Justice & Civil Liberties

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  • The Inherent Contradiction Behind The NRA’s Anti-Clinton Benghazi Ad

    Star Of Ad Previously Said He Didn’t Hold Clinton Accountable For Benghazi Attacks

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s political action committee released an ad featuring a former CIA contracter present during the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks urging viewers not to vote for Hillary Clinton because of the attacks. But the contractor previously said that Clinton is not accountable for the attacks.

    USA Today reported on June 29 that the NRA Political Victory Fund was launching a $2 million ad campaign which the paper notes is “one of the larger expenditures by an outside group on behalf of the presumptive Republican nominee.” The NRA-PVF titled the ad “Mark ‘Oz’ Geist: Stop Clinton, Vote Trump.”

    The ad features Mark “Oz” Geist, a former CIA contractor who responded to the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi that claimed four American lives, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Geist is the co-author of 13 Hours, a book chronicling how he and other contractors undertook a rescue mission during the attacks. The book was later turned into a 2016 Michael Bay film with a similar title.

    In the ad, Geist, who has endorsed Trump, is shown walking through a cemetery while saying, “Hillary as President? No thanks. I served in Benghazi. My friends didn’t make it. They did their part. Do yours.”

    But Geist has said in the past he does not blame Clinton for the attacks. During a January 2016 appearance on ABC’s Nightline to promote the film 13 Hours, Geist disagreed with the notion that Clinton was “accountable” for the Benghazi attacks, instead blaming the terror group that carried out the attack. According to an ABC News writeup of the interview:

    But while many of Clinton's enemies use Benghazi to hold her accountable, Geist has his own perspective.

    “Do I hold her accountable? No. You know who I hold accountable is al-Sharia,” he said. “That’s who attacked them. That’s who killed the ambassador.”

    In addition, Geist has pushed back on the conservative media myth (which congressional investigations have also debunked) that Clinton or some other high-level Obama administration official issued a “stand down” order that delayed the attempt by him and other contractors to rescue Americans under fire during the attacks. During a September 9, 2014, appearance on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, Geist instead blamed the delay responding on the CIA station chief, while attributing no “malice” to the chief’s decisions. From a CNN transcript of the segment (emphasis added):

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The chief of base wasn't telling the contractors to wait out of malice or unwillingness to help those under attack. There is a huge and fundamental difference between a short delay for security considerations and a stand down order.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    TAPPER: I understand that this might just be semantics. But their argument is that Bob wanted to make sure that they got Intel, wanted to make sure you had enough weapons, wanted to make sure there was enough backup. It wasn't a political decision.

    GEIST: Sure, sure.

    TAPPER: Your take?

    PARONTO: My take on that is the first five minutes -- and I've even said this, and I even said this to the committee when we were interviewed. I said the first five minutes, I'll give you that. It is a combat situation. We do need to adjust fire and get ourselves in order. The next 20 minutes, no. Tactically, that's unsound and minutes cost lives. And they died of smoke inhalation, Sean and the ambassador. So, once that comes about in that 20 minute time frame, the decision needed to be made. And we need to go - we need to stay in. Also, we didn't have a rapport with the 17 February militia.

    TAPPER: Right.

    PARONTO: So we are calling - calling- we are relying on somebody to rescue our friends and our comrades and we didn't trust them. We didn't initially trust them. We still don't trust them.

    TAPPER: Mark.

    GEIST: Well, you know, and we've never indicated that there was any malice from them. And why he made the decision. But you have six operators that have probably together almost 100 years of experience in counterinsurgency operations. The question that we have, is why wouldn't you utilize that asset that you have available to get out there and see and put eyes on to find out real true intelligence instead of depending on a local national to get that intelligence.

  • How The Nightly Network News Covered The Supreme Court's Rejection Of Texas' Anti-Choice Law

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    After the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, two network evening news programs allowed anti-abortion activists to spin the ruling as a “loss for women’s health and safety.” But in actuality, the Supreme Court found that the requirements imposed by the Texas law addressed “no significant health-related problem” and are “nearly arbitrary” -- findings that two other networks highlighted.

  • The Supreme Court Just Exposed Right-Wing Lies In A Landmark Abortion Access Case

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 placed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of the unconstitutional law argued that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health and prevent another “Kermit Gosnell scandal” -- talking points pushed by right-wing media. Writing the majority opinion of the court, Justice Stephen Breyer rebuked these anti-choice myths, saying there was unequivocal  evidence that HB 2 lacked medical benefits and posed extreme harm to Texas women.

  • A Year After Marriage Equality, It's Time For Media To Stop Giving Anti-LGBT Liars A Pass

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.

    It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

    Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.

    For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:

    • The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today all cited FRC’s commentary on the Obergefell marriage equality decision without noting the group’s history of hate.
    • ABC's This Week invited FRC's Ken Blackwell -- who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder -- to discuss the court's decision.  
    • NPR featured FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg -- who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" before joining FRC -- to debate same-sex parenting.
    • FRC’s President Tony Perkins appeared on MSNBC to discuss meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assemble an “Evangelical executive advisory board,” featuring anti-LGBT extremists.

    In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.

    The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.

    A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people. 

  • Florida Editorial Boards Lambaste Rubio’s Senate Record In Light Of Senate Run

    ››› ››› MARLEE PITTMAN

    After Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced his intention to seek reelection to the Senate -- despite previously pledging he would not run -- state editorial boards criticized the senator’s “thin record” and “absenteeism” from the Senate during his first term. Several outlets also criticized Rubio’s recent votes against stronger gun laws after claiming the Orlando terror attack on a gay nightclub motivated his reentry into the Senate race.

  • James O’Keefe Is Still Not a Journalist

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Since 2009, self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe has repeatedly embarrassed himself while attempting to launch undercover stings targeting government agencies, media outlets, and  liberal organizations and institutions.

  • NRA Radio Show Compares Participants In Rep. John Lewis’ Gun Violence Sit-In To “Criminals And Terrorists”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s radio show compared participants in a sit-in in the U.S. House of Representatives being led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to “criminals and terrorists” reasoning that like terrorists, the sit-in participants were not following the rules.

    While the House was in session on June 22, Lewis and other Democratic members of Congress sat on the floor of the House, refusing to return to regular order until Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreed to call a vote on legislation to prevent gun violence.

    CNN.com described the move as “a dramatic protest inside the House of Representatives” that was “rich with historic symbolism.” Lewis, who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized numerous sit-ins to protest racial discrimination during the 1960s, has been described as “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.”

    During the June 22 broadcast of the NRA’s radio show Cam & Company, as the sit-in proceeded, host Cam Edwards claimed, “So in order to push legislation that the sponsors say would not have prevented the attacks in Orlando, Florida, they’re also going to flout the House rules. Kind of like, you know, criminals and terrorists flout the rules that we have in place right now and will continue to do so?”:

     

     

  • Ten Must-Read Stories On The Impact Of Texas' HB 2

    Patients and Providers Explain What’s At Stake In Supreme Court’s Landmark Abortion Rights Case

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & NINA MAST

    When the Supreme Court releases its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landscape of abortion access will be altered in Texas and beyond. Before reporting on the potential consequences of the court’s decision, reporters should read these 10 stories about the challenges some people face in obtaining an abortion, told in patients’ and providers’ own words.

  • Houston Public Media Report Demonstrates Dangers Of “Abortion Training Taboo” Created By Texas’ Anti-Choice Law

    HB 2 Is Keeping Abortion Training Out Of Medical Curricula, Which Could Have Dire Consequences For Reproductive Health Care

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    This June the Supreme Court will release its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- a landmark abortion rights case challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2.

    HB 2 requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Although supporters claim that these restrictions are medically necessary and that they protect patient’s health, the vast majority of experts agree that HB 2’s mandates are based on medically inaccurate information. The Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt could set the precedent for all future abortion restrictions.

    Even if the court rejects HB 2, Texas clinics still face an uncertain future. As Molly Hennessy-Fiske wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the process of reopening or reauthorizing clinics that closed when the law was implemented to perform abortions would be arduous. The piece quoted Whole Woman’s Health president Amy Hagstrom Miller, who said, “We can’t reopen clinics overnight.” Hennessy-Fiske explained that the process of reopening clinics is difficult because, as Miller noted, “providers have had to sell buildings, give up leases, lay off staff and allow doctors to take other jobs.”

    A two-part report from Houston Public Media confirmed these warnings: Thanks to political attacks on abortion access, Texas may be facing a shortage of medical professionals capable of performing abortions. In the piece, Carrie Feibel reported that “the battle over reproductive rights has penetrated academic medicine in Texas” and deterred medical programs from providing abortion education and training. Feibel explained that this “abortion training taboo” in Texas was a result of the logistical challenges of and stigma surrounding abortion care after HB 2.

    In part one, Feibel detailed the logistical hurdles created by HB 2 that have made providing abortion training “increasingly difficult,” if not impossible, for many medical programs. According to Feibel, only “three out of the 18 programs in Texas have made arrangements for residents to spend time learning at an outpatient family-planning clinic” -- the type of facility “where most abortions in Texas take place.” In many cases, program directors argue that providing such training is difficult when “the nearest abortion clinic is now closed.”

    Dr. Robert Casanova, a recent residency director at Texas Tech University, told Feibel, “The limited choices for our patients pretty much parallels the limited choices for our residents to get training, to where they feel comfortable doing something along those lines.” Texas Tech is located in Lubbock, TX, where the last abortion clinic in the area closed after HB 2 went into effect. As Manny Fernandez reported for The New York Times, because there are no remaining clinics in or near Lubbock, many patients now must make “a five-hour trip to Dallas or to Albuquerque, some 320 miles away” in order to receive abortion care.

    Lubbock is not unique in this sense. According to research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), since HB 2 went into effect nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed. In an article about the study, Rewire’s Andrea Grimes described the results in terms of their political ramifications. Grimes wrote that since May 2013 -- shortly before Texas lawmakers passed HB 2 -- “Forty-six percent of Texas’ legal abortion providers have closed.” In addition to the loss of clinics, the overall number of physicians who perform abortions in Texas has also decreased since HB 2 went into effect. In a February 2016 research brief, TxPEP researchers also reported that HB 2 had decreased the number of “physicians providing services in the state” drastically:

    In the fall of 2013, before HB2 went into effect, there were 48 physicians providing abortion across the state. Currently there are 28 physicians with admitting privileges providing abortions in Texas. This represents a decline of 42% in the number of physicians providing abortion in Texas since HB2 went into effect. An additional three physicians are currently providing services in El Paso and McAllen due to a partial stay of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling issued by the US Supreme Court. These physicians would not be allowed to continue to provide abortion services if the Supreme Court ruled to allow the Fifth Circuit decision to go into effect.

    Of the 28 physicians with admitting privileges currently providing abortion services in Texas:

    • 15 (54%) were providing in Texas prior to HB2 and had admitting privileges prior to October 2013.

    • 6 (21%) were providing in Texas prior to HB2 and were able to get admitting privileges after the law went into effect.

    • 7 (25%) are new abortion providers with admitting privileges.

    The lack of available resources for training medical students in abortion care is not entirely a product of accessibility challenges. As Feibel explained, for many programs, HB 2 has had a chilling effect on institutional willingness to support abortion training. “Academic medical centers in Texas receive tens of millions of dollars a year in state funding,” reported Feibel. Because of this funding relationship, “Doctors working in these institutions are walking a very delicate line,” Carol Joffe, a medical sociologist who studies abortion providers, told Houston Public Media. Joffe explained that even when doctors want to provide abortion training, “they are fearful of the other sectors of the university coming down on them and saying ‘You’re threatening our funding.’”

    Although abortion is both common and overwhelmingly safe, Feibel explained that institutional concerns coupled with a fear of “backlash from anti-abortion groups and politicians” means that when medical students receive abortion training, it “happens quietly, almost in secret.”

    Abortion stigma is defined as the “shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable." This belief is reinforced through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information in the general public about the procedure itself. Right-wing media and anti-choice groups have worked relentlessly to “exploit the stigma of abortion” -- describing the procedure as sickening, “grisly,” and “selfish” while calling abortion providers “villains” and comparing them to Nazis.

    According to Feibel, one of the best ways to combat stigma is for residents to work with patients and understand their motivations for seeking an abortion. She wrote:

    There’s another intangible, but critical, experience residents get from abortion training, though it has nothing to do with technique. Jane, the resident, summed it up this way: “Every woman has a different story and a different reason why she chooses to end her pregnancy.”

    Hearing those stories from patients is crucial to an ob-gyn’s professional development, said Dr. Jody Steinauer, an ob-gyn professor and researcher at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

    Counseling patients teaches doctors valuable bedside skills like compassion, empathy, and political awareness.

    “When they spend time in a setting that provides abortion care, they have real epiphanies,” Steinauer said. “They become more aware of their biases. They’re surprised that more than half of women having abortion are already mothers, for example.”

    Challenging abortion stigma by encouraging greater dialogue is a familiar strategy for many reproductive health advocates. Organizations including Sea Change, #ShoutYourAbortion, and the 1 in 3 Campaign all encourage people to speak out about their abortion experiences through a variety of media.

    Aside from the social benefits of addressing abortion stigma, exposing medical residents to abortion procedures is beneficial for their development overall. As one doctor told Feibel, “The technical procedure is the same, whether you are doing it for a miscarriage, or whether you’re doing it to terminate an ongoing pregnancy.” Another resident explained that a number of the skills practiced during her time at an outpatient abortion clinic would improve her proficiency in other aspects of the field:

    Jane spent about a month at this family planning clinic during the third year of her residency. Abortion is just one of the skills she learned. She counseled patients about abortion, contraception and sexually-transmitted diseases. She also learned techniques for pain management and dilation of the cervix.

    Many of those skills will be useful in other practice areas, Jane said. For instance, ob-gyns use ultrasounds for many different reasons.

    “Before in residency, we were doing ultrasounds maybe once during a clinic afternoon, or a few ultrasounds in the o-b triage area,” Jane said. “But here we do 30 ultrasounds in a morning, so it’s a lot of good learning about how to do ultrasounds.”

    Despite these tangible benefits from providing abortion training to medical students, many training programs won’t embrace the practice; contacted by Feibel, program representatives refused to answer questions about whether they train students to perform abortions. One hung up on her, another cancelled the interview, and six more “simply refused to answer the questions about how the training takes place.”

    If the Supreme Court upholds HB 2, the need to “train the next generation” of abortion providers will only grow. To underscore this point, Feibel included comments from Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, a 74-year-old abortion provider who “hasn’t been able to line up a successor” to lead his medical practice. According to Rosenfeld, although he’s reached out to other doctors, “none of them are interested in the political consequences of providing abortions.”

  • Morning Shows Give GOP A Pass For Blocking Gun Safety Measures In Senate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Morning news shows broadcast on ABC, NBC, and CBS inaccurately reported that the Senate rejected four “gun control measures” during procedural votes the evening of June 20.

    In fact, only two of the votes involved  “gun control” measures. Those measures were blocked along nearly party-line votes by Senate Republicans. The other two votes were on amendments offered by Republican senators. One of those amendments would have weakened the current background check system for gun purchases while the other offered an “unworkable” standard for blocking gun sales to suspected terrorists.

    Senate votes on two gun safety measures proposed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) represent the most significant votes on gun safety legislation in the Senate since the April 2013 GOP blockade of background check legislation proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. Murphy’s and Feinstein’s proposals each failed to get the 60 votes necessary to break through Republican obstructionism.

    In brief news reports on June 21, however, Good Morning America, Today, and CBS This Morning all glossed over the important distinctions between the four gun amendments the Senate voted on, and in some cases reporters for the morning shows credulously repeated the GOP Senate’s false characterization of its two proposals.

    • Good Morning America reported “The Senate has rejected all four gun control measures proposed after the Orlando nightclub shooting. The measures to expand background checks and block gun sales to people on the terror watch list were voted down, mostly along party lines.”

    • Today reported, “Four votes last night on what to do about guns in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre. In the Senate on Monday, these gun control measures came up for votes, but not one got the needed 60 votes necessary to move forward. … Republicans had also offered proposals that would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns, but the Republicans were also demanding some due process provisions that Democrats could not accept.”

    • CBS This Morning reported, “New gun control measures appear unlikely after the Senate failed last night to pass four separate bills. Each fell short of the 60 votes needed. Democratic Party bills called for expanded background checks and banning anyone on a terrorist watch list from buying a gun. The Republican versions required people on watch lists to wait 72 hours, they also supported more resources for background checks.”

    In addition to not clearly identifying Senate Republicans as the driving factor behind obstructionism of gun safety legislation, the morning show reports on the Senate votes failed to accurately explain what was in the two GOP counterproposals.

    The GOP amendment described by CBS This Morning as supporting “more resources for background checks” would have actually weakened the background check system. The amendment, authored and introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), has been in existence for years, having first been introduced as a GOP alternative during Senate votes in 2013 on background check legislation. While purporting to better fund the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the legislation would actually invalidate large numbers of records in the system that prohibit people from passing a background check due to an adjudication of severe mental illness. Grassley’s amendment has been used by GOP senators who wish to claim to support improving the background check system while not actually voting for NRA-opposed legislation that would make improvements. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has notably used this tactic for years.

    The GOP amendment that Today reported “would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns” would not actually prevent any sales to suspected terrorists. While GOP backers of the amendment, which was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), made arguments about due process provisions  (even though the Democratic alternative also included due process protections), the language of the GOP amendment creates “an unworkable standard” for blocking dangerous sales, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Specifically, the amendment, which Cornyn has previously put forward as an alternative to Feinstein’s “terror gap” proposal, would only give Department of Justice officials 72 hours to prove in court “not only that someone is suspected of being involved in terrorism, but that he or she will actually commit an act of terror.”