The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan criticizes the "Trigger-Happy Generation" in her latest column, adding to the increasingly wide range of media figures questioning the merits of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" on college campuses. But her attacks in particular reveal a troubling element largely missing from this debate: an honest assessment of the crisis of mental health support for students.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces, in theory, attempt to warn and shield students from material that might remind them of past trauma or reinforce a hostile experience. In practice, they take on many different forms, giving ammunition to both defenders and critics who often see them as overzealous attempts to shield students from reality.
In her May 21 column, Noonan places herself squarely in the critics' camp, labeling on-campus advocacy for safe spaces and trigger warnings as "part of a growing censorship movement." She specifically targets an opinion piece in a Columbia University newspaper, which described in part a survivor of sexual assault wanting greater protection after feeling triggered during a class discussion on the rape scenes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Noonan argues that the world is an unsafe place, and that students shouldn't try to shape it into something more comforting:
There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can't expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety ... [I]f you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?
Noonan is being flippant, but her dismissive joke actually points to a growing problem: colleges don't offer students enough mental health support, which may be one explanation for the growing trend of students trying to create safe spaces and safe texts for themselves.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the same day Noonan's column was published, a report released as part of the campaign found that millennials who work (which would include many college students) have the highest rates of depression of any generation. Last year, The Washington Post noted that according to recent studies, "44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students."
And victims of rape, intimate-partner violence, stalking, or sexual assault -- which the Columbia University student Noonan highlighted reportedly was -- are "drastically more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives," according to a 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association study, CNN reported at the time.
These students often don't have access to help, including the therapy Noonan blithely suggested. In 2011, the American Psychological Association labeled the state of mental health on campuses a "growing crisis," and they've continued to track the concerns since. College counseling centers, they explained, "are frequently forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing caseloads. For example, 76.6 percent of college counseling directors reported reducing the number of visits for non-crisis patients to cope with the increasing number of clients." 88 percent of campus counseling centers surveyed by the American College Counseling Association said they experienced staffing problems due to the increase in demand, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2013.
But as of 2012, only 56 percent of four-year colleges and universities offered on-campus psychiatric services. Fewer than 13 percent of community colleges did as well. The services can't keep up with the rise in demand.
To be sure, not all of the students asking for safe spaces or trigger warnings on their campuses need therapy, nor are they all seeking these spaces because of a general lack of robust mental health service on their campuses. However, I know at least some of them are, because that's exactly what I did.
Fox News attacked Planned Parenthood Action Fund for acknowledging that 2016 Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina's policy positions may threaten women's health, suggesting that her positions could not harm women because Fiorina is female.
Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck took issue with a Planned Parenthood Action Fund poll that asked "which GOP presidential contender is the worst for women's health" because it included a female candidate, Carly Fiorina. On the May 21 edition of the program, Hasselbeck wondered, "How is a female candidate a threat to women?" before suggesting even conducting such a poll on the election's impact on healthcare policy was inappropriate because Planned Parenthood receives government grants.
Hasselbeck steered clear of addressing Fiorina's actual policy stances, many of which would disproportionately harm women.
Fiorina has pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which greatly improves women's access to health care, claiming that it "does not solve problems -- it creates them." She supported a dangerous ban on abortions after 20-weeks so extreme even Republican congresswomen opposed it. Running for U.S. Senate in 2010, Fiorina said that she would "absolutely" repeal Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity.
She has opposed policies to address the gender pay gap, disputing the necessity of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and repeatedly objected to efforts to raise the minimum wage, which would greatly benefit the nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners who are women and help close the gender pay gap.
Mainstream media are highlighting the Clintons' recent disclosure of their personal finances to suggest that Hillary Clinton will not be able to address poverty and income inequality as a 2016 presidential candidate, ignoring how her past policies and work have helped to alleviate these issues.
Broadcast evening news programs have been virtually silent on Congressional Republicans' repeated efforts to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban on abortion.
House Republicans voted this week to ban the majority of abortions after 20 weeks. As The New York Times reported, the legislation is a new "version of a bill that Republican leaders had abruptly pulled in January amid objections from some of their own members" over a provision "that would have required women who became pregnant through rape to report their assault to law enforcement authorities" in order to gain an exemption from the ban.
Such legislation would have dangerous implications for women's health should it become law, as many serious health conditions for both mothers and fetuses cannot be discovered until around the 20th week of pregnancy. The latest version of the legislation requires sexual assault survivors to attend counseling 48 hours prior to receiving an abortion, a requirement that, as ThinkProgress noted, "appears to closely resemble the mandatory counseling and waiting period requirements that are already popular on the state level" which have been roundly criticized by health experts and medical professionals for being unnecessary and harmful to women.
Yet broadcast evening news programs have been all but silent in covering the Republicans' abortion ban.
According to a Media Matters review of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS' nightly news programs since January 1, ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Nightly News have completely ignored the legislation, while CBS Evening News ran one segment highlighting the GOP proposal on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. PBS' Newshour devoted four segments to the legislation this year, and was the only network to cover the House's passage of the latest abortion ban.
The virtual silence of the broadcast evening news comes amid an unprecedented push by Republicans at both the national and state level to restrict women's constitutional right to abortion. An April 2 report from the Guttmacher Institute found that the first few months of 2015 have seen 332 provisions to restrict access to abortion introduced in the legislatures of nearly every state.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS evening news programs from January 1 to April 13, 2015 for the terms "abort!" or "reproduct!" We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the keywords.
"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
Several 2016 presidential candidates were interviewed for Sunday morning's political talk shows on Mother's Day, and not one of them was asked about how they might fix America's poor standing on maternal and child health and education.
A new report ranked the United States 61st globally in maternal health, worst among developed nations. From CBS News:
Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization aimed at improving the health of children worldwide, ranked 179 countries based on five indicators: maternal health, children's well-being, and education, economic, and political status. When taking all of these factors into account, the United States slid to 33rd place worldwide, down two spots in the rankings compared to last year.
While the United States performed well on economic and educational status -- 9th and 16th best, respectively -- in addition to its poor standing in maternal health, it ranked 42nd in children's well-being and 89th in political status, as measured by women's representation in national government.
Republicans Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, as well as Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, all appeared on political talk shows during Mother's Day, but none of them were asked about how they might address the nation's tragic infant mortality rate, reproductive health discrimination, or the fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave.
NBC's Meet the Press tackled the topic in a Mother's Day-themed panel at the end of its show, but host Chuck Todd neglected to ask Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina about what her approach would be to correct the U.S.'s maternal failings if she were to be elected. Instead of discussing Fiorina's dubious claims about the origins of gender pay equity, the two discussed free trade, her business record, and her lack of political experience. Todd did wish the candidate a "Happy Mother's Day."
Carson appeared on Fox's Fox News Sunday, where host Chris Wallace began an interview by asking Carson about his ailing mother and asking the candidate to describe how she raised Carson out of "dire poverty" in Detroit. Carson answered that his mother encouraged him to read, and that access to books made all the difference. But Wallace failed to ask Carson how he might increase the chances for other mothers and their children to thrive.
CBS' Bob Schieffer interviewed a pair of 2016 presidential candidates on the Mother's Day edition of Face the Nation, but he failed to ask either Mike Huckabee or Bernie Sanders about policy stances affecting U.S. mothers. Schieffer pressed Huckabee on the threat of ISIS, reforming Social Security, and his past hawking of fake diabetes cures, while focusing most of his discussion with Sanders on Hillary Clinton. Sanders nevertheless took the opportunity to cite Mother's Day and raise concerns about the U.S.'s child care system, which he called a "total disaster."
Republicans have regularly opposed measures that would alleviate some of the ways the nation's current policies have failed American moms. After President Obama called for mandating paid maternity leave in his 2015 State of the Union address, Republicans "didn't join in the applause" that followed and have publicly panned the idea. The Hill further noted that current Republican leadership also opposed the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at the time would have devastating consequences.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson:
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From the May 5 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Media are parroting conservative lawmakers' and activist groups' characterization of the D.C. Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) as an "abortion law," an inaccurate portrayal the GOP is pushing in its effort to repeal the legislation. The law actually provides women vital protection from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, like assisted pregnancy and even premarital sex.
From the April 23 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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One of conservative media's favorite myths in their campaign against reproductive choice -- that certain forms of contraception are equivalent to abortion -- is being parroted by Republicans and anti-abortion groups in Colorado to advocate against extending an expiring state program that provides contraceptive implants to Colorado women at low costs, and has been called "America's most effective anti-teen-pregnancy program."
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that provides long-term contraceptive options for women and teens such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants at reduced costs may end after the private donation that originally funded it expires June 30, unless a bipartisan Colorado House bill appropriating funding from the state's budget passes in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Wall Street Journal explained on April 22 that some of Colorado's lawmakers are advocating against "spend[ing] state money to extend the program." The Journal pointed to a statement from the anti-abortion group Personhood USA, explaining that the organization "opposed efforts to extend the program because it considered IUDs to be the equivalent of abortion." In March, NPR wrote that Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg, chairman of the Senate Health Committee in Colorado, claimed that the program "'crosses a line'" because "in Lundberg's view, an IUD can count as an abortion, and this makes it impossible for a program that funds IUDs to receive state funding."
The claim that IUDs and other forms of contraception cause abortion mimics a long championed conservative media myth. Despite the fact that experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have repeatedly explained that IUDs and emergency contraception "do not cause abortions," right-wing media baselessly claimed that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate - which includes coverage of IUDS -- covered abortifacients.
Now the conservative media myth has found its way into arguments against Colorado's Family Planning Initiative, which has been called one of "America's most effective anti-teen-pregnancy" programs. The program has provided IUDs and contraceptive implants to "more than 30,000 Colorado women, most of them low income," and is credited with reducing the state's teen pregnancy rate "faster than the nationwide average, allowing it to leapfrog 11 spots in the national rankings." The program has also significantly lowered Colorado's abortion rate and saved the state millions of dollars, according to Mother Jones:
Between 2010 and 2012, the state estimates, 4,300 to 9,700 births to women on the state's Medicaid program that would have otherwise occurred did not--saving Medicaid between $49 million and $111 million. The state's abortion rate has also cratered, falling 42 percent among women ages 15 to 19 and 18 percent among women ages 20 to 24 between 2009 and 2012.
Fox News' Special Report helped GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) reframe the reproductive choice debate by misleadingly hyping a poll that found that a majority of Americans support a legal ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy are extremely rare and studies show a majority of Americans continue to support access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, and various other health care reasons.
According to Politico, on April 8, Sen. Paul "refused to tell The Associated Press whether he would support exceptions for abortions in instances of rape or incest or if the birth of a child would risk the mother's life." Later that day, Paul told journalists in New Hampshire, "Why don't we ask the DNC" whether it is "OK to kill a 7-pound baby in the uterus."
Paul's comment was lauded by right-wing media, and on the April 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report host Bret Baier and correspondent Shannon Bream claimed his statement put Democrats on the "defensive" over "views on abortion most Americans find extreme." During the segment, Bream highlighted a Quinnipiac poll showing "a majority of Americans support legislation that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy," to paint Democrats as extreme. Later in the show, panelists A.B. Stoddard, Charles Krauthammer, and Steve Hayes applauded Paul for "flipping the script" and exposing Democrats' "extremism" on reproductive choice. Hayes called him "absolutely brilliant" saying he "reframed the issue entirely," and Charles Krauthammer praised Paul's move saying banning abortion is "the right thing to do, and it's a winning issue."
Fox's praise for Paul's misleading characterization of the reproductive choice debate is unsurprising given the network's history of helping the GOP rebrand itself - as Bloomberg Politics' David Weigel pointed out, Paul's attempt to flip the script was "exactly what the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List PAC ha[s] been advising Republicans to do since 2012."
