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  • Fox News added more female hosts but still had the same abortion misinformation problem

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.

    The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:

    Shannon Bream

    Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).

    As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.

    As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”

    Martha MacCallum

    MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.

    When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”

    Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”

    Laura Ingraham

    During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).

    Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”

    Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Anti-abortion extremists keep crying censorship to raise money

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If there’s one thing Republicans love more than pretending they’re being victimized by liberal elites, it’s raising money off this inaccurate claim -- a tendency demonstrated clearly during recent congressional hearings on the activities of Facebook. During these hearings, Republican members of Congress elevated various overinflated right-wing grievances against social media companies (such as claims of anti-abortion censorship and anti-Christian bias) in order to pressure the platform into allowing greater promotion of inflammatory or inaccurate content. In particular, they seized on pro-Trump YouTubers Diamond and Silk, who have actively lied about Facebook censoring them and then used the attention to raise money. As close watchers of the anti-abortion movement know, this tactic of crying censorship to garner attention and raise funds is a favorite of anti-choice actors. Here are a few that have recently employed this practice:

    Live Action

    Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in June 2017 alleging that Twitter was censoring Live Action’s ads due to ideological bias. In reality, the content still appeared on Live Action’s Twitter page, but was not allowed to be promoted as an advertisement to other users, not because of bias, but because it violated several of Twitter’s content policies regarding "hate content, sensitive topics, and violence.”

    Instead of altering the organization’s content to meet Twitter’s policies, Rose appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and used claims of supposed censorship to raise funds for Live Action. As Rose told Carlson, “We’re actually doing a campaign right now to get people to fund Live Action and to get out the information that Twitter is trying to block using other platforms -- using Facebook, using YouTube, using the blogosphere, obviously coming on here and talking with you.”

    Live Action continued to deploy this dishonest tactic even after Rose’s Fox News appearance. Following the June 26 segment, Live Action sent a fundraising email claiming that “Live Action is being suppressed” and asking supporters “to help us strengthen our efforts against the abortion industry.” Live Action’s censorship allegations also animated other right-wing media outlets. For example, on June 29, Christian Broadcasting Network published an article promoting Live Action’s claims about Twitter’s ad policy, which stated that “Live Action has launched a campaign to compensate for their losses due to Twitter’s censoring,” and directed readers to Live Action’s fundraising page. Rose and Live Action also pushed the narrative on Twitter, using the hashtag #DontDeleteMe -- even though all of Live Action tweets remained publicly available on the platform.

    The group also continued to use claims of censorship to raise funds in three October 2017 emails. In one email, Live Action stated that “Twitter is STILL banning our paid ads” and asked whether members would “give a gift to Live Action today so that we can expose more people to the truth.” In another email, Live Action claimed, “While we work to pressure Twitter to lift their ban on ads for pro-life content, we must double our efforts elsewhere” and asked people to “make a gift … so that we can reach more people with the truth.” Live Action made a similar plea in another email, asking people to “consider helping us reach more Americans with the truth about abortion through our other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”

    Operation Rescue

    The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue claimed in July 2017 that Google was censoring parts of its website after its page rankings decreased in the results of searches for “abortions in US” or “abortion statistics.” The group alleged that “Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure” to Operation Rescue's web pages, which contain abortion statistics purporting to show the "truth about abortion." Operation Rescue then sent a fundraising email asking for support to "launch a massive campaign to ensure our critical abortion research and pro-life content is available, and no longer pushed down by the pro-abortion radicals at Google." Prior to the complaint, Google announced a policy change regarding how sites containing misleading or false information would be ranked.

    Susan B. Anthony List

    In October 2017, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) claimed that one of the organization’s Twitter ads, targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, was taken down by the platform, seemingly for 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.”

    Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress last week, SBA List reprised this tactic and emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    Anti-abortion outlets

    Not to be left out of the conversation about supposed anti-abortion censorship, the anti-choice news outlet Life News also sent an email after Zuckerberg’s testimony stating, “Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are increasingly censoring pro-life voices,” and asking readers to sign a petition and to “make a donation today … so we can continue to stand up to these social media giants [and] their censorship.”

    Another anti-abortion outlet, LifeSite News, also asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSite News, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSite argued that its inability to raise funds was due to censorship from Facebook and Google and pleaded to readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.

    Roe v. Wade -- the movie

    The producer of an anti-abortion film about Roe v. Wade claimed that Facebook temporarily blocked his ability to post an Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production of the film. On the Indiegogo page, the film is described as “the real untold story of how people lied; how the media lied; and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 million Americans.” According to the film’s crowdfunding page, the film needs “support now more than ever. Facebook has banned us from inviting friends to ‘Like’ our page and from ‘Sharing’ our PAID ads.”

