This summer, CNSNews.com had its interns put fake news and right-wing narratives ahead of practicing actual journalism and their usual job of pestering members of Congress with biased gotcha questions.
By Terry Krepel Posted 9/26/2022
CNSNews.com usually has its summer interns pester members of Congress with biased gotcha questions and perform stenography for preferred sources like Mark Levin. This past summer, though, CNS de-emphasized some of that to have them manufacture something approaching "news" articles designed to push right-wing narratives -- and, in at least one case, fake news.
Intern Ben Kelley had the dubious honor of promoting the latter in a June 6 article:
The Oak Park and River Forest High School in Chicago reportedly will change its grading system next year to “equitable grading,” an approach that eliminates such grading factors as class participation and turning homework in on time because underprivileged students may not be able to master those skills.
According to the school’s Strategic Plan, dated May 26, 2022, the school has found that “traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap.” The presentation goes on to explain that teachers have begun implementing equitable grading practices such as “eliminating zeros from the grade book” and that the school “will continue the process necessary to make grading improvements that reflect our core beliefs.”
Supporters of “equitable grading,” such as educator Ken Shelton, claim it minimizes grading biases, which are “rooted in racism, anti-Blackness, sexism, transphobia, and ableism.” Critics, however, say “equitable grading” hurts students of color and “impede[s] their success as adults” it is “bigotry of low expectations,” remarked Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
As reported on May 30, 2022 by the West Cook News, “Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.”
But the erroneous story cited no actual policy changes, and the school said in a statement that the claim is false. “OPRFHS does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race,” the statement said.
The article instead mischaracterized a May 26 school Board of Education meeting, at which a committee focused on grading and assessment presented an initial report. The report noted at one point that “traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap.”
At “no time were any statements made recommending that OPRF implement a race-based grading approach,” the school’s statement continued.
Bizarrely, Kelley violated journalistic ethics by waiting until the sixth paragraph of his story to explain that the previous five were false:
On May 31, following criticism of the school’s reported decision, the Oak Park and River Forest High School announced that a final decision to implement a race-based grading system had not been made.
The school said the West Cook News article contained “a variety of misleading and inaccurate statements,” and explained that before any grading changes are made they must first be “made to the Board at a public meeting.”
Kelley then tried to justify spreading this lie by adding: "So, although Oak Park and River Forest High School has not made a final decision, it is discussing and considering 'equitable grading.'"
Again: Despite the fact that the real story is that an secretive right-wing website spread a falsehood, Kelley spread the falsehood and downplayed the fact that it was false.
It's hard to know who to blame for this. This story was debunked a few days before Kelley's story was published, so there's basically no possible way he could not have known that. Which leaves two explanations: 1) Kelley knew the story was false and wrote it up anyway, and 2) Kelley was made to do a bogus story by his CNS overlords. Neither of which makes CNS look good.
If Terry Jeffrey and Co. are going to force interns to write stories they know are false, what exactly is the value of a CNS internship? It certainly has nothing to do with "news" -- it's all about forwarding right-wing narratives no matter their accuracy. If CNS is knowingly publishing false stories, that's a black mark on the organization and a reason nobody should trust its work.
Downplaying gun violence
CNS followed the lead of its parent, the Media Research Center, in trying to deflect from the rash of gun massacres this year. It also made sure to take the next step in downplaying gun violence by irrelevantly comparing it to abortion -- though it took two tries for intern Lucy Collins to do it as demanded. First up was a June 6 article declaring:
Following the tragic homicide of 19 schoolchildren and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the mainstream media have pushed the claim that guns are now the “leading cause of death among children.” In reality, 2019 data show that 395 times more babies were killed by abortion than minors killed by firearms.
According to the CDC’s 2019 data on abortion, there were 629,898 abortions reported from 47 states and the District of Columbia -- excluding data from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire, which did not report their numbers. In the same parameters, firearm deaths for children aged zero to 17 numbered 1,596 deaths, making abortion deaths 395 times greater than gun deaths for children.
While only 42 states have so far reported their abortions for 2020, not including major abortion states like California, New York, and New Jersey, the deaths by abortion in 2020 were 264 times more than firearm deaths of children ages zero to 17, under the same parameters.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, made a similar claim during a press conference announcing his support of proposed gun control laws. Newsom said, “Guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in America.” The governor was likely citing from the CDC data, omitting abortion and including teenagers and some adults.
Collins then tried to parse the numbers to diminish gun violence even further (and portray abortion as so much worse):
Looking closer at the CDC’s data, it may be misleading to label firearms as the leading cause of death, even when excluding abortion.
For those under 10 years old, suffocation, causing 32% of deaths, is the leading cause of death with firearms being the fifth leading cause at 6.9%.
Non-firearm-related deaths are the leading cause of death in every below-teen age range. For ages one through three years old, drowning was the leading cause of death in 2020.
For ages four through 12, every individual age group reports motor-vehicle-related death as the leading cause, with firearms coming in second for ages seven, eight, 10, 11, and 12.
Excluding 18 and 19 year olds, 2020 CDC data show that firearms are the leading cause of death for the zero to 17 age group as a whole. Motor vehicle deaths come in second, with 50 fewer deaths.
When removing deaths caused by suicide, which account for 32% of firearm deaths, motor vehicles become the leading cause of death at 27% and firearms are second at 19%.
Combining what the WHO, CDC, and NIH define as “adolescence” ending at the typical onset of puberty and Cleveland Clinic’s age range of “child” as the ages between five to 12 years old, a more accurate CDC data analysis would say that in 2020 the leading cause of death for children (ages five to 12) is motor vehicles, causing 551 deaths.
Even when using the liberal media’s misleading age parameters of zero to 19 years old, 2020 available data show there were 41 times more babies killed by abortion than by all causes of death combined for zero to 19 year olds.
But sometime before June 9, Collins' article was deleted without explanation; the URL currently shows a message stating "The requested page could not be found."
Rather than admit whatever mistakes were made, Collins took another stab at pushing this narrative in a June 7 article that had drastically lower numbers:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), abortion killed 204.5 times more American babies in 2019 than the number of Americans ages 1 to 19 years old killed that year by firearms.
In 2019, there were 629,898 abortion deaths in the 47 states and the District of Columbia that reported their abortions to the CDC. That same year, there were 3,080 firearms deaths of people 19 and under in those same 47 states and the District of Columbia. That equaled 204.5 abortion for each firearms death of a person 19 or under.
Under these parameters, deaths by abortion were 140.2 times more than firearm deaths of minors and 46 times more than all deaths for the 1-19 age range in 2020.
On May 25, following the horrific mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, California’s Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom said, “Guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in America.” The governor was likely omitting abortion data.
On May 27, CBS News reported, “New data from the CDC shows firearm deaths were the leading cause of death for children for the first time in 2020.” CBS was not counting the abortion numbers.
There was no indication hat this article superceded Collins' earlier article or that the numbers were drastically changed from her earlier effort.
By not holding Collins publicly accountable for whatever errors she apparently made in her first article and trying to flush it down the memory hole instead -- and forgetting that the internet never forgets -- CNS is doing its interns a disservice. It's supposed to be journalism, which is all about accountability.
More biased narratives
Collins went the anti-transgender route in a July 14 article:
During an online symposium for college students about gender identity, two de-transitioned women females who had transitioned to males and then back -- shared their stories and said their doctors and families failed them in not recognizing that conditions like autism and ADHD were the actual cause of their gender dysphoria.
“I look back on it and think ‘how could you possibly have missed this?’” said one woman, Michelle Alleva. “This is something that would have been -- that's so crucial to the decision that I was making to transition, and it was never offered to me.”
Laura Becker said, “It's a disgrace to scientific medicine, nuanced psychological analysis, and human compassion to remove the breasts of an autistic 20-year-old girl because she hated herself and didn't know what she was doing in the midst of a traumatic crisis.”
Both Becker and Alleva had undergone medical treatment to transition to “males,” but now have gone back to females. The symposium was sponsored by Genspect, an organization that advocates for a better model of transgender care than the current “affirmative” approach.
Genspect moderator Stella O’Malley said, “The low stats that are quoted there, they're flawed. For example, a very often quoted one is 1% have de-transitioned. We've all heard that stat. But anybody who really knows the research knows that it is a very flawed stat as 36% of the people left the treatment at the center. So, it's all this lost follow-up and then 75% aren't contacting [the center after treatment].”
Collins' benign description of Genspect hides the fact that it is, in fact, an anti-transgender group, and that O'Malley was caught on tape as opposing any form of gender-affirming care. Collins also made sure not to let any opposing view that's not as hostile to transgenders and treatment of them into her article.
