With the U.S. Senate considering a Republican-backed resolution of disapproval over the historic nuclear agreement with Iran, Media Matters debunks the myths that have pervaded the media debate on the deal.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign launch speech viciously denigrated Mexican immigrants and strongly split conservative media figures on his candidacy. While some argue Trump is a "rodeo clown," others think he is "saying things that need to be said." Several conservatives disagree with Trump's rhetoric but claim he's raising important issues.
Media outlets are baselessly linking an increase in murders in Baltimore and other cities to "increased scrutiny" of police, without noting the legitimate reasons why such scrutiny of local police departments is needed.
Homicides have spiked in the last month in Baltimore, with 43 killings reported in May, the most in one month since 1971 and the highest monthly per capita rate on record, according to The Baltimore Sun. At the same time, arrests have plummeted, with a WBAL-TV investigation finding arrests have gone down 32 percent since the curfew was lifted, and the Sun reporting arrests in May this year were less than half the number in May last year.
Several right-wing media figures are attributing these numbers to increased scrutiny of police, and this narrative is seeping into mainstream coverage. On the June 1 edition of Fox & Friends, during an interview with author Kevin Jackson, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that "police are more concerned about their own well-being. They don't want to be arrested or persecuted for just putting on the blue every morning." She added that "when you have individuals like [Baltimore City State's Attorney] Marilyn Mosby going aggressively against the police," this "undermines the ability of law enforcement to keep people in the community safe," linking the increase in homicides to Mosby's decision to charge six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
On the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald similarly claimed the U.S. is "in the grips of a hysteria against cops," saying "cops have gotten the message that they should back off of policing." She faulted the "mainstream media, the university presidents talking about assaults on blacks and of course the president and former attorney general." Mac Donald, who has a history of deeply offensive commentary on race, was discussing her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which she argued that the "most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months."
The previous week, National Review editor Rich Lowry also advocated for increased incarceration in response to the spike in violence, and cited anonymous police officers who "say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters 'thugs.'"
And now the Associated Press is adopting the same language. In a May 31 report on Baltimore homicides, the AP stated that "Some attribute the drop [in arrests] to increased scrutiny of police following the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries received in police custody."
Aside from the obvious problem with this argument -- that there is no evidence these feelings attributed to the police have resulted in an increase in murders -- this coverage has also missed a significant reason why people have called for increased scrutiny of police officers since the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray: the fact that police killings and police brutality disproportionately affect people of color.
On May 30, the Washington Post released a study on police killings, which found that two-thirds of unarmed victims of police shootings were minorities, and "blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred." Their figures represent far greater total than the FBI statistics on police killings, which are "widely considered to be misleading and inaccurate": FBI records show about 400 shootings per year, compared to 385 so far this year in the Post's data. Three of the 385 shootings the Post reported on resulted in the officer being charged, or less than one percent. And over the last several years, the Department of Justice has found that numerous local police departments have engaged in a "pattern or practice" of improper discrimination against residents of color, and have disproportionately targeted them for stops and arrests.
Faced with stark numbers like these, any media outlet should feel compelled to at least contextualize claims of a "hysteria against cops" with this evidence of disproportionate police violence against minorities.
National Review editor Rich Lowry advocated for mass incarceration and "disproportionate police attention" toward "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods" in response to a spike in murders in Baltimore.
In an opinion piece for Politico Magazine headlined "#SomeBlackLivesDontMatter," Lowry called the "Black Lives Matter" slogan used by protesters "a lie," citing the lack of attention paid to a spike in murders in Baltimore in the last month. Lowry claimed: "Let's be honest: Some black lives really don't matter. If you are a young black man shot in the head by another young black man, almost certainly no one will know your name."
As a solution to the increase in shootings in Baltimore, Lowry recommended more policing and more incarceration (emphasis added):
The Baltimore Sun ran a headline (since changed) that had the air of a conundrum, although it isn't very puzzling, "With arrests down in Baltimore, mayor 'examining' increase in killings." According to the paper, arrests have dropped by about half in May. The predictable result is that violent crime is spiking.
The implication is clear: More people need to be arrested in Baltimore, not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.
Lowry also called for "disproportionate police attention, even if that attention is easily mischaracterized as racism," in "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods."
Lowry used the comments of "anonymous police officers" as evidence that the city of Baltimore does not support its law enforcement personnel:
Meanwhile, anonymous police officers say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters "thugs" and Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby rushed to announce charges against the Freddy Gray officers to placate the mob.
A recent CNN article about the crime increase reported that while officers have "lost faith in the chain of command," they have also "coordinated a work slowdown by not talking to community members and showing less initiative" -- context Lowry failed to include.
Lowry finally claimed that Rudy Giuliani "saved more black lives than any of his critics ever will... by getting the police to establish and maintain basic order in New York's neighborhoods and defending the cops when the likes of Al Sharpton maligned them." A 2014 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found the stop-and-frisk policy put in place by Giuliani was ineffective at reducing violent crime.
Calls for the black community and its leaders to focus more on "black on black crime" is a move frequently made by right-wing media figures as a response to the calls for criminal justice reform that have grown louder since the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police made national headlines. Last year, Slate's Jamelle Bouie explained why this argument is so flawed:
First, a little context: In the last 20 years, we've seen a sharp drop in homicide among blacks, from a victimization rate of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to a rate of roughly 20 homicides per 100,000 in 2008. Likewise, the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 offenders per 100,000 in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008. This decrease has continued through the 2010s and is part of a larger--and largely unexplained--national drop in crime.
But while black neighborhoods are far less dangerous than they were a generation ago, black people are still concerned with victimization. Take this 2014 report from the Sentencing Project on perceptions of crime and support for punitive policies. Using data from the University of Albany's Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, the Sentencing Project found that--as a group--racial minorities are more likely than whites to report an "area within a mile of their home where they would be afraid to walk alone at night" (41 percent to 30 percent) and more likely to say there are certain neighborhoods they avoid, which they otherwise might want to go to (54 percent to 46 percent). And among black Americans in particular--circa 2003--"43 percent said they were 'very satisfied' about their physical safety in contrast to 59 percent of Hispanics, and 63 percent of whites."
Beyond the data, there's the anecdotal evidence. And in short, it's easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there's a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn't mean they haven't happened. Black Americans--like everyone else--are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.
Right-wing media are continuing to defend Indiana's newly-enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and dismissing concerns that the law could provide cover for religious individuals or business owners intent on discriminating against LGBT customers. In fact, RFRA has been used as a defense against discrimination claims in the past, New Mexico's version was used against a gay couple just recently, and supporters of these expanded forms of RFRA have explicitly pointed to anti-gay sentiment as their intent.
Since the passage of Indiana's RFRA, right-wing media have erroneously claimed that criticism of the law is overblown, because it does nothing more than mirror the federal version of RFRA and RFRAs in other states. But Indiana's law is more expansive than other versions because it provides a legal defense to both private individuals and for-profit businesses in lawsuits even where the government is not a party, and unlike several other states who have passed RFRAs, Indiana lacks a statewide law that protects LGBT residents from discrimination.
Conservative media figures like National Review's Rich Lowry have also argued that Indiana's RFRA will not be used as a license to discriminate against LGBT customers because if RFRA laws "were the enablers of discrimination they are portrayed as, much of the country would already have sunk into a dystopian pit of hatred." Right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt also downplayed the potential legal ramifications of Indiana's law, claiming on his show that the federal version of RFRA has "been the law in the District of Columbia for 22 years [and] I do not know of a single incident" of the law being used to discriminate against gay people. He did not address the fact that it is the newer state versions that have sparked the current outrage.
On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy made a similar argument in an attempt to pretend fears of the law's discriminatory effects were baseless, claiming that Indiana's RFRA is not "anti-gay" because it has "never not once" been used as a legal defense by religious business owners accused of anti-LGBT discrimination:
National Review editor Rich Lowry is painting Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, as a controversial pick who should "never be confirmed," because she has suggested that the president's executive actions on immigration are lawful. Not only is Lowry's analysis of the legality of the actions contradicted by experts, his erroneous description of such prosecutorial discretion as "executive action" has been debunked, and presidents generally do not nominate chief enforcement officers who promise to go after their sponsor.
Right-wing media have been hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason to oppose Lynch's nomination, instead relying on specious attacks and, in one instance, going after the wrong Loretta Lynch. Lowry's March 18 op-ed for Politico was likewise devoid of any substantive critiques of Lynch's legal positions or her qualifications. Still, Lowry argued that Senate Republicans should "never" confirm Lynch because she believes -- as is the wide consensus among legal and immigration experts -- that the president's executive actions on immigration, a modified Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), are lawful.
As all the Republicans opposing her nomination make plain, the issue is her belief that President Barack Obama's executive amnesty is lawful.
This isn't a mere matter of policy or personal preference. It implicates her view of the constitutional order that she will be sworn to uphold. Whether she thinks the executive branch can in effect write laws on its own is a threshold question. Her answer in the affirmative should be disqualifying, no matter how impressive her career has otherwise been, or how historic her confirmation would be.
On the merits, when should Republicans bring her up for a vote -- now delayed because Democrats are filibustering a sex-trafficking bill? Never. When should they confirm her? Never.
The Senate shouldn't confirm any attorney general nominee, from whatever party, of whatever race, ethnicity or gender identification, who believes the president can rewrite the nation's laws at will.
Fox News is burying Republican policy positions that exacerbate income inequality in order to help the GOP rebrand itself as a party for the middle class. This effort follows years of Fox figures blasting Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.
Congressional Republicans are borrowing from years of right-wing media attacks on federal disability benefits to justify their recent attempt to snarl funding for Social Security programs.
On January 6, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a change to legislative rules that restricts the historically routine transfer of tax money from the Social Security retirement fund to the Social Security disability program. Such transfers have helped keep both Social Security programs solvent. In practice, the rule change makes these reallocations nearly impossible by requiring that they be "accompanied by 'benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of both funds.' " As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik explained, because the disability fund is on track to "run dry as early as next year," this could mean "disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%."
In a January 6 statement justifying the rule change, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) called the disability program "fraud-plagued." And during a January 14 event in New Hampshire on the long-term future of safety-net programs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed many who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system" and downplayed disabilities, saying, "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."
National Review personalities exploited questions surrounding Rolling Stone's high-profile account of a rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) in order to deny the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and suggested that women should do more to protect themselves, a response in keeping with the outlet's history of denialist, victim-blaming sexual assault coverage.
From the December 7 edition of ABC's This Week:
In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.
With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.
In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an "unconstitutional poll tax" -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives" who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws "without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout" -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.
The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled "The Voter-ID Myth Crashes." Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting."
National Review editor Rich Lowry equated Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to disclose which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 with former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's (MO) stunning claim that it is "really rare" for a woman to become pregnant as a result of "a legitimate rape." Lowry suggested the two positions were politically equivalent "gaffes," whitewashing the fact that Akin's statement was not only absurdly disconnected from scientific reality -- it also happened to reflect actual policy priorities of the Republican Party.
During an October 10 interview with the editorial board of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Grimes said she "respect[ed] the sanctity of the ballot box" when asked if she voted for President Obama in past elections. During an October 13 candidate debate, Grimes reiterated her stance on voter privacy:
GRIMES: This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right.
GRIMES: I am not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side or for members of the media.
In an October 15 column published by Politico Magazine, Lowry exclaimed that "Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Todd Akin of 2014," and argued that Grimes' stated position defending the secret ballot was "a defining political gaffe" for this election. He likened her comments to then-Rep. Todd Akin's infamous statements about rape and pregnancy, in which Akin stated that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare because, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Lowry argued that the two candidates represented similar levels of political ineptitude, writing that each was "telegenic, mockable and universally condemned."
Grimes' decision to stand on principle with regard to voter privacy has been labeled a "gaffe" by some, but, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, it is "an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one."
By comparison, Akin's alarming comments on rape and pregnancy were reflected to varying degrees in actual policy decisions favored by Republican elected officials and candidates. Akin would later attempt to clarify his remarks amid a "firestorm" of controversy, but maintained his opposition to legal abortion access for women -- a constitutional right codified by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 2012, many prominent Republican candidates and conservative media figures supported banning safe and legal abortion, making the issue a central part of campaign rhetoric.
In October 2012, Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion "even when life begins in that terrible situation of rape," stating that "it is something that God intended to happen." Around the same time, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois supported a ban on all abortion, including cases that would threaten the life of the mother. Walsh falsley claimed that "modern technology and science" had solved the problem of potentially life-threatening pregnancies. During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney said "we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period." He went on to state that it would be "terrific" if Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion, which he would be "delighted" to sign. Romney dodged abortion questions throughout his 2012 campaign, but promised to eliminate federal funding for women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood and vowed to be "a pro-life president."
Outlawing access to abortion remains a lightning rod for conservative media, with some right-wing outlets going so far as to tie debates about legal abortion to the crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Right-wing media figures like Karl Rove have pushed the myth that some forms of contraception are actually forms of abortion, while others such as Bill O'Reilly advanced extremist views on fetal "personhood" that would criminalize most abortions.
There is no appropriate comparison between Akin's extreme rhetoric and false scientific claims, and Grimes' personal defense of privacy at the ballot box.
Conservative media are attacking actor Ben Affleck for comments he made objecting to disparaging generalizations about Islam during a heated exchange with HBO host Bill Maher, using their dialogue as ammunition to continue claiming that the religion has a unique connection to extremism and that Muslims have not done enough to root out religious zealotry.
After hundreds of thousands of people participated in what may have been the largest climate change protest in history, National Review Online criticized the event, attacked environmental justice law that seeks to ameliorate health disparities, and misrepresented a study to argue "the effects of pollution on health have been exaggerated."
On September 21, an estimated 310,000 demonstrators took part in the People's Climate March, a multi-city event protesting inaction on climate change and its harmful effects on the planet. Although the Sunday news shows ignored this historic event, National Review Online was quick to condemn it. Editor Rich Lowry called it a "symbolic protest," questioned the settled science of the human causes of climate change, and dismissed advocacy on the dangers of climate change as "anti-industrial apocalypticism."
Lowry's NRO colleague Katherine Timpf specifically criticized protestors in Harlem who were calling for legal action that would protect communities of color from toxic pollutants, a type of civil rights advocacy that is based on decades-old precedent. Timpf complained that "environmental-justice legislation does more harm than good" because "demonizing corporations is not the best method for bringing economic development to a struggling city." Timpf also claimed that "the impact that pollutants actually have on poor communities is questionable," and because of that, she argued, communities of color should embrace the potential economic benefits that a pollution-causing factory might bring:
During one of the march-preparation meetings, the deputy director of the Harlem-based group WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Cecil Corbin-Marks, tells me he's fighting for "global climate policies that focus on the challenges that local communities are confronting."
"Not all communities have the same resources," he says. "People of color are disproportionately affected." He believes that world leaders must unite to stop destructive corporations from spreading the pollutants that sicken minority neighborhoods by causing asthma and cancer.
I don't support his cause. Am I callous and cruel? Am I just ignorant of the suffering of the residents of these areas?
"There is pollution, and it should be cleaned," Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce says during an interview. "But to say that it's happening because of race? No. That's crazy to think corporations sit in boardrooms and design strategies to pollute races. That's Nazi stuff."
Politicians are responsible for keeping the neighborhoods clean, Alford says, so they're the ones who must be held responsible when they're not. All environmental-justice laws do is give these politicians more power.