Morning Edition

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  • NPR Lets Breitbart Editor Downplay His Site's White Nationalist, Anti-LGBTQ Extremism

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak of Breitbart News about Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of the outlet -- which he bragged was the platform for the white nationalist “alt-right” -- who was also recently appointed as White House chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump. The NPR interview failed to tell the full story of Bannon's role in promoting racist and anti-LGBTQ ideologies, adding to the worrisome trend of mainstream media outlets normalizing Bannon and Breitbart's extremism. 

    The announcement of Bannon’s appointment as a senior Trump White House advisor has been met with considerable concern and criticism due to his past history of championing white nationalism and anti-Semitism. NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep hosted Joel Pollak to defend Bannon from this criticism. Inskeep asked about Bannon’s prejudice by pointing to Breitbart’s legacy of publishing inflammatory content under his tenure. The site posted headlines such as “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage” after a white nationalist who fetishized such confederate imagery massacred nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C. Inskeep also allowed Pollak to defend Bannon’s use of the slur “dykes” by claiming that people in the LGBTQ community use that word.

    But the interview failed to contextualize the true extent of Breitbart’s extremism under Bannon’s leadership, evidenced by the site's consistent role in peddling hate speech, promoting white nationalism, and furthering anti-LGBTQ extremism. Inskeep allowed Pollak to brush off Breitbart’s bigotry as “individual articles” and claim that Bannon’s hiring of openly gay, misogynistic, anti-Muslim, alt-right mouthpiece Milo Yiannopolous was evidence that Bannon couldn’t possibly be anti-gay, with no mention that Yiannopolous has regularly used Breitbart as a platform to attack transgender people.

    Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News heavily promoted white nationalist “alt-right” views. Since 2015, the site has been “publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC report also noted that Breitbart has promulgated the “popular racist conspiracy theory” that “African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates.” In addition to racist and nationalist themes, Breitbart regularly uses anti-LGBTQ slurs in headlines, features articles by anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders, and has published multiple articles pushing conspiracy theories about the hate-crime murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard.

    As conservative pundits rush to sanitize Bannon’s ties to white nationalism, it’s imperative that other media outlets not become complicit in the whitewashing of Bannon and Breitbart’s extremism, which is far from just a few instances of inflammatory rhetoric. Instead, journalists need to tell the full story of Bannon’s role in promoting Breitbart as a platform for hate-filled rhetoric and alt-right ideologies.

    From the November 16 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition:

    STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): Now, people have heard a lot the last couple of days about Bannon's statements or statements on Breitbart. But before we get into that, I want you to round out the picture of this guy you know, and what are people missing?

    JOEL POLLAK: Steve Bannon is a fantastic manager. He helped Breitbart grow fantastically to the point where we have 250 million page views per month. He is a leader with vision. He's very disciplined. He insists on excellence from those around him. He's also very open to debate and challenge as long as you bring facts and data to the table. And he has no prejudices, he treats people equally, and, in fact, during my time working closely with him at Breitbart for five years, he sought out people from diverse backgrounds and gave them a voice at Breitbart, so I think he's a fantastic choice.

    [...]

    INSKEEP: I want to mention, you know, actually putting controversial opinions out there is a perfectly fine idea. We've had David Duke on this program, but we fact-check, we try to question, we put in context. This particular article goes on to make a string of statements — there's a reference about President Obama and Kenya. There's also a statement, "The Confederacy was not a callous conspiracy to enforce slavery, but a patriotic and idealistic cause." A little bit of research would show that Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, declared the cause was slavery. I mean, why put these things out there

    POLLAK: I think that we can talk about individual articles out of the tens of thousands at Breitbart, but, you know, NPR is taxpayer-funded and has an entire section of its programming, a regular feature called "Code Switch," which, from my perspective, is a racist program. I'm looking here at the latest article, which aired on NPR, calling the election results "Nostalgia For A Whiter America." So NPR has racial and racist programming that I am required to, I'm required to pay for as a taxpayer.

    [...]

    INSKEEP: And let me ask another thing, and this is another Bannon quote, and we can pull out quotes, but it's a quote that he made in a 2011 radio interview that gets to maybe what he wants to do inside the country. He criticized feminists, he said, "women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children." And I'm just reading the quote here, "They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools." What's he driving at there?

    POLLAK: I don't know. But there is a political correctness in this country that would say that if you said that once on a radio show that you should be drummed out of public life. I would defy you to find a person in the LGBTQ community who has not used that term, either in an endearing sense or in a flippant, jovial, colloquial sense. I don't think you can judge Steve Bannon's views. What you can judge him is how he's conducted himself at Breitbart, and he brought a gay, conservative journalist like Milo Yiannopoulos on board, and Milo has brought gay conservatives into the media, into the debate. At the Republican National Convention, Breitbart co-hosted a party for gay conservatives. So, that's not something you do if you're anti-gay, and Andrew Breitbart was the same.

    UPDATE: In a post responding to critics of the segment, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen acknowledged that the “framing of the Morning Edition interview was problematic, starting as it did with ‘Let's hear a defense of Steve Bannon.’” Moving forward, Jensen recommended that interviews of white nationalists like Bannon “should not be done live.” Even in pre-recorded future interviews, Jensen stressed the need for NPR to “pay absolute attention that the questions asked are rigorous, the headlines and framing well thought through and the language very clear and precise from the beginning.”

  • Journalists Call On Debate Moderators To Fact-Check Candidates

    Journalists: Debate Moderators Should “Be Well-Prepared Enough To Assert The Truth In Real Time”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Prior to the first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, journalists are advising the debate moderators to “Be well-prepared enough to assert the truth in real time,” and arguing that a moderator should not “abdicate” their “role as a truth-seeker and a journalist” because moderators “play a constructive and vital role” in presidential debates.

  • NPR Allows Extreme Anti-LGBT Group To Peddle Dishonest Attacks On Transgender Student Equality

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    NPR hosted a spokesperson from an extremist anti-LGBT legal group to react to the Obama administration’s recent guidance related to transgender students in public schools. NPR failed to identify the group, Alliance Defending Freedom, as anything other than a “faith-based legal group,” and allowed the spokesperson to spread anti-LGBT misinformation.

    On May 12, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration planned to announce guidance directing all public schools to provide transgender students with access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with a student’s gender identity. On May 13, NPR’s national Morning Edition hosted attorney Matt Sharp from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to provide “reaction” to the guidance.

    NPR described ADF as a “faith-based legal group” and as the legal powerhouse leading the national fight against transgender student rights. But host David Greene did not mention ADF’s well-documented history of anti-LGBT extremism.

    ADF is a nonprofit with a $43-million-a-year budget that bills itself as working for the "right of people to freely live out their faith.” Much of ADF's "religious freedom" work, however, has consisted of anti-LGBT activism, including labeling the hate crime that led to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard a hoax aimed at advancing the "homosexual agenda"; working internationally to criminalize gay sex; and creating its own “Day of Truth” to combat the “Day of Silence” -- a day meant to honor LGBT victims of bullying, harassment, and violence.

    On Morning Edition, NPR allowed ADF attorney Sharp to spread misinformation about transgender people typical of anti-LGBT extremists. During the segment, Sharp repeatedly misgendered transgender girls, saying the directive allows “boys” into girls’ restrooms. Letting Sharp misgender transgender people isn’t just wrong -- it also helps spread the harmful anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth that legal protections for transgender people will cause men to sneak into women’s bathrooms and commit sexual assault. When media outlets have previously failed to debunk the rallying cry of “no men in women’s bathrooms,” anti-LGBT extremists were successful in defeating nondiscrimination ordinances.

    NPR also allowed ADF to spread misinformation about the legal basis of the Obama administration’s directive, letting Sharp say that Title IX has “never been interpreted to include gender identity.” In fact, the Fourth Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission have all ruled that Title IX’s protections on the basis of sex include gender identity.

    NPR’s ombudsman has previously acknowledged that the media organization needs to “do a better job” of identifying anti-LGBT extremists. The NPR segment did feature Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, but only in a pre-recorded 15-second clip. ADF spokesperson Matt Sharp spoke largely uninterrupted for over 4 minutes. From NPR:

    DAVID GREENE (Host): A letter is going out later today from the Obama administration to every school district in the country. It says schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This move was quickly welcomed by Mara Keisling -- she’s the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. She says she hopes that parents can set their biases aside as the new rules are implemented.

    MARA KEISLING: There’s all sorts of kinds of kids that other people’s parents don’t feel comfortable with. And that’s not how we decide who gets to learn safely in schools. All children get to learn safely in schools.

    GREENE: And let’s hear another voice now. It’s Matt Sharp, he’s an attorney with the faith-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has opposed similar policies in public schools across the country. Mr. Sharp, good morning.

    MATT SHARP: Thank you for having me.

    GREENE: Well thanks for coming on the program, we appreciate it. Let me just ask you, I mean, the administration, this letter going out this morning, the real foundation of it is this federal law called Title IX that prohibits sex discrimination in schools. And the administration is saying this protects transgender people based on their gender identity. Tell me your reaction to that reading of the law.

    SHARP: Well, it’s completely wrong. For over 40 years now, Congress and courts that have looked at Title IX have all consistently said Title IX was meant to combat sex discrimination. It’s never been interpreted to include gender identity, and so the idea was always to ensure equal opportunities for men and women. Importantly, Title IX was specifically written to protect student privacy. It allows schools to have separate restrooms and locker rooms and dormitories on the basis of sex. So what the Obama administration is doing here is essentially rewriting the law, ignoring Congress, ignoring the normal process they’re supposed to go through to force their agenda on schools across the country.

    GREENE: Well what would you tell a family with a transgender child who identifies as a girl or a boy and believes that their girl or boy is going to school and deserves those protections under Title IX and believes very much in what the Obama administration is doing and wants their child to be protected and not discriminated against?

    SHARP: Well their child should absolutely be protected against bullying, harassment or anything else. And we’ve seen schools across the country do a great job of protecting every student under their care. But part of protection is also protecting the right of privacy. And so we’re hearing from lots of students across the country and parents saying this violates our right to privacy when we’re forced to share locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with someone of the opposite sex. And so that’s actually what motivated I think over 130 parents and students in Chicago to actually sue the federal government because they came in and forced the school to open up their restrooms and locker rooms to the opposite sex.

    GREENE: Can you understand though, that the families and parents of a transgender child who believes this is a delicate situation but that the rights of their child might be more important than sort of another child to sort of get used to a situation that he or she might find a little sensitive in a bathroom.

    SHARP: Well, but it’s not about one student’s rights being more important than another. It’s about protecting every student’s rights to privacy. And so what we’ve seen schools do is offer accommodations to any student, including transgender students, that are not comfortable with communal restrooms, allowing them to use single-stall restrooms or what’s ever available, so that they’ve got a choice. But they also have a duty to protect every other student’s constitutional right to privacy, when the courts across the country have recognized is implicated when you have got restrooms and locker rooms, and why Title IX was drafted the way it is. So schools have to protect that. And what they’re trying to do is make sure that every student has a place where they can use the restroom, change and shower, and feel comfortable, without having to break down our traditions of having separate restrooms on the basis of biological sex.

    GREENE: Let me just ask you, you’re representing 51 families in a school district in Illinois, which allows students to use bathrooms according to gender identity. And these families are fighting that policy. Can you tell me the story of just maybe one family and exactly, on a personal level, what they’re objecting to?

    SHARP: Absolutely. And so we’ve got several families there that the Obama administration came in and forced the district 211 to allow a biological boy to the female’s restrooms. So these girls are telling stories about how when they’re in the locker room changing for PE, they’re now uncomfortable knowing that a boy can walk in at any time under the school’s new policy. They talk about how one girl in particular does not change out of her gym clothes but rather wears them all day long, wears them after going to gym after getting them dirty and nasty through PE class, and then just puts her clothes on top of it, because she’s so nervous about the possibility of having to change and shower and whatnot in front of this boy. And we hear stories like that across the country of these girls speaking out and saying, “Look, we don’t want this student to be bullied or harassed or anything. But we also just want our privacy protected. And we just want to know that when we go into these lockers and shower rooms, that we’re not going to be forced to share it with someone of the opposite biological sex.” That’s all these girls are asking for.

    GREENE: Matt Sharp is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal advocacy group.

  • George Will's Bad Obamacare/Segregation Argument

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Newly christened Fox News contributor George Will sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep on the October 9 Morning Edition to educate us all on the subtle governmental intricacies behind the week-old government shutdown and the week-or-so-away debt limit fracture. Leaning on the Founding Fathers, Will gave his stamp of approval to the Republican-led effort to repeal Obamacare and argued against the inviolability of the Affordable Care Act as "the law," observing that "the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."

    Will is right: laws are not sacrosanct and can be altered or thrown out at any time. Obamacare is real-time proof of that -- the Supreme Court upheld the law but ruled that states could not be forced to participate in its expansion of Medicaid. But that's a pedestrian observation made provocative by the out-of-line invocation of segregation and slavery. "Separate but equal" and the Fugitive Slave Act were moral travesties; the ACA helps people buy health insurance. The similarities begin and end with their status as laws. Other laws have been scuttled too -- Prohibition, for example -- but Will chose those two particular laws and in doing so invited a comparison that he can't justify because it's unjustifiable.

    And then there's Will's assertion that what we're seeing with the government shutdown and the attendant gridlock over Obamacare is the "Madisonian scheme," the idea that government is "hard to move, it's supposed to be. People look at Washington and say 'oh, this is so difficult.' It's supposed to be difficult."

    Again, Will is right that governing and passing legislation is hard work. It was hard work for the Democrats to win majorities in both houses of Congress, and it was hard work for Barack Obama to win the presidency in 2008. Even with those majorities, it was really quite difficult for the president and the Democrats to craft a health care bill and get it through Congress, and they paid a difficult price for it at the ballot box in 2010. Defending the law in front of the Supreme Court was a monumentally difficult task, and even though it emerged, it did not do so unscathed. And then Obama and the Democrats had to go before the electorate again, in 2012, to defend the law, and not only did they succeed, they actually improved their standing in both the House and the Senate.

  • NPR Lends Credibility To Anti-Immigrant Who Accuses Immigrants Of Carrying Diseases

    Blog ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA

    An NPR report today about the Obama administration's deferred action program for young undocumented immigrants quoted Americans For Legal Immigration PAC president William Gheen, who yesterday claimed that the program "will allow illegal aliens who are willing to lie about coming to the US as children to be given 'deferred status' and work permits starting immediately."

    On June 15, the Obama administration announced a plan that will give eligible undocumented youth a chance to avoid deportation and work in the country legally. That program went into effect today; and thousands have reportedly started the application process.

    Gheen -- who went on to write that President Obama's action "will rapidly increase the number of illegal aliens feloniously voting in US elections, stealing your jobs and expecting future benefits" -- posted his screed on the website of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant organization supported by the Federation for American Immigration Reform and allied with former Minutemen groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FAIR a hate group.

    In light of this, it's hard to understand NPR's decision to lend Gheen credibility on the issue of deferred action for immigrants. And not only did NPR quote Gheen, it also failed to inform viewers of Gheen's extreme views of immigrants.

    Indeed, ALIPAC is not known to hide its extremist views or what it thinks of policies that seek to help the undocumented population. In fact, the front page of the organization's website contains a hoard of inflammatory rhetoric that NPR should have been aware of.

    Headlines that include "amnesty" or "illegals" or such phrases as "Obama releases violent illegal aliens upon American citizenry in mass dream amnesty" don't induce honest debate, let alone encourage meaningful discussion. They're red herrings meant to attract similar xenophobic rhetoric. 

  • Wave Of Inaccurate Reporting Follows GOP's Latest Solyndra Release

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Reporting on emails selectively released by House Republicans, numerous media outlets falsely claimed the documents show Obama donor George Kaiser -- whose family foundation invested in Solyndra -- discussing Solyndra's federal loan with the White House, with Fox going even further to claim "quid pro quo." In fact, the emails occurred after Solyndra had already received the loan guarantee and do not indicate that Kaiser discussed the loan with the White House.