Conservative media are condemning President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination, framing the order as an assault on religious liberty, pushing discredited arguments to claim this discrimination is legally insignificant and asserting that anti-LGBT workplace bias isn't a real problem.
On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite pressure from some conservatives, the order did not include a broad exemption for religiously-affiliated organizations to engage in such discrimination, instead re-affirming a Bush II-era exemption that will allow a contracted "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society" to continue to limit its hires to employees of their preferred religion. Prior to the issuing of the order, Executive Order 11246, more than 100 faith leaders signed a letter warning that the rejected religious exemptions would "open a Pandora's box inviting other forms of discrimination."
In a July 22 editorial, National Review Online complained that the order was unnecessary due to "changing social attitudes and the pressure of market competition" and argued that "the order addresses a small and shrinking problem of discrimination at a cost to religious liberty."
Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a writer for the Daily Signal, Heritage's news site, echoed NRO's objections. Anderson flatly rejected any comparison between anti-gay discrimination and that based on sex or race and referred to sexual orientation and gender identity as "voluntary behaviors":
Federal policy on government contracts should not seek to enforce monolithic liberal secularism. Today's order undermines our nation's commitment to reasonable pluralism and reasonable diversity. All citizens and the groups they form should be free to exist and participate in relevant government programs according to their reasonable beliefs. The federal government should not use the tax-code and government contracting to reshape civil society on controversial moral issues that have nothing to do with the federal contract at stake.
[S]exual orientation and gender identity are unclear, ambiguous terms. They can refer to voluntary behaviors as well as thoughts and inclinations, and it is reasonable for employers to make distinctions based on actions. By contrast, "race" and "sex" clearly refer to traits, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, these traits (unlike voluntary behaviors) do not affect fitness for any job.
Today's executive order bans decisions based on moral views common to the Abrahamic faith traditions and to great thinkers from Plato to Kant as unjust discrimination. Whether by religion, reason, or experience, many people of goodwill believe that our bodies are an essential part of who we are. On this view, maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human to be valued and affirmed, not rejected or altered. Thus, our sexual embodiment as male and female goes to the heart of what marriage is: a union of sexually complementary spouses. Today's order deems such judgments irrational and unlawful.
Conservative media have revived false comparisons of legal abortion to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell in the wake of a Senate hearing regarding a proposed bill to prohibit states from imposing unusually onerous regulations on abortion clinics, despite the fact that Gosnell's crimes have nothing to do with legal abortion procedures.
On July 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Women's Health Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT.) The bill would bar states from enacting laws restricting abortion that are more burdensome than restrictions for similar outpatient procedures.
The hearings sent right-wing media into a frenzy, renewing comparisons between legal abortion and Kermit Gosnell, a former doctor sentenced to life in prison without parole for the three counts of first-degree murder. National Review Online invoked Gosnell in an editorial titled "Gosnell Nation" on July 16. NRO suggested the title of the bill should be renamed to the "Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014" and provided a detailed description of Gosnell's horrific crimes, claiming the bill would lead to more cases like Gosnell's
A July 15 Fox News report on the bill also cited Gosnell, attributing many new state abortion restrictions to a reaction to his crimes.
But Gosnell's crimes bear no resemblance to legal abortions performed at clinics these state regulations target. The grand jury in Gosnell's case found that "Gosnell's approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low - and break the law. That was his competitive edge." And University of California reproductive health professor Tracy Weitz has explained that Gosnell's actions have "nothing to do with the way in which the standard of care and later abortion procedures are performed in the United States," and that his practices are "nowhere in the medical literature."
The Blumenthal bill is intended to prevent the harmful effects on women's health that the rapid expansion of state abortion regulations, known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, has had. TRAP laws target abortion clinics for restrictions not imposed on other clinics that provide procedures with similar risk, like colonoscopies. In fact, such onerous and constitutionally questionable regulations have already driven many abortion clinics in the states to close -- which, according to Whole Woman's Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller, puts "more women at risk for later term abortions or for illicit abortions outside the medical community."
Since the news of Gosnell's horrific crimes emerged, right-wing media have continuously attempted to tie the case to legal abortions -- the vast majority of which are safe and occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The D.C. Circuit is expected to rule soon in Halbig v. Burwell, a lawsuit based on a fringe legal theory that could gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by eliminating federal exchange tax credits that significantly reduce the cost of private health insurance. Although this lawsuit has already been dismissed by legal experts and judges as meritless, right-wing media continue to misrepresent both the law and consequences surrounding Halbig.
Conservative columnist Dennis Prager claimed that "heterosexual AIDS" is a crisis "entirely manufactured by the Left," continuing his years-long campaign of peddling dangerous and inaccurate AIDS denialism.
Prager's July 1 syndicated column featured a defense of the Washington Redskins' name. Prager accused the "American Left" of being preoccupied with "manufactured" controversies and crises, including "heterosexual AIDS":
The great majority of American Indians understandably just don't care. Like heterosexual AIDS and so many other crises, this has been entirely manufactured by the Left. Since 1947, there has been a movie theater, the Redskin Theatre (with the same logo as the football team), in Anadarko, Okla., a city whose population is divided evenly between Indians and whites and that calls itself the "Indian Capital of the Nation." Why, in 67 years, have the Indian populations of Anadarko and Oklahoma not changed this theater's name? Because the Left hadn't made it an issue. It's not an Indian issue; it's a left-wing issue. [emphasis added]
Prager's comparison is the latest in his long and bizarre history of falsely asserting that HIV and AIDS aren't issues for heterosexuals. As Adam Serwer wrote for The American Prospect in 2008, Prager exemplifies a strain of "AIDS denialism" that suggests that "AIDS is a 'gay' problem, and so heterosexuals don't have to worry about it."
In a 2007 column titled "Does the Left Value Truth?," Prager wrote:
The homeless, heterosexual AIDS and rape. For years, mainstream liberal news media purveyed false information supplied by Mitch Snyder, the major liberal activist on behalf of the homeless. Likewise, we were told by gay and AIDS activist groups that AIDS "doesn't discriminate," meaning that heterosexuals in America were as likely to contract the HIV virus as homosexuals. It was never true in America (Africa may be another story for other reasons). [emphasis added]
According to Prager, AIDS activists invented the myth of heterosexual AIDS in order to generate hysteria about the disease. During a June 2008 edition of his radio show, he equated heterosexual AIDS with other purportedly exaggerated threats, including climate change and secondhand smoke:
Right-wing media have launched a campaign of mockery, victim-blaming, and denial to dismiss the sexual assault epidemic, particularly on college campuses, and the Obama administration's efforts to curtail the growing problem.
Right-wing media are celebrating now that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court have issued their unprecedented ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with the Court adopting a number of conservative myths in the decision that allows sex discrimination in the name of corporate religion.
On June 30, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court -- five men and no women -- held that "closely held" for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the "contraception mandate." This so-called mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires employer-sponsored health insurance to cover comprehensive preventive health care, including birth control. In so holding, the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby gave credence to some of the worst conservative myths that have been steadily advanced by right-wing media.
The fact that Hobby Lobby likely employs workers who have no moral or religious dispute with contraception didn't seem to be of much concern to outlets like The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, or Fox News. From the start, NRO framed the case as a David and Goliath-like scenario, with the Green family owners of Hobby Lobby as victims of the federal government -- despite the fact that Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation, owned by billionaires, with hundreds of stores across the country. Fox & Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went so far as to call the contraception mandate evidence of the "moral decay" of the Obama administration's policies. For right-wing media, the religious beliefs of the owners took precedence over those of their female employees. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed.
The Court attempted to limit its decision to "closely held" corporations like Hobby Lobby, but according to experts, more than 90 percent of corporations are considered to be "closely held." In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito downplayed the significance of the Hobby Lobby decision's expansion of the concept of corporate personhood, writing that "a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends" and claiming there was nothing radical about extending rights "whether constitutional or statutory" to for-profit secular corporations. His opinion conflated these businesses with non-profits just as right-wing media had urged.
The religious rights of the employees, now held hostage by their employers' moral objections, did not appear to make much of an impact on the Court's conservative majority.
Moreover, wrote Alito, the birth control requirement was not "the least restrictive means" of achieving the "compelling governmental interest" of ensuring no-cost comprehensive preventive health care services for everyone. Instead, said the majority, the government should "assume the cost of providing the contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections," thus shifting the employee-earned benefit of health insurance from a billion-dollar corporation to the general public.
It was enough for Alito that the Greens "sincerely believed" that the contraceptives at issue in the case are "abortifacients" -- echoing right-wing media's constant confusion of the two -- even though they really, really aren't.
For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
As the current Supreme Court term winds down, a number of highly anticipated cases will be released in the coming week. Here are five of the decisions right-wing media have repeatedly misinformed about, as well as the top myths and facts.
Right-wing media are criticizing the Obama administration for bringing Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged leader of the Benghazi attacks, to trial in a U.S. criminal court. But federal civilian courts have proven significantly more successful at convicting terrorists than military commissions, give terrorists tougher sentences, deprive terror suspects of the "honor" of being considered enemy combatants, and do not prevent the gathering of intelligence.
Media are attacking Hillary Clinton as "out of touch" after she noted that she worked to pay off millions in legal debt by accepting speaking engagements. But Clinton's speaking income is consistent with other high-profile politicians, and she has long supported efforts to reduce poverty and income inequality.
Right-wing media outlets like Fox News and National Review Online have pushed the myth of "post-abortion syndrome," the idea that choosing to have an abortion causes subsequent mental illness. The concept of "post-abortion syndrome" was developed by discredited psychotherapist and anti-abortion activist Vincent Rue, and is at the center of numerous current legal challenges to statewide abortion restrictions.
Both Wisconsin and Alabama have passed highly restrictive abortion laws, known as TRAP laws, that target abortion providers under the pretext of protecting women's health. These laws require abortion providers to obtain unusual admitting privileges at local hospitals, even though such privileges are difficult to obtain and keep. Providers are now challenging these laws in federal court, arguing that the regulations are unnecessary because abortion procedures are exceedingly safe. Moreover, the admitting privileges requirement is so burdensome that it will force clinics in each state to close down, and will increase wait times at the remaining clinics.
State officials in Wisconsin and Alabama defending these laws in court are relying on expert witnesses who have been coached by Rue to testify that "depression could be a complication of abortion," but media in the states where Rue has offered his "expertise" are starting to report on his unreliable theories. As explained by Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper in Madison, WI, "post-abortion syndrome" has not been recognized by either the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association. Not only that, but Rue's expert testimony has been thrown out twice by federal appellate judges because of his "limited clinical and research experience. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey the judge also wrote that Rue's 'admitted personal opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, suggests a possible personal bias.'"
Yet faulty hypotheses like Rue's have been repeatedly championed by conservative media in support of the closure of dozens of clinics across the country. Fox News shows like Hannity and The Five have explicitly linked abortion with mental illness and depression, and have questioned the mental health of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. National Review Online has similarly argued that there is a "substantial body of academic research which has linked abortion to a variety of mental-health problems, including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, and suicide."
But there is no evidence of a causal link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems. In 2008, the American Psychological Association "formed the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion to examine the scientific research addressing mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion." According to its analysis, there is "no evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems":
The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain.
Right-wing media are disappointed that the Supreme Court decided to rule narrowly in a domestic criminal case that nonetheless had big implications for the United States' standing in the global community, rejecting a conservative legal challenge to Congress' long-standing powers under the U.S. Constitution to enforce ratified international treaties.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in Bond v. United States, holding that federal prosecutors had overreached when they charged the defendant, Carol Anne Bond, with violating the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1988, a statute enacted by Congress to fulfill the international obligations of the United States. Local authorities in Bond's home state of Pennsylvania declined to prosecute her assault of her husband's mistress -- she had "spread harmful chemicals on [her] friend's car, mailbox and doorknob" -- because her activities didn't result in any injuries worse than a burnt thumb. Nevertheless, Bond was prosecuted in federal court for violating the international Convention on Chemical Weapons, a treaty that was ratified by the United States in 1997 and codified into federal law by Congress in 1998. Bond argued (in part) that her conviction should be overturned because Congress has no constitutional authority to enact legislation that would help implement ratified treaties like the Convention on Chemical Weapons. This extreme and ahistorical argument was concocted by the libertarian Cato Institute, and contradicts not only the Framers' clear intent to transcend the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation that hampered early America on the global stage, but also hundred-year-old precedent of the Supreme Court.
The Court ultimately avoided that result by reading the statute and reasonably concluding that Congress never intended a treaty guarding against the mass slaughter of modern warfare to be applied to what has been described as nothing more than a "sad soap opera" that nevertheless "caught the attention of a group of conservative lawyers, who saw in her shabby act of domestic vengeance a chance to further an agenda centuries in the making." Writing for the unanimous Court, Chief Justice John Roberts held that federal prosecutors should not have gone after Bond because federal law "does not cover the unremarkable local offense at issue here."
Right-wing media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and National Review Online were clearly upset that the Court refused to adopt the radical concurring opinions of conservative Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Scalia and Thomas, for their part, "uncritically embraced" the outlandish constitutional argument put forth by Cato that "Congress lacks any specific power to pass legislation necessary and proper to ensure that the United States abides by its treaty commitments."
National Review Online capitalized on a historic event in the transgender community to attack transgender people as "delusional" with "subjective impressions" about gender identity.
This week actress Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME magazine, which in its June 9 edition offers a profile of Cox as well an inside look at the transgender movement and discrimination faced by transgender people.
To National Review's Kevin Williamson, the cover story was an opportunity to attack Laverne Cox and the transgender community. According to Williamson, she "is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman," because transgender identity is a "delusional tendency":
Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.
The trans self-conception, if the autobiographical literature is any guide, is partly a feeling that one should be living one's life as a member of the opposite sex and partly a delusion that one is in fact a member of the opposite sex at some level of reality that transcends the biological facts in question. There are many possible therapeutic responses to that condition, but the offer to amputate healthy organs in the service of a delusional tendency is the moral equivalent of meeting a man who believes he is Jesus and inquiring as to whether his insurance plan covers crucifixion.
The mass delusion that we are inculcating on the question of transgendered people is a different sort of matter, to the extent that it would impose on society at large an obligation -- possibly a legal obligation under civil-rights law, one that already is emerging -- to treat delusion as fact, or at the very least to agree to make subjective impressions superordinate to biological fact in matters both public and private.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' much-praised essay, "The Case for Reparations," that recently appeared in The Atlantic has given right-wing media a fresh opportunity to argue that the best way to address racially discriminatory laws or policies -- such as housing segregation -- is to never speak of them, let alone litigate them under civil rights law.
In Coates' essay, which ultimately calls for a congressional study on the long-term effects of the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, he explores the country's history of racism and oppression, from slavery to the Jim Crow laws to the present. Although right-wing media have been known to erroneously claim that racism is no longer a problem, the systemic effect of state and federal laws that favored whites and oppressed people of color is still felt today. As Coates explains, institutionalized oppression of black people was often sanctioned by the federal government, either through legislation that inadequately addressed racial discrimination or by agencies that propagated biased policies rooted in federal law. For example, agencies like the Fair Housing Administration often refused to insure mortgages in neighborhoods that they deemed unsuitable, perpetuating systematic housing segregation that in turn fueled other disparate racial impacts that continue today, such as separate and unequal schools. Despite the fact that redlining was outlawed in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the housing market is still hostile to black buyers and renters, even in neighborhoods that have taken steps to improve residential housing segregation.
Ultimately, Coates argues that the best way to even begin to evaluate how whether the government owes a debt for the generations of stolen wealth and opportunity it sanctioned would be to allow Rep. John Conyers' (D-MI) bill, HR 40, also known as the Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, to proceed. The bill calls "for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for 'appropriate remedies.'" Conyers has introduced this bill -- which does not actually authorize the disbursement of any funds -- every year for the last 25 years, but it has never proceeded to the House floor. For Coates, HR 40 represents an opportunity to finally study the impact state-sanctioned discrimination has had and continues to have on black communities, and provide a vehicle for a "a serious discussion and debate ... we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion."
But yet again, members of right-wing media have no interest in such a discussion.
Gun researcher John Lott is dishonestly accusing Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America of spreading "false information" over the gun violence prevention group's claim that the vast majority of female firearm homicides among high-income nations occur in the United States.
But the claim is true; a 2002 study (download) published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Women's Association found that among 25 high-income nations, the United States accounted for 84 percent of female firearm homicides but just 32 percent of the female population.
In a May 29 column for National Review Online, Lott offered false attacks to support his conclusion that "[t]he notion that gun violence disproportionately harms women does not hold up." According to Lott, "anti-gun group Moms Demand Action couldn't let the tragedy in Santa Barbara pass without interjecting more false information into the gun-control debate" by sharing the statistic "84% of female firearm homicides in 25 countries are in US."
Lott challenged the credibility of the statistic cited by Moms Demand Action, writing, "It is hard to see how Moms Demand Action could even make this comparison across all countries. Data from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) allows you to break down murders either by the sex of the victim or by whether firearms are used, but it doesn't allow users to identify both these categories simultaneously."
However, the study didn't use UNODC data, but instead used data gathered by the World Health Organization.