-called “black genocide.” As NWLC explained, high rates of abortion are due to high rates of unintended pregnancy which “reflect widespread disparities in health outcomes and access to health care which are in turn influenced by social factors such as income, education, employment and earnings, and neighborhoods” -- inequalities not addressed by CPCs.

    Access to reproductive services is already complicated by recent attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, as well as wider clinic closures that “leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care.” In addition, because the Hyde Amendment restricts Medicaid funding for abortions except under limited circumstances, many low-income people are left without a means to pay for abortions, which can reach staggering out-of-pocket costs. As Jessica Arons, the former president of Reproductive Health Technologies explained, “Women of color are particularly burdened by the Hyde Amendment, as they are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty, enrolled in Medicaid and at the highest risk for unintended pregnancy.”

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    CPCs begin their deception before people ever step into their clinics, using deceptive advertising to imitate abortion clinics.

    On November 8, the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general about a CPC called Attleboro Women’s Health Center (AWHC), which the watchdog said “masquerades as an abortion clinic.” The complaint alleged that despite the AWHC not offering any abortion care, the website was full of misinformation suggesting otherwise:

    AWHC hosts a website, the home page of which includes tabs for “Abortion Pill” and “Surgical Abortion.” The site even lists costs for these services. Hidden in a different portion of the site is a disclaimer noting AWHC does not “offer, recommend, or refer for abortions or abortifacients.” In addition, the website is riddled with exaggerations and inaccuracies regarding abortion, listing psychological risks associated with abortion and advertising an abortion reversal option, all of which has been debunked by medical experts.

    As Rewire noted before the complaint was filed, AWHC’s website also contained “a near-verbatim repetition of the stated mission of the abortion clinic nearby: ‘to empower women to make informed decisions that support their privacy, dignity and self-respect.’” Later, AWHC deleted this passage and other misleading claims from its website.

    AWHC’s advertising and imitation tactics are, unfortunately, not an anomaly. In another striking example, the anti-abortion organization Human Coalition (which both supports and runs CPCs) centered its mission on using “internet search engine marketing” to target what it calls “abortion-determined” people in order to redirect them from abortion clinics to one of its CPCs. Human Coalition places ads on Google using “keywords” that people seeking abortions might use to locate a clinic, even though Human Coalition does not provide and will not refer anyone for an abortion. Those ads direct people to landing pages that have Human Coalition’s call center number, where Human Coalition employees then try to dissuade them from abortion. Although Human Coalition has become particularly adept at this tactic, Broadly detailed a similar practice used by Heartbeat International (HBI) -- a national association of CPCs. As Broadly found, in its “2014 annual report, HBI boasted that ‘a woman who makes a Google search such as “pregnant and scared” finds a local Heartbeat International affiliate or Option Line in her search,’” even though Heartbeat International’s CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions.

    Efforts to remove deceptive ads placed by CPCs have seen mixed results. A December 2017 investigation by Rewire found that in a Google search “for ‘abortion’ in 40 randomly selected mid-sized and major U.S. cities” there was “at least one anti-choice fake clinic ad nearly 40 percent of the time.” After Rewire reached out to Google with this information, “a Google spokesperson said it had taken down ads that violated its policy, but couldn’t say how many CPC ads it had removed.”

    Even if patients do find their way to an actual abortion clinic, some CPCs are still able to reach them with targeted advertising and misinformation. In 2016, it was reported that advertising firm Copley Advertising was using geofencing to target those on their phones at abortion clinics and send them ads for CPCs. (Geofences are technological "fenced-in" area that advertisers use to ping smartphones with ads when people enter those areas.) As Rewire explained, a national association of CPCs, RealOptions, hired Copley Advertising “to send propaganda directly to a woman’s phone while she is in a clinic waiting room,” a tactic that “presents a serious threat to the privacy and safety of women exercising their right to choose, as well as to abortion providers and their staff.” In April 2017, Massachusetts reached a settlement with Copley Advertising that prohibited the company from geofencing around clinics, although, according to Rewire, Copley operates in other states as well, and it is unclear whether it is still using geo-fencing in those states.