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn

    In October 2017, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced she was running for a Senate seat by tweeting out a campaign video that included a mention of her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- a sham investigation based on deceptive and disproven claims by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The video included inflammatory language such as that Blackburn had “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” After Twitter temporarily blocked her from running the tweet as a paid ad due to its inflammatory language, Blackburn claimed censorship and made the rounds on Fox News to push this story. Blackburn also used the opportunity to tweet that the “conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite,” urging people to “donate to my Senate campaign today.”

    Anti-abortion groups and outlets have found a great deal of success in crying censorship -- a lesson that wider conservative media outlets and figures appear to be taking to heart. As a recently published report from the right-wing Media Research Center (a report that was readily promoted by outlets like Life News) melodramatically framed the issue: “The question facing the conservative movement is one of survival. Can it survive online if the tech companies no longer allow conservative speech and speakers? And, if that happens, can the movement survive at all?”

  • Wash. Post health care reporter has a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.

  • The most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”

  • Right-wing media do the dirty work of anti-abortion groups by hyping attacks on Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It comes as little surprise that Fox News once again carried water for the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), this time returning to an old tactic of using advance copies of documents to validate already debunked claims from CMP’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

    On December 7, Fox News reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had “launched a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices and the sale of fetal tissue.” As evidence, the article cited “a letter first obtained by Fox News” that “formally requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee” that were gathered in 2016 as part of an investigation into Planned Parenthood. The article concluded that the DOJ’s actions would “reopen the years-long debate on whether Planned Parenthood and other providers violated the law with the illegal sale of body parts.” 

    As Jezebel noted, the DOJ’s “letter is essentially a procedural document,” and it “remains unclear whether or not the DOJ plans to launch a full investigation or whether or not this is simply a political attempt to garner headlines like the one published at Fox News” claiming that Planned Parenthood is being investigated even though “there is no formal investigation.”

    Claims about the alleged “sale of body parts” emerged in July 2015, when David Daleiden and his discredited organization, Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released a series of deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Since then, multiple investigations have disproven Daleiden’s claims and, in fact, cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. In contrast, Daleiden is now subject to several legal actions -- during the most recent of which two of his attorneys were fined and held in contempt for violating a preliminary injunction by releasing materials that targeted individual abortion providers.

    In reality, both the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation and a parallel effort by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives were considered from their inception to be politically motivated attacks on abortion access and reproductive health more broadly. During its 10 months of operation, the House select panel found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. As Rewire explained, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts were similarly unfruitful, and the final report merely echoed “allegations disproven by three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury.”

    Although right-wing and anti-abortion outlets love to frame Daleiden and his co-conspirators as “citizen journalists” conducting an “undercover investigation,” a federal judge and journalism experts have agreed: Daleiden and his ilk are not journalists. In contrast, as data from NAF demonstrates, since the release of the videos in July 2015, violence and harassment of abortion reporters has skyrocketed. Despite this -- and Daleiden’s litany of legal issues -- right-wing and anti-abortion media have not been deterred from carrying water for CMP’s deceptive claims.

    This is not the first time that Fox News has received exclusive information relating to the congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood. In May 2016, Fox News’ Shannon Bream touted "exclusively obtained" copies of letters that the House select panel sent to various entities at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This “exclusive” ran on May 31 -- a full day before the letters were publicly released or shared with Democratic members of the panel, in direct violation of congressional rules. More recently, right-wing and anti-abortion media circulated footage from CMP that was barred from release by a district judge. Even after CMP was forced to remove the footage from YouTube, anti-abortion media outlets that had promoted the footage reposted and shared it.

    Before its conclusion, the House select panel was notable for its function as a conduit through which anti-abortion groups consistently funneled information in order to give their attacks a veneer of legitimacy. And if, in fact, the DOJ’s inquiry does signal a formal investigation, the release of the December 7 letter to Fox News a full day before ranking Democratic members received it should be a warning sign about the impartiality of this investigation.

  • Fox’s Shannon Bream has a new show and a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.

    As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything. 

    For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access. 

    In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)

    During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”

    Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”

    The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).

    As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.

    If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster:

  • Fox News has a long history of pushing the Center for Medical Progress’ anti-abortion lies

    The network recently aired Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s repetition of CMP’s “baby body parts” lie

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After Twitter briefly prevented Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) Senate campaign from promoting an ad on the platform featuring an “inflammatory” and inaccurate claim about Planned Parenthood, Blackburn made the rounds on Fox News to push the ad’s anti-abortion talking point about “baby body parts,” which came from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP). This isn’t anything new: Fox News has a long history of promoting anti-abortion lies from both Blackburn and CMP.

  • How one Republican used a tactic from the anti-abortion media playbook to bully Twitter

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn has a long history of taking cues from anti-abortion groups to gin up right-wing support -- and her latest attack on Twitter is no different

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion groups and media outlets have a habit of claiming censorship in order to boost fundraising by ginning up outrage and support. Now this media manipulation tactic is being employed by a staunch anti-choice ally: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

    On October 5, Blackburn announced a run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) seat. As part of this announcement, Blackburn’s campaign tweeted a short video advertising her right-wing bonafides, including her work as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which was created to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Planned Parenthood on the basis of deceptive videos from a discredited anti-abortion organization. Although the panel was regarded by many as merely “an expensive witch hunt,” Blackburn touted her role during the campaign video, claiming that she had “fought Planned Parenthood” and “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

    Although Blackburn's campaign wanted to pay to promote the video on Twitter as an ad, the social media site initially objected, drawing widespread outrage among anti-abortion and right-wing outlets. According to an October 10 Associated Press report, Twitter found that Blackburn’s statement about “baby body parts” violated platform rules because it was “‘deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.’” Twitter allowed the video to remain up but not as promoted content, concluding that the campaign “would be allowed to run the rest of the video” as a paid ad if it ommitted the phrase.

    This stance did not last long, however. The next day, Twitter reversed its position and announced that it would allow Blackburn’s campaign to promote the ad, commenting to Politico, “While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues.”

    Blackburn's campaign quickly seized on Twitter’s refusal as an act of censorship -- taking a page straight from the anti-abortion media playbook.

    As Media Matters has previously noted, anti-abortion extremists have increasingly employed the tactic of alleging “censorship” or claiming that inaccurate anti-choice content is being “shut down” to gin up fundraising support and rile up right-wing media allies. By reacting to perceived slights as instances of injustice or censorship, these groups can incite followers, increase fundraising, and appeal to an audience motivated by anti-elite sentiments but normally less attuned to the activities of the anti-abortion movement.

    In one example, anti-abortion extremist Lila Rose alleged that Twitter was censoring advertisements from her group Live Action by similarly prohibiting their promotion as sponsored content. After Rose appeared on the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss Twitter’s alleged bias, a banner was added to Live Action’s home page begging for donations to combat the act of censorship. By June 30, the organization had announced that it had reached its fundraising goal but nevertheless asked supporters to continue donating in order to “guarantee” Live Action could continue working “to expose the abortion industry.” Other anti-abortion organizations and right-wing outlets also came to Live Action’s defense, working to create even more support for claims of censorship and persecution.

    Emulating this tactic, the Blackburn campaign was quick to cry foul and turn the perceived slight into a fundraising opportunity. On October 9, the campaign’s Twitter account circulated a video inaccurately alleging that Blackburn was “banned by Twitter” and asking supporters to share the clip in order to “spread the word” that “Silicon Valley won’t stop our conservative movement with censorship.” The account also shared posts from anti-abortion groups and outlets alleging that Blackburn had been censored. The Blackburn campaign even sent an email to supporters asking for donations, warning that the “liberal elite wants to censor us at every opportunity.” Over the next 24 hours, Blackburn appeared multiple times on Fox News to repeat her claims of censorship and enjoyed a surge in media attention from outlets across the political spectrum. Twitter ultimately caved to the pressure and allowed the campaign to run Blackburn’s ad with the allegations against Planned Parenthood intact.

    The symbiotic relationship between Blackburn and various anti-abortion groups or media is hardly a secret. During Blackburn’s time as select panel chair, the committee held three hearings that utilized evidence sourced directly from anti-abortion groups as so-called “evidence” of wrongdoing by abortion providers and related organizations. Indeed, several anti-abortion groups, including (but likely not limited to) New Mexico Alliance for Life, Protest ABQ, Operation Rescue, and the Center for Medical Progress provided “documentation and materials” to the select panel. A member of Protest ABQ even bragged about having influence over the panel's investigators, stating that their research "finally paid off and turned into the panel investigating.” In addition to leveraging connections to anti-abortion groups, Blackburn also leaked an advanced copy of allegations from the panel to Fox News -- before sharing it with minority members -- and provided an exclusive interview inaccurately alleging that Planned Parenthood had operated in “direct violation of federal law.”

    Blackburn’s deployment of the censorship tactic elides the more fundamental issue with the ad itself: the fact that it was based on a falsehood. Contrary to Blackburn's claim, multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, while the anti-choice activists responsible for the initial “baby parts” allegations are currently the subject of multiple lawsuits.

    Blackburn’s campaign took a page out of the anti-abortion playbook to garner a concession from Twitter. And as New York magazine's Margaret Hartmann noted, Blackburn’s success -- despite the falsity of her claims -- “has probably encouraged Republican midterm candidates to throw some unproven, inflammatory statements into the ads.” Indeed, Blackburn has already taken to calling Twitter's reversal "our first Senate conservative victory." 

  • Anti-abortion media use new smear video to lobby lawmakers before health care vote

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In the early hours of July 28, Republican senators failed to pass a bill to dismantle key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and defund Planned Parenthood on a 51-49 vote. Prior to the vote, the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) had released yet another of its deceptive smear videos alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and anti-abortion and right-wing media circulated the clip as a reason to vote for the Republican bill.

  • How anti-abortion extremists are using Tucker Carlson's show to cultivate the far right

    Tucker Carlson is readily providing anti-choice extremists with a platform and a message that appeals to his radical base 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When he’s not busy harassing Teen Vogue columnists, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has made a habit of hosting anti-abortion activists and packaging their misinformation and lies in a way that appeals to his base of “alt-right” extremists and Reddit trolls. 

    Since the white nationalists’ golden boy scored a prime-time spot in the Fox News lineup, he has gained a reputation for bullying and insulting his guests, deceptively editing segments, and even booking actors to represent highly curated versions of “opposing viewpoints” to his own. His most recent trick, however, appears to be hosting anti-abortion extremists and giving them a platform to cry “censorship” while simultaneously spreading misinformation about abortion.

    Although Carlson is no stranger to hosting anti-abortion guests -- a Media Matters study found that he did so frequently over the span of a year -- his more recent segments have heavily relied on the false proposition that anti-abortion groups or individuals are somehow being censored.

    Alleging censorship is a common tactic among anti-abortion activists to rally support and rile up sympathetic right-wing media audiences. And for his part, Carlson appears more than willing to amplify such voices and give them an even larger platform from which they can spread their misinformation to millions. 

    For example, on June 26, Carlson hosted anti-choice activist Lila Rose for a segment about Twitter’s alleged censorship of ads by her organization, Live Action. During the segment, Rose argued that Twitter was secretly “blocking the advertisement of pro-life speech” by not allowing Live Action to buy ads on the platform. Rose frequently referenced what she called the “hate and sensitive” policy as the reason for the ads being rejected.

    In reality, the so-called “hate and sensitive” policy is Twitter’s “sensitive advertising content policy” -- guidelines that are publicly available and a far cry from being a means of censorship. Despite this, Carlson ramped up his incredulity and further sensationalized Rose’s claims, calling Twitter’s decision “an atrocity” and alleged that Twitter was treating Live Action’s tweets like “hate speech.”

    Previously, Rose appeared on the May 31 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to promote deceptive footage from the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Before her appearance, federal Judge William Orrick had barred the release of the footage, and ultimately required all copies of the illicitly spread footage be removed from the internet. Ignoring the substance of these orders, Carlson and Rose alleged the videos had been censored, and attacked Orrick for being biased. At one point, Carlson suggested that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.” 

    On June 9, Carlson hosted CMP founder David Daleiden on his program to continue this line of attack on Orrick and advance the narrative that anti-abortion misinformation was being censored. During the segment, Daleiden alleged he was a victim of “viewpoint discrimination” and detailed evidence of Orrick’s supposed “pre-existing personal bias and prejudice” against anti-abortion groups that should “disqualify” him from the case.

    Just as with Rose’s appearances, Carlson acted as an instigator for Daleiden -- amplifying outrage, crying censorship, and fanning the already over-inflated persecution complex of his anti-choice guest. Carlson called Orrick’s order to bar the footage from release “a clear violation of free expression” and complained that it was “totally un-American” as well as “completely authoritarian and insane.”

    One would think that sustaining this level of outrage over exaggerated censorship claims would be exhausting, but it appears Carlson’s ability to conjure expressions of faux incredulity and take offense from phantom injury knows no bounds. And regardless of the veracity of these censorship claims, the frequency with which Carlson fuels and spreads them is a dangerous tactic meant to specifically appeal to the radicalized base of his show’s viewers.

    Media Matters has consistently documented Carlson’s history of noxious commentary about any number of topics. Notably, it’s his very commitment to attacking women, people of color, and the most vulnerable -- while positioning proponents of those attacks as victims of persecution or censorship -- that has appealed to Carlson’s “alt-right” base the most. In fact, it's become common for "alt-right" and white supremacist trolls to harass guests on the program if they don't agree with Carlson's extreme views. 

    As Rewire’s Amy Littlefield explained, the tactic of attacking so-called media bias has also been largely embraced by the anti-choice movement. Reporting on the most recent National Right to Life Conference, Littlefield noted that there had been a “general tenor of anti-journalism throughout the conference, as speaker after speaker condemned and mocked outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN.” In one particularly revealing moment, Littlefield noted that Daleiden refused to speak with her claiming that Rewire was not only “American Pravda,” but also “very fake news.”

    Being wrong about abortion and reproductive rights is nothing new to Carlson. What’s different, though, and potentially more dangerous, is Carlson’s latest trick: manufacturing, amplifying, and ultimately over-inflating claims of censorship made by anti-abortion extremists in order to convince his radical base that it would be “un-American” not to rally behind their cause.

  • Anti-abortion extremist group resurfaces to promote anti-choice misinformation in Wash. Times

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After disbanding earlier this year, the anti-choice extremists behind Protest ABQ are back and operating under a new name -- and thanks to The Washington Times, they’re getting a bigger platform than ever to spread misinformation about late-term abortion and demonize abortion providers.

    In a June 20 article, The Washington Times gave an uncritical platform to a newly re-formed New Mexico anti-abortion group, Abortion Free New Mexico (AFNM). This group is the latest venture of longtime anti-choice extremists Bud and Tara Shaver. The Shavers are acolytes of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has for years pushed violent rhetoric against, and harassment of, abortion providers. Prior to forming AFNM, the Shavers headed a similar campaign in New Mexico, called Protest ABQ. Protest ABQ operated from 2014 to March 2017 and not only targeted individual abortion providers and clinics, but also deceptively recorded comments made by clinic staff in order to allege wrongdoing. Before concluding the Protest ABQ campaign, the Shavers leaked their baseless information to a congressional panel investigating disproven claims against Planned Parenthood.

    According to the Times, AFNM and the anti-abortion group Priests for Life “have released a series of undercover audio recordings of abortion clinic workers” engaged in behavior they consider unlawful. Although there has been no external confirmation of these claims -- or validation of the recordings themselves -- the Times drew a comparison between AFNM’s recordings and a set of deceptively edited videos from the discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The Times excluded the information that multiple investigations have disproved CMP’s claims of wrongdoing. Instead, the article credited AFNM for attempting to “to raise awareness about the prevalence of late-term abortion, especially in New Mexico,” via similar tactics.

    The Shavers launched AFNM in April, using a model touted by Newman in his book Abortion Free that centers on surveilling and harassing abortion providers. AFNM then began what it calls the #NewMexicoTrue project, a “6 Part Series exposing the [New Mexico] Abortion Cartel.” As part of this effort, AFNM began posting audio it claims represents illicit practices by abortion providers at clinics across the state. As of late June, AFNM had posted four videos that it alleges demonstrate discriminatory and dangerous practices by abortion providers. For example, in the most recent installment, AFNM claims that its “undercover recording … reveals just how arbitrary the standard is for determining which baby lives or dies” in New Mexico. Despite having no external corroboration, the Times not only promoted AFNM’s recordings, but also thus legitimized the tactic of deceptively filming and releasing video of abortion providers.

    Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of right-wing media giving a platform to an anti-abortion group that is attempting to manufacture outrage through deceptive “undercover” recordings. In May, when CMP released footage that identified abortion providers in violation of a court order, right-wing and anti-choice media did much of the legwork of spreading the organization’s disproven and malicious claims. 

    There is an even longer history of right-wing media figures assisting anti-choice groups by amplifying their attacks on individual abortion providers. For example, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly spent years openly bullying abortion providers like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” Indeed, Newman praised O’Reilly in Abortion Free for how he “spoke passionately against Tiller’s late-term abortion business” and “often used television as a bully pulpit to denounce” Tiller. O’Reilly also actively collaborated with Newman to more effectively target Tiller, as Newman explained, helping “locate Tiller gassing his armored Jeep at a QuikTrip near his abortion clinic” so Fox News’ Jesse Watters could be filmed “surprising Tiller with questions about his late-term abortion business.”

    This type of targeted harassment and monitoring of abortion providers breeds conditions for anti-choice violence. According to a recent report from the National Abortion Federation, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.”  

    Late-term abortion is an essential and legal medical service in the United States -- and neither patients nor providers should be demonized for receiving or performing the procedure. Nearly 99 percent of abortions performed in this country take place “before 21 weeks” of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. After the 20th week, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected a woman’s right to an abortion if it is “necessary to preserve [her] life or health.” By promoting the work of anti-abortion groups like AFNM, the Times and other right-wing media are not only encouraging such groups to use deceptive tactics, but also enabling the type of targeted harassment that endangers abortion providers, patients, and clinics.

  • Tucker Carlson ignores court order, hypes video that stokes harassment of abortion providers

    Carlson: “Some might think” that “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience,” sharing this footage “would be the time”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the May 31 edition of Tonight with Tucker Carlson, host Tucker Carlson and his guest, anti-choice extremist Lila Rose, promoted yet another smear video from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- despite a federal judge’s order that the footage be removed from the internet out of concern for abortion providers’ safety.

    On May 25, anti-choice and right-wing media circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a smear video from CMP. Although CMP was ultimately forced to remove the video -- which violated a court order -- right-wing media outlets and personalities quickly re-posted it in full and urged followers to watch.

    In February, federal Judge William Orrick extended a preliminary injunction for the duration of ongoing legal proceedings against CMP, barring the release of any footage depicting National Abortion Federation (NAF) members or meetings. In the decision, Orrick explained that this injunction was necessary, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants were to release NAF materials.”

    Ignoring the substance of the order and the serious threat of anti-choice violence, Carlson and Rose attacked Orrick and called for the barred footage to be spread.

    Rose noted that by asking for a protective order, NAF had merely demonstrated that it was “very afraid of what is on these tapes” -- rather than afraid for the lives of its members. Rose also argued that actions like Orrick’s’ were having “a chilling effect right now on journalism.” Carlson claimed that Orrick was biased and had “ordered that the video be suppressed, saying, in effect, the First Amendment doesn’t exist.” He asked, “How in the world, and in what country, could a judge unilaterally decide that you’re not allowed to show them?”

    In reality, media experts have agreed that CMP’s work is not journalism -- despite right-wing media claims to the contrary. In fact, in Orrick’s February ruling, he detailed why CMP’s efforts “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity,” noting that CMP founder David Daleiden did not “-- as Daleiden repeatedly asserts -- use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques” (emphasis added):

    The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to ... numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.

    During Carlson and Rose’s discussion, Carlson failed to mention anti-choice violence -- an omission that is not uncommon among prime-time cable news hosts. A recent Media Matters study found that during 12 months of coverage about abortion and reproductive rights, only four segments out of a total 354 on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN even mentioned the topic.

    Even before this latest example, Fox News has readily given a platform to CMP’s claims and ignored or downplayed the threat of anti-choice violence.

    Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (ousted earlier this year after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues) spent years spreading misinformation about reproductive rights and openly bullying abortion providers. A frequent target of O’Reilly’s invective was Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” May 31 marked the eighth anniversary of Tiller’s murder.

    In April, Fox’s The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld -- who moved to prime time after O’Reilly’s departure -- encouraged anti-choice advocates to engage in violence to protect their views, saying, “If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” over the issue.

    During the May 31 segment on Tonight with Tucker Carlson, Carlson claimed he was “proud” to elevate the barred footage and said people have the right to “say what you think is true.” Although he hedged on the issue somewhat, saying that he was not “advocating for this,” he strongly implied that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.”

    Meanwhile, incidents of targeted harassment of abortion providers, patients, and clinics continue to rise. According to a recent report from NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”

    There is a real risk to circulating this footage. In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine more. After his arrest, Dear used the statement “no more baby parts” -- a phrase that Fox News and Fox Business had used more than any other network between the release of CMP’s first video and the Colorado attack. Furthermore, as the New Republic noted, “The narratives [Dear] learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies.”

    Although Carlson, Rose, and many anti-choice outlets are protesting the removal of CMP’s latest video as “censorship,” Orrick has already refuted claims about the supposed public value of these videos and demonstrated why such a protective order was necessary in the first place. By not only elevating the barred footage, but also encouraging viewers to actively spread it themselves, Fox News is engaging in dangerous and irresponsible behavior.