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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Why Do Mainstream Media Pretend Conservatives Care About Children?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, some conservatives and mainstream media outlets have suggested that anti-abortionists may be willing to support more generous family welfare programs to offset the financial burden of forced birth. These suggestions, whether made in bad faith or ignorance, completely misunderstand the social function of prohibiting abortion, which is to exert control over women and all people who can get pregnant.

In adopting or replicating the right’s framing of anti-abortionists as “pro-life,” these outlets mystify the conservative movement’s history and current goals. Conservatives have sought to dismantle the United State’s limited safety net since the passage of the New Deal. Expecting the movement to reverse course now is absurd, and suggesting so serves primarily to obfuscate the economic hardship the end of Roe will inflict on people forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

At The Atlantic, staff writer Elaine Godfrey profiled anti-abortion activists who purport to pay some pregnant people not to have an abortion. “Nathan Berning is one of many abortion opponents who wants, more than anything, to see a substantial expansion of the social safety net,” Godfrey writes.

“Abortion opponents who oppose a social safety net may come around to the idea that more social spending is the best way to reduce abortions,” Godfrey adds toward the end of the piece. “Restricting the supply of abortion doesn’t stop the demand for it, as studies have shown.”

The piece is sprinkled with caveats, meant to offer balance to its central claim. “If all of this sounds a little too rosy, that’s because it probably is,” Godfrey writes. As Godfrey herself admits, the people she’s profiling “are minority voices in the broader anti-abortion tent,” and “abortion opponents have hitched their wagon to a party that has fought tirelessly against state expansion.”

At best, these admissions leave the piece almost incoherent. At worst, they provide cover for the entire anti-abortion movement, leaving the impression that it may one day come around to supporting paid family leave, child allowances, universal childcare, or any of the other welfare programs being discussed. It’s also preposterous to claim a movement that has spent decades attempting to prohibit abortion rights is “against state expansion.” To the contrary, the criminalization of abortion is predicated on a massive expansion of police power, potentially including surveillance and other forms of state-backed coercion.

Ross Douthat makes a similar claim in his column at The New York Times about the end of Roe. After acknowledging that if “anti-abortion laws are permanently linked to a punitive and stingy politics,” they’ll be viable only in deeply conservative states, he argues that “there are other possible futures.”

The pro-life impulse could control and improve conservative governance rather than being undermined by it, making the G.O.P. more serious about family policy and public health. Well-governed conservative states like Utah could model new approaches to family policy; states in the Deep South could be prodded into more generous policy by pro-life activists; big red states like Texas could remain magnets for internal migration even with restrictive abortion laws.

Douthat offers no evidence to support these claims, because there is none. States “with the most restrictive abortion policies also show the weakest maternal and child health outcomes and are least likely to invest in at-risk populations,” according to research from The Commonwealth Fund. As Mother Jones points out, “Many of these states have roundly and repeatedly rejected badly-needed Medicaid expansions that would have vastly improved such disastrous outcomes.” And as the ACLU’s Gillian Branstetter noted on Twitter, Republicans who voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act previously voted against paid family leave and child care.

On Meet the Press, The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan said the Republican Party should use the end of Roe to “change itself and become a party that helps women.” The panel, to their limited credit, began laughing at her suggestion before she finished it. Powering through, she continued that the party should “change its reputation, become a party that helps women and children, becomes responsible and supportive.” Her co-panelists continued to guffaw, a much more appropriate response than the one taken by more credulous reporters and outlets.

On the day of the decision, Politico wrote that conservative enthusiasm for economic policies to support people after they give birth is “an emerging theme in the Republican Party,” citing statements from Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rick Scott (R-FL). (Hawley’s wife is a prominent anti-abortion activist and lawyer.) Temporary populist rhetoric notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe Republican senators are even remotely interested in addressing and alleviating poverty and economic precarity in the United States.

Nevertheless, these kinds of stories have circulated for weeks following the leaked Roe opinion in early May. “With Roe at risk, GOP faces pressure to support families after a birth,” read a headline in The Washington Post’s news section shortly after the leak. Just days before the final decision was handed down, National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a column jointly published by The Washington Post and Bloomberg arguing for “A Conservative Plan to Strengthen Families, Post-Roe.” Ponnuru expressed optimism that Republicans may soon begin to support policies like a child allowance – which, crucially, would not apply to people without a job.

One need only look at the existing anti-abortion movement’s reaction to the Roe ruling to see where its actual energy is going – and it’s not to providing economic aid for pregnant poor people. In a piece published two days after the decision, The New York Times captures the movement’s post-Roe priorities well:

In Florida, where the Legislature recently passed a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, lawmakers pushed Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special session to consider a ban after six weeks.

The National Right to Life Committee promoted model legislation for state bans and renewed calls toward its original, bigger goal of a constitutional amendment banning abortion nationwide. It and other anti-abortion groups also pledged to punish prosecutors who have said they would not enforce abortion bans.

They promised other steps to limit access to abortion, including pushing for legislation prohibiting people from crossing state lines to get abortions or obtaining abortion pills.

Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, said its primary focus would now be on preventing pregnant women from getting abortion pills as a workaround to bans. It had also discussed proposed legislation, modeled along the lines of a Texas law that since September has banned abortion after six weeks, that would allow ordinary citizens to sue anyone who provided abortion services across state lines.

The anti-abortion movement is organized around punishing pregnant women and those who provide them with health care. It has been that way from its inception. There is no reason to believe it will change now, and every reason to believe it will become more radical.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox Hypes Bogus ‘Experts’ And Ineffective Responses To School Shootings

Fox News responded to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, by interviewing experts who pushed controversial, counterproductive models to reduce gun violence in schools. One of these experts advocated for introducing more weapons into schools through arming teachers and staff, a policy firmly rejected by teachers unions and researchers. Another called for increased active shooter response trainings-- a service his company provides -- which have also been found to be ineffective at preventing casualties.

As news out of Uvalde was still developing, Fox News’ Jesse Watters invited Laura Carno -- the executive director of FASTER Colorado, which advocates for arming school staff -- on his show, where she compared arming teachers and other school personnel to arming pilots. “We all feel really comfortable with the armed pilot program, where some pilots are armed on some flights,” Carno said. “We don't know which ones, and we feel pretty good about that. It's a very similar kind of thing to armed school staff programs.”

Whatever the relative merits of arming pilots, it’s patently obvious that a classroom is fundamentally different from a locked and sealed cockpit. There is a litany of examples of guns being mishandled in schools, both by on-grounds cops — known as security resource officers — as well as teachers and staff, according to the Giffords Law Center. The center also found that an overwhelming percentage of students, teachers, and parents oppose arming school staff.

Both major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), also oppose the idea. There’s also a strong argument to be made that Black and Latino students would be put at increased risk with the introduction of more guns, as they are the students who are more likely to be punished than white students for the same behavior.

Watters also invited Chad Ayers, vice president of the Proactive Response Group, to discuss the shooting. Proactive provides active shooter response trainings to “workplaces, religious establishments, and schools,” which it calls “the true first line of defense.” Ayers used the occasion to suggest students are not doing enough to identify “early warning signs” to stop such shootings, arguing that “kids are afraid of being the school snitch.”

“We have to do a better job training,” Ayers added, implicitly advocating for more active shooter response trainings. “Showing a 5-minute video at the beginning of the school year to the teachers is not getting the job done.”

A recent study conducted by Everytown, an anti-gun violence organization, alongside the AFT and NEA, “concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.”

Other research has found that “anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills.” This study concluded that the findings, “paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.” The nation’s largest for-profit active shooter training provider, ALICE Training Institute, regularly overstated its program’s efficacy, according to an investigation from The Trace.

Although there’s little evidence to show that active shooter response trainings are effective, there’s plenty of incentives for cops and former cops to push them as the primary response. The school safety industry was reportedly a $2.7 billion market in 2018, with some training programs running as high as $56,000 for the initial round and $25,000 for training renewals.

Fox News has a history of advocating flawed responses to school shootings. In 2015, a Fox & Friends segment demonstrated how students should rush a shooter, without making it clear that such an action should only be taken as a last resort.

Fox News wasn’t the only example of right-wing media pushing these flawed responses. Fox News competitor Newsmax interviewed at least one active shooter response trainer as well, and conservative pundit Erick Erickson endorsed FASTER in a tweet.