Janey Olohan served up anti-abortion talking points in a July 25 article:
The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization denounced the Democrats’ “Right to Contraception Act,” stating that the legislation should be called the “Payouts for Planned Parenthood Act.”
“Far from being a bill that simply allows for access to contraception, this bill seeks to bail out the abortion industry, trample conscience rights, and require uninhibited access to dangerous chemical abortion drugs,” said the organization.
The legislation would provide “federal funding for abortion providers who also happen to provide contraceptives,” said SBA Pro-Life America. “Despite the fact that even under the Trump administration, domestic family planning [including contraception] was federally funded at nearly $1.8 billion in FY 2020, this bill seeks to guarantee funding to abortion providers by barring federal and state governments from redirecting contraception funding to life-affirming health care providers.”
The pro-family group also noted that the Right to Contraception Act provides a very broad definition of “contraceptive,” which means it potentially could “mandate access to abortion drugs,” such as mifepristone and misoprostol.
Olohan did not explain what forms of contraception Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America would actually approve, which is particularly relevant with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That's a missed reporting opportunity. While Olohan did not permit anyone to respond to the anti-abortion group's assertions -- while also embedding links in bold type to supporting the organization's talking points -- she did include a couple of paragraphs from a Democratic congresswoman in support of the bill, though the relevant supporting link was in regular type, not boldface.
Olohan served up more talking points for the anti-abortion movement in an Aug. 3 article:
A medical analysis from the Charlotte Lozier Institute released in July revealed that every state with pro-life laws allows necessary medical treatments for women, permitting any procedure that would save a woman’s life.
Despite the ever-increasing outcry that pro-life laws prevent women from receiving the care they need, this Charlotte Lozier Institute medical analysis reveals that each of the 23 states with strong pro-life laws allows treatment for miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and any life-threatening conditions.
The Lozier Institute clearly laid out that “every state pro-life law includes clear exceptions allowing medical treatment to save the life of the mother, and permits treatment for marriage and ectopic pregnancy, which can cause life-threatening complications. Several states provide further clarity by specifically excluding treatment for miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy from their definition of abortion.”
Olohan failed to cite specific recent cases in which anti-abortion laws were indeed quite fuzzy -- particularly the case in which a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to go to Indiana to have an abortion because state law does not include exceptions for rape and incest. AS in her previous article, Olohan did not let anyone specifically respond to the claims by the Lozier Institute -- which she did not identify as the anti-abortion organization it it -- waited until the final few paragraphs to note criticism of anti-abortion laws by Planned Parenthood, which actually did allude to the Ohio case.
Olohan also did some Fox News stenography on an economic issue in another Aug. 3 article:
The reconciliation bill crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and supported by the Biden administration will raise electricity and gas prices, hike taxes, and kill about 218,000 blue-collar jobs in 2023, said Marc Lotter, the chief communications officer of the America First Policy Institute.
On Fox News @Night, Aug. 1, Lotter said, “The National Association of Manufacturers says this bill will cost 218,000 blue-collar workers their jobs next year. Your electric and heating bills are going up, your gas is going to go up by $25 billion as a tax increase for oil companies that's going to get passed along at the pumps.”
In a press release, Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National association of Manufacturers said, “This proposal is nothing more than a repackaging of the same bad ideas with a new name slapped on it. It is especially harmful because it will undermine manufacturers’ competitiveness at a time when the industry is reeling from supply chain disruptions and record inflation.”
“Manufacturers kept our promises after the 2017 tax reforms, hiring more workers, investing in our communities and raising wages and benefits,” said Timmons. “Raising taxes now will hurt manufacturers’ ability to keep delivering for our people and mean fewer opportunities for Americans already worried about their financial future.”
You will not be surprised to learn that Olohan made no effort to fact-check any of this, nor did she identify the America First Policy Institute as a right-wing organization. In fact, it appears that the NAM's claim that the 2017 tax bill -- which reduced corporate tax rates -- allowed manufacturers to be "hiring more workers, investing in our communities and raising wages and benefits" is not true at all; Industry Week reported that most companies used the newfound money to buy back stock instead of investing in operations or paying workers more.
The interns also made sure to work in some hot-button culture war issues as well. Lucy Collins complained in an Aug. 1 article:
The newly published Star Wars novel geared toward middle and high school-aged children has passages suggesting that beloved character Obi-Wan Kenobi is bi-sexual.
"Padawan," published on August 26th, is written by Kiersten White and aims to tell the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi as a teenager training to be a Jedi. The young adult novel is recommended by Amazon for kids between the ages of 12 and 18.
Many on social media were alerted to a specific passage in the book that suggests that the young Jedi is bisexual, or attracted to both men and women.
Following a conversation with a fellow teen about romantic relationships, Kenobi is described as questioning his sexuality.
Previously in Star Wars iterations, Obi-Wan Kenobi had a female love interest named Satine Kryze of Mandalore. The Padawan author said that she did not include any love plots for Kenobi in the book because of that relationship.
Collins suggested only "social media" as the source of this purported controversy, but she cited no specific criticisms of the book -- after all, ages 12 to 18 is when young people start questioning their sexuality, and it would seem entirely appropriate that a young Obi-Wan, as a human being, might do so as well. Perhaps more importantly for fandom purposes, Collins doesn't identify where this situation falls outside Star Wars canon.
In an lengthy Aug. 3 article, Micky Wooten -- who is technically CNS' new "Investigative Journalism Fellow" but started at the same time as the summer interns and has been doing intern-style work -- cheered a British man who smeared LGBT people by sharing an image that fashioned the pride flag into a swastika:
After sharing a photo on social media of LGBT pride flags arranged in the shape of a swastika, three Hampshire police officers arrested British war veteran Darren Brady for causing “anxiety.”
On June 26, former-actor-turned-conservative activist Laurence Fox tweeted a photo of four rainbow Pride flags rearranged to make a swastika. Fox was temporarily suspended from Twitter over the Tweet.
London Assembly member Caroline Russell called on the metro police to investigate Fox for his tweet.
CNS News contacted the Hampshire Constabulary to ask if police officers are taught that words can equate acts of physical violence, as implied by the female officer’s comments. Additionally, CNS News asked for the number of years of experience for each of the three arresting officers.
Yes, CNS actually spent money for Wootten to place international phone calls to report this story. He went on to huff that "This latest viral incident comes amidst a trend in UK policing of logging so-called 'hate incidents' that are not technically crimes but involve instances of wrong-think."
The interns did manage to squeeze in a few rounds of pestering. ConWebWatch has already noted how interns asked members of Congress if Biden should have visit Saudi Arabia and met with Mohammad bin Salman while making reference to the discontinued Keystone XL pipeline. After the gun massacres in May in Buffalo and Texas, interns -- based on the fact that both shooters were 18 -- started out by asking: "Federal law sets the legal drinking age at 21. Should federal law also make 21 the legal age for buying guns?" These senators got that question:
But the question got flipped around for others: "Under federal law, a person can buy a rifle at 18, but can’t buy alcohol until they’re 21. Should the drinking age be lowered to 18?" These members got that question:
The interns also asked (typically leading and biased) other questions as well:
“Majority Leader Schumer publicly declared in 2020 that Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had ‘released the whirlwind’ and ‘won’t know what hit them’ if they joined an opinion limiting abortion. Was that appropriate rhetoric for a Senate leader?”
“The Second Amendment gives people the right to keep and bear arms. Should the Constitution be amended to remove it?”
“The Constitution requires that the president must be at least 35 to take office. Do you think that there should be an age maximum?”
“The Women’s Health Protection Act would legalize abortion nationwide. Do you believe killing an unborn child is moral?”
“The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Do you believe that a baby has a right to a mother? Or are two fathers just as good as a mother and a father?”
“CDC data indicate that abortion disproportionately targets black babies. Do you think Congress should do something to protect those babies?”
“Senator, the economy has now contracted for two straight quarters. What do you believe is causing that contraction?”
“Should Speaker Pelosi have gone to Taiwan?”
“There are two babies eight months past conception: One is in the womb; and one is born. Are they both considered ‘persons?’ Or is personhood defined by the baby's location?”
“As the Senate moves on with the CHIPS bill, is there more that should be done to help American manufacturers compete with China?”
“The federal government collected record taxes in the first nine months of this fiscal year, but still ran a $515-billion-dollar deficit. Will Congress ever balance the budget?”
“The Ukrainian Center on Countering Disinformation has compiled a list of people they accuse of promoting Russian propaganda. The list includes a member of Congress and a former member as well. Do you believe that other members of Congress are promoting Russian propaganda about Ukraine?”
As usual, the list skews Republican, but the surprise is how many questions were targeted at only one or two members of Congress. It's hard to tell if that was a deliberate strategy or the interns simply running out of time. The pestering is mainly destined for resume-padding when the interns try to find real-life jobs.