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  • Contra right-wing media, US officials have verified core aspects of the Trump dossier

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media have waged a months-long attempt to discredit the 35-page dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer that contains allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Various right-wing commentators have described its contents as “unreliable,” “discredited,” “largely debunked,” and "evidence of ... collusion between Democrats and Russian disinformation," including a Washington Times story that Trump promoted this week. But, according to numerous reports, American intelligence officials have “verified” various “core” aspects of the dossier.

  • An Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group Is Wielding Growing Power On Trump's Transition Team

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Wired spotlighted the growing influence of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. The publication wrote that FRC is now “as well positioned as ever” to propagate its brand of regressive anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience through “lower level government officials” who have the power to “overrule scientific advisory committees.”

    FRC has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 due to FRC’s “distortion of known facts to demonize gay men as child molesters and similar false claims.” Despite initial reservations about Trump’s candidacy, FRC president Tony Perkins quickly embraced and endorsed him as a “teachable” candidate after he secured his party’s presidential nomination. Their relationship gave Perkins an opportunity to “shape” Trump into a nominee who embodies the former’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and to garner support from evangelicals for Trump.

    Wired’s Emma Ellis revealed just how much Perkins has taken advantage of that opportunity in a November 30 article about Trump’s transition team members who are affiliated with the hate group. They include:

    • Ken Blackwell, Trump’s domestic policy chair as well as an FRC senior fellow;
    • former FRC Vice President Kay Coles James, who co-leads the transition team in management and budget affairs;
    • Ed Meese, who has written for FRC and is co-leading the team in management and budget affairs; and
    •  Ken Klukowski, the transition team’s “constitutional rights” leader, Breitbart editor, and the former director of FRC’s center for religious liberty.

    Ellis’s profile also noted that many of Trump’s “cabinet appointees and soon-to-be staffers” have spoken at FRC’s annual conference, the Values Voter Summit, as did Trump.

    Despite FRC’s reputation for peddling misinformation and extremism, the group’s members “are treated as reasonable by many in Congress,” Ellis wrote. This is largely due to FRC’s success in what an English professor who studies homophobic language referred to as “‘cultivating a scientific identity,’” and in pushing an ideology that Ellis wrote “comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.”

    Media outlets a have largely ignored Trump’s selections for his transition team, instead mostly focusing on his cabinet picks, whom they’ve dissected in long articles exploring their professional histories and affiliations and speculating on their potential impact on policy. But Ellis noted that the “lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make-- the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries--have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees” -- and they could do so with FRC’s brand of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience.

    From the November 30 Wired article:

    The Family Research Council isn’t content to oppose homosexuality on religious grounds; instead, it uses pseudoscience to give its homophobia a flimsy veneer of objectivity. And it could wind up shaping the incoming president’s policies.

    “They’ve been highly sophisticated in cultivating a scientific identity, which makes them powerful,” says David Peterson, an English professor who studies homophobic language at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. (The FRC and Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.)

    [...]

    The group has been making political moves since the early 1980s. Since then, it’s grown to become the most successful progeny of an effort among social conservatives to move the basis of their policy recommendations away from Scripture and toward sociology. Not that legitimate sociology is where the FRC has arrived. Rather, the group is to homophobia what the National Policy Institute is to the alt-right—a bland, respectable-sounding, quasi-academic front for a hateful, regressive ideology. It comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, FRC members perspectives are treated as reasonable by many in Congress. And now it appears they’ll enjoy similar esteem from the Trump administration. In part, that success owes itself to the group’s public relations effort to appear of respectable. Their website is well designed and hides some of the FRC’s most outré work. Perkins seems like a pleasant enough fellow on television.

    With current and former FRC staff all over the Trump transition team, the group seems as well positioned as ever to propagate its ideology. Perhaps most importantly—and least conspicuously—it may find a way to accomplish its goals through lower level government officials who buy into the FRC’s beliefs. “The headlines are about who is the secretary of this or that, but they deal with broad policy,” says David Himmelstein, a professor of public health policy at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. But the lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make—the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries—have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees, Himmelstein says, and have done so even under the relatively pro-science Obama administration. Such actions by a presidential administration can also provide political cover for more radical policy shifts at the state level.

  • Trump Campaign Created Its Own News Show "To Circumvent Mainstream Media"

    After Retreating To Fox News, Trump Campaign Finds A Way To Get Favorable Media Coverage By Just Doing It Themselves

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After retreating to more favorable right-wing media outlets, Donald Trump’s campaign will now air a nightly Facebook Live show, as “a way for the campaign to circumvent the mainstream media.”

    Trump created a similar event on Facebook Live to stream the pre-and post-debate coverage of the third presidential debate last week that journalists said could be a “preview” of Trump launching a television news network.

    Trump and his surrogates have repeatedly claimed that the media is biased and rigging the election against him, and on October 23, his campaign announced a plan to break up media conglomerates that have criticized him.

    Recently, Trump has steered from more mainstream news outlets, retreating to Fox News to help him push his campaign message.

    Wired’s Issie Lapowsky reported the event’s launch and noted  that media figures are already calling Trump’s nightly news show “a test drive for Trump TV, the post-election television network that Trump is rumored to be considering in the event he loses in November.” From the article:

    Tonight, the Trump campaign is kicking off a show that will air on the candidate’s Facebook page every night at 6:30pm ET via Facebook Live from the campaign war room at Trump Tower. The show will be hosted by Boris Epshteyn, a senior adviser to the campaign, Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator for Glen Beck’s TheBlaze, and Cliff Sims, another Trump adviser. In tonight’s inaugural episode they will interview Trump campaign manager KellyAnne Conway and adviser Jason Miller.

    The series, which will stream Trump’s rallies directly each night and feature pre-and post-event commentary, comes on the heels of the campaign’s debate night Facebook Live last week, which brought in more than 9 million views.

    [...]

    Members of the media quickly seized on the event, calling it a test drive for Trump TV, the post-election television network that Trump is rumored to be considering in the event he loses in November. Despite reports that his son-in-law has been talking to media dealmakers about Trump TV, Trump himself has denied he has any interest in such a thing.

    Epshteyn says this nightly Facebook Live stream is simply a way for the campaign to circumvent the mainstream media Trump so publicly loathes. “We all know how strong the left wing media bias is. This is us delivering our message to voters,” he says. “It has nothing to do with Trump TV. It’s about using 21st century technology and communication in a way that’s effective.

    [...]

    Of course, it’s not the Trump campaign or the Clinton campaign’s jobs to be objective purveyors of the news, and Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale acknowledges as much. “It’s an extension of our ad programs and our social media posts,” Parscale says. “The only difference is we’re going to broadcast it live.”

    Just don’t call it Trump TV.

  • Conservative Media Push Myth That Planned Parenthood Isn't Essential For Zika Response

    The Daily Signal: Planned Parenthood Is Inessential Because Its Clinics “Are Limited In The Services They Can Provide In The Fight Against Zika”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On September 6, Congress again failed to approve a federal response to the Zika virus after Republicans included a legislative “poison pill” designed to exclude Planned Parenthood from funding -- echoing the false right-wing media argument that the reproductive health organization is not an essential health care provider.

    The bogus assertion that Planned Parenthood is inessential has been a right-wing media staple, frequently adopted by anti-choice legislators attempting to defund the organization. In particular, since the release of deceptively edited videos from the discredited Center for Medical Progress, anti-choice legislators have repeated the inaccurate right-wing media talking point that federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) or community health centers can effectively fill the gap left by denying Planned Parenthood access to funding and resources.

    After the failed Zika vote, The Daily Signal justified the anti-Planned Parenthood rider, arguing that Democrats were needlessly obstructing funding because, “In reality, clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood … are limited in the services they can provide in the fight against Zika” while many community health centers are “ready [and able] to ramp up efforts against Zika.”

    To support this position, The Daily Signal cited evidence from a number of anti-abortion organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. It also included numerous comments from Casey Mattox, a lawyer for the right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which not only openly opposes abortion but also has a history of smearing the LGBT community and working to criminalize homosexuality.

    According to Mattox, only FQHCs are “equipped” to handle Zika response because they have “medical professionals on staff … to diagnose and treat illness” while “Planned Parenthood does not.” In reality, Planned Parenthood health centers offer a “wide range of services” including “general health care” that is covered by Medicaid or other state safety net programs. To underscore Mattox’s argument, The Daily Signal included an ADF graphic claiming to compare the seeming differences between Planned Parenthood and FQHCs.

    However, as Emma Grey Ellis noted in an August 2 article for Wired, to “actually combat Zika, you need to gain control of its vectors.” Given the sexually transmitted nature of the Zika virus and its impact on pregnant persons, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) determined that “full access to the most complete range of reproductive options,” which includes contraception and abortion, is essential to address its spread.

    In an August statement to ABC News, ACOG president and CEO Dr. Hal Lawrence explained the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in Zika response. According to Lawrence, Planned Parenthood has long “provided ongoing well-woman services and contraceptives to millions … and has been oftentimes the best access for some underprivileged women to get access to contraception.”

    Lawrence’s argument is further supported by previous research from the Guttmacher Institute, which found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” accessible for those seeking contraception. Guttmacher noted that Planned Parenthood is not only a leading provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services, but also that it can typically see more patients annually for these services than "other types of safety-net providers" can.

    Planned Parenthood has played an essential role in educating the public about the the virus, including discussing how it spreads and methods of prevention. As Alex Harris reported for the Miami Herald, Planned Parenthood has launched a campaign “to spread the word about Zika prevention.” Harris continued that Planned Parenthood staff have been going “door-to-door in areas where large groups of reproductive-age women live … [who] may not have been reached by state or federal Zika education efforts.”

    Furthermore, as Florida’s last attempt to defund Planned Parenthood demonstrated, classification as a FQHC doesn’t necessarily qualify a health care provider to respond to reproductive health issues like the Zika virus.

    When Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that barred Planned Parenthood from accessing state Medicaid funds -- a measure that has since been temporarily blocked by a federal judge -- the list of replacement FQHCs provided by supporters was called “laughable” by Slate’s Christina Cauterucci because it was "filled with dozens of elementary and middle schools, several dental practices, and at least one optometry center.” This disparity is partly explained by the caption to ADF’s own graphic, which explains, “While every FQHC provides these services, not every FQHC delivery site offers every service listed.” In other words, although some providers may have staff and resources to address a reproductive health issue like Zika, not every FQHC will be adapted to that purpose.

    Experts have confirmed that even when FQHCs and community clinics do provide reproductive health services, they are not well-positioned to fill the gap when Planned Parenthood is forced out of communities. As Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote in an article for the Health Affairs Blog, the "claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do."

    While anti-choice lawmakers recycle right-wing media misinformation to score political points by attacking Planned Parenthood, the director of the Centers for Disease Control has issued an ominous warning to Congress: “Basically, we are out of money [to respond to Zika] and we need Congress to act. The cupboard is bare.”

  • How A Right-Wing Media Myth About Planned Parenthood Could Hurt Florida’s Fight Against Zika

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    At the end of July, the first outbreak of the Zika virus occurred in Miami, FL -- confirming many experts’ fears that it was only a matter of time before the mosquito-borne virus began to impact the United States. But efforts to fight the spread of the virus have been stymied by anti-choice lawmakers’ reliance on the right-wing media talking point that Planned Parenthood isn’t an essential service provider.

    Since last winter, the Zika virus has spread among a number of Latin American countries, predominantly affecting pregnant persons. Experts have classified the virus as a “public health threat” due to the suspected link between Zika and the neurological disorder microcephaly, which severely stunts the development of a fetus during pregnancy. This link prompted concerns about the accessibility of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for pregnant persons affected by Zika in Latin America.

    Rather than prepare for an outbreak of Zika in the United States by making these essential reproductive health services more accessible, however, anti-choice lawmakers instead invoked a right-wing media myth to attack Planned Parenthood and block its efforts to help combat a potential outbreak.

    Since the release of deceptively edited videos from the discredited Center for Medical Progress, anti-choice legislators have repeated misinformation about Planned Parenthood and the essential services it provides as part of an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. To justify these attacks, legislators have relied on the right-wing media talking point that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by denying Planned Parenthood access to funding and resources.

    Prior to the Zika outbreak, anti-choice lawmakers in Florida had already attempted to block access to abortion and other reproductive health services offered by Planned Parenthood.

    In March, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that not only emulated provisions of Texas’ unconstitutional HB 2, but also barred Planned Parenthood from accessing state Medicaid funds. Although parts of the law have been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, if enforced in full the bill would functionally defund the reproductive care provider. The Guardian’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy reported that supporters of the Florida bill echoed right-wing media’s false claim that community health clinics could fill in by “insist[ing] that plentiful alternatives exist for reproductive and sexual healthcare” even without Planned Parenthood.

    However, as Slate’s Christina Cauterucci explained, the list of replacement providers in the state was “laughable” because it was filled with “dozens of elementary and middle schools, several dental practices, and at least one optometry center.” She continued:

    Nevertheless, proponents of HB 1411 have used this list to pooh-pooh concerns for women’s health, claiming that there are 29 public health clinics for every Planned Parenthood in the state; therefore, the argument goes, no poor women will miss Planned Parenthood when it’s gone. The Guardian reports that in 2010, according to Guttmacher Institute data, there were just five public health clinics that offered family planning services for every Florida Planned Parenthood.

    Indeed, experts have confirmed that the idea of community clinics filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.” According to earlier research from the Guttmacher Institute, in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” accessible for those seeking contraception. Guttmacher noted that Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services and typically can see more patients annually for these services than "other types of safety-net providers" can.

    Access to contraception and abortion care are essential to address the spread of Zika in the United States. As Emma Grey Ellis wrote in an August 2 article for Wired, “To actually combat Zika, you need to gain control of its vectors.” She continued that although enabling people “to delay pregnancy to avoid passing Zika to their children is an obvious, vital step,” there were a number of “political stumbling blocks” preventing access to reproductive health services.

    These “stumbling blocks” have included opposition from public officials. During an August 6 interview with Politico, former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he believed those impacted by Zika should not have the option to abort the pregnancy.Gov. Scott has urged pregnant people to “contact your OB-GYN for guidance to and receive a Zika prevention kit.”

    However, according to Mother Jones, “Planned Parenthood hasn't received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak.” The outlet noted that this failure is problematic given the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in caring for low-income and uninsured patients, who are “more likely to get pregnant by accident.”

    Furthermore, even when pregnancies are intentional, the threat posed by Zika is still substantial. In an article for The Atlantic, journalist Liz Tracy reported on her fraught experience being pregnant in Miami during the Zika outbreak. She wrote that the threat of Zika transformed “nine-and-a-half months into a horror movie with a monster that is almost impossible to locate and hard to avoid.” As Tracy explained, thanks to the numerous barriers to abortion access, “if a Zika infection terribly damaged the fetus, and we decided on having an abortion, those restrictive laws would pose an overwhelming emotional, practical, and financial challenge.”

    Tracy also quoted another pregnant woman saying that with the lack of testing, kits, and care in Florida, “It just feels like too little too late” to contain Zika in the state. She added, “It’s crazy how much they could have done in advance and nothing was done.”