Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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.

  • Wash. Post health care reporter sparks outrage by tweeting insensitive comment

    Wash. Post health care reporter: “It’s super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration.” On February 2, Washington Post reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham, who writes the Post’s health care newsletter Health 202, tweeted, “I actually think it's super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration. Personal events determine my quality of life; not who's in the WH.” Winfield Cunningham’s tweet immediately garnered her considerable backlash on Twitter. [Twitter, 2/14/18, 2/14/18, 2/14/18, 2/14/18, 2/14/18, 2/14/18, 2/14/18]

    Helen Rosner of The New Yorker:

    Andi Zeisler of BitchMedia:

    Tiffany Stevens of The Roanoke Times:

    Professor Amy Vernon of NYU:

    Adam Nathaniel Peck of ThinkProgress:

    Linda Holmes of NPR:

    Before deleting her tweet, Winfield Cunningham defended her comment by saying that people would be hurt “eventually, of course. But typically not immediately.” After Politico’s Sarah Karlin-Smith criticized Winfield Cunningham, saying, “For a lot of people who is in the White House or making the laws does impact their personal lives in a very real way,” Winfield Cunningham responded: “Eventually, of course. But typically not immediately.” Winfield Cunningham later deleted her original tweet, saying, “I’ve decided to delete an earlier tweet. I’m sorry for offending anyone – it wasn’t meant the way it’s being read. Apologies.” [Twitter, 2/14/18, 2/14/18]

    While at the Post, Winfield Cunningham has promoted right-wing and anti-abortion talking points

    In the past, Winfield Cunningham has provided imbalanced coverage of topics related to abortion and reproductive rights. In May 2017, Winfield Cunningham framed a story about House Republicans passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA) around reactions of, and misinformation from, anti-abortion organizations and politicians. Though the health care bill would have eliminated Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood, Winfield Cunningham framed this news in terms of the “victory” the bill represented “for conservatives who have long sought to undercut the country’s largest abortion provider” and also pushed anti-choice misinformation behind such claims. While the only Planned Parenthood representation came from a line summarizing a statement from the health care organization, Winfield Cunningham relied on a disproportionate number of quotes from anti-abortion leaders pushing misinformation about the bill stopping “taxpayer funding for abortions.” [Media Matters, 5/5/17]

    Winfield Cunningham omitted context from Wash. Post fact-check that would have discredited an anti-abortion organization. The May 26, 2017 edition of The Health 202 summarized a fact-check from the Post about whether Charmaine Yoest, who had recently been appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services, believed that abortion increases breast cancer risks. The original fact-check was based on Yoest’s 2012 interview with The New York Times in which she had asserted a link between abortion and breast cancer. While referencing the groups that push this scientifically unsupported claim, the fact-check mentioned research from the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute (BCPI), a group that, the Post clarified, “advocates for the abortion-breast cancer link theory.” But in her summary of the fact-check, Winfield Cunningham omitted this critical detail about the group that would have given context to her audience about its ideology. BCPI was co-founded by Joel Brind in 1999 to advance “his theory” that abortion causes breast cancer. Since then, the group appears to have influenced several state legislatures to require doctors to inform patients seeking abortions of the inaccurate claim. Brind also believes that the National Cancer Institute “is just another corrupt federal agency like the IRS and the NSA” and that birth control and the abortion pill cause cancer. [The Washington Post, 5/26/17, 5/25/17; Washington Monthly; 10/1/04; LifeNews, 12/2/13; Concerned Women For America, accessed February 2018]

    Winfield Cunningham gave a platform to the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. After the release of Planned Parenthood’s annual report in May 2017, right-wing and anti-abortion media were quick to claim the report proved that the reproductive health organization was not an essential care provider. The June 2, 2017 edition of The Health 202 framed its reporting around these talking points and, while it included statements from Planned Parenthood, it also gave a platform to the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). In 2015, CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos alleging illicit behavior by Planned Parenthood officials. In her piece, Winfield Cunningham extensively highlighted allegations from CMP, noting, “The latest footage, which for months was under gag order by a judge, features Planned Parenthood officials and doctors speaking in rather gruesome detail about their experiences with the abortion procedure.” This footage was, in fact, released in violation of an earlier gag order and resulted in CMP leader David Daleiden and two of his attorneys being held in contempt. [The Washington Post, 6/2/17; Glamour, 7/18/17; Media Matters, 8/31/15]

    Winfield Cunningham also promoted an unreleased report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute attacking Planned Parenthood. In the August 2, 2017 edition of the Post’s health care newsletter, Winfield Cunningham highlighted a then-unreleased report from the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) -- the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). According to Winfield Cunningham, the report was intended to “undermine [Planned Parenthood’s] efforts to downplay its abortion services and highlight other reasons women visit its clinics.” In addition to exclusively previewing the report’s findings, The Health 202 also quoted CLI President Chuck Donovan, describing his comments as him arguing that the report proved “Planned Parenthood doesn't provide any medical services not easily available from other providers.” SBA List then promoted the Post’s exclusive on its Twitter account to legitimize the report’s conclusions. From The Health 202 (emphasis original):

    Today the research wing of antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List will release a look at the market share of abortions Planned Parenthood provides versus other kinds of medical care -- trying to undermine the group's efforts to downplay its abortion services and highlight other reasons women visit its clinics. The report says that Planned Parenthood provides 35.4 percent of abortions in the United States but less than 1 percent of the nation’s HIV and pap tests. In the last five years, service-to-client ratios for breast exams and pap tests have declined by 37 percent, the report says.

    The findings demonstrate that except for abortion, Planned Parenthood doesn't provide any medical services not easily available from other providers, according to Chuck Donovan, president of SBA List's Charlotte Lozier Institute.

    “Planned Parenthood’s commitment to abortion on-demand is clearly more than ideological," Donovan said in a statement. “Their market domination would make such giants in their respective industries as General Motors and Samsung envious – but cornering the abortion market is nothing to celebrate.” [The Washington Post, 8/2/17; Twitter, 8/2/17Media Matters, 8/7/17]

    Winfield Cunningham has previously worked for right-wing outlets

    Winfield Cunningham has previously worked at several right-wing media outlets. Prior to her time at the Post, Winfield Cunningham worked for several right-wing outlets including Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and Old Dominion Watchdog. As her Post bio notes, Winfield Cunningham has worked for other media outlets, including Politico and The Naperville Sun. Winfield Cunningham also appears to have semi-regularly contributed content to Christianity Today between 2009 and 2011. [The Washington Post, 3/6/17]

    Washington Examiner


    The Washington Times

    Christianity Today

    Old Dominion Watchdog

    Washington Examiner (2015 - 2017)

    During her time at Wash. Examiner, Winfield Cunningham focused on anti-abortion groups in her reporting. Winfield Cunningham wrote extensively about reproductive rights during her time at Washington Examiner. Although her writing itself was not inflammatory, Winfield Cunningham promoted anti-abortion groups and their talking points on numerous occasions. For example, in a January 2017 article about the announcement of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court nominee, Winfield Cunningham quoted Marjorie Dannenfelser (SBA List) and Clarke Forsythe (Americans United for Life) while including only one quote from Nancy Northup (Center for Reproductive Rights). In another January 2017 article, Winfield Cunningham wrote about the March for Life and the only original quote was a comment from David Daleiden (CMP). In fact, this was one of four stories Winfield Cunningham wrote about the 2017 March for Life. In another article about a potential Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal, Winfield Cunningham only quoted anti-abortion leaders -- Tom McClusky (March for Life), Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Russell Moore (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), and Kyle Buckles (a spokesman for Rep. Vicky Hartzler [R-MO] who was a member of the Congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives that conducted a highly partisan investigation of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers). Winfield Cunningham also wrote at least two stories in 2017 that focused exclusively on SBA List. [Washington Examiner, 1/31/17, 1/27/17, 1/26/17, 1/22/17, 1/12/17]

    Winfield Cunningham frequently profiled and promoted SBA List’s Charlotte Lozier Institute. During her time at Washington Examiner, Winfield Cunningham profiled the research arm of anti-abortion group SBA List -- Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) -- several times. Notably, Winfield Cunningham included a quote from a CLI representative in a May 2015 article titled “Could science help ban abortions?” In a September 2015 article, Winfield Cunningham dedicated an entire article to highlighting the expansion of CLI, noting that the anti-abortion research group had “brought on six new associate scholars to help supply data on abortion, women's health and other bioethical issues.” In November 2015, Winfield Cunningham published an article promoting efforts by anti-abortion groups -- including CLI -- that had set up an online resource to show “which Obamacare plans cover abortions.” In an August 2016 article about stem cell research, Winfield Cunningham not only included research from CLI but also noted that the organization had directly given a “four-minute video” to the Washington Examiner. [Washington Examiner5/10/15, 9/16/15, 11/3/158/10/16]