The United States accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, even though it has about five percent of the global population. In 2019, the United States spent $123 billion on police. More guns and more funding to law enforcement and their private contractor partners is not the answer. Effective measures, such as early intervention, decreasing access to guns, and increasing the number of counselors and mental health professionals in schools, would likely do far more to reduce gun violence at school than doubling down on security theater.

In the longer term, the most effective way to reduce this kind of violence is to take aim at the root, which would mean radically lessening the number of guns on the streets, including those carried by police officers.

But don’t expect to hear any of that on Fox News.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Bullying Los Angeles Sheriff Menaces Reporter -- Then Backs Down

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva this week targeted – and then backed off – a Los Angeles Times reporter in a criminal investigation, but Villanueva’s threats against the media don’t extend to his favorite extremist networks. The hard-right sheriff has appeared on Fox News at least 32 times, including four appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight, according to an internal Media Matters database.

Villanueva is also a central figure in the two-part Suicide of Los Angeles, the season two premiere of Fox Nation’s documentary series Tucker Carlson Originals. Not content to limit himself to Murdoch-owned media, Villanueva has also appeared on fledgling Fox News competitor One America News, and on Newsmax’s questionably named The Gorka Reality Check.

Villanueva’s appearances on Fox programs often follow a well-worn template. In the wake of either a real or perceived crisis regarding law enforcement, he shows up to fearmonger about the dangers of defunding the police, investigating prosecutorial misconduct, or other moderate approaches to reform of the criminal punishment system. He demonizes unhoused people and drug users, all while doubling down on the carceral policies that are at the root of so much poverty and immiseration in Los Angeles and other cities in the United States.

An illustrative example is from February 22 of this year. When asked by Guy Benson on Fox Business about the effect a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would have on his department, Villanueva reached for apocalyptic analogies. “Well, just think of any dystopian – future movie,” Villanueva responded. “Think of Beyond Thunderdome, Mad Max, anything like that, it would be applicable. We have the desert environment, there would be an absolute lack of cops on the street, in the jails. We’d have to close jails.” To ensure he hit his talking point, Villanueva then said the “defunding” board that oversees his department wants to “even further” defund it.

When Villanueva isn’t citing post-apocalyptic movies to talk about LA’s supposed slide into chaos, he’s often setting his sights on his favorite target: Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. The DA is a moderate reformer, but to hear it from Villanueva in Suicide of Los Angeles, Gascón’s politics fall somewhere to the left of prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

“The problem is here in LA, in city and county government, they occupy every single seat,” Villanueva says, without specifying exactly whom he’s referencing. “There is no other point of view other than that ‘woke’ ideology.” He adds that Gascón and other liberal reformers are “funded by Soros and company,” a narrative frequently featured on Fox News.

Appearing in a promo for the film alongside Carlson, Villanueva made it clear who he thinks is getting preferential treatment from Gascón’s office. “Unless you come from the public defender's office, you are a Black Lives Matter activist – those are about the only people he’s speaking to. Everyone else just doesn't exist in his world.”

Villanueva’s regular presence on right-wing media only underscores how inappropriate his comments about the Los Angeles Times were. The investigation into staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian arose from a story she’d written about a departmental cover-up of a deputy’s assault of a person in their custody. The Times obtained a “surveillance video from a lockup area of the San Fernando Courthouse that captured the deputy kneeling on the inmate’s head for three minutes after handcuffing him,” according to Tchekmedyian’s reporting. At a press conference on Tuesday, Villanueva accused two political rivals, in addition to Tchekmedyian, of being responsible for the tape’s release. When asked if the reporter was specifically under threat of prosecution, Villanueva responded, “All parties to the act are subjects of the investigation,” according to the Times.

By that evening, facing intense criticism, the sheriff backed down. “I must clarify at no time today did I state an L.A. Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation,” he said, according to the Times. “We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporter.”

Far-right views within sheriff’s departments are alarmingly common, and they are regularly aired on Fox. The far-right movement known as “constitutional sheriffs” holds that local sheriffs are the highest legitimate legal jurisdiction in the country. Although Villanueva is not known to be a follower of that philosophy, Fox News has a documented history of embracing those who are.

Villanueva’s walk-back notwithstanding, it’s ridiculous for him to claim Tchekmedyian was never a subject in his investigation. His comments were filmed and posted to his own department’s Facebook page. Just don’t expect to see that footage on Fox News any time soon.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters