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  • Five things to know about the deceptive anti-abortion poll released ahead of the March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA) released a new poll ahead of the 2019 March for Life protest alleging that millennials now overwhelming support anti-choice positions. Right-wing media have hyped the poll, but they have failed to note the extent to which SFLA set up the survey to present a favorable outcome. In fact, the poll demonstrates just how much misinformation the anti-choice movement has to present in order to get most millennials to agree with anti-abortion views.

    SFLA, which oversees student chapters of anti-abortion groups across the country, released a poll on January 13 claiming to represent millennials’ “views on abortion, Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood.” SFLA’s poll focused on millennials, who it defined as 18-34 years old, because they are both “the largest voting bloc in America” and allegedly “the target market of abortion vendors.”

    Polling on abortion has always been notoriously complicated, and support for both abortion rights and anti-choice restrictions has frequently been shown to depend heavily on how certain questions are asked. As Tresa Undem, founder and partner at the public opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures used to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue, but rather measure a binary viewpoint of right or wrong, legal or illegal. Conducting accurate polling on abortion requires asking questions “in a more real and accurate way” that takes into account “how people actually experience abortion.” When polls use real-life examples, audiences report greater support for abortion access, and new polling from PerryUndem (albeit from a broader audience than just millennials) shows “voters' support for abortion rights is as high as we have seen in years: 73% of voters do not want Roe v. Wade overturned and 67% say abortion should be legal in ‘all’ or ‘most’ cases.”

    SFLA’s poll not only lacks consideration of real-life scenarios, but it explicitly inserted anti-abortion misinformation with the goal of influencing respondents’ opinions. In a memo released alongside the poll, SFLA explained that questions originated with the group’s “own experience and conversations on campuses” and were intended to influence and measure “changes in attitude on subjects such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood both before and after participants were provided the real facts.” As a result, the poll attempted to measure views on these topics by first asking a baseline question about respondents’ views on Roe and Planned Parenthood, and then asking their views again “after learning” a series of right-wing talking points about abortion and Planned Parenthood, which SFLA calls “real facts.” In other words, SFLA measured how much anti-abortion misinformation respondents had to be presented with before they adopted more anti-choice views on abortion and Planned Parenthood.

    Given that SFLA’s poll promotes many right-wing myths as “real facts,” it’s unsurprising that right-wing outlets ran with the results. Breitbart News proclaimed that the poll “found that 70 percent of millennials support limits on abortion” while The Washington Examiner said in its daily health care newsletter that the poll “found that only 7 percent of those polled supported both allowing abortion without any exceptions and using government funding to pay for them” -- a position which The Gateway Pundit erroneously characterized as “the Democratic Party platform.” The College Fix similarly claimed “a plurality of millennials supports the full reversal of Supreme Court decisions that enshrined abortion on demand until fetal viability” once “survey participants were told exactly what Roe v. Wade” supposedly allows. SFLA President Kristan Hawkins later went on Eternal World Television Network’s News Nightly to talk about the poll and make the skewed claim that millennials “lean politically liberal on almost every issue out there -- except abortion” because they “see abortion as violence.”

    Other anti-abortion groups quickly began promoting the SFLA poll, with Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life, and the Family Research Council all tweeting about it. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins wrote about the poll for The Daily Signal, claiming that “7 in 10 support restrictions on abortion, with 42 percent opposing abortion ‘broadly.’ That’ll come as a shock to the Democrats’ system, which is betting most of its credibility on a surprisingly pro-life age group.”

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups are going to keep spreading this deceptive poll, so here are five things to know about it:

    1. SFLA likely released the poll ahead of the March for Life 2019 as an attempt to drive inaccurate media coverage, just as anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have previously done.

    SFLA released this poll during the week of the 2019 March for Life, the annual anti-abortion march against the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Anti-abortion groups and media outlets often use deceptive polling to argue that anti-choice positions have overwhelming popular support. For example, as Media Matters reported during last year’s march, several media outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. SFLA’s poll, with its leading language and anti-choice misinformation, appears to be another attempt to drive inaccurate media coverage. Hawkins, in particular, has already used the dubious top lines from the poll to place op-eds in The Washington Times and USA Today.

    2. It manipulates people’s views on Roe v. Wade by inserting the inaccurate claim that the decision allows abortions “up until the moment of birth.”