    Winfield Cunningham highlighted the myth that abortion is a form of “black genocide.” Winfield Cunningham also helped spread the myth that abortion providers disproportionately target black neighborhoods, giving a voice to anti-abortion leaders from BlackGenocide.org, Staying True to America’s National Destiny, and the National Black Pro-Life Coalition. Winfield Cunningham repeated these anti-abortion groups’ talking points, arguing, “Last year, New York City reported that black women underwent more abortions than live births in 2012. The black abortion rate is higher than the birthrate in other cities, too.” Although Winfield Cunningham did include a quote from SisterSong’s Monica Simpson, it was used to criticize Planned Parenthood -- not debunk the harmful trope that abortion is inherently discriminatory. In that same article, Winfield Cunningham also extensively invoked misinformation about Margaret Sanger, a common tactic of anti-abortion groups attempting to argue that abortion is a discriminatory practice. Winfield Cunningham’s article was later cited by the hate group Family Research Council and in an archive of positive press coverage assembled by the March for Life. In reality, the myth of “black genocide” has been debunked on numerous occasions. [Washington Examiner, 9/29/15; Family Research Council, 10/3/15; March for Life, Accessed February 2018Media Matters, 7/22/16]

    Politico (2012 - 2015)

    Winfield Cunningham included information from SBA List and CLI in the Politico health care newsletter. While reporting for Politico, Winfield Cunningham highlighted several reports from the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) in the outlet’s health care newsletter, Politico Pulse. For example, in a November 2014 edition of the newsletter, Winfield Cunningham included information and a comment from CLI about alleged abortion coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In an earlier version of the Pulse that Winfield Cunningham contributed to, a paper from the CLI was promoted in a larger section about abortion access and medical training. [Politico Pulse, 11/21/4, 7/15/17]

    The Washington Times (2011 - 2012)

    Though Winfield Cunningham wrote less about reproductive rights at The Washington Times, she still pushed anti-abortion talking points. During her employment at The Washington Times, Winfield Cunningham called Plan B “the so-called ‘morning after’ pill.” When discussing Plan B, she noted the anti-abortion talking point without offering pushback, writing, “Pro-lifers have criticized it as a possible abortifacient, but it is included in a list of services deemed ‘essential’ by the Department of Health and Human Services that insurers must cover under the health care law.” Although abortion opponents claim that Plan B causes abortions, it actually prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation from occurring. As Glamour explained, Plan B “doesn’t terminate a pregnancy, but stops a pregnancy from happening to begin with.” [The Washington Times, 10/12/11; Glamour 6/1/16]

    Christianity Today (2009 - 2011)

    Winfield Cunningham appears to have contributed content to Christianity Today between 2009 and 2010. Although it is not listed in her Post biography, Winfield Cunningham appears to have contributed content to Christianity Today between 2009 and 2011. In 2009, Winfield Cunningham authored at least five articles for the outlet -- several of which focused on potential opposition by religious institutions to LGBTQ rights. In 2010, Winfield Cunningham was credited as a “Guest Blogger” by Christianity Today on a piece profiling “Mildred Jefferson—the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and a lifelong pro-life activist.” In 2011, Winfield Cunningham interviewed former Arkansas governor and frequent right-wing media personality Mike Huckabee. [Christianity Today, 3/27/09, 7/16/09, 11/20/09, 10/12/09, 10/23/09, October 2010, 11/3/10, 2/22/11]

    Several of Winfield Cunningham’s articles highlight anti-LGBTQ views, or feature quotes from anti-LGBTQ hate groups. In 2009, Winfield Cunningham contributed several articles to Christianity Today relating to LGBTQ rights. The full text of one article, titled “Gay Rights Activity Escalates in Washington,” was inaccessible at the time of publication. However, in an article titled “Christian Groups Eye Hate Crimes Bill,” Winfield Cunningham discussed the “fears” of “conservative Christian groups” about then-pending legislation that would “add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally prosecuted hate crimes.” In discussing one view of the legislation from these groups, Winfield Cunningham featured quotes from several groups opposed to LGBTQ rights, including: Focus on the Family, Family Research Council (FRC), and Alliance Defense Fund (also known as Alliance Defending Freedom). Both FRC and ADF have been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. From Christianity Today:

    Leaders of conservative Christian groups are wringing their hands over pending approval of a federal hate crimes bill, but opinions are divided on whether their fears are justified.


    The disputes center on a section of the bill that purports to guard constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct, and activities. Protected activities include “the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration,” according to the legislation. The bill also states that no one can be prosecuted solely for expressing racial, religious, political, or other beliefs.

    However, the bill adds that “speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence” is not constitutionally protected. That sentence is alarming to conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, who say the law would severely hamper Christians’ freedom to address homosexuality in sermons, radio programs, and other public venues.

    Ashley Horne, a federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family, said that if passed, the law could expose pastors to federal prosecution if an attendee of their church committed a crime and blamed it on sermons about homosexuality. The bill does not adequately protect Christians from gay activists, she says. She worries that the prosecution would be based on evidence of motivation.

    “Don’t ask me how they’re going to figure out what you perceived and how you perceived that,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”

    Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said that while churches and their ministers will probably not be directly prosecuted, pastors could still be called upon to testify in the prosecution of a hate crime just because they preached on homosexuality.

    “I think once that happens, that is going to send a huge chill through the pastorate,” Stanley said. [Christianity Today, 10/12/09, 7/16/09 via NorthlandChurch.net; Media Matters, 7/24/17]

    Winfield Cunningham wrote several profiles of anti-abortion movement leaders for Christianity Today. In 2011, Winfield Cunningham wrote a profile for Christianity Today about Abby Johnson, founder of anti-abortion group And Then There Were None. The profile treated Johnson as a positive example in the anti-abortion movement because of Johnson’s “opposition to engaging in any type of illegal activity or using violence,” which Johnson said put her at odds with other anti-abortion groups. In 2010, Winfield Cunningham wrote a piece honoring one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Mildred Jefferson, after her passing. Since its founding, NRLC has sought to lobby against abortion access through its network of state groups and local chapters via “legislation and education.” [Christianity Today, 1/12/11, October 2010; National Right to Life Committee, 10/17/10]

    Winfield Cunningham also explored anti-abortion viewpoints in multiple articles while quoting leaders from anti-abortion groups. Between 2009 and 2011 Winfield Cunningham authored several pieces about anti-abortion viewpoints. In an article titled “Health Care Reform Splits Democrats on Abortion,” Winfield Cunningham explored the arguments being made by anti-abortion Democrats against federal funding support for abortion. Although Winfield Cunningham correctly identified that the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds in this way, she cited a report from FRC alleging that the Hyde Amendment “doesn't keep federal money separate from private money” because “‘affordability credits’ would be given to low-income individuals to pay for abortions.” Winfield Cunningham also cited a report from The Associated Press that was meant to substantiate this claim. However, the link to this report currently redirects to the Breitbart News homepage. In a second article, titled “As Pro-Life Democrats Ousted as Election Centers on the Economy,” Winfield Cunningham described the scene at “Morton’s Steakhouse, where staff and supporters of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL) had gathered to watch election returns.” While discussing the campaign strategies of anti-abortion groups, Winfield Cunningham included quotes from FRC, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, and Focus on the Family’s political arm. [Christianity Today, 10/23/09, 11/3/10]

    Old Dominion Watchdog (2009 - 2011)

    Winfield Cunningham was a managing editor and investigative reporter at Old Dominion Watchdog, which is linked to the right-wing Franklin Center. According to the Post, Winfield Cunningham previously served as a managing editor and investigative reporter at Old Dominion Watchdog, which she helped to launch. Before shutting down, Old Dominion Watchdog was a part of the independent sites consolidated as Watchdog.org, run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. The Franklin Center is “[f]unded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintain[s] a regular presence [by] hosting right-wing events.” Old Dominion Watchdog’s website is no longer available, although can be found in part on Internet Archive. [The Washington Post, Accessed April 2017; Media Matters, 7/11/12; Accessed February 2018]

    Wash. Post highlighted Winfield Cunningham’s work at Old Dominion Watchdog -- including its frequent right-wing talking points. In 2010, the Post selected Winfield Cunningham as one of several independent bloggers making up its local blog network “All Opinions Are Local.” The stories were cross-posted from Winfield Cunningham’s work at Old Dominion Watchdog. While Winfield Cunningham’s articles at the Post focused on local issues, right-wing talking points were frequently apparent. In one article, Winfield Cunningham argued that there are victims on both sides of the immigration debate as “health-care services funded by taxpaying citizens are strained by millions who don’t pay.” This is a common tactic used by right-wing media, referencing basic needs of undocumented immigrants to fearmonger about them being a “drain” on the system for taxpayers. [Watchdog.org, 4/23/10; The Washington Post, 8/4/10; Matters Matters, 3/25/16, 11/16/16, 3/1/17, 3/2/17, 10/19/17]