The anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its campaign to smear Planned Parenthood have been debunked and discredited, though a Fox News viewer probably wouldn’t know as much.
That’s because a staggering 90 percent of the network’s statements about CMP in the past year during evening news programs were inaccurate, according to a recent study by media watchdog Media Matters for America. The network most commonly pushed the falsehood that CMP, which coordinated its propaganda campaign with Republican lawmakers, does “investigative journalism.” Fox failed to mention that GOP-led state and federal investigations have refuted the claims made by the group, the study found.
Analyzing 12 months of evening cable news coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News beginning in March 2016, Media Matters discovered that a single segment on CMP ran on a network other than Fox.
CMP engaged in a coordinated campaign beginning in summer 2015, using surreptitiously recorded and deceptively edited videos to falsely allege that Planned Parenthood had profited from fetal tissue sales. The claims sparked anti-choice legislation as well as a host of state and federal investigations—none of which found evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of the health-care provider.
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Fox News’ Hannity was the only evening cable news program to feature a segment with activist and CMP founder David Daleiden during the time period analyzed. “[Host Sean] Hannity and Daleiden made a total of eight inaccurate statements about the credibility of CMP’s findings in this segment,” Media Matters’ study found.
A California judge issued an arrest warrant for Daleiden and his colleague Sandra Merritt after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office charged the two with 15 felonies in relation to their work in the anti-choice propaganda campaign.
Planned Parenthood clinics saw an uptick in violence coinciding with the release of CMP’s propaganda videos, but this sort of occurrence was barely mentioned within the past year on the networks analyzed by Media Matters. CNN ran no segments about the spike in anti-choice violence, Fox News ran one, and MSNBC ran three.
A nationwide survey of clinics published by the Feminist Majority Foundation in February, which was “the first quantitative measure of nationwide violence recorded since the release of the CMP videos,” found that anti-choice extremists had been “emboldened by” the campaign waged by CMP and Republican legislators. “The Survey found that the percentage of clinics reporting the most severe types of anti-abortion violence and threats of violence has dramatically increased in the past two years, jumping to 34.2 percent of clinics in the first six months of 2016, up from 19.7 percent in the first six months of 2014,” a report on the survey said. “Some of the most frequent types of violence and threats were blocking access to and invasions of clinics, stalking, death threats, and bombing threats.”
Both Fox News and CMP share connections to the Trump administration. President Trump has noted that he regularly receives his news from the network. He has hired several network figures and frequent guests for roles in his administration.
Media Matters for America Reproductive Rights Program Director Sharon Kann said in a statement to Rewire that Fox News’ willingness to serve as a mouthpiece for CMP could have serious consequences. “This pipeline of dangerous misinformation now extends all the way to the White House,” she said. “We know President Trump loves to watch Fox News. With the placement of anti-abortion extremists like Kellyanne Conway at high levels in the administration, this anti-choice misinformation is even more likely to find a receptive audience.”
Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway consulted for CMP in 2015, recently released financial disclosure forms show. Conway’s polling firm was reportedly hired by Daleidan to “get the message right” ahead of the release of the group’s misleading attack videos.
Kann said cable news’ failure to address the anti-choice propaganda campaign’s mistruths has had policy implications across the country.
“It may be tempting to dismiss this as just a Fox problem, but the network’s ceaseless repetition of CMP’s misinformation can—and already has—resulted in the codification of policies targeting abortion providers, patients, and clinics to the detriment of people everywhere,” Kann said.