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Colorado Abortion Provider To Anti-Choice Lawmakers: “The Blood Of Any Of Us Who Are Assassinated Is On Your Hands.”
November 27 marked the one-year anniversary of a deadly shooting attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center that killed three and wounded nine more.
In July 2015, the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of deceptively edited videos falsely alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood employees. Multiple investigations have not only cleared Planned Parenthood, but also consistently debunked the fraudulent claims the organization has advanced. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice lawmakers have continued to attack providers and spread misinformation about the essential services they provide. This campaign of misinformation makes reproductive health care less accessible, but also incites violence against clinics, patients, and providers.
From the inception of CMP’s smear campaign, right-wing media were among the most enthusiastic champions of the anti-choice group’s misinformation. For example, following the release of CMP’s second video on July 21, 2015, Fox News dedicated 10 segments across seven separate programs to hyping the deceptively edited footage in a single day. In addition, Media Matters found that during a 14-month period (from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016), Fox News’ evening news programs frequently relied on extreme anti-choice figures and misinformation to promote CMP’s fraudulent claims about Planned Parenthood and abortion.
The Washington Post reported the day after the attack that the Colorado Springs shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, explained his actions using the phrase “no more baby parts” -- mirroring the language used by CMP to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. Media Matters found that Fox News and Fox Business were responsible for 83 of 119 mentions of the phrase “baby parts” or “parts of babies” on major cable news networks’ reports about the release of CMP’s videos before the subsequent Colorado Springs attack. In comparison, Fox spent just 30 seconds covering reports that Dear stated, “I’m guilty. There’s no trial. … I’m a warrior for the babies,” during his first court appearance on December 9, 2015.
In fact, right-wing media have continually dismissed anti-choice violence and resisted classifying such attacks as acts of terrorism. Rather than account for the severity of anti-choice violence, right-wing media have instead denied its systemic nature, downplayed incidents, and dismissed individuals like the Colorado Springs gunman as anomalous “kooks.”
For example, on the June 21 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly downplayed the dangers of clinic violence, claiming he was unable to remember a time when “a Christian blew up an abortion clinic.” Previously, in December 2015, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson wrote that he was surprised “more Planned Parenthood facilities and abortionists are not being targeted” and suggested that such violence was only “getting rarer.”
Prior to the Colorado Springs attack, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an increase in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This assessment was later supported by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which found that in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers that coincided with CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta noted that the ninefold increase in harassment and threats of abortion providers in the month after the release of the first CMP videos was “unprecedented.”
The FBI’s warning was prescient. After Dear allegedly carried out his deadly attack, a clinic in St. Louis was vandalized while a Washington man was arrested for making death threats against employees of StemExpress, the biomedical company targeted in several of the discredited CMP videos. As reported by The News Tribune, Scott Anthony Orton posted more than 18 different threatening messages online before he was arrested. In April 2016, Orton pleaded guilty to threatening StemExpress employees.
In May, The New York Times reported that MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C. barred abortion provider Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper from publicly speaking about the need for greater abortion access. The hospital’s medical director issued the gag order after the Colorado Springs attack “out of concerns for security,” saying he didn’t want to draw attention to MedStar’s abortion and reproductive health care services in the nation’s capital.
A Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton, WI, was forced to close its doors due to security concerns in August 2016. This move left “any patient who does not live in Madison or Milwaukee” without a nearby provider, according to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin director of government relations Nicole Safar.
More recently, an Alaskan man, Robert Joseph Klima, was indicted in November for making threatening phone calls to a Planned Parenthood call center, claiming he would bomb an Anchorage clinic. Alaska Dispatch News reported that Kilma made multiple calls and insisted that “he knew how to carry out the destruction of the building.”
Despite the clear threat posed when the names and details about abortion providers are made public, a congressional panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood has worked to expose even more such information. And the panel -- the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- has consistently relied on CMP and other anti-choice groups to fuel its politically motivated attacks on abortion access.
Established in October 2015, the select panel has been criticized by mainstream media outlets for its “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood -- prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Although the panel has found no substantial evidence of wrongdoing during its tenure, Rewire reported that congressional leadership approved a request for additional funding that would “more than doubl[e] the total cost of the investigation," bringing it to $1.59 million. Equally concerning, extreme anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue have asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to extend the sham investigation beyond its originally authorized end date in December 2016.
The select panel Republicans have already been criticized for showing little concern for the safety of the targets of their investigation. In June, select panel chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her colleagues failed to redact identifying information about abortion providers and patients from subpoenaed documents. Similarly, the select panel Republicans have also publicly released identifying information about abortion providers whom they believe (but have not proved) were involved in malfeasance.
Just this month, Warren Hern -- a late-term abortion provider who lives just hours from Colorado Springs in Boulder, CO -- received a letter from Blackburn implying that he has been involved in wrongdoing and demanding information about Hern and his practice.
In response, Hern lambasted Blackburn, writing that her “clear and unabashed purpose is to obstruct women seeking abortions, to control their lives, and to crush physicians who help them.” He dismissed Blackburn’s allegations as “outrageous,” “patently false,” and based on an “unfounded fantasy” while warning of the danger the panel’s attacks posed to women’s health and scientific advancement. Hern also warned Blackburn that her attempts to demonize abortion providers and ally with anti-choice groups threatened the safety of providers, their patients, and clinic staff:
I am determined to give my patients the safest possible medical care in a humane and dignified environment that supports their emotional and social needs to the fullest extent possible. I have a superior staff of nurses, counselors, and other health professionals who are dedicated to help these women and their families. Your sordid exploitation of this activity for political purposes places all of us -- patients, physicians, and all members of my staff -- at risk of violent retaliation by anti-abortion fanatics. You know this. This is not some paranoid fantasy. A number of physicians specializing in abortion services have been assassinated, on at least one occasion in the physician’s church, and numerous other people, including an off-duty police office and one physician’s bodyguard, have been murdered in cold blood by anti-abortion fanatics, each assassin a so-called “peaceful” anti-abortion protester up until the moment of the murder.
When is the last time you ever spoke out and condemned these senseless and spineless murders?
You and your Republican Party are vigorously allied with a violent terrorist movement that threatens the lives of women, their families, and health care workers. As part of this shame “investigation,” your letter to me and letters to other physicians constitute a program of target identification for anti-abortion assassins. You can deny this, but it is a fact.
Your “investigation” is legislative harassment that endangers our lives. The blood of any of us who are assassinated is on your hands.
While anti-choice groups and lawmakers continue targeting abortion providers like Hern, the people of Colorado Springs are still healing from a violent attack on their community fueled by extreme anti-abortion sentiments.
In October 2016, several survivors of the Planned Parenthood attack spoke to Cosmopolitan about their experience and continuing fears of becoming targets of anti-choice violence. But as the clinic manager explained, “We have come through this and are stronger.” She concluded: “We are going to be there for this community because they need us.”
President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.
After George Mason University’s assistant admissions director spoke out on his Facebook page against the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBTQ extremist group, and said that he was “worried” about the future given the election of Donald Trump, right-wing media jumped at the opportunity to mischaracterize his statement and condemn him for speaking out for his beliefs.
After Donald Trump was declared president-elect, George Mason University senior director of admissions Andrew Bunting posted publicly on his Facebook page that he was “worried,” linking to a November 9 blog post by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is lead by Brian Brown. Brown is also currently the president of World Congress of Families, the anti-LGBTQ hate group that has worked internationally to use the doctrine of the “natural family” to “build support for laws that criminalize homosexuality and abortion,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. NOM has a long history of attacking LGBTQ people, relying on lies to promote its agenda, and promoting policies that encourage anti-LGBTQ violence.
The blog Bunting linked to, titled “The Plan,” outlined all of the goals that the organization planned to work with Trump’s administration to achieve, including: reversing marriage equality, targeting “gender identity” directives, and passing anti-LGBTQ legislation like the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would codify anti-LGBTQ discrimination and hate speech into law. Additionally, NOM declared its intention to reverse policies of the Obama administration that they claim “seek to coerce other countries into accepting same-sex 'marriage' as a condition of receiving US assistance and aid.” The blog continued, “It is fundamentally wrong for a president to become a lobbyist for the LGBTQ agenda.” Bunting concluded that if you agreed with NOM, you are “a worthless piece of trash.”
Bunting’s Facebook posts were originally reported on by MRCTV, a conservative online platform helmed by Media Research Center, which mischaracterized his statements as regarding “conservatives” broadly. The author also noted that Bunting worked at a gay bar, “In addition to working at GMU, Bunting appears to work at a gay bar called Cobalt. Photos on his Instagram account show him dressed provocatively while saying he is at the bar every ‘4th and 5th Saturday.’” Shortly after the MRCTV post came out, Townhall, another conservative website, published an article mischaracterizing Bunting’s post by saying:
College administrators everywhere are having a really difficult time accepting Donald Trump's White House victory, but the admissions director at George Mason University just lost it. On his Facebook page, Andrew Bunting declared conservatives, Trump voters and anyone who dares to disagree with his progressive ideology are "worthless pieces of trash."
After the story made the rounds on right-wing media sites, Bill O’Reilly reported on the post during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly similarly mischaracterized the statement made by Bunting in a conversation with Washington Examiner contributor Lisa Boothe, and the segment culminated in calls for his dismissal. From The O’Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (HOST): If you are a student, and you're applying to George Mason University, you have to write an essay. I mean, you have to tell the people about yourself. And if you hold a certain belief system, maybe that will be included in your essay. And one of the admissions deciders is telling you, “if you don't agree with me you are a worthless piece of you know what?” Come on? How can he possibly do his job?
LISA BOOTHE: He can't. And that's the big problem here. And this is why he should be let go. Because his job is supposed to be objective with the admissions process. And clearly he is anything but. And, I think the university needs to take it one step further and do a review of the applications process to ensure that no students and previous applicants -- that they were not discriminated against based off of their political ideology or Christian beliefs. Because the statement that this individual made on his Facebook post was related to gay marriage, and was actually -- cited something from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled groups like the Family Research Council hate groups.
O'REILLY: So, well, I want to get this right. So, you would fire him outright? He’s done, if you were the chancellor?
BOOTHE: Yes. And I think he needs emotional therapy puppies. Maybe he needs to attend a cry-in. But yeah, I think he should be let go.
Attacking sanctuary cities is one of Fox News’ anti-immigrant battle cries, with many of the network’s talking points echoing the approach that anti-immigrant nativist organizations champion. These views have now percolated into President-elect Donald Trump’s policy plans, even though the talking points are unsubstantiated by reality.
Sanctuary cities are places where local authorities have enacted ordinances that limit local law enforcement from informing federal immigration authorities of the migratory status of undocumented immigrants. Demonizing the concept has been one of Fox News’ favorite pastimes. The networks’ hosts and anchors routinely misinform on the topic, from Bill O’Reilly saying sanctuary cities cause “anarchy,” Greg Jarrett saying officials in such cities are “breaking the law,” to Eric Bolling asserting that they “ignore federal law.”
Fox News discussions on the topic are likely to include the following set of misleading talking points, as illustrated by this segment on the November 15 edition of Happening Now: Local authorities are breaking federal law by enacting such ordinances; they should be charged; and federal funds should be withheld from such places as punishment.
Fox News’ talking points echo those of extreme anti-immigrant groups with nativist ties, like the Center of Immigrant Studies (CIS), which has praised congressional attempts to “withhold certain federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions” and which gets invited to send its representatives on Fox to push their extreme views. Another such group is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has leaders with ties to white supremacists and which has pushed claims that sanctuary city policies “conflict with federal law.”
Trump has promised to “cancel all federal funding” to sanctuary cities within his first hundred days in office. And that promise is likely to be fulfilled given that his potential cabinet picks include anti-immigrant extremists like Kris Kobach, who has made a career out of pushing such legislation as Arizona's SB 1070 "papers-please" law (which encouraged ethnic profiling) and suing states for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.
The facts on sanctuary cities are much different from what Fox dishonestly pushes. In reality, according to the Congressional Research Service, local legislation that makes a city or a state a “sanctuary city” does not break federal law. These ordinances are also constitutional “as long as sanctuary communities that choose not to ask about immigration status do not bar volunteer communications and follow other federal requirements,” according to legal experts. Additionally, law enforcement experts have noted that sanctuary cities can help deter crime, since they keep local law enforcement focused on local priorities rather than doing immigration enforcement, a role that historically falls under the responsibility of the federal government.
Even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a current member of Trump’s transition team, admitted that Fox’s dishonest attacks on sanctuary cities are misguided by defending the similar policies he enacted in New York. Giuliani explained that sanctuary cities reduce crime by shifting the focus to actual immigrant criminals and away from undocumented crime victims who aid police, children whose parents may be undocumented, and undocumented people seeking emergency hospital treatment.
As Emory law professor and attorney Randy Kessler told CNN on the November 16 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, “The local, state -- municipalities don’t have to do anything over and above enforcing their own laws, and if they are not interested in going to collect immigrants and deport them, then they’re not going to make it easy on Donald Trump or the federal investigators -- federal law enforcement who want to do that”:
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Wemple: O'Reilly’s Refusal To Discuss “Unsavory Matters” About The Network, Ensures No Internal Reform Will Happen At The Network
The Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote that Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s refusal to address recent sexual harassment scandals at Fox News proves O’Reilly to be a “loyal soldier” to the network’s internal culture of suppressing “unsavory matters,” including allegations of sexual harassment that continues to plague the network.
During an interview on CBS This Morning, O’Reilly refused to answer questions from CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell about Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s allegations she was sexually harassed by former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes because he was “not interested” in making Fox News “look bad.” O’Reilly insisted that Fox is “a good place to work” and said he was “not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata.”
Wemple criticized O’Reilly’s stance, writing that his refusal to address Fox News’ sexual harassment issues is the “very mentality enabled Ailes for decades” of “keeping allegedly harassed women and their colleagues from going public.” Despite Ailes having resigned, Wemple wrote, “O’Reilly is working as his party apparatchik” to “suppress dissent.” From the November 15 article:
After concluding the discussion of childhood civility, co-host Norah O’Donnell pressed [Bill] O’Reilly on whether he’d read “Settle for More,” the memoir by Fox News host Megyn Kelly in which she recounts experiencing sexual harassment at Fox News at the hands of Ailes, who lost his job over the summer following a plume of such allegations. Kelly writes that he tried to grab and kiss her, then asked her when her contract was up — an “ominous” question, in Kelly’s tale. (Ailes has denied all of this.) Another accuser, former host Gretchen Carlson, received a $20 million settlement from Fox News’s parent company, and former host Andrea Tantaros’s litigation — also for sexual harassment allegedly from Ailes — remains active.
Had O’Reilly been the editor of “Settle for More,” however, readers would have had to settle for less. “I want to be very candid here: I’m not that interested in this,” said O’Reilly in his “CBS This Morning” interview. Pressed on whether he was saying he wasn’t interested in sexual harassment, O’Reilly made plain, “I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished that makes my network look bad, okay, I’m not interested in making my network look bad at all. That doesn’t interest me one bit. I’m not going to even bother with it. I’ve got a country that’s in a political transition. I’ve got a kids book that I want millions of kids to look at. That’s what I’m interested in, not making my network look bad.”
A few points here:
*O’Reilly, your network already looks bad. A full-on sexual harassment crisis swept through its halls this past summer. More than a dozen women who’d allegedly been harassed or demeaned by Ailes came forward to tell their stories. Nothing that Kelly puts in her book will exacerbate that set of facts.
*This very mentality enabled Ailes for decades. The message from O’Reilly here is this: Shut the heck up, colleagues. Don’t discuss in public unsavory matters that could lead to internal reform. Suppress dissent. Over his two decades atop Fox News, Ailes enforced just those rules, keeping allegedly harassed women and their colleagues from going public. Though Ailes is gone from Fox News, O’Reilly is working as his party apparatchik. A loyal soldier to the end.
O'Reilly: "I've Got A Kids Book That I Want Millions Of Kids To Look At. That's What I'm Interested In, Not Making My Network Look Bad."
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly lashed out when asked about fellow Fox host Megyn Kelly’s allegations in her new book that she was sexually harassed by former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, saying, “I'm not interested in making my network look bad.” O’Reilly, who himself once settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with a Fox employee, insisted that Fox is “a good place to work.”
On the November 15 edition of CBS This Morning, O’Reilly was asked about Kelly’s book, in which she describes being sexually harassed by Ailes. O’Reilly initially responded calmly, calling Kelly smart and saying he hadn’t read the book, but he became agitated and defensive when pressed by CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell about the sexual harassment allegations. O’Reilly insisted that Fox is “a good place to work,” said that he’s “not interested in basically litigating something that is finished,” and he’s “not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata.” From CBS This Morning:
BILL O'REILLY: I want to be very candid here, I'm not that interested in this.
GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): No?
O'REILLY: No, I mean, it’s over for me.
NORAH O’DONNELL (CO-HOST): In sexual harassment? You’re not interested in sexual harassment?
O'REILLY: I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished, that makes my network look bad. OK? I'm not interested in making my network look bad. At all. That doesn't interest me one bit.
O'DONNELL: Is that what she's doing?
O'REILLY: I don’t know, but I’m not going to even bother with it. I've got a country that's in a transition, political transition. All right? I've got a kids book that I want millions of kids to look at. That's what I'm interested in, not making my network look bad.
O’REILLY: Look, it's open season, let's whack the Fox News Channel. I've had enough of it. It's a good place to work, all right? We do good work. We do honest work there. So, I'm not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata. I don’t think it’s right.
O’Reilly was one of many Fox personalities who defended Ailes in the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former host Gretchen Carlson in July, saying in an interview, “I stand behind Roger 100 percent,” and calling Carlson’s lawsuit “frivolous.” After Ailes resigned amid building public pressure, O’Reilly falsely claimed that he hadn’t commented on the sexual harassment claims against Ailes.
Since Ailes’ resignation, it has become clear that sexual harassment is an institutional problem at the network. Kelly was one of over two dozen women who came forward after Carlson filed her lawsuit alleging that they had been harassed by Ailes. Former host Andrea Tantaros also filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, naming not only Ailes, but several high-level executives and the Fox News Channel as defendants. Tantaros claimed that her “tenure at Fox News devolved into a nightmare of sexual harassment by Ailes, Fox News’s then-President, and others, followed by retaliation by Ailes and others despite multiple ongoing complaints by Tantaros.” One of the Fox executives named as a defendant in Tantaros’ suit was Bill Shine, who, according to the lawsuit, responded to Tantaros’ complaint that she was being harassed by telling her “that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man’ and that Tantaros ‘needed to let this one go.’” Shine was promoted to co-president of Fox News after Ailes’ resignation.
The New York Times reported in July that Fox News has “a broader problem in the workplace” that went beyond Ailes. According to the Times, about a dozen women “said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors.”
O’Reilly himself settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by then-Fox producer Andrea Mackris in 2004, which alleged that O’Reilly made “a series of explicit phone calls to her, advised her to use a vibrator and told her about sexual fantasies involving her.” O’Reilly reportedly settled the lawsuit for “anywhere from $2 million to $10 million.” O'Reilly was also named in Tantaros' suit, though he was not listed as a defendant. She alleged that he sexually harassed her by "asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be 'very private,'" and by "telling her on more than one occasion that he could 'see [her] as a wild girl,' and that he believed that she had a 'wild side.'”
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