Fox News peddled a new lie about Houston, TX's LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, blaming the measure for unrelated subpoenas issued against a number of local anti-gay pastors.
On October 10, the city of Houston subpoenaed documents related its recently-passed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) from five local pastors who had opposed the law. The subpoenas are part of the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by opponents of the ordinance who allege that the city wrongly disqualified petition signatures supporting a repeal referendum. Conservative media outlets, led by Fox News, have inaccurately accused the city of attempting to "harass" and "bully" the anti-gay pastors, depicting the subpoenas as an assault on religious liberty.
During the October 17 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Anna Kooiman falsely stated that the subpoenas were actually "part" of the non-discrimination ordinance:
KOOIMAN: The city now being accused of ordering its pastors to "show us your sermons" or be held in contempt of court. The move, part of an ordinance aimed at ending discrimination against the LGBT community but critics say it actually stifles religious liberty. [emphasis added]
Kooiman's lie was echoed during the same day's edition of Fox News' Outnumbered. Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the ordinance, accusing the measure of trying to "legislate speech":
POWERS: This is such a blatant violation of the First Amendment. It's so chilling. And these anti-discrimination statutes, the way that they're being implemented is very scary and very chilling as well because it's basically, they're deciding what your views are supposed to be on certain things and they're now trying to legislate it. And they're trying to legislate speech. [emphasis added]
The conservative media's meltdown over a Nebraska school district's effort to train teachers about gender diversity demonstrates how conservative misinformation threatens even basic efforts to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.
In late September, administrators from the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) district in Nebraska began providing teachers with informational materials aimed at better equipping them to accommodate and protect transgender and gender non-conforming students. The materials included handouts from the group Gender Spectrum, which works to help develop "a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens."
One of those handouts, "12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness," listed recommendations to help teachers make their classrooms more gender-inclusive, including asking teachers to stop gender-based bullying and avoid the use of gender-specific terms like "ladies and gentlemen." Instead, Gender Spectrum recommended teachers use terms like "readers," "campers," or classroom nicknames like "purple penguins."
The school district's distribution of Gender Spectrum's materials sparked controversy when the conservative group Nebraska Watchdog published a report on the handout on October 2. The report was picked up by National Review Online and The Daily Caller before eventually making the jump to Fox News. The network ran multiple segments falsely accusing LPS of "banning" terms like "boys and girls" as part of a "political agenda."
In an interview with Equality Matters, Gender Spectrum's Director of Education Joel Baum criticized the "disingenuous" reporting on his organization's training materials. "They're sharing information about work that's occurring in a school and not being accurate about ... the overall purpose of the work," he said. "[B]y taking various things out of context - like "purple penguins" - they completely trivialize something that's really, really important and misrepresent our work."
Fox's misleading coverage of Gender Spectrum's handouts eventually prompted LPS Superintendent Steve Joel to call a press conference to dispel the network's misinformation. Joel criticized conservative media outlets for peddling falsehoods about the educational materials, calling it "regrettable" and "truly unfortunate" that the school was forced to waste time and resources responding to calls and questions about the handouts.
The Daily Caller tried to "debunk" the "myth" that a recent mass walrus beaching is connected to global warming, even though scientists say the walruses have crowded onshore because they cannot find a resting place on Arctic sea ice, which has declined significantly as the Earth warms.
An October 1 Daily Caller article titled "Myth Debunked: Arctic Walrus Beachings Are Nothing New" promoted zoologist Susan Crockford's claims that a recent massive beaching of around 35,000 walruses on a single Alaskan shore has nothing to do with climate change. To support her claim, Crockford cherry-picked two instances of walrus beachings from the 1970s.
However, Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia's Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography told NBC News that extended beachings of this size only began occurring in the late 1990s, adding: "The reason is global warming." Vox.com's Brad Plumer further reported that this "appears to be the largest ever observed in northern Alaska, though NOAA is still trying to verify the exact numbers." The current beaching is so vast that the Federal Aviation Authority is re-routing flights in order to avoid setting off a stampede.
In six of the past eight years, all of the floating sea ice in the Chukchi Sea (the region of the Arctic near the current haul-out) that walruses need to rest in between swims has completely melted away by mid-September, according to Chadwick Jay, head of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific walrus program.
In the Daily Caller article, Crockford even noted that mass walrus beachings occurred in 2009, 2011 and 2014, but dismissed them simply because they "did not coincide with the lowest levels of Arctic summer sea ice" in 2007 and 2012.
However, every one of these years had much less Arctic sea ice than the historical average, contributing to the extended beachings.
And 2007 actually did experience a massive beaching, contrary to Crockford's claim.
Daily Caller's attempt to rebut what appears to be the consensus, that the massive walrus beaching is one example of climate change's impacts, relied entirely on Crockford. But Crockford may not be the most reliable source -- she has been working to attack the scientific consensus for years, once signing onto a document "rebuk[ing]" President Obama for accepting manmade global warming. A 2012 document from the climate "skeptic" Heartland Institute, which has received funding from oil interests, showed that Crockford was paid by the institute for the explicit purpose of combatting the United Nations' consensus reports on the state of climate science. She has co-authored several of Heartland's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC) reports that attempt to mirror and debunk the U.N. reports. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth has stated that the NIPCC reports have "no standing whatsoever."
Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote a column accurately depicting the college sexual assault epidemic and the fears victims face in reporting these crimes, a stark contrast to his colleagues and fellow conservative media figures who have dismissed, mocked, and stigmatized victims.
In a September 25 column for Fox News' website, Jarrett highlighted the high rate of assault on college campuses, and praised student activists for raising awareness of the often insufficient resources and efforts by colleges to address the problem (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.
I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.
Awareness is on the rise driven, in part, by student activism. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, angry over how the school adjudicated her claim of rape, has taken to carrying a mattress around campus. Dubbed "Mattress girl" by fellow students and the media, her visually indelible protest has galvanized a growing demand for honesty and transparency. And why not? Schools should be required to publish accurate information about the frequency of assaults. It can be done without breaching individual students' privacy.
Jarrett's column unfortunately stands out among recent commentary about sexual assault in conservative media, where the fact that one in five women are assaulted at college is regularly dismissed. The Daily Caller has called the statistic "bizarre and wholly false," while the Washington Examiner called it "ridiculous."
Moreover, the trust and respect Jarrett treats the victims of these assaults with is unusual. Instead, their stories are often questioned or critiqued, with media figures suggesting that a large number of victims are lying about their assault, or are partly culpable.
The same day that Jarrett's column was published, some of his Fox News colleagues suggested that intoxicated women who are assaulted at college fraternity parties are responsible for their own assaults. Several co-hosts of Fox's Outnumbered defended a Forbes contributor who was fired after claiming that drunk women were "the gravest threat to fraternities" because the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
This past summer, Washington Post columnist George Will came under fire for claiming that college efforts to curb sexual assaults were making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege." In his column, Will disputed the story of a college rape on Swarthmore's campus, implying he didn't believe the survivor's story qualified as an actual incident of assault. The survivor, Lisa Sendrow, told Media Matters about the violence she had experienced, how Will's dismissal of her story was triggering and damaging to her, and that she was diagnosed with PTSD and received violent threats after her story was first reported.
Earlier this year, a Weekly Standard contributor blamed feminism for sexual assault, because victims abandoned "feminine modesty" which had provided women "protection" from rape. National Review Online writers claimed rape was "instinctive" among some young men, that assaults involve "a large degree of voluntary behavior" from women, and that women are "being taught to believe they were raped." A New York Post columnist dismissed rape as "regrettable sex."
And Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went so far as to claim intoxicated sexual assault victims are just as guilty as their attackers.
While Jarrett's column is sadly something of an outlier among conservative commentary on the issue, survivors now have one more voice in the media supporting their efforts to combat this epidemic.
The gun industry's trade group is claiming Democratic Massachusetts attorney general candidate Warren Tolman's September 9 primary defeat occurred because of his support for smart gun technology. But the candidate who won the primary also backs smart guns and attacked Tolman during the race for not supporting the technology enough.
In a September 16 column for the "Guns and Gear" section of conservative website The Daily Caller headlined "Leaders Of Smart Gun Mandate Movement Lose Primaries," National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president Larry Keane claimed that Tolman and Massachusetts Democratic congressional candidate John Tierney both lost recent primary races after supporting smart gun technology.
Keane wrote, "Besides their recent primary losses, what other striking similarity exists between these two outliers? Both candidates were staunch supporters of a mandate for so-called 'smart gun' technology. "
One problem: during the campaign Tolman was attacked by opponent Maura Healey after backing away from mandating smart gun technology. According to a July 27 Healey campaign press release, "Democratic candidate for Attorney General Maura Healey today expressed disappointment that her primary opponent is weakening his position on mandating smart gun technology."
Right-wing media cherry-picked from an email chain between the White House and the Department of Labor to claim that it reveals a White House "cover-up" of the schedule of former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who was being investigated over allegations that she had violated political fundraising rules. In fact, the last email from the White House shows that it did not object to the planned release of information from Solis' schedule.
Several media outlets ignored the opening of the country's largest advanced biofuel plant -- which produces a fuel with a far lesser climate impact than gasoline that can help reduce our dependence on oil -- even though they previously claimed that such a biofuel "does not exist."
The New York Times brazenly claimed in 2012 that cellulosic ethanol, a type of fuel made from agricultural waste such as corn stalks, "does not exist" -- and many other news outlets also adopted this misleading framing. Industry journal Platts published a blog titled: "Puzzling over the US mandate for a fuel that doesn't exist yet," later clarifying that the fuel simply did not exist "in the US at commercial volumes" at the time. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that "Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist" and "is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist." FoxNews.com called the fuel "merely hypothetical." National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock stated "EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire leprechauns."
However, since a new facility started producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial-scale on September 3, these outlets have remained silent.* Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels opened the biggest cellulosic ethanol facility in the country for production, which will "convert 570 million pounds of crop waste into 25 million gallons of ethanol each year." The Iowa facility is being heralded as "a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution."
Cellulosic ethanol and other "advanced biofuels" are included in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil companies to mix fuel made renewable sources into their product. This standard was part of a bill that passed during the Bush Administration with bipartisan support -- a fact that several right-wing news outlets failed to mention in their coverage.
A lifecycle analysis from Argonne National Laboratory estimated that the type of fuel produced at the new Poet-DSM facility emits up to 96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline. The Poet-DSM facility is the first of three cellulosic ethanol plants scheduled to start production this year, which will together produce an estimated 17 million gallons per year. Jeremy Martin, an expert from the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the plant opening "an important milestone on the road to clean transportation." Martin added: "With efficient vehicles and clean fuels like cellulosic biofuel we can cut our projected oil use in half in 20 years."
*Based on a search of publicly available content from September 1 - September 7.
Photo at top of cellulosic biofuel crop from Flickr user KBS with a Creative Commons license.
The Daily Caller defended a commentator who used the words "fag" and "trannies" in a post assailing the transgender community, blaming "politically correct" mobs for allegedly getting the post censored.
On August 12, Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes published a profanity-laden post on Thought Catalog titled "Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural." In the post, McInnes argued that transgender people are just "mentally ill gays," calling them "nuts trapped in a crazy person's body":
We're all transphobic. We aren't blind. We see there are no old trannies. They die of drug overdoses and suicide way before they're 40 and nobody notices because nobody knows them. They are mentally ill gays who need help, and that help doesn't include being maimed by physicians. These aren't women trapped in a man's body. They are nuts trapped in a crazy person's body. I see them on the streets of New York. They are guys with tits and a sweatshirt. They wear jeans and New Balance. "What's the matter with simply being a fag who wears makeup?" I think when I see them. You're not a woman. You're a tomboy at best.
By pretending this is all perfectly sane, you are enabling these poor bastards to mutilate themselves.
The post generated a significant backlash, with scores of writers demanding that their work be removed from Thought Catalog. Within a week of the post's publication, McInnes was placed on "indefinite leave" from his position as chief creative officer of the ad agency Rooster.
In a September 2 article, Daily Caller reporter Patrick Howley called the criticism of McInnes' post evidence of a "politically correct hysteria" engulfing the country. Howley also interviewed McInnes, offering him a platform to denounce the "culture of psychotic harassment" that he alleged was persecuting him:
Writer, commentator and Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes said that politically correct hysteria like the kind that recently cost him his job is similar to the mafia.
"It's a real quandary people who write have to face right now," McInnes told The Daily Caller. "Am I going to speak freely or am I going to hide?"
McInnes, who was in Georgia shooting a movie at the time of the scandal, is not too concerned about his livelihood. But he bemoaned the plight of young writers starting out in an industry that you'd think would appreciate candor, and instead punishes it in storms of faux-moralistic activism.
McInnes is one of the few writers in America today willing to expose the mechanics of our P.C. outrage culture, and to deflate the idea that pro-censorship Internet hordes are doing anything righteous. Will mine be the first generation in history to gauge intellectual success as a measure not of challenging taboos, but rather of maniacally defending them? [emphasis added]
An opinion column for The Daily Caller blamed gay and bisexual men for much of the military's sexual assault problem, arguing that the 2010 repeal of the armed forces' Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy had worsened the problem of rape in the military.
In an August 27 column, writer Dave Benkof asserted that the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay service members was responsible for an "uptick in same-sex rape." According to Benkof, "[o]nly a fierce ideologue" would deny that allowing LGBT soldiers to serve openly would lead to an increase in sexual assault:
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is on the rise for both men and women, according to a Pentagon report earlier this year that was widely covered in news outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Reuters, and CNN.
But virtually none of that coverage addressed an obvious aspect of the problem: the 2011 introduction of open service by gays and bisexuals undoubtedly has increased the incidence of sexual assault against men in uniform. Despite repeated LGBT assurances that integrating gays into the military would not affect morale, an uptick in same-sex rape - especially involving straight victims - most assuredly affects morale. In fact, just the fear of increased sexual violence could affect morale.
Only a fierce ideologue would suggest that introducing many thousands of same-sex-attracted men into a mostly male service would decrease or maintain the previous extent of male-male MST.
The LGBT community, which regarding marriage has shown a willingness to use deception to achieve its policy goals, must be held to a high standard of proof. Media, legislators, and voters should do their own research before trusting gay community slogans that often turn out to be misleading, incomplete, or downright false, including:
"Studies prove that gay parenting is as good as straight parenting";
"Gays are born that way";
"Gay marriage won't harm anyone"; and
"Gay marriage is inevitable."
The next time gay activists assure you their agenda has no downside, don't trust them. Investigate it for yourself. [emphasis added]
Benkof's claim that DADT repeal is responsible for a rise in military rapes is patently false. A study by Palm Center, a research institute focused on sexuality and the military, has found no evidence that open service has led to increased sexual assault. Nor, the center reported, did repeal lead to a decline in military cohesion or morale, as Benkof asserts.
Right-wing media are parroting local Republican officials and criticizing voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of intense protests after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Voting rights advocates argue that registering the electorate is crucial for the community to hold their government accountable, but right-wing media condemn these efforts as "liberal activism."
A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) claims that smog regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will cost the economy $270 billion. But the regulations, necessary to alleviate the unsafe smog pollution currently experienced by 140 million Americans, will likely achieve net benefits by reducing costs associated with medical expenses and premature deaths, while experts have said the NAM study uses "fraudulent" claims and is "not based in economic reality."
In the wake of the tragic shooting death of unarmed Missouri teenager Michael Brown, right-wing media outlets attacked President Obama's uncontroversial statement of condolences and suggested the president was to blame for the state of race relations in the United States.
Right-wing publicist and author Craig Shirley doesn't like a new book about Ronald Reagan written by award-winning (and liberal) historian Rick Perlstein. So the conservative publicist has threatened to sue for $25 million in damages and has asked for all copies of the book to be "destroyed," claiming that with Invisible Bridge: The Fall Of Richard Nixon And The Rise of Ronald Reagan, Perlstein's guilty of plagiarism for paraphrasing facts Shirley had previously reported in his own book about Reagan.
But of course, paraphrasing is not the basis for copyright infringement and that's certainly not what constitutes plagiarism.
Reviewing the supposed examples of infringement cited by Shirley's lawyers, Jesse Walker, books editor for the libertarian Reason magazine, concludes:
Facts are not copyrightable, and one pair of similar sentences does not an infringement make. I don't see a dollar's worth of damages here, let alone 25 million.
Instead, the attack on Perlstein seems to be more about partisan politics and the clash over who gets to write the history of Reagan and less to do with allegations of misappropriating work. (Perlstein references Shirley's work in the Invisible Bridge acknowledgements and cites Shirley more than 100 times in the book's online endnotes.) Conservatives have previously showered Perlstein's conservative-movement books in praise, but, "this time Perlstein is writing about Ronald Reagan. Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan--Perlstein has moved from covering a minor saint, to a martyr, to God," as Slate's Dave Weigel explains.
Nonetheless, with an unfortunate assist from the New York Times this week, which helped legitimize the dubious plagiarism allegation via a he-said/he-said accounting of the controversy, Shirley's attention-grabbing accusation has received a wider airing. Indeed, the Times article insists Shirley's dubious claim of plagiarism effectively "casts a shadow over the release" of Invisible Bridge, which is precisely the storyline movement conservatives want to create this week. (Separately, the Times, in a glowing review, recently labeled the book an "epic work.")
The Times' misguided new coverage seemed to draw a rebuke from the paper's own Paul Krugman. Denouncing the Perlstein smear campaign as a "grotesque" "sliming," and dismissing the plagiarism charges as "spurious," Krugman stressed that in cases where professional reputations are attacked via unsubstantiated claims, "this tactic should be punctured by the press, not given momentum with "opinions differ on shape of the planet" reporting."
And that's precisely what the Times dispatch failed to do in this instance.
The National Rifle Association made a botched attempt at statistics in order to defend economist and gun researcher John Lott, who famously put forward the debunked "more guns, less crime" thesis that undergirds the NRA's agenda.
In a 1997 paper Lott, along with David Mustard, purported to use econometrics to prove that the expansion of state laws allowing guns to be carried in public reduced crime rates in the United States. Since its publication, Lott's study has been endlessly cited by the NRA and other gun advocates even though the study's conclusions been repeatedly debunked by other academicians.
In an August 3 article for the conservative Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" page, the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), defended Lott's work from recent criticism in The Washington Post.
Writing that "anti-gun activists ... worked themselves into a rage over Lott's research," and that Lott has been accused by critics of "using bad data," the NRA-ILA claimed that reductions in crime since the early 1990s coupled with increases in the number of states allowing guns to be carried in public proved Lott's case:
Reality check, however. For starters, in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, firearms were used in only 21.8 percent of aggravated assaults, according to the FBI. Furthermore, from the end of 1991, the year when violent crime hit an all-time high in the United States, through 2012, 24 states adopted [right to carry] laws (not counting Illinois, which adopted RTC in 2013). And according to the FBI, between 1991 and 2012, the nation's aggravated assault rate dropped 44 percent. The rates of 39 states and the District of Columbia decreased. And while the rates of 11 states increased, most of these states are ones with relatively low populations and aggravated assault numbers, thus small increases in the numbers of assaults can translate into seemingly large increases when the trend is measured on a percentage basis.
This defense of Lott purports to explain the entire decline in crime since the early 1990s as a result of gun carrying laws without offering any evidence to explain this unfounded claim. In fact, several plausible factors have been put forward to explain the crime drop including the end of the crack epidemic and reductions in the general public's exposure to lead. The General Social Survey indicates that the rate of household gun ownership has declined over time leading to speculation that recent increases in the number of guns sold are largely attributable to pre-existing gun owners buying more guns.
House Republicans pulled a bill which would increase funding for security at the southern border after conservative media and their allies voiced opposition to it.
The bill, pushed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was tabled after he and House Republican leadership faced "a rebellion among their most conservative ranks," according to the New York Times, who also reported that the failure to pass the bill "ensures that no legislation to address what both Democrats and Republicans call an urgent humanitarian crisis will reach President Obama's desk before the August break." After the measure failed, Republicans met to discuss whether they would bring up another bill before Congress goes into recess or to scrap the legislation entirely. Roll Call reported that "chaos reigned" as it became unclear what Republican leaders would decide to do.
Conservative media darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was reportedly whipping votes in order to stop the bill the night before its introduction, according to a Washington Post report. Cruz appeared on Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren that same night and attacked what he described as "President Obama's amnesty."
Weekly Standard founder and ABC News contributor Bill Kristol wrote a July 31 blog post demanding that the House "kill the bill." He described the bill as "dubious legislation" and argued that passing it would "take the focus off what President Obama has done about immigration."
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt agreed with Kristol, writing that the House should "kill the fake border security bill and go home until the House leadership gets serious about passing a real border security bill."
The Drudge Report highlighted opposition to the bill at the top of the site with the headline "Hill Phones Melt As Boehner Pushes Border."
The Drudge headline linked to Breitbart.com, which has repeatedly opposed immigration reform efforts. The story by Matthew Boyle noted that "The American people have overloaded the Congressional phone lines yet again on Thursday, pressuring their members of Congress to vote against the House and Senate immigration bills."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson argued at his site, RedState, that the bill was flawed because it failed to repeal the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which conservatives incorrectly blame for generating the surge in child migrants from Central America.
Erickson added, "The House GOP should be starting with closing DACA, not telling conservatives they first have to fund the President and then they'll get table scraps" and directed his readers to RedState's "action center" where they could call Congress and demand that "the House GOP must close DACA."
Daily Caller columnist Mickey Kaus promoted a campaign from the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which urged readers to call the U.S. Capitol switchboard in order to speak to their member of Congress and demand "No New Laws" on immigration. Kaus also linked to a list of members and their direct office phone numbers.
Laura Ingraham, a talk radio host and Fox News/ABC News contributor, who has been an anti-immigration reform crusader for years, wrote on Twitter that Boehner had made a "supreme accomplishment" by pushing a bill that "manages to enrage both the political left and conservatives." She later celebrated its defeat.