Fact-checker Politifact is calling out one senator for making the “false” claim with an edited video that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh used the term “abortion-inducing” to describe contraception. But politicians aren’t the only ones. The media are doing the same – with edited reports.
On Sept. 7, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., tweeted out a video of Kavanaugh speaking about a contraception case at his confirmation hearing. The 11-second clip now boasting more than one million views was “false,” fact-checkers ruled, but that hasn’t stopped the media from accusing Kavanaugh for his edited comments that were taken out of context.
“Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” Sen. Harris typed in her tweet. But it wasn’t just Kavanaugh who chose his words carefully – the makers of the video did too.
The clip shows Kavanaugh declaring that “filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objected to.” The issue was that the video editor cut two small words from the beginning of that statement: “they said.”
In other words, Kavanaugh didn’t call birth control “abortion-inducing drugs,” but said others called contraception “abortion-inducing drugs.” Kavanaugh’s comments referred to a 2015 case by the Catholic nonprofit Priests for Life, which argued against providing contraception to employees, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, for religious reasons.
Even fact-checkers like Politifact rated the claim that Kavanaugh called contraceptives “abortion-inducing drugs” as “false,” and concluded he “has not expressed his personal view.”
Nonetheless, many in the media are still running with the false narrative.
“Kavanaugh calls birth control ‘abortion-inducing drugs’ during confirmation hearings, sparks outrage,” one USA Today headline insisted. Time agreed that “Brett Kavanaugh Referred to Contraception as ‘Abortion-Inducing Drugs.’”
He “gave Americans a pretty clear idea of where he stands on reproductive health by wrongly calling birth control ‘abortion-inducing drugs,’” wrote Tonic news editor Susan Rinkunas, “which is a known talking point of anti-choice conservatives.”
Several other headlines, from both standard outlets and women’s magazines, said the same:
Despite Politifact’s decision, those headlines – and Harris’s tweet – are still up, and still being spread.
Does it make that much of a difference? After all, both National Review and Washington Examiner published stories Monday explaining how some contraceptives can have the effect of inducing abortions.
But this isn’t a one-time fluke – or the first time media claimed Kavanaugh said something he didn’t regarding abortion. In a 2003 email published by The New York Times on Sept. 6 of this year, Kavanaugh wrote he wasn’t sure “all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land.” Media outlets reported that meant Kavanaugh himself wasn’t sure Roe was the “settled law of the land.”
Words matter, and media figures know that almost better than anyone else. They can influence votes, whether for Supreme Court nominees or in the upcoming midterm elections. That’s why they must do better – or risk Americans catching on, and regularly dismissing them as “fake news.”