    SFLA claimed that its poll accurately measured respondents’ views of Roe v. Wade. However, during baseline questioning the poll found that 40 percent of respondents supported the Roe decision and only 12 percent opposed it. After pollsters posed a series of misleading statements that SFLA calls “real facts,” support for the decision dropped to 35 percent and opposition rose to 41 percent. To influence this shift, the poll’s questions relied on the anti-abortion movement’s favorite right-wing media talking points about Roe.

    For example, one statement claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, companion Supreme Court cases, allow for abortions to be performed in all nine (9) months of pregnancy, up until the moment of birth.” This is an inaccurate description of both cases. So-called abortion “up until the moment of birth” is a common right-wing myth (sometimes used interchangeably with “abortion on demand” or the nonexistent practice of “partial-birth abortion”) meant to fearmonger about legal later abortion. In reality, later abortions are extremely rare and people have them for a variety of personal and medical reasons.

    Another misleading statement from SFLA’s poll claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton have been used to justify sending your tax dollars to be used to perform abortions or off-set other expenses of abortion providers.” Despite what this statement implies, under the Hyde Amendment, taxpayer money is prohibited from funding abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the pregnant person is at risk -- a harmful policy that primarily hurts low-income individuals who cannot pay out of pocket for abortion care. Similarly, claiming that money is “off-set” for abortion providers is just another way to repeat the common anti-abortion argument that taxpayer money is “fungible,” implying that federal funds indirectly support abortions through Planned Parenthood. Such an argument demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about how federal money is used to support health care organizations like Planned Parenthood, which receive it as reimbursement when serving Medicaid patients.

    Another statement in the SFLA poll claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton allow for abortions to be performed simply because the mother doesn’t like the sex of the baby or the mother wants to use abortion as a form of contraception.” So-called “sex-selective” abortions are a concept used by anti-choice legislators to justify restricting abortion access, even though these bans have no basis in scientific research or the medical practices of abortion providers and are instead frequently used to vilify Asian-Americans seeking abortions.

    Given that it included such stigmatizing and inaccurate language, SFLA’s poll can hardly be considered representative of a wider audience’s support for Roe.

    3. It also lies about the safety of medical abortions to suggest that abortion pills should not be made more accessible.

    In an one-off question that was not about Roe or Planned Parenthood, SFLA’s poll asked:

    Today, about one-third of abortions take place using the drug RU-486. RU-486 can be deadly to women who don't know they are later in pregnancy than they really are, or who are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. While surgical abortions require an exam by an physician, abortion advocates are asking that RU-486 be sold to women on-line, without a doctor's exam. Do you support/oppose these abortion pills being widely available on-line and sold to women without a doctor's exam?

    Though the ability to end a pregnancy at home can be an empowering choice, SFLA’s question omits that the calls for the abortion pill (also known as RU-486) to be available online or over-the-counter were necessitated because the anti-abortion movement pushed to further restrict abortion access, as well as by the potential of a Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh overturning Roe. Although SFLA suggested that medication abortions are unsafe, both medication and surgical abortion are actually extremely safe. In fact, medication abortion is safer that alternative procedures since it takes place earlier in the pregnancy and has minimal risks.

    4. The poll pushes the right-wing narrative that federally qualified health centers could replace Planned Parenthood clinics.

    Beyond a set of questions about Planned Parenthood’s favorability, SFLA’s poll also asked respondents to choose between Planned Parenthood and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), asking which “is more deserving of our tax payer dollars.”

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media frequently cite the number of FQHCs to suggest that Planned Parenthood is not an essential health care provider. But despite outnumbering Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States, FQHCs would not be able to handle the influx of patients if Planned Parenthood was stripped of federal funding and low-income patients were forced to go to FQHCs. In addition, the Guttmacher Institute found in 2015 that Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” able to provide publicly subsidized contraceptive services in 103 U.S. counties. Planned Parenthood’s focus on reproductive health care -- including abortion, which is not provided at FQHCs -- makes it uniquely positioned to provide irreplaceable services in the health care field.

    5. The poll was done by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s old polling firm.

    Beyond SFLA’s involvement in shaping the questions, the organization commissioned a potentially biased firm to actually conduct the poll. The Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend was founded in 1995 by now-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. As Rewire.News’ Ally Boguhn explained, Conway “spent nearly two decades as a conservative talking head pushing her anti-choice claims under the guise of credibility offered by her work as a pollster,” with her firm advising anti-abortion politicians and “working on behalf of anti-choice groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List, the Heritage Foundation, and Focus on the Family.” The National Catholic Register wrote that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden hired Conway’s firm in 2015 to “conduct two focus groups in Colorado,” helping to “craft the message” around the now-discredited claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List has recently used Conway’s firm to conduct polling in support of the organization’s various anti-choice initiatives. A Republican public relations firm acquired The Polling Company in 2017.

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media will spend this year’s March for Life claiming that SFLA’s poll proves that millennials are overwhelmingly “pro-life.” Instead, it proves just how much right-wing misinformation these groups have to push before people will support their extreme anti-choice agenda.

  • Abortion opponents were reassured by Kavanaugh's comments on Roe v. Wade

    Anti-abortion outlets and groups attacked Democrats, pro-choice protesters for highlighting the risk Kavanaugh poses to abortion access

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing demonstrated that he will be a threat to abortion rights and would likely vote to overturn or curtail protections stemming from Roe v. Wade -- despite previous claims by right-wing media to the contrary. Abortion opponents reacted to the hearing by praising Kavanaugh’s position on abortion and reproductive rights, and by attacking pro-choice protesters and Democratic senators.

    This week, Kavanaugh participated in a confirmation hearing for his nomination to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed that he will be a threat to abortion rights. Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote that Kavanaugh’s references to “Roe as Supreme Court precedent and even ‘super-precedent’” served as a consistent talking point for the judge who was seemingly shielding his views on abortion rights. As Mason Pieklo explained, Kavanaugh’s invocation of precedent meant little because “precedent can be ‘unsettled’ by the Supreme Court.” In particular, “Kavanaugh reminded us of that time and time again by invoking Brown v. Board of Education,” a case that anti-abortion activists use “as an analogy” to describe a “pathway to overturn Roe.” Kavanaugh “also called birth control an abortifacient, … echoing another anti-choice talking point that dangerously conflates contraception with abortion.” Mason Pieklo also pointed to an email released during the hearing “where Kavanaugh says that many legal scholars do not see Roe v. Wade as settled law.”

    Kavanaugh’s record also suggests he would vote in favor of overturning Roe, or otherwise support further curtailing abortion rights. For example, in 2017, Kavanaugh opposed allowing an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen [called Jane Doe] who was in federal custody to have an abortion -- using language like “abortion on demand,” an inaccurate phrase frequently used by abortion opponents, to explain his decision. Kavanaugh also praised the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe during a speech in 2017 -- which Mason Pieklo noted made sense, given that Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe and Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Jane Doe case both “fundamentally [deny] reproductive autonomy all while purporting to be respecting the bounds of the law.” New York magazine’s Irin Carmon pointed to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) question about whether Kavanaugh’s language in the Jane Doe case “was a signal” to conservative organizations “that you were prepared, and you are, to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Carmon also indicated that Kavanaugh’s 2017 speech was another “signal” of the same sort.

    As the hearing progressed, abortion opponents reacted with glee at Kavanaugh’s answers on abortion rights, and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed his likely views on Roe. Here are a few examples:

    During the hearing, anti-abortion outlet LifeNews celebrated Kavanaugh’s answers

    • Anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life tweeted one of the celebratory LifeNews articles, writing, “In yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearings, Judge Kavanaugh confirmed that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution.” Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Kavanaugh’s answers about precedent were "simply recognizing the fact that discussion of the principles of stare decisis has become recognized as a leading decision in that area,” meaning that judges tend to talk about the decision in Roe as a matter of “settled law.” She also added that she believed “there is no reason to follow the precedent of Roe.”

    Abortion opponents reacted to Kavanaugh's demurring about Roe's precedent with reassurances that it could be overturned

    • Ryan Bomberger, founder of the anti-abortion organization Radiance Foundation tweeted about Kavanaugh calling Roe “settled law”:

    • Anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America reassured followers about Kavanaugh’s position on Roe, tweeting, “Any Court ruling can be overturned.”
    • Right to Life of Michigan downplayed the impact of overturning Roe, tweeting, “When Roe v. Wade falls, it simply puts the voters and elected officials back in the drivers (sic) seat. What happens will be up to you, the voter, not five unelected, unaccountable politicians acting as judges.” In reality, overturning Roe will have devastating consequences for abortion rights at the state level.

    Anti-abortion activists and outlets also attacked pro-choice activists and protesters

    • LifeNews tweeted, “More abortion activists arrested after pro-abortion outbursts because they don't care about civility.”
    • Radiance Foundation tweeted:

    • During one protest, Ryan Bomberger tweeted, “No irony here at all. While talking about mental illness court case, unhinged pro-abortion protesters resume their crazy outbursts.”
    • Father Frank Pavone of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life tweeted:

    • Anti-abortion organization Pro-Life Action League tweeted an anti-abortion myth about abortion safety, claiming that while pro-choice activists are “making a whole lot of noise about the supposed need to ‘keep abortion #safeandlegal.’ The problem for them, though, is that legal abortion isn't actually very safe.”
    • Commenting on a protest, LifeNews tweeted, “The latest shouter: ‘Save Democracy Save Roe.’ How does killing a baby in an abortion without due process serve a democracy?”
    • LifeNews responded to pro-choice activists’ concern over Kavanaugh’s use of the phrase “abortion inducing drugs,” with an inaccurately-titled article: “No, Brett Kavanaugh Didn’t Call True Birth Control ‘Abortion Drugs.’ Plan B Can Cause Abortions.”

    Anti-abortion activists and outlets used the hearings as an opportunity to attack Democratic senators on the committee

    • In response to a question from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) about whether there are any laws that explicitly regulate men’s bodies, LifeNews ran an article titled:

    • David Daleiden, founder of discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, tweeted about Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) while also promoting an upcoming anti-abortion movie:

    • Fox News’ Todd Starnes tweeted, “It is deeply chilling to watch people like @SenFeinstein defend the killing of unborn babies. #evil.”
    • National Right to Life tweeted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was “severely misguided about” Roe, because “it's not about ‘privacy rights,’ Senator. It's about depriving an entire class of human beings the fundamental right to life.”

    Correction: This post originally include an inaccurate link. In the sentence "David Daleiden, founder of discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, tweeted about Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) while also promoting an upcoming anti-abortion movie," it linked to a piece about the in-production Roe v. Wade movie, which is distinct from the soon-to-be-released film Gosnell.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Anti-choice media continue circulating smear video after court orders footage removed

    Life News reposted video “without the consent or knowledge of the Center for Medical Progress”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Graphic by Sarah Wasko

    On May 25, the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted link to a smear video on YouTube that was quickly picked up by anti-choice media. CMP was forced to remove the video from YouTube after a judge ruled that the footage violated an order barring its release, originally issued to protect abortion providers from threats and harassment. In response, anti-abortion media outlets that had previously promoted the footage re-posted the video and doubled down on spreading it -- in spite of the court order -- claiming YouTube had engaged in "censorship" and urging followers to watch it.

    CMP founder David Daleiden is the subject of multiple legal actions for his role in producing deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF). After CMP began releasing videos in 2015, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics -- a warning that was tragically borne out in November 2015 when Robert Dear allegedly killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood center.

    As a result of these risks, federal Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction against the release of any footage depicting NAF members or meetings, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants [CMP] were to release NAF materials.” 

    Typically, CMP videos have been posted on the organization’s YouTube page and announced with a press release on its website. On May 25, however, neither Daleiden nor CMP acknowledged that there was a new video on YouTube. Instead, anti-choice media outlets and organizations circulated a link to an unlisted YouTube video and promoted it widely. By later that evening, The Associated Press had reported that Orrick was considering holding Daleiden in contempt for releasing the unlisted video and an unlisted playlist of other footage involving NAF members; he ultimately ordered that both be removed from YouTube.  

    Nevertheless, by the morning of May 26, anti-choice media began drawing attention to the video’s removal and, in some instances, reposting it in full.

    For example, the Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) communication director, Mallory Quigley appeared on the Eternal World Television News’ radio program Morning Glory to discuss the removed video and direct listeners to where they could still view the footage on SBA List’s Facebook page. Shortly after, SBA List retweeted several messages from Morning Glory co-host Gloria Purvis declaring that anti-choice advocates “won’t be quiet” about the video and posted a link to view the full footage.

    The link posted by SBA List was then shared by the anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America -- along with a message that accused Planned Parenthood and NAF of trying to hide “illegal activity” by getting the YouTube video removed.

    LifeSite News published an article explaining that it had “saved a copy of the video” and was posting it on its website “without the consent or knowledge of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, or his attorneys.”

    Anti-choice violence is a serious issue, the consequences of which are often left out of cable news conversations about abortion or reproductive rights. In 2017, NAF released a report noting a disturbing trend of escalating threats and harassment against abortion providers the previous year. According to 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.”

    Although anti-abortion groups complained about the “censorship” of removing the unlisted CMP video, their efforts to initially spread and continually promote it -- in spite of a court order -- demonstrate the dangers of the anti-choice media ecosystem: It is a self-actualizing echochamber for misinformation and targeted harassment of abortion providers.

  • How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

    CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

  • The Worst Anti-Abortion Misinformers That You Might Never Have Heard Of

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    What’s an anti-choice extremist to do when the only person willing to give their blatant misinformation a platform is Sean Hannity?

    This was the challenge that discredited anti-choice activist and Center for Medical Progress (CMP) founder David Daleiden faced throughout most of 2016 and early 2017. Daleiden is known for his deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood -- and most recently, his 15 felony charges in California.

    In a study of 14 months of evening prime-time cable news coverage in 2015 through early 2016, Media Matters identified at least seven appearances by Daleiden on a variety of Fox News programs. Notably, when Media Matters repeated this analysis on 12 months of coverage from March 7, 2016, through March 1, 2017, Daleiden appeared only once as a guest -- on Sean Hannity’s eponymous program, Hannity

    Daleiden was not the only anti-choice activist whose number of appearances on the network dropped from 2015 to 2017. In 2015 and early 2016, Lila Rose (president and founder of the anti-choice group Live Action) appeared on Fox News programs 10 times to talk about abortion, while extremist hate group leader Tony Perkins appeared six times. In 2017, with the exception of Daleiden, none of these anti-choice extremists appeared on Fox News. 

    Although anti-abortion spokespeople did make a few one-off appearances during the 12-month period studied by Media Matters, the sustained focus of their media engagement appears to be shifting. They may not frequently appear on Fox News, but here are some of the leading purveyors of anti-choice misinformation:

    Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List

    Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of anti-abortion political organization the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). Although Dannenfelser helms a sizeable political operation dedicated to promoting anti-choice legislators and legislation, her influence further increased after President Donald Trump appointed her to lead his “Pro-Life Coalition.”

    Dannenfelser has spearheaded the administration's anti-choice agenda, supporting the nomination of anti-choice Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the elimination of a rule preventing states from denying Title X family planning funds to abortion providers for non-abortion services, as well as the reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the Global Gag Rule. 

    Dannenfelser has increasingly tried to position SBA List as not just a political organization, but also as a self-sustaining media platform for anti-choice misinformation.

    In early 2017, Dannenfelser announced a partnership between SBA List and the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) to produce a weekly anti-choice news program, Pro-Life Weekly. Dannenfelser and other representatives from SBA List frequently appear on the program. Most notably, after being charged with 15 felonies, Daleiden gave exclusive comments to EWTN’s Lauren Ashburn before appearing on that week’s episode of Pro-Life Weekly. During the interview, Daleiden told host Catherine Szeltner that the allegations against him were “political prosecutions” and repeated discredited allegations about Planned Parenthood committing “infanticide.”

    Dannenfelser also rejects exceptions to abortion bans for reasons of rape, incest, or medical necessity. In 2015, after the U.S. House passed a 20-week abortion ban, Dannenfelser called the bill’s narrow exemptions for rape and incest survivors “regrettable,” “abominable,” and “completely intellectually dishonest.” Dannenfelser also rejected exemptions for the health of the mother. For example, in 2012, she noted that SBA List would not endorse then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney because he supported health exemptions to abortion bans.

    Kristan Hawkins, Students for Life of America

    Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America (SFLA), an anti-abortion group targeted at audiences from high school through medical and law school. 

    SFLA and its representatives commonly make the argument that millennials are the “pro-life generation,” an allegation they support with questionable polling. Polling on abortion and related topics is notoriously difficult to conduct and prone to both intentional and unintentional survey bias. Although the full polling methodologies for SFLA’s data are not available, SFLA has most recently relied on organizations with an anti-choice focus to supply its numbers, including The Knights of Columbus, the Susan B. Anthony List, and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm.

    Beyond running a year-round field program that develops and assists anti-choice campus groups, SFLA also bills itself as a “one-stop shop” for anti-abortion activism by providing specific programs, materials, and trainings to students free of charge. As part of this service, SFLA regularly partners with a number of anti-abortion organizations including Heartbeat International, March for Life, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, The Radiance Foundation, and Family Research Council.

    Hawkins has also propagated a number of inaccurate and harmful claims about abortion, abortion providers, and reproductive health. Beyond openly calling for abortion to be stigmatized, Hawkins has also compared her work with that of “slavery abolitionists,” claiming that “there is no difference between fighting against … chattel slavery and fighting ‘to save the pre-born.’” This particular piece of misinformation is frequently promoted by SFLA, which has dedicated a webpage to the myth that Planned Parenthood disproportionately targets black communities with its abortion services.

    In a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) training session with then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-IA), Hawkins pushed the medically inaccurate claim that “when you get [an] abortion, you are increasing your risk for breast cancer almost by 50 percent.”

    Hawkins has also frequently spread misinformation about the health risks of various contraceptive methods -- calling them “carcinogenic” and “abortion-inducing.” In 2011, she published a blog on the conservative outlet American Thinker’s website titled “Government gone wild” in which she criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for including contraceptive coverage. Hawkins wrote, “Labeling harmful birth control chemicals as ‘health care’ is ridiculous.” In 2013, she complained that advertisements for the ACA were designed to appeal to a love of “sex, beer, and more sex” by suggesting that women can “supposedly have all the free sex they want because birth control pills are complimentary.” During a January 2017 appearance on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Hawkins told host Joy Reid that she would advocate for all contraceptives to be illegal. 

    Hawkins’ extreme beliefs are not limited to abortion and reproductive health. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained a leaked membership roster for the Council for National Policy (CNP) -- “a shadowy and intensely secretive group [that] has operated behind the scenes, providing a venue three times a year for powerful American politicians and others on the right to meet privately to build the conservative movement.” Hawkins’ entry in the CNP roster also listed “Marriage Issues,” “Radical Islam,” “Abstinence / Sex Education,” and “Religious Freedom” as areas of interest. 

    Ryan Bomberger, The Radiance Foundation

    Ryan Bomberger is the co-founder of The Radiance Foundation (TRF) alongside his wife, Bethany. According to Bomberger, The Radiance Foundation is a “faith-based, life-affirming organization to help people understand and embrace their God-given Purpose” through a variety of “creative ad campaigns, powerful multi-media presentations, fearless journalism, and compassionate community outreaches.”

    In reality, Bomberger and TRF frequently promote a variety of harmful myths about abortion -- including the allegation that abortion providers are agents of “black genocide.” Anti-choice groups and right-wing media have long attempted to argue (inaccurately) that higher abortion rates among black women reflect an attempt by Planned Parenthood to explicitly target black communities.

    Bomberger initially garnered media attention in 2010 after TRF purchased billboards across the country “that label black children as endangered species and declare black women’s wombs ‘the most dangerous place’ for their children.” The billboards directed viewers to the (still operational) website TooManyAborted.com, which is run by TRF in order to “[raise] the public’s awareness of the eugenic racism of Planned Parenthood and the hugely disproportionate impact on black communities.” According to TRF, “Abortion is the number one killer of black lives in the United States,” and organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus “have done nothing to address this epidemic.”

    In addition to operating TooManyAborted.com, TRF promotes materials that cast skepticism on the severity of police “brutality” in comparison to “abortion brutality” and deny the existence of a pay gap between men and women in the workplace. 

    TRF has also alleged that abortion disenfranchises men and leads to them abandoning pregnant women -- creating a “crisis of fatherlessness.” TRF claims that “abortion has taken the place of fathers” because “men have been empowered by Roe v. Wade to abandon their primary responsibility–protecting.”

    Most recently, Bomberger participated in a debate on NPR affiliate WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show against Democratic Maryland Del. Kathleen Dumais. According to Bomberger’s blog post about the exchange, Dumais “had her piles of papers and prepared talking points,” but he “had facts.”

    *Graphics by Sarah Wasko

    Correction: This piece has been corrected to reflect that Daleiden has been charged with felonies, not convicted of them. For more information read previous Media Matters content here and here

  • How Fox News’ Male Hosts Are Endangering Women All Across America 

    Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, And Sean Hannity Are Almost Always Wrong About Abortion, And They’re Giving Other Men A Platform To Push Further Misinformation

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    If you’re searching for the most misinformation-filled block of television during evening cable, look no further than the Fox News lineup of Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity. In a finding that will shock almost nobody with even cursory knowledge about abortion and reproductive rights, this all-male lineup has spent the past 12 months promoting rampant misinformation on these topics.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from March 7, 2016 through March 1, 2017, for segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The 354 total segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements they contained about three topics: the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and late-term abortion.

    Out of 116 total statements made during The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity (out of 120 total statements on the network), 103 were inaccurate. If the sheer amount of misinformation isn't enough, the vast majority of them were made by men. Of the 110 total appearances by hosts, guests, or network correspondents on these programs in 12 months, 81 were made by men (74 percent).

    When seeking information about abortion -- particularly accurate information -- most women presumably wouldn’t turn first to a man. Fox News, however, has ensured its prime-time block is dominated by male voices.

