There’s no difference between Fox’s so-called “news” and “opinion” sides on anti-abortion misinformation
There are many reasons that Fox News’ false dichotomy between the network’s so-called “news” and “opinion” divisions is laughable, but there is perhaps no clearer indication than the sheer amount of anti-abortion misinformation spread by both “opinion” and “straight news” personalities alike.
After the Democratic National Committee announced that Fox News would not be hosting any of this year’s Democratic presidential primary debates, backlash from Fox’s senior leadership was swift, with officials imploring the DNC to “reconsider its decision” on account of the “ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism” reportedly shown by some of the network’s hosts. As Variety previously reported, the network had already rolled out a messaging campaign to reassure wary advertisers about the outlet’s legitimacy, extolling the virtues of the network’s news hosts. This messaging campaign is merely a repackaging of the same inaccurate story Fox has been telling for years: Viewers and critics shouldn’t hold the blatant xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of the opinion side against the allegedly objective news team. But this recycled talking point further falls apart when it comes to anti-abortion misinformation spread by the network’s hosts.
In January, abortion rights measures in New York and Virginia sent Fox News and broader conservative media into a frenzy. Although both measures were attempts to protect abortion access should the Supreme Court overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, Fox News hosts across the network’s news and opinion programs seized on the opportunity to spread sensationalized misinformation and attack Democrats for allegedly supporting “infanticide” or so-called abortions “up until birth.” Despite these inaccurate characterizations, Fox News devoted over six and half hours of coverage before the 2019 State of the Union address to falsely claiming that these state measures allowed “infanticide” — a talking point that ultimately appeared in President Donald Trump’s remarks. In fact, Trump and Republican lawmakers are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters for the 2020 elections — a strategy that was on full display during the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference.
It’s no secret that Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity — each a part of Fox’s volatile and increasingly bad-for-business prime-time lineup — are all frequent anti-abortion misinformers. Although Fox has attempted to distinguish the work of Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, and Chris Wallace from their colleagues, these “news”-side hosts have all pushed their share of lies, distortions, and misinformation about abortion and reproductive rights.
Although Fox clearly has a profit motive in portraying Baier as a straight news host, there is little to distinguish him from his colleagues on the opinion side when it comes to his abortion-related reporting. In Media Matters’ annual study of abortion-related coverage on evening prime-time cable news programs, Baier and his program Special Report have consistently been dominated by anti-choice talking points and inaccurate statements about abortion and reproductive rights.
Notably, Baier hosted a 2016 town hall with Democratic presidential candidates and used the platform to recycle misleading right-wing anti-abortion talking points. On his program, in the same year, Baier inaccurately described a common abortion procedure as “dismemberment abortion” and misled viewers that a Supreme Court case involving access to contraceptives was actually about abortion rights. Baier previously invoked a longstanding right-wing media talking point comparing legally operating abortion providers to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. In 2009, Baier even went so far as to falsely assert that the Obama administration would allow doctors to be jailed for refusing to perform abortions.
Beyond frequently hosting anti-choice guests such as Live Action founder Lila Rose and Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, MacCallum seemingly makes little secret of her personal views on abortion and will often use sensationalized rhetoric when discussing the topic.
Even before MacCallum became a staple of Fox’s evening lineup, she was already a serial anti-abortion misinformer. In 2015, MacCallum attacked Planned Parenthood for allegedly using taxpayer money to support abortion care (the organization does not, as the Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds for abortion services). Like Baier, MacCallum also used a 2016 presidential primary forum as an opportunity to spread anti-abortion misinformation sourced from the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood. Since MacCallum began hosting her own program, she has consistently promoted anti-abortion talking points about later abortion and Planned Parenthood. In 2017, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence of so-called “sex-selective” abortion practices, even demanding a guest on her program explain whether it was acceptable “for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months.”
Whether appearing as a correspondent on Special Report or hosting her own program, Fox News @ Night, Bream has been a frequent source of anti-abortion misinformation on Fox. Despite representing the network’s so-called “straight news” contingent, Bream’s promotion to host her own program was celebrated by anti-abortion leaders.
Bream was a frequent promoter of CMP’s deceptive videos, even hosting the Fox News “special” promoting the group’s claims in 2015. In 2016, Bream touted “exclusively obtained” copies of letters from a House investigation based on CMP’s allegations — letters received a full day before they were publicly released or shared with Democratic members of the investigative panel, in direct violation of congressional rules. Since then, Bream has repeatedly signal-boosted anti-abortion talking points and myths by spreading misinformation about abortion safety, letting guests make inaccurate allegations about Planned Parenthood without pushback, and citing polls commissioned by anti-abortion groups without necessary context to suggest a lack of public support for abortion. If there’s a talking point circulating around anti-abortion media and personalities online, it’s more likely than not that it will eventually surface on Bream’s program.
Although Chris Wallace does not discuss abortion as frequently as some of his Fox colleagues, his invocation of so-called “partial-birth” abortion during the final debate of the 2016 presidential election is more than enough to disqualify the anchor from consideration as a fair and balanced voice on abortion-related issues. Wallace’s inaccurate and sensationalized question was then picked up by other right-wing media outlets and has since re-emerged in Trump’s current talking points about abortion. Wallace has also shown a propensity for repeating right-wing smears against Planned Parenthood, citing anti-choice videos attacking the organization well before CMP’s campaign of deception began.
It doesn’t matter whether viewers watch so-called “news” or “opinion” programming: Both are likely to contain sensationalism, outright lies, and harmful characterizations about abortion patients, providers, and procedures — seemingly no matter the potential consequences.