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Once patients seeking or thinking about abortion come to a CPC, staff then try to coerce, scare, or deceive them into carrying their pregnancies to term. Amanda Schwartz, who works at a reproductive justice non-profit in West Virginia, wrote in HuffPost that CPCs “offer ‘counseling,’ which essentially consists of an untrained volunteer asking probing questions and pressuring the person to carry their pregnancy to term.” Schwartz said that CPCs have “also been known to separate people from their clothes or personal belongings to make it more difficult for them to leave, tell people abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), encourage people not to abort because the likelihood of miscarrying is so high (generally speaking, it isn’t), ‘schedule’ someone for an abortion to keep them from seeking real care and so much more.” Caitlin Bancroft, an intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, experienced this situation first-hand when she went undercover at a CPC. As Bancroft wrote for HuffPost, the “counseling” given to her at a CPC consisted largely consisted of probing questions designed to determine how to best dissuade her from seeking an abortion:

    As I sat there having my life probed, the purpose of the questions dawned on me. In case the test was positive, my “counselor” wanted to know which tactic to use to persuade me to continue the pregnancy — exactly where my resolve was the weakest. Was there a loving Christian boyfriend who would make a great dad? Did I have kind supportive parents who would be excited by the idea of a grandchild? I knew I wasn’t pregnant — knew exactly what she was doing — knew she wasn’t a doctor. But my body reacted instinctively to her questions with guilt and shame. It felt like a kick in the gut when she asked if I had told my brother about the baby, and I felt a creeping sense of selfishness as I imagined the door slamming on my shared apartment, my twenties, my life. Would my parents want me to have this child? Would it matter?

    Other CPCs may attempt to position themselves as legitimate, licensed medical centers. As journalist Meaghan Winter wrote for Cosmopolitan, when “confronted with criticism that they are running deceptive fake clinics, pregnancy center directors have begun acquiring medical equipment and affiliating with doctors and nurses who share their ideological message,” a trend Winter says pregnancy center counselors describe as “going medical.” This approach “allows centers to market themselves as a trusted source for health advice” about the alleged “health risks of abortion.” These types of CPCs, Winter explained, “often operate under the direction of unlicensed staff … and the license of a physician who doesn’t actually see clients at the center.” The centers also “generally … only offer ‘limited ultrasounds,’ meaning they can only confirm a pregnancy, not diagnose.”

    Beyond “going medical,” CPCs have increasingly attempted to rely on so-called “scientific” research in order to deter individuals from having an abortion. Human Coalition uses its CPCs “as laboratories to test everything from marketing techniques and counseling strategies to what color to paint the walls.” These efforts also included an experiment focused on “increasing a client’s perception of her baby as a unique person” by having pregnant patients listen to a muffled Adele song -- imitating how it might be heard in utero -- to help “establish this maternal-fetal bond.” Another anti-abortion organization the Vitae Foundation uses research to “help Vitae better understand the psychological dynamics that motivate women to feel the way they do about abortion” and “learn how to better communicate with those who may support abortion as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy and move them to a more life-affirming position.” Vitae Foundation shares the resulting data with CPCs “across the nation.”

    Media manipulation and outreach

    Beyond manipulating targeted digital advertisements, CPCs also engage in outreach through both traditional and new media platforms to bolster legitimacy for their claims of being “health care” providers.

    In early 2017, Human Coalition succeeded in placing two op-eds in The New York Times that espoused anti-abortion viewpoints. Media Matters found that Human Coalition had significantly increased its staff’s media appearances during 2016 before the op-eds were even published in the Times. In an August 2017 interview with Urban Family Talk’s Stacy on the Right, Human Coalition’s public relations manager Lauren Enriquez explained about how they’ve “kept up our media presence” after the The New York Times op-eds and “are still working with any paper that’s really willing to post our view.”

    CPCs also attempt to use “new media” for outreach by creating either their own platforms, outlets, or applications. In one example, Heartbeat International created its own media outlet, Pregnancy Help News, when its reliance on traditional publications proved insufficient for spreading the group’s misinformation. In another instance, California-based CPC chain Obria Medical Clinic created an app called “Obria Direct.” Obria’s founder Kathleen Eaton Bravo told Eternal World Television Network’s Pro-Life Weekly, a program created and sponsored by anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, that “abortion today is on the smartphone.” Bravo said she saw Obria as a “brand” that serves as “an alternative to Planned Parenthood.” Since Planned Parenthood already has an app for its California affiliates called “Planned Parenthood Direct,” Obria’s branding suggests its app is meant to emulate or replace legitimate reproductive care resources.

    CPCs will deceive and the media should remember that

    It should be noted that not every CPC engages in every one of these tactics. But regardless of how a CPC brands itself, one thing remains clear: CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions, and they will try a variety of tactics to deter individuals from obtaining one. Abortion is a personal choice, and should be treated as an essential option of comprehensive health care. As the Supreme Court debates and decides NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018, the media should call out CPCs when they use deceptive tactics, and resist promoting the inevitable right-wing spin that free speech of such organizations is being unduly impeded.

  • Facebook partners with conservative misinformer The Weekly Standard on fact-checking

    The Weekly Standard becomes the only partisan organization tasked with fact-checking for Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Conservative news outlet The Weekly Standard has been approved by Facebook to partner in fact-checking "false news," a partnership that makes little sense given the outlet’s long history of making misleading claims, pushing extreme right-wing talking points, and publishing lies to bolster conservative arguments.

    The Weekly Standard’s history of publishing false claims on topics such as the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, the Affordable Care Act, tax cuts, and the war in Iraq, among many others, raises doubts that Facebook is taking the challenge of fact-checking seriously.

    As The Guardian reports, The Weekly Standard is the first “explicitly partisan” outlet to partner with Facebook in their effort to fact-check fake news. The decision by Facebook raises concerns over the decision to give a conservative opinion outlet with a history of misinformation unearned influence over the fact-checking process. From the December 6 report:

    A conservative news organization has been approved to partner with Facebook to fact-check false news, drawing criticisms that the social media company is caving to rightwing pressures and collaborating with a publication that has previously spread propaganda.

    The Weekly Standard, a conservative opinion magazine, said it is joining a fact-checking initiative that Facebook launched last year aimed at debunking fake news on the site with the help of outside journalists. The Weekly Standard will be the first right-leaning news organization and explicitly partisan group to do fact-checks for Facebook, prompting backlash from progressive organizations, who have argued that the magazine has a history of publishing questionable content.

    [...]

    “I’m really disheartened and disturbed by this,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog group that published numerous criticisms of the Weekly Standard after the partnership was first rumored in October. “They have described themselves as an opinion magazine. They are supposed to be thought leaders.”

    Calling the magazine a “serial misinformer”, Media Matters cited the Weekly Standard’s role in pushing false and misleading claims about Obamacare, Hillary Clinton and other political stories.

  • Fox’s Dana Perino allows guest to attack the CFPB without disclosing he represented anti-CFPB clients

    Shannen Coffin has “represented clients affected by and opposed to CFPB regulation,” according to The Weekly Standard

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Fox News host Dana Perino allowed conservative lawyer and columnist Shannen Coffin to criticize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on her show without divulging his representation of clients antagonistic to the CFPB.

    On the November 27 edition of Fox News' The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, host Dana Perino interviewed Coffin about his recent column for The Weekly Standard titled “The Definitive Explanation of Why Trump Is Right on Mulvaney, English, and the CFPB.” During Coffin’s appearance on the show, Perino quoted from this column at length, and allowed Coffin to criticize the CFPB as he argued that there are “no checks and balances” when it comes to the agency. 

    But at no point during Coffin’s appearance did Perino acknowledge that Coffin has “represented clients affected by and opposed to CFPB regulation,” as noted in the Weekly Standard column that Perino quoted.

    This is not the first time that Fox has allowed guests to shill for conservative causes or personalities without divulging important information about their potential conflicts of interest. From the November 27 edition of Fox News' The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino:

    DANA PERINO (HOST): Amid the ongoing saga over who will take over the consumer financial protection bureau, my next guest says this legal battle will likely be a long one. Quote: “The dispute and the resulting litigation will cast further doubt over the legitimacy of an already troubled agency, a result that would run counter to Cordray’s stated purpose in launching his little bureaucratic war, but would let him continue to protect his bureaucratic legacy for just a little while longer, at a price of accountability to We the People.” Shannen Coffin is an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson. Shannen, take me back to 2010. What was the intent of the CFPB, and where did everything go wrong?

    SHANNEN COFFIN: Oh boy, that’s a big question. Well, look, the desire was to consolidate some other governmental agencies’ power into one bureau that would have regulatory control over consumer financial products. And the problem is though, the power here is so concentrated in one person. Unlike other agencies that are accountable directly to the president or some agencies that are made up of commissions that are made up of multiple members, you’ve got one guy, this Richard Cordray, who just resigned on Friday, who has all of the power. And a court that has looked at that said that is too much power. They have to be -- in order to be accountable in our constitutional system, he has to answer to the president. And that’s the constitutional background about this agency.

    PERINO: And doesn’t it also get its money to run, not from the Congress, but from profits from the federal reserve?

    COFFIN: That’s right. So the federal reserve pays the freight on the CFPB. Congress doesn’t appropriate funds directly like it does for every other agency. So you don’t even have real accountability to Congress. So there are just no checks and balances on the system. And this latest dispute is really another sign of that.

  • The Weekly Standard wants to become Facebook’s fact-checking partner, but will it fact check itself?

    A Weekly Standard’s fact-check debunks false claims that Clinton was involved in the Uranium One deal (The Weekly Standard pushed those claims)

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Weekly Standard, which is reportedly in talks with Facebook to become its fact-checking partner, published an article in its new fact-checking section debunking a popular right-wing media myth about former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But The Weekly Standard has itself pushed this misinformation in multiple articles -- one of which was published just days before the fact check.

    In 2015, discredited right-wing author Peter Schweizer alleged in his book Clinton Cash that Clinton played a "central role" in approving the purchase of Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency. Schweizer speculated that Clinton did so because the Russians and people linked to the deal reportedly gave money to the Clinton Foundation and her husband. But these bogus allegations were quickly debunked. Schweizer and his publisher subsequently deleted numerous errors from the electronic version of his book.

    Right-wing media recently revived the Uranium One story and were helped along by President Donald Trump and his Republican lawmaker allies (it is now the focus of a partisan House investigation and Congressional resolution to remove the former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating Trump).

    On November 2, the Standard published an article titled “Fact Check: Did Hillary Clinton Personally Approve the Uranium One Deal?” The article was ostensibly fact-checking MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who said on her show over the weekend that Clinton did not sit on the panel that approved the deal. The article correctly explained, as other news organizations did back in 2015, that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the deal, and that then-Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez sat on that nine-member panel, not Clinton herself. The article concluded, “Both Clinton and Fernandez publicly insist that Clinton did not intervene in the Uranium One deal. And no one with knowledge of the process has suggested that they are misrepresenting the truth.”

    Good for the Standard to acknowledge that Clinton was not involved with the Uranium One deal. But unfortunately for the Standard’s ambitions to become a trustworthy fact-checker, the magazine itself falsely suggested, as recently as last month, that Clinton was involved in the deal. The subhead of its October 24 article stated: “As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton helped approve the deal that involved donors to the Clinton Foundation” -- a statement which the magazine’s November 2 fact-check debunked. And on October 9, 2016, a month before the presidential election, the Standard rehashed the flawed 2015 Times article that it claimed “many seem to have forgotten,” and cited its discussion of “the key roles apparently played by both the Clinton Foundation and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Russia's successful acquisition of 20 percent of United States uranium reserves.”

    Up until now, the Standard has had no dedicated fact-checking unit. The outlet recently posted a job opening for its first-ever fact-checker. The Standard’s efforts to form a neutral, independent fact-checking unit are a requirement for the outlet to partner with Facebook’s fact-checking consortium. And though the Standard has not yet been approved to join the Facebook fact-checking collaboration, its fact-check of a persistent right-wing media lie like the Uranium One myth suggests that the magazine is attempting to insulate its new fact-checking unit from the outlet’s explicit partisanship -- a “walled garden” of sorts. But this is useless if the misinformation it is debunking is pushed by the outlet itself. If the Standard’s news section pushes right-wing lies, and the Standard fact checks that very same misinformation, then is the fact-checking unit really a reputable source of information? These first stumbling blocks require us to ask the Standard: Will its new unit have to regularly fact-check its own outlet?

