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  • Harry Houck, who used CNN position to push racist tropes and defend police brutality, is out at network

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Harry Houck no longer works for CNN as a law enforcement analyst, according to his recently updated LinkedIn profile. The apparent departure is good news for CNN viewers: Houck has been an apologist for police brutality and pushed racist tropes about black criminality.

    Houck recently changed his LinkedIn profile to state that he is now a “Former CNN Law Enforcement Analyst" who worked for the network from May 2015 to February 2018. CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Houck frequently used his position at CNN to portray blacks as prone to criminality and defend police misconduct. Former Media Matters research fellow Carlos Maza -- now a correspondent for Vox’s Strikethrough -- wrote in 2016 of Houck:

    Since being hired as CNN’s law enforcement analyst in May 2015, Houck has used his national platform to defend police officers accused of violence and other misconduct by peddling racist tropes about black criminality, demonizing the Black Lives Matter movement, and blaming black victims of police violence.

    One month after the death of Freddie Gray -- as cable news networks debated racial bias in the criminal justice system -- CNN hired former New York Police Department Detective Harry Houck as a “law enforcement analyst.” During one of his first appearances on the network as a paid analyst, Houck specifically thanked anchor Anderson Cooper for helping get him the job, saying, “This man is responsible for this occurrence.”

    Houck appeared on CNN 204 times between May 18, 2015, and August 1, 2016. And while he’s often invited to discuss crime stories like active shooter situations, Houck is best known for his absurd defenses of police officers accused of mistreating African-Americans. In dozens of segments, Houck has found ways to blame black victims of police violence, deny the existence of racial profiling in law enforcement, and peddle racist tropes about black criminality.

    The racial justice organization Color of Change had called for the network to fire Houck, writing that his "blind support of police abuse and reinforcement of racist stereotypes is dangerous." 

    Additionally, after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, last August, he tweeted that “the left has to take some responsibility” for the death of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer. He also claimed that “haters on both the far left and far right invaded what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration in VA yesterday.”

    And in December, Houck shared a fake news story on Facebook that claimed actor Denzel Washington called former President Barack Obama the “criminal-in-chief” and claimed that CNN isn’t “discussing the facts.”

    Washington’s publicist confirmed to Media Matters that the actor never made the remarks. Houck later deleted his post and wrote: “I apologize for retweeting a fake news story re: Denzel Washington I didn't even read.”

  • Fox & Friends ignores newest indictment against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

    While Trump was watching, they found time to hype another attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends completely ignored a new indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Instead, the show devoted time to a Republican effort to discredit the Mueller investigation.

    Manafort and Gates were indicted on February 22 for a combined 32 counts, for allegedly committing tax, financial, and bank fraud, with Manafort allegedly laundering up to $30 million with Gates’ help. These charges are in addition to the previous charges filed against them on October 30.

    On February 23, Fox & Friends failed to mention the new indictment, a Media Matters’ search of SnapStream closed captioning revealed. The show did, however, find time to give a platform to two pro-Trump Republican congressmen to promote “phase two of their investigation” attacking the Christopher Steele dossier -- an investigation which is widely seen as an effort to discredit Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign assisted Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

    Fox & Friends, which Trump habitually watches and engages with over Twitter (including today), has a recorded history of downplaying or simply ignoring negative stories about Trump and those close to him. On January 30, the show failed to cover Trump’s refusal to enact sanctions on Russia related to the country’s interference in U.S. elections (the deadline to do so was January 29). The show also ignored three separate breaking news stories about the Russia investigation on February 1, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s alleged history of domestic abuse on February 8, and that the Trump White House first learned of allegations against Porter a year prior to the media reports. Additionally, Fox & Friends covered the first October 30 indictment against Manafort and Gates far less than its CNN and MSNBC competitors.

  • Video: How conspiracy theories and attacks on the Parkland shooting survivors spread across the internet and right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Survivors of the Parkland, FL, mass shooting, in which 17 people lost their lives, are speaking out and demanding action on gun violence. In response, right-wing media figures are spreading conspiracy theories and attacking these students, and online platforms, like YouTube and Facebook, are enabling the spread of these lies. (Videos spreading these conspiracy theories have gone viral, with one video even trending No.1 on YouTube.)

    These are some of the conspiracy theories and attacks the right-wing media figures have launched against the students:

    • Infowars' Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and host of The Alex Jones Show, called the attack "the perfect false flag." (He also claimed that "there's a cover-up going on.")

    • CNN political commentator Jack Kingston doubled down on his earlier tweet that the “left-wing gun control activists” are setting up the Parkland high school students for political reasons. Kingston said on CNN that he doubted these students could plan a rally without “being hijacked” by pro-gun control groups.

    • A Twitter account that regularly peddles in "The Storm" conspiracy theory, accused the students of being “crisis actors” who should be “charged and sent to jail.” (The tweet has since been deleted.)

    • Discredited author Dinesh D’Souza mocked students on Twitter for speaking out.

    • Lucian Wintrich, The Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent, called the students “little pricks” who are “completely entitled” and are “milking the deaths of their peers for careers.”

    • Tucker Carlson, while interviewing NRATV’s Dan Bongino, claimed anti-gun groups are using the students as “a kind of moral blackmail, where you are not allowed to disagree or you are attacking the child.”

    • TruePartisan, a fringe right-wing site, claimed that student survivor David Hogg, who spoke out about ending gun violence, was a plant because his father formerly worked at the FBI. (Donald Trump Jr. promoted this conspiracy theory.)

    • NRA board member Ted Nugent shared an article on Facebook that claimed David Hogg was “coached by cameraman.” (The post has since been deleted.)

    These attacks are nothing new. Whenever there is a mass shooting, right-wing and far-right figures and outlets spread conspiracy theories to avoid talking about the real problem: the need for gun reform. Students are tired of “thoughts and prayers.” They demand an end to gun violence. They want action, and they won’t stop until they get it.

  • 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.

  • Fox & Friends reported a detail from a 2015 NSA shooting as if it happened today

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox & Friends mistakenly reported that “two men dressed up as women” were involved in an incident this morning at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, MD -- but that detail was actually from a similar incident in March 2015.

    Media outlets reported that one person was injured in a shooting that took place at a security vehicle entry gate at the NSA headquarters on February 14. NSA issued a statement, saying that “NSA police and local law enforcement are addressing” the incident” and that “the situation is under control.”

    Fox News first mentioned the incident at 8:01 a.m., with Fox & Friends First co-host Jillian Mele reporting: “At least three people have reportedly been shot at NSA headquarters. … There are reports claiming that two men dressed up as women tried to drive through the gate with a stolen SUV. That’s when the shots were fired.”

    But these details were not reported in any other national outlet's coverage.

    Fox & Friends appeared to have taken details from a 2015 incident at NSA headquarters and reported it as a fact in today’s incident. A FOX 5 report on today’s incident explains: “In 2015, two men dressed as women tried to ram a stolen car through the gate of the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. One of the two was killed when guards opened fire and the other was injured.”

    Later, at 8:39 a.m., Mele correctly stated that “a very similar incident happened at the NSA headquarters back in 2015, when two men dressed as women tried to ram the gate at the main entrance.” But Mele did not mention that she incorrectly attributed that detail from the 2015 incident in her first report about today’s shooting, and Fox & Friends never gave a correction to its initial report.

    Far-right website Zero Hedge, which has a history of pushing conspiracy theories, also incorrectly reported this detail several minutes after Mele did, embedding a now-deleted tweet from an account @BreakingNewzman which stated: “DEVELOPING - Two men dressed as women who attempted to enter a gate at the NSA's campus at Fort Meade, MD in a stolen Ford Escape this morning were shot by a security guard, Bloomberg reports.” Conspiracy theory website Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson tweeted the Zero Hedge article, adding: “Male intruders dressed as women shot while trying to ram NSA compound. One dead.”

  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Here are the right-wing media figures using the Nunes memo to attack Rosenstein and Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted on January 31 to release a memo, written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), which they claim shows partisan abuse of power on the part of the FBI to obtain a FISA warrant. The full four page text of the memo was released on February 2 and, led primarily by Fox News host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have used its contents to slam, discredit, and call for the firing of both special counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

    Fox host Sean Hannity claimed that Mueller “never should have been appointed based on what we know tonight” and that “he needs to go, yesterday.” He also called the investigation “a witch-hunt from the very beginning” and called for charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn “to be dropped.” Hannity also declared the investigation an attempted “coup” and “an attempt to unseat an elected president” based on the memo.

    Right-wing author Ann Coulter tweeted, “Rosenstein should be fired for opposing the release of the memo.”

    Conservative radio host and frequent Fox guest Dan Bongino tweeted that Rosenstein “STILL” has a government job despite being one of the “central figures in the most significant political spying scandal in US history.”

    Tea Party Patriots tweeted, "It's time for DAG Rod Rosenstein to do his job or resign!"

    Former Trump aide and Fox News national security strategist Sebastian Gorka tweeted, "Rosenstein should be suspended from his position immeidately." 

    Frequent Fox News guest Ben Stein said Rosenstein should be "fired without question."

    Tom Fitton, frequent Fox guest and president of Judicial Watch, said Rosenstein “has some explaining to do” and that “it’s fair to ask whether he’d be fired.” Fitton also told Fox host Harris Faulkner that the probe is subject to “being called off now by the Justice Department.”

    Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett tweeted that a “source” told him Rosenstein in a meeting with Nunes “threatened to subpoena the texts and emails of Congress,” and called for Rosenstein to “resign or be fired” if true.

    Fox News host Todd Pirro asked former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski if "it's time for Rod Rosenstein to go." Lewandowski responded that Rosenstein's involvement with the FISA application "should give people in the Justice Department grave concern ... and Rod needs to answer for those questions." 

    Conservative radio host, Townhall columnist, and birther Jeff Crouere wrote, the memo showed Mueller is “investigating the wrong administration” and claimed Mueller was “compromised from the very beginning of his probe.” Crouere went on to call for an end to this “witch hunt” after the release of the “bombshell memo.”

    Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh alleged that the memo means Mueller is investigating the wrong people “on purpose,” and called the FBI's activities a “Democrat-run operation.” 

    Conservative radio host Mark Simone tweeted that Rosenstein is on the same "team" as former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit claimed Rosenstein "threatened" Nunes and House Intelligence Committee members. 

  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • Report: Sean Hannity has been advising Trump on Nunes memo

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Daily Beast reported President Donald Trump “has been in regular contact with” Fox News host Sean Hannity in recent weeks about the release of a memo drafted by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) critical of the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and his ties to Russia.

    According to The Daily Beast, Trump has spoken with Hannity regularly “over the phone” about releasing the memo. The report echoes earlier reports from the New York Times, which alleged Hannity “had for months peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging,” and from the Los Angeles Times, which reported Hannity had called Trump and advised the president on immigration. From the the Daily Beast:

    According to three sources with knowledge of their conversations, Trump has been in regular contact with Hannity over the phone in recent weeks, as the Fox News primetime star and Trump ally has encouraged the prompt release of a controversial four page memo crafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. Hannity has gone to the wall to push for the public release of the memo, which the Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), authorized this week in a party-line vote despite the classified information therein.

    Sources say Hannity’s persistent advocacy reinforced Trump’s already growing determination to get that memo into the public realm—despite huge potential fallout within the law enforcement and intelligence arms of his own administration.

    In their conversations, Trump and Hannity discussed the Nunes memo’s supposed bombshell-level significance, and how it could shed light on the alleged anti-Trump bias and “corruption” at the FBI. On these calls, Trump has directly referenced specific recent Hannity segments related to #ReleaseTheMemo, according to one of three sources with knowledge of their conversations.

    [...]

    "Senior counselor to the president, Sean H[annity]," one senior White House official joked to The Daily Beast this week.

    In recent weeks, Hannity has used his radio show to attack the FBI’s criticism of Nunes’ memo, and directed listeners to “call Congress now” and “say, ‘Release the memo.’” Hannity has also repeatedly and publicly called for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be removed.

    While Hannity advises the president on Nunes’ memo, Fox News anchor Shep Smith noted how the memo is intended as “a weapon of partisan mass distraction." From January 25:

    Many who have seen the memo say it​'​s misleading, distracting​,​ and lacking context. The memo itself is in the conservative discussion mix while the special counsel investigating Russian interference in our democracy is ​apparently ​about to interview the president of the ​United States ​while seeking to determine ​whether he's colluded with the Russians​ or obstructed justice​. A memo can be a ​weapon of partisan ​mass distraction, especially in a pivotal moment in ​American ​history​ when it behooves the man in charge ​for supporters to believe the institutions can't be trusted, investigators are corrupt, and the news media are liars. Context matters.

    Update: On February 1, Sean Hannity responded on Twitter to The Daily Beast's report, calling it "Fake news" and saying on his show, Hannity, "people in the media were saying that I'm advising him on the memo. ... You can't advise this president, he's such his own man."

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): By the way people in the media were saying that I’m advising him on the memo. First of all, you can’t advise this president, he’s such his own man. You can’t tell him not to tweet. He follows his own ways. And I’m saying it every night, call your congressman, release the memo, hello.

    Update: Crooked Media's Brian Beutler adds a notable point: