Correction: Hollywood-Heartbeat Law story – Washington Post

Correction: Hollywood-Heartbeat Law story - Washington Post

Fact-Checkers Give Stacey Abrams a Pass on Victory Claim

Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP X Story Stream recent articles Video: Global Warming Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit … Article: Global Warming Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit … Article: Global Warming Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit … Entry: Global Warming Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit … Video: Global Warming Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit … Ever since she narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race six months ago, Stacey Abrams has been claiming that she “won” the election. Most recently, on April 28 she told The New York Times Magazine, “I cannot say that everybody who tried to cast a ballot would’ve voted for me, but if you look at the totality of the information, it is sufficient to demonstrate that so many people were disenfranchised and disengaged by the very act of the person who won the election that I feel comfortable now saying, ‘I won.”

This absurd declaration is predicated on a cascading series of misleading statements Abrams is making about voter disenfranchisement. A May 15 New York Times op-ed by Abrams, headlined, “We Cannot Resign Ourselves to Dismay and Disenfranchisement,” details more of these disputable and tendentious claims.

The anti-abortion legislation is part of a concerted effort by pro-life groups to mount an attack on Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Last Tuesday, Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the state’s controversial “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill. Days later, Alabama passed an even more stringent bill banning abortions except in cases when a woman's health is at risk; rape and incest are not exceptions to the law. Missouri quickly followed suit with a law that bans abortion after eight weeks. 

Abrams settles IRS debt as she preps for another run for office

This kind of thing began even before the campaign had ended. As if to inoculate herself, Abrams accused her opponent, Brian Kemp, of fostering an “atmosphere of fear” during a debate two weeks before Election Day. Georgia voters, she proclaimed, “have been purged, they have been suppressed, they have been scared.”

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With all the attention Abrams is getting as a rising Democratic Party star and a rumored contender for the party’s 2020 vice presidential slot, one would think that her eyebrow-raising claims about the Georgia election would be getting more scrutiny. Specifically, there is a special kind of journalist that exists solely to verify the factual statements made by politicians.

An even more restrictive bill in neighboring Alabama was proposed (and subsequently signed) last week. If implemented, Alabama doctors providing abortions could face felony charges and up to 99 years imprisonment. Women would be exempt from criminal or civil liability. The Georgia law is less clear about what could happen to women. Unlike the Alabama law, the legislation in Georgia does not specifically exempt women.

Video: 2020 Dems criticize restrictive abortion laws

Incredibly, however, not a single major media fact checker has taken Abrams to task for asserting that she “won” the election, a claim that rests on various empirical assumptions. PolitiFact hasn’t done it. hasn’t done it. Snopes? Nope. The paper of record hasn’t gone on record here. Somewhat to its credit, the Washington Post did fact-check some tangentially related falsehoods about voter suppression in Georgia when Hillary Clinton tried to claim she lost 2016 for unfair reasons. But Abrams herself has never been questioned.

“Our program is in many ways a national arts and culture organization, and the awards are determined by that,” says Jeffrey Jones, who directs the Peabody Awards, and teaches entertainment and media at the University of Georgia. “We can’t control what crazy-ass politicians do and you can quote me on that.”

Stacey Abrams weighs in on abortion bans, boycotts and California

Let’s start with her most basic declaration. She did, in fact, lose the election by 50,000 votes. Although that’s a close margin in an election where millions of votes were cast, it’s not close enough to seriously dispute who the victor was. So the first response would be that Abrams’ claim that she “won” the election is rhetorical.

When pressed by the New York Times Magazine, Abrams makes some concessions. “I have no empirical evidence that I would have achieved a higher number of votes. However, I have sufficient, and I think legally sufficient, doubt about the process to say that it was not a fair election,” she said. She also tries to move “I won” in this context to the realm of the entirely metaphorical. “My larger point is, look, I won because we transformed the electorate, we turned out people who had never voted, we outmatched every Democrat in Georgia history,” she adds.

In the Trump era, when everything is political, the Peabodys are no exception. The 78-year-old institution honoring film and TV this year finds itself at the center of a cultural maelstrom. Several states, including Georgia, where the Peabodys are based at the University of Georgia, have passed legislation restricting abortion.

One might say that taking this literally when Abrams is framing her claim with such caveats doesn’t merit a fact check. Yet, this hasn’t always stopped fact checkers from being hyper-literal to the point of absolute obtuseness — so long as the headline is bad for the kind of politicians fact checkers don’t like.

