GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
Rush Limbaugh took material for his radio program from "satire" blog Diversity Chronicles, a website with strong undertones of white supremacy and misogyny which Rush described as "a website that does satire on how white men are blamed for everything."
On the November 25 edition of his show, Limbaugh highlighted a story about a controversial professor who allegedly advised his white, male students to commit suicide. After returning from a commercial break, Rush clarified that the story was a satire piece from the website Diversity Chronicle, a satirical blog which, according to Limbaugh, is "actually pretty funny." He then began to read from another Diversity Chronicle post mocking the notion of marital rape:
LIMBAUGH: That's why this outfit called Diversity Chronicle -- which is a satire website. They're actually very funny -- That's why they created the satire about the guy. Because there's a basis -- you know all good comedy has truth in it. That's what makes great comedy funny, is that there're elements of truth in it.
For example, this Diversity Chronicle website right now is running a piece, 'Brave Woman Comes Forward To Denounce Former Husband's Repeated Rapes.' 'After several years of silence a brave and heroic thirty eight year old woman has come forward to denounce her former husband's repeated rapes over the course of their marriage. Despite her numerous appeals, local law enforcement however refuses to treat her allegations seriously. These sexist, male-chauvinist, largely white male officers actually state that by her own account she was not 'legally raped.'"
Rush choked up with laughter as he read the line describing the officers, who did not take allegations of marital rape seriously, as "sexist, male-chauvinist[s]." He then said of the site, "It is a website that does satire on how white men are blamed for everything."
The Diversity Chronicle blog describes itself as "a News web site focusing on news events relating to diversity of all kinds," but a disclaimer claims "the original content on this blog is largely satirical."
A scan of the list of blogs Diversity Chronicle recommends reveals a number of "white nationalist" blogs, including American Renaissance (amren.com), a white supremacist think tank. The site also recommends various articles with titles such as "Pedophilia More Common Among 'Gays'" and "Virgin Brides Less Likely To Divorce." Under a section labeled "Eugenics," Diversity Chronicles links a website supporting "humanitarian eugenics." The "Institute for Historical Review," which deals largely in anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial, is also in the list of recommended websites.
Rush Limbaugh overlooked the mechanics of the morning-after pill to liken it to an abortion drug, ignoring that Plan B does not terminate a pregnancy and must be taken within five days of intercourse to be effective.
On the November 25 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Limbaugh highlighted a European company's claim that its version of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill, may be less effective in women who weigh over 165 pounds. Limbaugh speculated that because of this announcement, a pregnant woman who weighs more than 165 pounds and wants to end her pregnancy must either go on a diet before taking the morning-after pill or get an abortion:
LIMBAUGH: Now we have learned that American women, 166 pounds and up, the Plan B pill doesn't work. What will their option be? 166, 170 pound woman, pregnant, she wants to go ahead and get her morning-after pill, and then she's told, 'Sorry, you're too big. You're too heavy. It won't work.' What are her options? Well, she can either go on a diet, or she can get an abortion.
After Rush Limbaugh compared recently enacted filibuster reform to a vote "allow[ing] women to be raped," a spokesman defended the host by saying, "Limbaugh has spent 25 years illustrating absurdity by using extrapolated analogies." Indeed, Limbaugh has a long history of making outrageous, offensive comparisons and invoking rape when discussing politics.
From the November 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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The Washington Times published an op-ed that downplayed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military and called efforts to curb assaults "emasculat[ing]," ignoring reports that confirm sexual assaults are indeed a crisis in the military.
Amid recent reports that "sexual assault in the military increased sharply during the last fiscal year," a November 17 op-ed in The Washington Times titled "The feminist campaign to make weaklings of America's warriors" claimed that recent efforts to curb sexual assault in the military "emasculate[d] men" and "objectif[ied] women" who want to be in combat units. The article opened (emphasis added):
Feminism is trying to yank the U.S. military in two directions at once. While claiming that women have no problem meeting the rigorous standards of the SEALs or infantry, advocates of opening these branches to women argue that female members of the military must be protected from the male sexual predators that, we are assured, are widely represented in the military. However, they can't have it both ways. Are women "hear me roar" Amazons, or are they fragile flowers who must be protected from "sexual harassment," encouraged to level the charge at the drop of the hat?
While author Mackubin Thomas Owens noted that there "was no excuse for sexual assault," he continued to downplay sexual assault statistics, claiming that the focus on curbing assaults objectified women as "weaklings who have no place in the military" (emphasis added):
The data cited by the Pentagon creating widespread panic within the military are rendered suspect for two reasons. The first problem is methodological: The numbers -- some 26,000 active-duty service members out of a population of 1.4 million claim to have been sexually assaulted in 2012 -- are based on an anonymous survey. This number far exceeds reported cases of sexual assault.
The second and more significant problem is that the survey uses the term "sexual assault" in a way so broad as to render it nearly meaningless. Indeed, much of what is now covered by the Pentagon's sexual-assault rubric represents the de facto criminalization of normal relations between the sexes of the sort that come about when young males and females are thrown into proximity.
One of the ironies of the focus on sexual assault in the military is that it serves to objectify women, not as sexual objects but as weaklings who have no place in the military. It diminishes the significant contributions that women have made to the nation's defense, serving honorably, competently and bravely during both peace and war. The fact is that the vast majority of women in today's armed forces are extremely professional and want nothing to do with Elshtain's two wings of feminism. Yet they are being infantilized by the Pentagon's focus on sexual assault.
If the United States insists on opening infantry and special operations forces to women, the focus should be on upholding high standards, no matter the outcome. Instead, those who want to open these heretofore restricted military specialties to women insist on stigmatizing males as sexual predators and women as childlike victims whose only protection is to charge sexual assault. The result will be a less effective military, rent by dissension.
But Owens' critiques of recent reports are unfounded. The "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military" noted that the findings are consistent with a study prepared for the Air Force by Gallup, which had a significantly higher response rate. In fact, the report's research supervisor, Dr. David Lisak, worked with Gallup and the Air Force on the earlier study. In addition, the Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program explained that the military of definition of sexual assault is "unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct or fondling" and added that sexual assault is a crime:
From the November 18 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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Fox host Neil Cavuto pretended that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) ban on gender discrimination, which requires all policies to include maternity care coverage, was never "telegraphed" to the American people when the law was first discussed -- Cavuto is right, if you ignore repeated remarks made by President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and multiple media outlets prior to the bill's passage.
Under the ACA, all insurance plans are now required to cover maternity and newborn care, one of the law's 10 categories of 'essential health benefits' that every policy must include. The maternity care requirement puts an end to the systemic discrimination against women that pervaded the insurance industry. Previously, many companies charged women higher rates than men for the same plans and denied coverage or increased premiums for women who become pregnant, actions which the law prohibits.
Fox host Neil Cavuto referenced this requirement on the November 15 edition of Your World while discussing the ACA with MIT economist Jonathan Gruber. After Gruber explained the impetus behind the rule, Cavuto claimed that it "was never, ever" explained to the country until now:
GRUBER: The key thing is, if you want to end discrimination, for example by gender, if you want to say that women should not have to pay more than men for health insurance, then that means that everyone has to share the cost of maternity coverage. Now if you don't think that's right, that's a totally legitimate position to take --
CAVUTO: But that was never telegraphed. When all of this started, Jonathan -- that's fine, if you want to say that now though -- none of that was telegraphed, as was the fact that many people would lose their plans and many more would pay a lot more for plans. None of that was this Utopian view that you would do better by doing some good, maybe paying more, but in the net positive the country would benefit. That was never -- that was never ever said.
What Cavuto claims was "never, ever said" was said, repeatedly -- by the media, the president, and the Health and Human Services (HHS) cabinet secretary, all before Congress passed the ACA on March 23, 2010.
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the new health care law for requiring all new insurance plans to cover essential services such as maternity care and mental health care, ignoring the fact that individuals with these conditions are often discriminated against in the insurance market and that requiring coverage for these services will help the economy and reduce economic insecurity.
On the November 12 edition of Special Report, Powers complained that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans are now required to cover benefits such as maternity care and mental health care, despite the fact that an individual might not ever need to use these services:
POWERS: The idea that they think that 50-year-olds should have maternity care is very concerning to me. You know, people are being forced to pay for things that they will not use. It is not for them to tell people -- I don't need to be told I need to have mental health coverage. If I wanted it, I would have gotten it. And I think people are getting a little fed up, even Democrats, with this stuff.
In fact, without the ACA's requirement that essential health benefits be covered by new insurance plans sold on the exchanges, Powers may not have been able to get mental health coverage or maternity care if she wanted it. Individuals who needed those services before the law's passage were routinely discriminated against while trying to obtain necessary health insurance, by being required to pay significantly more for coverage, left unable to get a plan offering specific coverage, or rejected from health insurance all together.
As CNNMoney explained, previously insurance companies were able to keep costs down for many by offering plans without some essential benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, and cherry picking "among applicants to only pick the healthiest ones." The New York Times reported that in 2011, "62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage," and a Washington Post columnist explained that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 20 percent of people currently in the individual market have "no coverage for mental-health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization." (Approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health condition per year, and half of all Americans will experience one in their lifetime.) Many individual market insurance plans did not offer these services.
The entire concept behind the Affordable Care Act was to change this, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their personal finances or current health states, could have access to quality, comprehensive health insurance that covered their needs. The law thus mandates ten essential health benefits -- including maternity care and some mental health services -- that all new insurance plans must include at minimum for every American.
Powers' argument also ignored that requiring insurance companies to cover these essential services in all health plans has significant economic benefits.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto again downplayed the sharp rise of reported sexual assaults in the military, even as military leaders agree that sexual assaults are a real problem.
The New York Times reported on November 7 that sexual assault complaints in the military rose "nearly 50 percent increase over the same period a year earlier." The report noted:
The numbers included sexual assaults by civilians on service members and by service members on civilians. Sexual assault was defined in the report as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, including touching of private body parts. It did not include sexual harassment, which is handled by another office in the military.
But Taranto ridiculed the Times report, claiming the Pentagon was "exaggerating the problem of military sexual assault." Taranto claimed the report should be treated with "skepticism" because it included reports of military members assaulted by civilians and those assaulted before entering the military:
From the November 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News contributor Erick Erickson launched his latest personal attack on Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, whom he proudly labeled "Abortion Barbie," by absurdly suggesting that a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis made a routine legal claim in a defamation lawsuit disqualified her to hold public office.
In a post on his conservative website RedState, Erickson highlighted a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation. Erickson seized on language from the suit, in which Davis claimed the editorial had caused "damages to her mental health," a required element of her alternate Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim, to argue Democrats would regret supporting her campaign for governor:
Back in 1996, Wendy Davis lost an election for the Fort Worth, TX City Council. After the election, she sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the local newspaper, for defamation. In short, Davis did not like being criticized by the media (something she won't have to worry about this go round), so she sued for those criticisms claiming they defamed her.
The Texas Court of Appeals and then the Texas Supreme Court both threw out her case. But it is worth noting that Davis, in making her case, claimed that the nasty newspaper, by virtue of criticizing her, damaged her "mental health."
More worrisome regarding her mental stability, Davis sued the newspaper months after losing her city council and claimed that she "ha[d] suffered and [was] continuing to suffer damages to her mental health."
Think about that. The best candidate the Texas Democrats could find to run is a lady who admits in open court that a newspaper editorial caused her mental health to be damaged.
As explained by the Digital Media Law Project of Harvard University's Berman Center for Internet & Society, "Plaintiffs who file defamation lawsuits often add an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim as an alternative theory of liability." Within these IIED claims, a plaintiff must prove the emotional distress, or "damages to her mental health." In other words, Erickson wants his subscribers to "think about" the routine legal boilerplate of Wendy Davis' lawyers from 1996.
Erickson's suggestion that Davis is unfit for public office because of a defamation lawsuit is only the latest in his string of absurd or vicious personal attacks against her. In August, Erickson labeled Davis "Abortion Barbie" after she declined to comment on the case of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell:
From the November 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the November 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the October 31 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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