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On July 14, 2015, the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the first of 14 deceptively edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood.
To mark the one-year anniversary of its deceptive campaign, the anti-choice group released a “video overview of the past year” that purported to show “senior-level Planned Parenthood leadership negotiating the sale and haggling over the price of aborted baby body parts.”
Despite the fraudulent nature of CMP’s claims, right-wing media seized on the opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood. CMP’s smear campaign served as the catalyst for a year of media-driven misinformation about Planned Parenthood, including efforts to defund the organization and ongoing congressional witch hunts against abortion providers and medical researchers.
By the numbers, here’s what a year of anti-choice deception looks like:
After CMP published its first video in July 2015, right-wing media were among the first to consistently give a platform to the anti-choice group’s misinformation.
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 one day. According to a Media Matters count of Fox News programming on July 21, 2015, America’s Newsroom aired three segments on CMP’s smear videos, while both Special Report and The O’Reilly Factor discussed the allegations across two separate segments on each program. The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, and The Kelly File each devoted one segment to CMP.
Another recent Media Matters study found that during a 14-month period from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News’ evening news programs relied on extreme anti-choice figures and misinformation to help promote CMP’s smear campaign. For example, Fox host Bill O’Reilly called for an FBI investigation into Planned Parenthood while network correspondent Peter Doocy claimed that he “searched the Planned Parenthood website for fetal baby part prices” but didn’t get any results because the practice is a “well-kept secret.”
According to the National Abortion Federation, in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers -- likely inspired by CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta noted that the ninefold increase in harassment and threats of abortion providers since the release of CMP videos was “unprecedented.”
In September 2015, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This prediction was tragically borne out in November 2015 when suspected shooter Robert Dear killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood health care center.
Planned Parenthood has not been the only target of this violence and harassment. In December 2015, Scott Anthony Orton 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, Orton posted more than 18 different threatening messages that led to his arrest. In April 2016, Orton pleaded guilty to threatening StemExpress employees.
Since July 2015, Media Matters has extensively documented the deceptive edits and misleading information in CMP’s videos. Throughout the 14 videos, CMP has targeted eight Planned Parenthood providers by name. In a July 14 post announcing the release of its one-year anniversary video, CMP reiterated the names of these providers and provided links to each of their deceptive videos. By recording abortion providers without their consent and identifying them by name, CMP not only exposed the targeted providers to increased threats of violence, but also raised the spectre of anti-choice violence against all reproductive health care providers.
For example, after Dear allegedly carried out his deadly attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood, MedStar Washington Hospital Center barred abortion provider Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper from publicly speaking about the need for great abortion access. The hospital’s medical director issued the gag order after the Planned Parenthood attack “out of concerns for security,” saying he didn’t want to draw attention to MedStar’s abortion and reproductive health care services.
Nina Liss-Schultz reported for Mother Jones that the November Planned Parenthood attack “highlighted a fact of life that abortion providers and clinic staff have known for decades: Sophisticated and extensive security are necessary to protect both providers and patients.”
The congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was formed in October 2015, several months after CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood.
Since the select panel’s inception, the media have criticized its actions as a politically motivated “witch hunt” and a “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood. In its 10 months of operation, the select panel has found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Although select panel Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has insisted Republicans are on a “fact finding mission,” Media Matters has sourced numerous documents used by the select panel as “evidence” to CMP’s website and deceptive videos.
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is comprised of eight Republican and six Democrat members. The Democrats on the select panel include: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and ranking member Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).
Since the panel’s inception, the Democrat members have consistently voiced their concerns about the methods and motivations of the Republican members. Commenting on the Republican member’s interim report, Schakowsky pointedly criticized the panel’s work, stating, “Never before have I witnessed such a disconnect between allegations and the facts.” Schakowsky previously called out the select panel as a “dangerous witch hunt” against abortion providers.
On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of HB 2 argued that the law’s requirements were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In reality, these restrictions were based on anti-choice myths about abortion, offered no medical benefits to patients, and substantially burdened women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, CMP’s founder David Daleiden issued a press release calling it a “nearly incoherent abortion ruling” that was “little more than a naked power grab that calls into question the Court’s continued adherence to the rule of law.” Daleiden maintained that CMP’s work would have convinced the Supreme Court otherwise if it were not under “a gag-order from the federal court in San Francisco.”
Out of CMP’s 15 videos -- including the anniversary recap video -- four are labeled a “documentary web series” called the Human Capital Project. CMP described the four videos as a documentary-style expose that “integrates expert interviews, eyewitness accounts, and real-life undercover interactions to tell the story of Planned Parenthood’s commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue.”
Throughout the four Human Capital Project videos, CMP relied heavily on the testimony of former StemExpress employee Holly O’Donnell to falsely allege that Planned Parenthood participated in the illegal sale of donated fetal tissue and to make other unproven allegations of improper conduct.
In reality, the claims in the so-called “documentary” videos have been thoroughly debunked. Citing previously unseen footage, the Los Angeles Times released an investigative report in March that confirms “O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed” and that off-camera, Daleiden can be heard “coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes.”
Since CMP began its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood last July, there have been three lawsuits filed against the anti-choice group, its founder David Daleiden, and his various associates.
In a comprehensive look at the impact of CMP’s campaign of deception, Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy summarized the charges and timeline of each of the lawsuits filed against Daleiden and his co-conspirators. According to Peklo and Gandy, Daleiden and CMP face suits from StemExpress -- the biomedical tissue procurement company that previously partnered with Planned Parenthood and has been depicted in some of CMP’s videos -- the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood.
In addition to the lawsuits they face, Daleiden and one of his associates were indicted by a grand jury in Houston, Texas. In January 2015, a Harris County, Texas, grand jury indicted Daleiden on a felony charge of “Tampering with a Governmental Record” and a misdemeanor charge of “illegally offer[ing] to purchase human organs.” Although the misdemeanor charge was dismissed on a technicality in June, Daleiden still faces the felony charge for using a “fake driver's license during his efforts to investigate Planned Parenthood.”
CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Melaney A. Linton told Mother Jones that as the indictment process has progressed, “It's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we will allow the court to hold them accountable.”
One year later, CMP’s deceptively edited videos have been repeatedly discredited while multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. During this time CMP has earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year, been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Houston, TX, been subject to lawsuits, and had its work soundly rejected by multiple judges and journalists alike.
After a year CMP still has little to show in the way of evidence to substantiate their claims, while Planned Parenthood has emerged even stronger. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens explained that, despite the difficulties of the past year, the reproductive health organization remained confident about the future. She said, “We’re stronger today than we were a year ago … The extreme anti-abortion activists behind the videos are on a mission to ban abortion in this county -- they failed.”
After news broke of a possible terror attack in Nice, France, Fox News hosted Donald Trump for a phone interview in which host Greta Van Susteren allowed him to attack President Obama and Hillary Clinton with debunked lies about refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East.
At 5:44 PM ET time, Fox News reported a large truck had been driven through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing dozens.
At 7:20 PM ET time Donald Trump phoned into live coverage of the attack on Fox News. During the interview, Van Susteren allowed him to use falsehoods about Syrian refugees entering the United States to attack Obama and Clinton.
DONALD TRUMP: Hillary Clinton wants to allow 550 percent more than Obama and Obama is allowing a lot of people to come in. We have no idea who they are. They are from Syria, maybe. But they have no paperwork many times. They don't have documentation proper. I would make it -- I would not allow people to come in from terrorist nations. I would do extreme vetting. I would call it extreme vetting, too. And, you know, our country has tremendous problems. We don't need any more of the problems. Right now we have more investigations of this kind going on than we have ever had in the history of our country and we are going to allow thousands and tens of thousands of more people coming.
The vetting begins with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, which determines who counts as a refugee, who should be resettled (about 1 percent) and which countries would take them. This alone can take four to 10 months.
If the UNHCR refers refugees to the United States, they then face scrutiny from federal intelligence and security agencies.
Their names, biographical information and fingerprints are run through federal terrorism and criminal databases. Meanwhile, the refugees are interviewed by Department of Homeland Security officials. If approved, they then undergo a medical screening, a match with sponsor agencies, "cultural orientation" classes and one final security clearance.
Syrian refugees in particular must clear one additional hurdle. Their documents are placed under extra scrutiny and cross-referenced with classified and unclassified information.
The process typically takes one to two years or longer and happens before a refuge ever steps onto American soil. Ultimately, says the State Department, about half are approved, and there’s no real precedent of a terrorist slipping in through the vetting system.
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Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former POW and survivor of torture, denounced the use of torture as ineffective and counterproductive after Donald Trump advocated waterboarding and “much worse” to fight terrorism. Fox News figures praised Trump’s advocacy of illegal interrogation and pushed for President Obama to adopt similar strategies.
During a June 28 campaign rally at Ohio University Eastern Campus, Trump called for the United States to “fight so viciously and violently” against terrorists and “fight fire with fire.” Trump also advocated for the use of waterboarding and “much worse” against enemy combatants.
Trump had previously advocated for techniques “tougher than waterboarding” as well as proposing the killing of innocent family members of enemy combatants. In May, Trump attempted to walk back those comments by acknowledging “that the United States is bound by laws and treaties,” but has since returned to proposing policy that he once recognized would force a “military officer to disobey the law.”
Fox News hosts largely supported Trump’s plans for the illegal techniques. Fox’s Peter Hegseth argued that the United States “can maintain our values while still ruthlessly going after ISIS,” and Fox host Eric Bolling downplayed torture, saying “God forbid we pour water on terrorists’ faces.”
But on June 29, Senator McCain joined Fox’s On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, where host Greta Van Susteren asked McCain about Trump’s advocacy for torture. McCain pointed out that numerous military leaders have said “that it not only doesn’t work, but it is counter-productive because you get bad information.” Furthermore, McCain argued that “it’s about us, not about them,” making the point that torturing enemy combatants is a contradiction of American values:
On October 26, 1967, McCain, then a Navy pilot, was shot down over Vietnam, and captured by the North Vietnamese. McCain was subjected to torture by his captors, explaining that, he “was beaten every two or three hours by different guards,” and after four days agreed to write a confession.
After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.
Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi released a report debunking many right-wing media myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
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Trump U. Is Currently Under Fire For Misrepresentation And Predatory Business Tactics
In an on-air poll, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren asked viewers whether Donald Trump “should … reopen Trump University,” even though the shuttered “university” is currently facing numerous pending fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits.
On the June 2 edition of On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren interviewed honorary co-chair of Trump’s New York state campaign team and failed New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who argued that Trump U. “could give a lot of kids an opportunity which they didn’t have otherwise” and that Trump himself “looked at” Trump U. “as a civic service.”
Later, Van Susteren asked her audience to respond to an on-air poll that asked viewers, “Should Donald Trump reopen Trump University?”
Van Susteren’s segment and Twitter poll comes as Trump U. faces scrutiny from fact-checkers and several pending fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits.
Though most media outlets have been heavily critical of Trump’s real estate seminar business, Fox News has provided the Republican nominee plenty of cover by allowing Trump to use its airtime to lie about the scandal-ridden business long before he became a presidential candidate.
Fox’s evening news programs routinely misinform viewers on reproductive rights issues, disproportionately relying on extreme anti-choice figures and deceptive smear campaigns to deliver their message, according to a new Media Matters study. During a recent 14-month period, Fox News’ guests, hosts, and network correspondents all helped propagate the false claims that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue and used government funds to illegally pay for abortions, and that a series of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) were accurate.
Media Matters analyzed 14 months of Fox News’ evening programs, looking at discussions of abortion-related topics on the shows Special Report with Bret Baier, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity. Since July 15, 2015, Fox’s evening news programs have repeatedly spread CMP’s false allegations that Planned Parenthood was breaking laws in its handling of fetal tissue. Media Matters, a federal judge, an independent analysis, and numerous media outlets have found that CMP’s videos were deceptively edited (CMP was named Media Matters’ Misinformer of Year); 13 states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have investigated the allegations and cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing; and CMP’s founder and an associate were indicted for the fraudulent actions they took in making the videos.
Nevertheless, Fox’s evening news programs have repeated CMP’s false claims as though they were true and falsely claimed that the videos were accurate.
From July 15, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News evening show hosts, guests, and correspondents made 384 statements or claims that Planned Parenthood was “harvesting,” or “profiting” from the sale of, fetal tissue and 378 statements or claims that CMP’s videos or work were accurate, even going as far as to refer to the discredited smear campaign as “journalism.” In contrast, Fox’s hosts, guests, and correspondents made only 55 statements or claims that Planned Parenthood was not, in fact, selling fetal tissue and 84 statements or claims that CMP’s videos weren’t accurate.
Fox News helped CMP not only by repeatedly reporting on, replaying, or commenting on 11 of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, but also by hosting the person responsible for the entire smear campaign, David Daleiden, seven times from July 15 through September 4, including in an hour-long Fox News Special, “Hidden Harvest,” which was devoted to the group’s baseless allegations. Daleiden appeared seven times on Fox’s evening news programs during the course of the study, and he has also made additional appearances since the study ended in March.
And Daleiden wasn’t the only self-identified anti-choice person featured on the network. Fox’s evening news programs overwhelmingly favored those who identify as anti-choice versus those who identify as pro-choice. In segments on Fox’s evening news programs that discussed abortion or abortion-related topics, people who self-identify as anti-choice made up 36 percent of appearances, whereas people who self-identify as pro-choice comprised only 6 percent.
Media Matters also ran a secondary analysis on whether individuals who didn’t explicitly identify as anti-choice more often cited statements containing accurate or inaccurate information about four types of prevalent misinformation about abortion, Planned Parenthood or the Center for Medical Progress. We found that those who consistently cited anti-choice statements accounted for 9 percent of appearances and those who mostly cited anti-choice statements accounted for 25 percent of appearances. All combined, 70 percent of appearances on Fox News evening programs were made by people who either self-identified as anti-choice or consistently or mostly made anti-choice statements, compared to the combined 5 percent of appearances by either pro-choice-identified or pro-choice-leaning people.
Overall, Fox also shared nearly two dozen times the false claim that Planned Parenthood uses Medicaid funding to pay for abortions outside of the legal limitations, spreading the claim (without countering it in equal measure) on Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor. Additionally, any time a person on a Fox evening news program asserted -- or cited a claim -- that some kinds of birth control act as abortifacients, no speaker in the segment challenged those statements or discussed the medical community’s consensus that no contraceptive device or medication currently available is equivalent to an abortion.
Anti-Choice Speakers And Misinformation Dominate Abortion Coverage On Evening Cable News
A Media Matters study of 14 months of evening cable news programs found that discussions of abortion were weighted toward anti-choice speakers, which resulted in widespread misinformation on the topic. Of the three networks, Fox News aired the largest number of inaccurate statements about the most prevalent abortion-related myths, and MSNBC was the most accurate.
On May 26, Fox News aired an hour-long special, Meet The Trumps, in which On The Record host Greta Van Susteren spent the hour asking flattering questions of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and his immediate family. Multiple critics compared the special to the state-run media of a dictatorship.
This is what the special looks like when you remove Trump and his family's answers: