Despite a vigorous social media campaign imploring debate moderators to ask presidential candidates about their positions on reproductive rights, Thursday's Democratic debate passed without a single question on the topic. Moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff emphasized a variety of issues in the February 11 debate, yet they failed to ask "how the candidates plan to empower women to make decisions for their lives and families," as NARAL Pro-Choice America put it.
The omission of a reproductive rights question was particularly disappointing given NARAL's attempts to reach out to moderators prior to the debate through both social media and direct communications. Starting a Twitter campaign to #askaboutabortion, NARAL encouraged moderators to address the topic and urged candidates to more fully explain their respective positions on protecting women's access to abortion care.
Similarly, on February 9, NARAL sent an open letter to Ifill and Woodruff making clear the consequences of excluding discussions of reproductive rights from the February 11 debate. Crediting the rising threat of anti-choice violence against abortion providers, as well as the efforts of "anti-reproductive freedom legislators and governors" to enact "dangerous restrictions on women's health care at near record numbers," NARAL warned that it was past time for voters to "hear from the Democratic candidates what they plan to do to protect women's reproductive-health care in this country." They wrote: "we find the lack of questions on this subject to be shameful and a real disservice to voters."
NARAL was not alone in its criticism of prior debates, nor in its desire for journalists and moderators alike to exert more pressure on candidates about their reproductive rights positions. In a February 10 article, RH Reality Check's editor-in-chief, Jodi Jacobson, explained that moderators and journalists are "becoming complicit in the lies and stigma surrounding abortion care" by failing to ask candidates about abortion.
Unfortunately, the silence on reproductive rights issues during debates has become entirely one-sided. Following the February 6 Republican debate, conservative media hyped candidate Marco Rubio's extreme abortion positions. As Daniel Marans reported for The Huffington Post, however, the failure to raise similar questions during Democratic debates means that "Republicans are setting the terms of the abortion debate," leaving Democrats with "themselves to thank for having to field abortion questions that play to their weakness rather than their strengths."
The hesitance to openly discuss abortion during Democratic debates does not seem limited to just moderators. In an article for Jezebel, Anna Merlan noted that when the issue finally came up in the February 11 debate -- spurred by a question about the possibility of electing the first female president -- both candidates shied away from "using the word 'abortion'" at all. Instead, Sen. Bernie Sanders talked about "women having to make a very personal choice," and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hyped her endorsement from NARAL and said the GOP is trying to "set back women's rights." According to Merlan, this omission was puzzling given that a "Democratic president would" have to find ways to "work with the large chunk of the GOP who get up each day with the intent of rolling back Roe v. Wade."
As NARAL explained in its letter, given the fact that women confront "near daily threats to their right to reproductive freedom in this country," the failure of debate moderators to ask about abortion is "shameful and a real disservice to voters." As the Supreme Court prepares to hear "the most important abortion case in decades," about a Texas law imposing restrictive rules on abortion clinics, it is crucial now more than ever that moderators ask candidates about abortion and encourage them to explain the effects their policies will have on women's access to safe, legal, and affordable care.
The PBS moderators of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate never uttered the words "climate change." But Senator Bernie Sanders did.
As we have progressed through the primary debate season, this has happened again and again. The media figures hosting the debates keep failing to bring up climate change, so the Democratic candidates for president are taking matters of our planet's future into their own hands.
According to a Media Matters analysis of Democratic debate transcripts, Senator Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic candidates who are no longer in the race have thus far brought up climate change on their own 17 times combined, proactively addressing climate change in their opening or closing statements, or connecting climate change to a question they were asked on another topic. That's more than twice as often as the moderators of the debates, who have only asked seven questions about climate change to the Democratic candidates so far.
Here are the 17 times that Democratic presidential candidates brought up climate change on their own:
And here are the 7 questions that debate moderators managed to ask the Democratic candidates about climate change, some of which misrepresented the issue or downplayed its importance:
Denise Robbins assisted with the research for this analysis.
National Rifle Association (NRA) board member Ted Nugent participated in a softball interview to attack his critics as "mentally challenged" and "the devil" following outrage over his promotion of an anti-Semitic image.
On February 8, Nugent posted an anti-Semitic image to his Facebook page alleging that Jews were behind a conspiracy to enact gun regulations. After being condemned by civil rights organization the Anti-Defamation League, Nugent doubled down by posting more inflammatory content, including an image of Jews being rounded up by Nazis alongside his comment "Soulless sheep to slaughter. Not me."
In the ensuing controversy, Nugent has been condemned by diverse voices including civil rights groups, Jewish organizations, and both gun safety groups and pro-gun organizations and writers. Several organizations called on the NRA to remove Nugent from its board of directors. (Nugent was praised by white nationalists, and his support for Ted Cruz is still displayed prominently on the GOP contender's website.)
In a February 11 interview with an unnamed questioner, available only on his Facebook page, Nugent suggested that his critics are "mentally challenged" and said, "To attack me one would have to not only play devil's advocate, one would actually be the devil's advocate or more probably the devil itself." To deny charges of anti-Semitism, Nugent stated, "I admire and love my good Jewish friends even more than usual because of their valiant dedication to 'Never Again!'"
The unnamed interviewer fawned over Nugent and provided him cover, describing the Israeli flags that were used to label Jewish American politicians in Nugent's anti-Semitic image as "proud."
Instead of asking actual questions, the interviewer instead served up friendly prompts to Nugent such as, "You aren't anti-semitic. For certain," and "You support the state of Israel."
Below the interview, Nugent posted a link to a press release issued by a fringe gun group called The Zelman Partisans, a more hardline spin-off of the far-right gun group Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO).
The press release, which excused Nugent's use of the anti-Semitic image and played on the same anti-Semitic tropes espoused by Nugent, suggested that The Zelman Partisans would accept Nugent's conduct if he joined the group.
According to the press release, "Nugent is correct that Jewish individuals play an outsized role in U.S. anti-gun leadership. (Aaron Zelman, in his inimitable style, called them 'bagel brains.')" The Zelman Partisans still chided Nugent for his image but made him an "offer" that he could prove he is "really pro-Jewish" by joining the organization.
The Zelman Partisans is an offshoot of JPFO, which was founded by Aaron Zelman. (JPFO, whose website claims that many Jews who support guns safety efforts are "professional victims," released an alert condemning Nugent but then deleted it from their website.)
The organization, formed after Zelman passed away in 2010, explains,"We will not let Aaron's philosophy -- the philosophy to which we are all also committed -- be watered down, betrayed, or 'disappeared.'"
The group's website contains far-right pro-gun material and sells a shooting target that allows target shooters to take aim at quotes from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), other gun safety proponents, and Hitler.
Fox News contributor Scott Brown's network colleagues are pushing him as a potential running mate for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The network -- where Brown has worked on and off as a contributor -- has been boosting the half-term senator's political ambitions for years.
During a January 16 event in New Hampshire where Brown introduced Trump, the business mogul responded to an audience member's suggestion that Brown should be his running mate by replying, "He's central casting! A great guy and a beautiful wife and a great family. So important!" On February 2, Brown officially endorsed Trump for president, calling him "a change agent."
Since his endorsement, Brown's Fox colleagues have regularly floated him as a potential Trump running mate. For instance:
Fox News has spent years trying to further Brown's political career. The channel spent significant time boosting his only successful Senate run in 2010. After he lost his reelection bid in 2012, Brown was hired by Fox News. He then left the network and received major but ultimately unsuccessful help from Fox in his New Hampshire Senate bid. He was rehired by Fox in 2014.
As journalists continue to press Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts from all the paid speeches she made as a private citizen, including those made to Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, it's helpful to keep in mind how unusual the request is. Reading the coverage you might think the transcript demand is routine for all candidates. (i.e. Why won't she just do it already?) But it's not the norm. In fact, it's the opposite of normal.
Once again separate rules have been created for Clinton, although the coverage and commentary on the transcript story is usually careful to leave that part out.
"Whether it's Mitt Romney's tax returns or Clinton's emails or Clinton's speech transcripts, 'Why won't Politician X release Document Y?' is a reliably compelling story line," the Washington Post noted, suggesting that releasing tax returns, which most nominees do, is suddenly synonymous with releasing speech transcripts.
But if it's so common why haven't campaign reporters pressed Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush to release the transcripts of their paid speeches? (Or Carly Fiorina before she recently dropped out?) And previously in 2012, why weren't Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich told to do the same?
And don't forget about Rudy Giuliani. As Media Matters previously reported: "In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches."
Not only didn't the press demand the transcripts to Giuliani's speeches, the press rarely questioned his huge speaking fee paydays, even when he was the Republican frontrunner in 2007.
Clinton recently agreed to release the transcripts if all the other candidates would do the same. But the press has essentially brushed that aside, making plain they're only interested in hers. That, despite the fact some Republicans have given paid speeches while running for office.
There's obviously nothing wrong with asking Clinton about the speeches and the large sums of money she was paid for them. It's a legitimate campaign topic of inquiry and some voters might be turned off by the big paydays. But the idea that Clinton should suddenly be held to a new disclosure standard seems odd.
We're told the circumstances are different with Clinton because she gave speeches to banks and might have said something that could be construed as embarrassing for her campaign. (i.e. The optics might be bad!) But Bush, Romney and Giuliani all cashed big speech checks from financial clients just before their White House runs, so why the double standard for the Democrat?
Well, the speeches illustrate how "cozy" Clinton is with Wall Street and how she's influenced by their money, we're also told. But is she?
Note that in 2014 Clinton gave a series of lucrative speeches paid for by a pair of Canadian banks that were aligned with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Both banks would have benefited financially from the pipeline being built. But after accepting their speaking fees, Clinton came out against the pipeline in 2014.
That's the opposite of a quid pro quo.
As Kevin Drum noted at Mother Jones, while Clinton "has hardly been a scourge of the banking industry," it's difficult to claim she's "cozy" with Wall Street given her record:
She supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She supports higher taxes on the wealthy. She supported repeal of the carried interest loophole in 2007. The Boston Globe, after an extensive review of her voting record in the Senate, summed up her attitude with this quote from a lobbyist: "The financial sector viewed her as neutral. Not helpful, but also not harmful." Citizens for Tax Justice gives her a generally favorable grade on financial issues.
Still, journalists seem focused about uncovering the transcripts for a series of speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs, the idea being that the Wall Street powerhouse would only pay Clinton big bucks because they expected something in return.
But Goldman Sachs regularly brings in a wide array of speakers, including clergy, athletes, researchers, journalists, and entrepreneurs. Is Clinton the only one who received Goldman Sachs speech paychecks and was then expected to deliver favors to the company?
The whole idea that paid corporate speeches are built around the expectation of favors returned doesn't make much sense. "Paying a former secretary of state for giving a speech is what companies and associations do when they want to feel important, not when they want to influence legislation and regulations," noted Paul Waldman at the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, The New York Times spoke to someone who attended one of those speeches [emphasis added]:
Mrs. Clinton mainly offered what one attendee called "a tour of the world," covering her observations on China, Iran, Egypt and Russia. This person said Mrs. Clinton also discussed the dysfunction in Washington, how to repair America's standing in the world after the government shutdown and also talked a bit about the Affordable Care Act, which had had a difficult rollout.
Politico reported one attendee remembered a Clinton Goldman Sachs speech as "mostly basic stuff, small talk, chit-chat." (That person thought the optics of the speech might not look so good today.)
And note that in 2014, Clinton addressed the Ameriprise Financial conference. According to a Boston Globe account, Clinton urged political compromise and delivered a populist message about income equality:
"We have the feeling growing in our country that the deck is stacked against the middle class, and those fighting to get into the middle class," Clinton said, adding that the country is hobbled by "rising inequality, growth that hasn't really picked up yet, and the feeling that many Americans now have that somehow the system seems rigged against them."
Clinton's clearly being held to a new standard. The press thinks that's fine and even celebrates it.
Watch Ohio Local News Debunk Allegations About Planned Parenthood
This is amazing: A local news team in Ohio *completely dismantles* the Ohio attorney general's smear on Planned Parenthood that spurred a bill now awaiting signature by Gov. John Kasich to strip Planned Parenthood of state funding. Watch this:Posted by Media Matters for America on Thursday, February 11, 2016
In a February 5 report, Nathan Baca, an investigative reporter for WBNS-10 TV in Columbus, OH, completely debunked faulty allegations that Planned Parenthood clinics in the state were improperly disposing of fetal tissue.
Baca calls the allegations "misinformation" and "wrong."
On December 11, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine held a press conference on the state's investigation of Planned Parenthood, prompted by the release of deceptively edited videos from Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Although DeWine admitted that the investigation had cleared Planned Parenthood -- joining a growing list of states that who have similarly found no evidence of wrongdoing by the organization -- he also alleged clinics had failed to dispose of the fetal tissue in a "humane manner." According to DeWine, the investigation found that "fetuses were steam cooked and then were taken to a Kentucky landfill" rather than being properly disposed of according to Ohio law.
These allegations spurred a bill now awaiting signature by Gov. John Kasich to strip Planned Parenthood of state funding. This bill additionally threatens the funding for any group contracting with or referring patients to an abortion provider.
According to WBNS-10 TV, however, "experts and Kentucky state inspectors" reject DeWine's claims and cast doubt on the integrity of the original investigation. Summarizing the misinformation uncovered during his investigation in an accompanying article, Baca wrote:
Autoclaving experts and Kentucky state inspectors, though, say DeWine was wrong. The misinformation includes:
No fetuses were buried intact in Kentucky, said Lanny Brannock, Executive Staff Advisor for the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection.
Neither Accu Medical Waste Services Inc., the company used by Planned Parenthood, nor the Green Valley Landfill have been cited for any law violations or inhumane activities by the state of Kentucky.
In fact, no one from Ohio spoke or visited Kentucky facilities to see what occurred, Brannock said.
"It is illegal to landfill any human tissue in Kentucky, and by law it's required to be incinerated. We have no knowledge of any human tissue going into Kentucky landfills," Brannock said.
10 Investigates also discovered Planned Parenthood wasn't alone in using this process. The state of Ohio had a contract with the same disposal company that was used by Planned Parenthood, state records show.
And though, the state of Ohio does not handle abortions, miscarriages do occur at state prisons and medical facilities.
State Rep. Greta Johnson of Akron condemned the attorney general for his reckless statements to the media that led to the anti-choice bill awaiting Kasich's approval, telling WBNS-10 TV, "it's evidence of putting political headlines over common sense, putting political headlines over access to health care. This was a political witch hunt that was destined to have some sort of outcome to grab a headline."
The Washington Post's media writer Erik Wemple and Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell observed that debate moderators have thus far failed to adequately address climate change in the presidential debates, and urged them to ask more -- and better -- questions about the issue.
In a February 10 blog post on washingtonpost.com, Wemple stated that debate moderators "have had plenty of data to pose strong questions to candidates regarding climate change," including the Pentagon issuing "a study identifying climate change as a national-security problem," a determination that "could well have informed a number of sizzling questions from the leading lights of broadcast journalism regarding climate change." Instead, Wemple noted, the "little substance" that moderators have provided on climate change through the first twenty presidential debates "show how easily journalists get sidetracked by frivolities in their quest to hold politicians accountable."
Wemple examined several flawed questions from previous debates that "failed to yield an extended discussion of climate change," and suggested that PBS, which is hosting a Democratic presidential debate tonight, "follow the example" of a graduate student from Arizona State University who managed to provoke a through discussion of the topic:
For tips on how to phrase a simple and consequential question, the PBS-ers may want to follow the example of an outsider. During the Oct. 13 CNN Democratic debate, Arizona State University graduate student Anna Bettis of Tempe, Ariz., asked via video, "As a young person, I'm very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?" An extensive discussion of the topic followed.
Easily done, right?
Not right, to judge from other attempts by full-time journalists to poke at this topic.
McDonnell, who is Climate Desk's Associate Producer, similarly criticized debate moderators in a February 11 article for Mother Jones, stating that the debates "so far have tended more toward theater of the absurd than substantive policy issues," and "climate change has barely surfaced." McDonnell argued that "[t]he moderators need to dig much deeper" in order to provide "a clearer view of how the different candidates would (or wouldn't) confront global warming."
In order to "help out the moderators," McDonnell reached out to climate scientists, environmentalists, academics, economic and defense experts, a former Republican congressman and even actor Mark Ruffalo to provide some ideas for questions to ask the candidates. You can see the list of potential questions that McDonnell compiled here.
From Mother Jones:
The moderators need to dig much deeper. The Pentagon has identified climate change as a major national security threat; cities and states are investing in clean energy and protection from extreme weather; and President Barack Obama will soon officially sign the global climate deal reached in Paris.
"It's amazing when you think of the infrastructure and other changes we're gonna see, that people are not asking hard questions about 'What is your plan to address emissions, and prepare for the changes?,'" says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.
Looking at the lack of in-depth reproductive rights questions asked during presidential debates thus far this election season, RH Reality Check's editor-in-chief, Jodi Jacobson, raised concerns about the role of journalists and debate moderators in "perpetuating both abortion stigma and the mirage of consequence-free abortion restrictions."
In a February 10 article, Jacobson criticized the media for "becoming complicit in the lies and stigma surrounding abortion care" by not questioning politicians more carefully on their positions about abortion. According to Jacobson, although the "media loves to obsess about -- and stoke controversy around -- abortion and contraception" there has been very little interest in asking politicians, "Exactly what is the evidence for your position?" For example, following the February 6 Republican debate, conservative media hyped Marco Rubio's extreme abortion positions without demanding "specifics about the real-life consequences" or asking how such policies would impact the "real people affected by them," Jacobson wrote (emphasis original).