    If the Standard hopes to be taken seriously as a fact-checker, it will have to own up to its own history of misinformation and stop pushing other conservative lies.


    Visit mediamatters.nationbuilder.com/facebook-weekly-standard to learn more about how you can get involved in the effort to stop Facebook from partnering with the Weekly Standard to fact-check.

  • Reported Facebook fact-checking partner The Weekly Standard pushes Sarah Palin’s death panel lie

    Facebook fact-checker PolitiFact had designated the death panel myth 2009’s “lie of the year”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The Weekly Standard published a column pushing the debunked lie that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes “death panels” just days after a report surfaced that Facebook plans to enlist the conservative outlet as a fact-checker to fight fake news.

    On October 7, Quartz reported that Facebook was in talks with The Weekly Standard to become a fact-checker, helping to oversee pieces shared on the social media platform that have been flagged as possible fake news. If a deal is finalized, The Weekly Standard would join fact-checkers such as Snopes and PolitiFact, which joined when Facebook announced the initiative last December.

    For its upcoming October 23 magazine issue, The Weekly Standard published a piece by frequent contributor Wesley J. Smith of the right-wing Discovery Institute headlined “Death Panels: Sarah Palin Was Right.” The headline refers to a lie fabricated in 2009 by serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey and amplified by former Republoican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) system set up by the ACA would determine whether seniors and people with disabilities were worthy of care. The false claim was so notorious that PolitiFact, which is a partner on Facebook’s fake news initiative, deemed it its 2009 “Lie of the Year.” The Standard column claims without proof that the IPAB “could, one day, be weaponized to implement invidious medical discrimination mandates—e.g., health-care rationing.” The column also cites a 2012 New York Times op-ed from Steve Rattner, a former adviser to former President Barack Obama, as evidence that the IPAB could demand medical rationing. But in the actual op-ed, Rattner simply discussed forms of health care rationing he would prefer and laments that the ACA “regrettably includes severe restrictions” on rationing.

    This is not the first time the Standard and its writers have pushed misinformation. In February, the outlet appeared to fall victim to smears from fake news purveyors when it falsely accused a former National Security Council staffer of being a political Obama appointee. The Standard promoted the lie that Healthcare.gov stripped insurance customers of their right to privacy and mischaracterized comments made by proponents of health care reform. Its editor-in-chief, Stephen Hayes, wrote a book falsely claiming that Al Qaeda collaborated with Saddam Hussein, and its founder, William Kristol, was a major booster of the Iraq War and claimed that “we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq.” Kristol also played a major role in Palin’s selection as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. The magazine has also previously attacked PolitiFact's credibility; one of its writers attacked Facebook over its fact-checking program, labeling the fact-checkers as “a panel of censors” and complaining that they “cannot be trusted to be fair to conservatives.”

    Facebook’s attempt to bring in conservatives to help fight fake news is not objectionable in and of itself; indeed, researchers and experts have called on conservatives to help fight fake news, and the social media giant could certainly use help. But it is imperative that those partners be good-faith actors that do not push misinformation themselves. That The Weekly Standard would publish such a misleading column about something as thoroughly discredited as death panels is not an encouraging sign that it will help improve the accuracy of information shared on Facebook.

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.

  • Right-Wing Media Attack Rep. Maxine Waters After She Presented At The MTV Awards

    ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Conservative media figures, right-wing media outlets, and fake news purveyors attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she appeared at the MTV Movie and TV Awards as a presenter and received a standing ovation, calling her “dumb as a brick,” attacking her for her age, and claiming that she “worships at the feet of totalitarian monsters.”

  • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

    Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.

  • Media Praise Trump For Ordering Missile Attack On Syrian Airbase

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Media figures and pundits celebrated President Donald Trump’s “swift, decisive” order to destroy a Syrian airbase in retaliation for what is believed to be a chemical warfare attack against Syrian rebels that killed dozens of people, including children. Pundits praised Trump’s “readiness to act on instinct” and declared that Trump “made Americans proud.”