From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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The legacy of the conservative media's long campaign to push abortion myths and turn a blind eye to the opinions of medical experts is being felt in 43 states, where Republican legislation restricting abortion access has surged in the first quarter of 2015.
According to an April 2 report from the Guttmacher Institute, the first few months of 2015 have seen 332 provisions to restrict access to abortion introduced in the legislatures of nearly every state. The anti-choice measures included many provisions roundly condemned by the medical experts, including measures to restrict abortion services at 20 weeks of pregnancy and during the second trimester, as well as bills "seeking to impose targeted regulations on abortion providers" (or TRAP laws). The high number of abortion-related state-level legislation introduced so far in 2015 follows a trend of Republican-led state legislatures sweeping in a record number of abortion restrictions following electoral gains in 2010:
Conservative media have long championed the anti-abortion rhetoric behind such legislation, ignoring medical experts who point out such measures are based on medically inaccurate or outright false information, and that these regulations harm women.
In January, after House Republicans dropped plans to vote on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, several conservative media figures lashed out, attacking female members who objected to the bill and dismissing the legitimate health concerns experts say lead women to choose the procedure.
And despite women's health experts like the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) and Gynecologists statements that TRAP measures such as hospital admitting privileges are "medically unnecessary" and "jeopardize the health of women," conservative media nonetheless asserted that such restrictions "ensure safety" and deemed those who oppose them "executioners." They have even pushed discredited claims of a "post-abortion syndrome," the idea that choosing to have an abortion causes subsequent mental illness, ignoring experts at the American Psychological Association who make clear that there is "no evidence" that a single abortion "causes mental health problems."
Now a new crop of medically inaccurate falsehoods perpetrated by conservative media are threatening to translate into even more anti-abortion legislation. In both Arkansas and Arizona, new laws in the state will force doctors to tell patients that abortions can be "reversed" mid-procedure. But as The Washington Post reported, "abortion-rights groups and many doctors" say such rhetoric is based on "junk science" and condemned by women's health experts like ACOG:
But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) was among those arguing against the measures, saying claims of "reversal" are unsupported by medical evidence.
"Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence, and this approach is not recommended in ACOG's clinical guidance on medication abortion," says an ACOG fact sheet on the Arizona law.
Lawmakers in Kansas also recently passed a measure health experts say is "dangerous for some women," signing restrictions on dilation and evacuation procedures, a commonly used technique for second trimester abortions, on April 7. As The New York Times reported, similar bills are also "nearing passage in Oklahoma, and others have been proposed in Missouri, South Carolina and South Dakota." The measures' indifference to the opinions of health experts followed the conservative media's playbook of ignoring science and risking harm to women for ideological gain.
Hispanic conservative media personalities rushed to defend whether GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz "deserve" to be labeled the most Hispanic candidate, ignoring polls that show Latinos care about policies, not personality, and both candidates advocate conservative policies at odds with the vast majority of Latino voters.
After former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his intentions to explore a 2016 presidential run, Hispanic media outlets praised Bush as a "Hispanic candidate," ignoring his conservative policy stances at odds with most Latino voters.
When GOP Sen. Ted Cruz announced his intention to run for the Republican nomination, right wing Hispanic media figures began to scramble to crown which candidate was the "most Hispanic."
In a New York Post op-ed, the Heritage Foundation's Mike Gonzalez defended Cruz from detractors who claimed Ted Cruz "does not speak for Hispanics," arguing that Cruz's family story and upbringing speak to his immigrant background. But during a guest appearance on Univision's Al Punto con Jorge Ramos, Miami Herald columnist Helen Aguirre defined Jeb Bush as "much more Hispanic" than Cruz, "in way of thinking and culture" (her remarks have been translated from Spanish).
On the April 7 edition of CNN's New Day, CNN contributor and conservative strategist Ana Navarro suggested that Bush may have some "Hispanic identity," arguing that he could beat many Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus if they were tested on "Spanish grammar, and reading, and comprehension, and Latin American history, and culture."