    With the exception of The Kelly File, which ceased airing after then-Fox news host Megyn Kelly left the channel, and The First 100 Days, which didn’t begin airing until after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Fox’s prime-time evening lineup is dominated by male-hosted programs. And these programs also promote mainly male voices when it comes to the topics of abortion and reproductive rights.

    From March 7, 2016, through March 1, 2017, The O’Reilly Factor featured 47 appearances from men (71 percent) and only 19 from women (29 percent) during segments about abortion. During the same 12-month period, there were 26 appearances by men (76 percent) and only eight by women (24 percent) to discuss reproductive rights on Hannity. Tucker Carlson Tonight did not begin airing until after the 2016 election, making the sample size smaller than either The O’Reilly Factor or Hannity. However, of the five months of Tucker Carlson Tonight considered in Media Matters’ analysis, the program featured 80 percent male appearances in discussions about the reproductive rights of women.

    Overall, during the 12-month study period, 74 percent of appearances among all three programs featured men talking about abortion and reproductive rights. Excluding guests who were employed by Fox News (as professional commentators, analysts, or contributors), all three programs also largely hosted male guests, many of whom have a history of anti-choice policy making.

    For example, The O’Reilly Factor served as a platform for guests including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Mike Pence -- all of whom have openly supported anti-choice policies. The male guests on Hannity unsurprisingly included Reince Priebus, who would become Trump’s chief of staff, and then-Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci.

    Hannity was also the only person on evening cable news to host discredited anti-choice activist David Daleiden, founder of CMP. Every other program -- even, surprisingly, other Fox News programs -- deemed the anti-abortion activist who deceptively edited smear videos and has since been charged with 15 felonies in California an unpalatable guest.

    Luckily for Daleiden, there’s always Sean Hannity. With their powers combined, Daleiden and Hannity managed to conduct a full segment featuring 100 percent inaccurate information in terms of CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential services, and late-term abortion. During his April 2016 appearance on Hannity, Daleiden made five inaccurate statements about the veracity of CMP’s work -- even though multiple state and federal investigations found that the organization's claims about abortion providers were baseless. Hannity himself contributed three inaccurate statements about CMP during the segment and zero accurate ones. This pattern was not limited to just his segment with Daleiden, however. Hannity managed to make only inaccurate statements on these topics throughout the entire study period.

    Although Tucker Carlson appears to share Daleiden’s affinity for employing deceptive editing and even using actors to represent highly curated versions of opposing viewpoints, he managed -- without Daleiden's help -- to be wrong 100 percent of the time about CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential services, and late-term abortion.

    O’Reilly, Hannity, and Carlson also featured primarily guests who openly represent anti-abortion organizations, including Marjorie Dannenfelser (president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List), conservative commentator Crystal Wright, Alveda King (anti-abortion activist for Priests for Life and Civil Rights for the Unborn), and Abby Johnson (founder of CEO of And Then There Were None).

    Overall, Media Matters’ analysis found that 80 percent of statements about CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential servies, and late-term abortion made during Fox News’ evening prime-time programming were inaccurate. It should come as no surprise that The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity were responsible for 67 percent of the network’s inaccurate statements.

    Then again, if your ace prime-time lineup is composed of a man accused of being a serial sexual predator who can’t stop advertisers from fleeing his program (and is likely about to lose it), a hero of white nationalists who is known for bullying his guests, and Sean Hannity, you’re probably not that worried about ensuring accuracy or giving women’s voices an equal platform.

    *Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • STUDY: How Cable News Keeps Getting It Wrong About Abortion And Reproductive Rights

    Evening Cable News Can’t Seem To Talk About Abortion Without Relying On Men And Anti-Choice Myths

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that discussions of abortion, reproductive rights, and reproductive health were heavily dependent on male speakers and anti-choice misinformation. In particular, Media Matters found that men were participants in 60 percent of conversations about abortion and reproductive rights, and that 64 percent of statements about abortion that aired during this time period were inaccurate.

  • The 2016 Election Emboldened Dangerous “Citizen Journalist” Vigilantes

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Unaccountable so-called “citizen journalism” is on the rise, with vigilantes peddling private citizens’ personal information and engaging in illegal recording and harassment in an effort to practice what they call undercover reporting. And these tactics are actively endorsed by President-elect Donald Trump.

    Trump’s campaign rhetoric and behavior, and his allies in the media, fueled virulent conservative distrust of established media outlets -- regardless of their individual successes and failures -- leaving a patchwork of fragmented, and often disreputable, news sources to fill that void.

    Anonymous internet vigilantes and so-called “citizen journalists” like discredited video artist James O’Keefe are capitalizing on this moment of distrust to push their dangerous “reporting” tactics. O'Keefe is getting help from his supporters, such as Trump allies and media conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Roger Stone, and the anonymous internet users O’Keefe and others have tried to incite as “agents of truth.” And these self-styled journalists have been directly validated -- and even funded -- by our next president.

    Trump specifically cited distortions from O’Keefe’s latest round of heavily edited videos on the campaign trail, and his charitable foundation gave at least $20,000 to O’Keefe’s nonprofit, Project Veritas, in 2015. Trump also personally validated and encouraged “new media” to combat “the total dishonesty of the press” on Reddit. In July, Trump hosted an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) forum in July in the popular “r/The_Donald” pro-Trump subreddit, a community that combs through hacked personal emails, pushes hateful memes, and promotes conspiracy theories under the guise of “journalism.” Shortly before the election, Trump posted a brief missive to the subreddit declaring that “MAINSTREAM MEDIA is rigged!” and encouraging followers to “stop the RIGGED mainstream media” by watching a presidential debate on his website instead of on any news channel.

    Throughout the election season, Trump and his allies tweeted unvetted nuggets of misinformation from anonymous social media users, sometimes originating from the Trump subreddit. In the final weeks before Election Day, the Trump campaign seized on context-less soundbites from discredited video artist O’Keefe to push conspiracy theories at rallies and on air, stoking fear and further distrust of the government among his supporters. 

    GOP presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) also elevated the work of another wannabe journalist: Media Matters’ 2015 misinformer of the year, David Daleiden, who created a series of  deceptively edited “investigative journalism” videos smearing Planned Parenthood. In a September CNN debate, Fiorina infamously delivered an impassioned -- and completely factually inaccurate -- speech describing a “video” in which she claimed to have seen a “fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” No such video exists, but media praised Fiorina for her “fiery” remarks.

    The danger lies in the stakes: Partisan activists who pose as “citizen journalists” have no stake in getting it right. They are not beholden to editors or to upholding any publication’s reputation for accuracy. With minimal name recognition and a clearly political agenda, though, these operatives do have an incentive to get media and public attention by any means.

    These operators willfully misrepresent their findings with deceptive editing and refuse to release full footage. They follow trails of misinformation -- without the benefit of a fact-checker to guide the way -- to private citizens’ doorsteps and church vans transporting people to the polls. They produce extreme headlines that don’t reflect reality but do confirm polarized beliefs -- enough for lawmakers and presidential candidates to cite them, at least. They delight in collecting “scalps” -- people who have lost their jobs because of deceptively edited undercover footage -- even as the truth later vindicates many of these individuals.

    They also call to action anonymous internet users who have even less to lose and the time to pore through obscure data or tail random members of the public, looking to find and publicize the personal information of individuals they perceive as unethical. In December, this danger culminated in a man shooting a rifle at a D.C. pizzeria as he attempted to “self-investigate” a conspiracy-laden fake news story propped up by anonymous, self-styled citizen journalists who accused the restaurant of operating a child sex-trafficking ring. The early stages of this collective internet investigation, too, were encouraged by conspiracy-loving Trump allies like 9/11 truther Alex Jones, and Michael Flynn Jr., a former Trump transition team member whose father is Trump's pick for national security adviser.

    This work is irresponsible, dangerous, and sometimes illegal; it is not journalism.

    Responsible, independent journalism is a hallmark of the American free press, and it’s a critical tool for holding leaders accountable for the decisions they make. It makes sense that some of the bright spots of 2016 stemmed from quality investigative reporting, but it also makes sense that a twisted view of the journalism field has elevated the worst in people this year.

    In the wake of Trump’s victory, right-wing activists styling themselves as “citizen journalists” are growing bolder. Since Election Day, they’ve been fearmongering and fundraising among their new supporters, congratulating each other on their journalistic chops, and touting “serious journalism being done onFacebook (sic) and YouTube.”

    O’Keefe’s post-election fundraising email included categorical threats of surveillance aimed at Attorney General Loretta Lynch, interim Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer, and President Barack Obama. “The tide has turned,” the email stated, “and we have them on the run.” 

    Additionally, O’Keefe uploaded a video to YouTube the day after the election titled “Main Stream (sic) Media Is Now Powerless,” in which he described receiving “thousands of tips about fraud” and encountering “hundreds of people who seek to become undercover journalists.” O’Keefe also thanked “truth-seekers and Internet sleuths” who “crowd-sourced the investigative journalism” on Reddit and promised viewers they would hear more from him soon.

    When we do, let’s be prepared.