There is also ample evidence that political rhetoric -- particularly incendiary or misleading rhetoric -- influences the development of legislation that is harmful to women's health. For example, following media circulation of deceptively edited videos from Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year, the Center for Medical Progress, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. In reality, a growing number of state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing while one grand jury in Texas has instead indicted CMP founder David Daleiden.
Jacobson said journalists have a "duty to best inform the public" and argued that their failure to do so on reproductive rights issues represents "outright bias." She concluded that "starting with Thursday's debate, it's time to get real on abortion care and ask all presidential contenders some in-depth questions":
Question One: Do you trust people to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth that are best for their families? If not, why not?
Two: Abortion is universally acknowledged by the medical and public health community as a public health issue. If you oppose access to abortion and the right to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, why do you believe your judgment should supplant the evidence that exists on abortion worldwide? What is the evidence for your position?
Three: Evidence shows that women who are unable to afford an early abortion spend a lot of time trying to pull together resources, resulting in later abortion. ... Do you believe that an individual's economic status should determine whether or not they are able to make fundamental decisions about their lives, including abortion?
Four: Do you think religiously affiliated medical centers should be able to deny people essential health care? If you believe abortion is essential health care, why would you allow these groups to deny women access to this care? Do you believe that hospitals and clinics that deny women care should be eligible for government funding?
Five: For candidates who claim to be "pro-life," do you believe in forced gestation? This, again, must be asked. It is the ugly reality: Denial of abortion care is forced gestation. Plain and simple. Let's dispense with the "pro-life" fig leaf and get real.
Six: If you claim to be "pro-life," do you support greatly expanded government funding for the care and support of children living in poverty, including universal health care, maternal and infant health care, food assistance, housing assistance, and college tuition for those who were unable to afford a(nother) child? Do you support government funding and lifelong assistance for the families of children born severely disabled?
Seven: For candidates who support access to abortion, what will you do to address the fact that under Obamacare millions of women have lost insurance coverage for abortion care?
Eight: For pro-choice politicians: Do you see abortion as a fundamental issue of human rights or do you see being "pro-choice" as a campaign strategy only to be ignored once you've been elected?
Following a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is poised to sign a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood. The bill not only strips Planned Parenthood of state funding, but it would additionally threaten funding for any group contracting with or referring patients to an abortion provider. While the bill does not affect Medicaid reimbursements, it could impact funding for other state health care programs that are currently served by Planned Parenthood affiliates.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio issued a statement as the bill was debated by the state senate saying its passage could stop city and county health departments that have contracts with Planned Parenthood -- or an independent abortion provider -- from receiving state funding for breast and cervical cancer prevention, infertility, infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS programs, as well as sex education and other initiatives.
Since the release of deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year -- anti-choice legislators have repeated right-wing media misinformation about Planned Parenthood in an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. They have simultaneously claimed that community health clinics can effectively fill in the gap left by barring Planned Parenthood from state health care programs, a claim echoed in Ohio by the bill's supporters.
Despite claims made by right-wing media that community clinics can completely fulfill the needs served by state health care programs, there is evidence that removing Planned Parenthood from such programs has a detrimental impact. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only "safety-net health center" accessible for women seeking contraceptive services. They noted that Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services and typically can see more patients annually for these services than "other types of safety-net providers."
A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine that examined the impact in Texas of removing Planned Parenthood from state-funded programs found a decrease in the use of long-acting contraceptives that corresponded with an increase in child births by Medicaid-funded patients.
Research from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has shown that defunding Planned Parenthood would lead to a net increase in government spending of $130 million over a 10-year period. Beyond the fiscal impact, research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) on the impact of Planned Parenthood cuts in Texas suggests that loss of access to such clinics poses dire health risks as well.
Community health clinics are also ill-positioned to meet many Americans' health care needs, particularly when Planned Parenthood is taken out of the equation. Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote in an article for the Health Affairs Blog that the "claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do."
And contraception is not patients' only loss; removing Planned Parenthood from state health care programs can have other harmful consequences. For example, in 2011 Indiana cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which left one rural county without an HIV testing center as it experienced a growth in HIV infections.
The editorial boards of the Akron Beacon Journal and the Toledo Blade have both warned of similar threats to Ohio women's health if Gov. Kasich fails to veto the bill. According to the Akron Beacon Journal's editorial board, the health impact of Ohio's bill would be widespread as the "loose language in the bill may lead to funding complications for local hospitals and public health departments." In response to claims that other clinics can fill in for Planned Parenthood, the Toledo Blade's editorial board noted that community clinics in Ohio "do not serve poor and minority women nearly to the extent that Planned parenthood does."