Live Action | Media Matters for America

Live Action

Tags ››› Live Action
  • 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." 

  • Kellyanne Conway’s History Of Pushing A Right-Wing Media, Anti-Choice Lie About Abortion

    To Limit Abortion Access, Trump's Campaign Manager Has Long Promoted The Dangerous Lie That Democrats Support "Sex-Selective" Abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has a long history of alleging that the Democratic Party supports allowing so-called “sex-selective” abortions because it devalues "little baby girls." During the 2016 election cycle, Conway has frequently promoted this misleading and unsubstantiated right-wing media myth, which perpetuates harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes and is a cover for greater abortion restrictions.  

  • Who Are The Anti-Choice Activists On Evening Cable?

    Meet the Anti-Choice Figures Who Appear Most Often To Spread Misinformation About Abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In 2015 and early 2016, evening cable news programming featured three anti-choice activists a total of 23 times, despite these guests’ consistent efforts to spread misinformation and outright falsehoods about Planned Parenthood, reproductive health care, and abortion access. According to a new Media Matters study, all 23 of these appearances occurred on Fox, which during this same timespan hosted only a single advocate representing a pro-choice organization.

    Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable programming, examining details including the frequency with which people who self-identified as anti-choice were involved in discussions about abortion and reproductive rights.

    From January 1, 2015, to March 6, 2016, the three anti-choice activists who appeared the most on evening cable news programs were Lila Rose and David Daleiden -- both notorious for their discredited attempts to smear Planned Parenthood using deceptively edited videos -- along with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, an extremist hate group. Collectively, these three anti-choice activists appeared a total of 23 times on Fox News’ evening programs to talk about abortion-related topics.

    Dishonorable mentions also go to Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, another infamous extremist with ties to anti-choice violence. Each of these speakers appeared at least once to attack Planned Parenthood and spread misinformation about reproductive health.

    The Anti-Choice Speakers Who Appeared The Most Often On Evening Cable Programs To Talk About Abortion

    1. Lila Rose, Live Action

    Lila Rose, the president and founder of the anti-choice group Live Action, was the most frequent anti-choice guest to appear during evening cable programming, with 10 appearances over 14 months. Rose is best known for her connections to right-wing activists and her long, disreputable history of perpetrating hoaxes and concocting false allegations against abortion providers.

    These allegations have been repeatedly debunked and proved to be unfounded.

    According to a 2009 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Rose began her career partnered with right-wing activist James O’Keefe in 2006. O’Keefe had a history of attempting to smear liberal organizations by using doctored undercover video, but the two “came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics” after being “inspired by the work of Mark Crutcher, a Texas anti-abortion activist who in 2002 taped faked calls to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Rose has staged (and illicitly filmed) conversations with Planned Parenthood providers and staff while masquerading as a young woman seeking an abortion. She then heavily edited these conversations to allege that Planned Parenthood engaged in a variety of systemic criminal activities.

    Beyond O’Keefe, Rose has been supported by a larger infrastructure of right-wing media and anti-choice organizations. For example, when Rose released her deceptive videos in February 2011, Fox News provided frequent coverage. Rose herself appeared on Fox to promote the videos multiple times in the months that followed. Rose has also greatly benefited from the “generous assistance” of “powerful players” on the right such as anti-LGBT legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom and the Gerard Health Foundation -- an organization known for promoting fringe views on birth control, sex education, and reproductive rights. In 2008, Rose received the anti-choice group Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year award, and she also previously employed David Daleiden as Live Action’s director of research.

    Rose also has a history of making extreme comments about abortion, such as that the procedure should be “done in the public square” so that people could experience outrage and then “hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception.” Rose has also attacked abortion providers, once calling Planned Parenthood “the single most evil organization in human history” and alleging that they provide abortions on behalf of Satan.

    2. David Daleiden, Center For Medical Progress

    David Daleiden is the founder and “project lead” at the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization responsible for propagating an extensive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood so fraudulent that CMP earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. After CMP released its first deceptively edited video in July 2015, Daleiden appeared seven times on evening cable news programs over the next nine months to promote the false allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue.

    CMP’s videos have been consistently discredited while over 13 state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. On January 25, a Houston grand jury, which was called upon to investigate allegations made by CMP, decided not to take action against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted Daleiden and one of his associates for using fraudulent means to gain access to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Likewise, a federal judge determined that CMP’s work constituted “misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions … of criminal misconduct.”

    Daleiden is not only well-connected to other anti-choice extremist groups; he also enjoys support from conservative media. Daleiden has used this media prominence as an opportunity to attack abortion providers. For example, in an interview on Glenn Beck’s radio program, Daleiden described one provider as “evil” and having “the predator look … that you see in someone who is accustomed to killing people.” Even when right-wing media have not given Daleiden himself a platform, they have frequently carried water for his misleading allegations.

    CMP’s work has also prompted a variety of baseless congressional investigations and multiple efforts by anti-choice legislators to defund Planned Parenthood at the state and federal level. Most recently, the congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- established by Republicans in October 2015 to investigate fetal tissue donation practices -- has extensively relied on “evidence” pulled directly from CMP’s website and deceptively edited videos to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

    According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), harassment, violence, and threats against abortion providers and clinics have all been increasing. NAF’s 2015 statistics confirm that “the sharp rise in threats and violence in 2015 ... directly correlates to the release of inflammatory videos aimed at demonizing providers.”

    3. Tony Perkins, Family Research Council

    With six appearances over the span of 14 months, Tony Perkins -- an extremist hate group leader -- was the third-most hosted anti-choice advocate. Perkins is president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-LGBT group that was listed as a “hate group” in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its role in propagating known falsehoods about LGBT people.

    In addition to Perkins’ anti-choice views, he also has a history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. For example, Perkins has equated being gay with using drugs and committing adultery, accused gay people of attempting to “recruit” children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists. As president of FRC, he has repeated the extensively debunked myth that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem,” argued in favor of the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “reparative therapy,” and falsely claimed that children are harmed by having same-sex parents.

    Perkins is responsible for organizing key evangelical support behind former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Perkins served on the former candidate’s “Pro-Lifers for Cruz Coalition” alongside known anti-choice extremist Troy Newman. Cruz has made no secret of his disdain for Planned Parenthood, or of his support for David Daleiden and CMP’s smear campaign.

    Dishonorable Mentions -- Other Anti-Choice Activists Hosted By Fox

    1. Jay Sekulow, American Center For Law And Justice

    Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) -- a conservative anti-choice legal group that is defending former CMP board member Troy Newman in a lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Sekulow has been a vocal opponent of Planned Parenthood funding and the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Following CMP’s release of deceptively edited video, Sekulow joined anti-choice legislators and extremists in calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Beyond attacking Planned Parenthood, Sekulow and the ACJL have frequently defended Daleiden and CMP as “investigative journalists.” A grand jury, a federal judge, and many journalists have rejected this characterization.

    Sekulow is also a proponent of Senate Republicans' ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and he has suggested support for state policies that “punish” people for obtaining an abortion. In an April 1 edition of his radio show, Sekulow said that the idea of punishing people for receiving abortions was “not craziness” and that “for any other person that somebody killed, they’d be held culpable.”

    Sekulow also represented one of the plaintiffs in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- the first challenge heard by the Supreme Court to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court found that certain classes of employer could not be compelled to include contraception in their employees’ insurance plans if doing so ran counter to the employers’ sincerely held religious beliefs. In explaining his client’s position, Sekulow wrongly argued that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate would include coverage of “abortion-inducing drugs.”

    Neither of his assertions is true.

    Medical experts agree that there are stark differences between emergency contraception and abortion procedures or drugs that act as "abortifacients." According to a March 2016 white paper from the Princeton University Office of Population Research, emergency contraception pills "do not interrupt an established pregnancy" and therefore “are not abortifacient[s]," in part because the medical consensus defines "implantation" as the beginning of a pregnancy.

    2. The Rev. Frank Pavone, Priests For Life

    The Rev. Frank Pavone is the national director of the Catholic anti-choice group Priests for Life. Pavone is well-connected to other anti-choice groups -- notably bragging about his “partnership with Operation Rescue” and the “close” relationship he enjoys with CMP. In his work, Pavone regularly insults abortion providers, attacks Planned Parenthood, and promotes the stigmatization of abortion.

    Pavone has a history of making extreme and false comments about abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates. For example, when the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, spoke at Georgetown University, Pavone argued that inviting Richards was akin to inviting “representatives of ISIS” to speak in order to “understand terrorism.” Similarly, when defending CMP’s work, Pavone wrongly accused abortion providers of “doing a lot of other evil things” as well. His examples were: “medical malpractice, sexual abuse of patients, violation of OSHA standards, insurance laws, money laundering, all kinds of fraud and, yes, even the sale of body parts.” In response to the deadly November 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, Pavone blamed supporters of abortion access for “poisoning the moral climate in our nation.”

    Despite Daleiden’s mounting legal troubles, Pavone has warned that “the troubles for Planned Parenthood have only just begun.” He has championed the efforts of anti-choice extremist Mark Crutcher -- who previously promised to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” to infiltrate and baselessly attack reproductive health care providers.

    Pavone has also worked to stigmatize abortion, saying that anti-choice groups like his “exploit the stigma of abortion, we lift it up high for people to see, we reinforce it.” Abortion stigma is the shared idea that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable, but in reality, abortion is an incredibly common procedure that 30 percent of women will undergo by age 45.

    3. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue

    Troy Newman is the president of Operation Rescue -- an extremist anti-choice group with a history of spouting violent rhetoric and harassing abortion providers, whose senior policy advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, was convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic in 1987. A Rolling Stone profile of Operation Rescue described the organization’s strategy as a “smear campaign … to shut down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.”

    To further this strategy, Newman has trained other anti-choice activists and supported the development of spin-off groups that continue Operation Rescue’s work across the country. He previously served as one of CMP’s founding board members before resigning after a Texas grand jury indicted Daleiden and one of his associates.

    Newman claims that Operation Rescue has never endorsed violence, yet in his book Their Blood Cries Out, Newman wrote that the U.S. government had “abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty,” which he said would involve “executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes.” Similarly, when Paul Jennings Hill was executed for the murder of an abortion provider and a clinic escort, Newman argued that Hill should have been able to mount the defense that it was “necessary” to kill the providers in order to save "the lives of pre-born babies." Operation Rescue's Sullenger also reportedly helped convicted murderer Scott Roeder keep track of legal proceedings for his eventual victim, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

    Beyond his work with Operation Rescue, Newman also has a personal history of harassing providers -- a reputation that caused Australia to deport him out of concern that his “presence would be ‘a threat to good order’” and that he would “compromise the safety and wellbeing” of abortion providers and those seeking care.