But unlike the small handful of production companies who have taken a stand, the vast majority of the filmmakers and executives who are arguably closest to the Georgia film community are remaining tight-lipped on the heated issue. Of the more than six dozen production companies, filmmakers and actors currently shooting or about to shoot in the state that THR reached out to for this story, only two responded, Imagine Entertainment and Ozark star and producer Jason Bateman. Notably absent from the discussion is Tyler Perry, who operates a massive 330-acre studio in Atlanta and provides jobs for hundreds of people there. Says one on-the-ground source, "He likes to stay way below the radar." The overall hushed reaction is surprising considering Hollywood's response to Georgia's anti-LGBTQ bill three years ago. Disney and Netflix threatened to pull their projects from the state if the law was passed, and leading entertainment companies including Time Warner, NBCUniversal, Sony, Lionsgate and AMC publicly denounced the bill. "They got into the gay and transgender rights debate, so why is it that no major studios are taking a stand on a woman’s right to govern her own body?" says one executive who works with multiple studios.

As Abortion Bans Spread, Hollywood Debates How to Protest Them

To give one example, PolitiFact once declared Sen. Rand Paul “FALSE” for saying “The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year.” Paul’s figures were not only basically correct, he slightly understated the actual dollar amounts. PolitiFact’s reasoning was that because Paul used the more colloquial verb “makes” and didn’t specify the figures were for total compensation rather than just salary, he was being misleading. Which is ridiculous, given that the average taxpayer is unlikely to be more sympathetic once they learned federal employees merely earned an additional $30,000 a year in salary on average and the rest of the disparity is because federal workers get a benefits package worth four times the private sector average.

It’s safe to say in its unnecessary degree of literalism, PolitiFact was more misleading than Paul. Evaluating Stacey Abrams’ comments, there’s far better case to be made that her repeatedly claiming she “won” the election — especially when she herself concedes when challenged that “I have no empirical evidence that I would have achieved a higher number of votes” — is misleading, and perhaps willfully so. 

Since Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the so-called "heartbeat" bill last Tuesday, banning abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, most major studios that regularly take advantage of Georgia's generous 30 percent tax incentives have stayed quiet on the matter, and none have altered production plans. In fact, some filmmakers have announced publicly that they intend to move forward with their shoots in the state but at the same time have pledged to donate money to organizations fighting the legislation, namely the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia. Earlier this week, J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele vowed to donate 100 percent of their episodic fees on their upcoming HBO drama Lovecraft County to both groups, while producers Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping — who will soon film Fox's Fear Street trilogy and Starz' drama series P-Valley in the state — have committed to giving a "significant donation" to the latter organization.

And if we want to talk about literalism versus context, it might be said no politician has brought out fact checkers’ overwrought literalism more than Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s ongoing analysis claims, as of this writing, “In 828 days, President Trump has made 10,111  false or misleading claims” and The New York Times has published similarly eye-popping tallies. While it’s difficult to defend Trump’s relationship with the facts, to claim he has lied that often you have to be tone-deaf to nuance and context to the point of absurdity.

For instance, according to the Post, this is one of Trump’s lies: “It was found that I had more Indian blood in me than [Elizabeth Warren] did. And then it was determined that I had none.” Most reasonable people would read this and understand that Trump, famous for taunting adversaries, is employing hyperbole to roast Sen. Warren over her claims that she was Native American — claims she apparently used to advance her career in academia — when it turns out that Warren, by her own admission, may be as little as 1/1024th Native American. The Post is recasting an obvious joke — how, exactly, does one have less than no Indian blood? — into a misleading statement.

Joining them now is Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, who are slated to film the Amy Adams-led Netflix movie Hillbilly Elegy in the state later this month. "After much thought and deliberation, we decided to continue with shooting Hillbilly Elegy in Georgia next month," the Imagine Entertainment partners tell The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive statement. "We felt we could not abandon the hundreds of women, and men, whose means of support depend on this production – including those who directly contribute on the film, and the businesses in the community that sustain the production. We see Governor Kemp’s bill as a direct attack on women’s rights, and we will be making a donation to the ACLU to support their battle against this oppressive legislation. Should this law go into effect in January, we will boycott the state as a production center."

Drill down into Trump fact checks and you find a lot more of this. Reporters are tired of hearing the cliché about Trump, but this kind of thing is perfectly illustrative of taking him literally and not seriously. If we apply these standards of literalism evenly, Abrams is more than due for a fact check, regardless of any rhetorical throat clearing that follows the claim she “won.”

Still, those studios have several projects filming in Georgia in the meantime. Netflix has the most projects of any single company. Its highest profile series to shoot in the state is Stranger Things, though the sci-fi drama wrapped production on its upcoming third season last summer and has yet to be officially renewed for a fourth season. The streamer does, however, have several projects currently shooting there: Debby Ryan dramedy Insatiable (castmember Alyssa Milano has been vocal and called for a sex strike), Dolly Parton's holiday musical Christmas on the Square, hybrid animation series The Liberator and rom-com Holidate, starring Kristin Chenoweth, Emma Roberts, Jessica Capshaw and Andrew Bachelor. The Jenji Kohan-produced comedy series Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters is also scheduled to film in Georgia later this year.

Fine, let’s have a go at the broader context and assume Abrams is saying “I won” based on the belief that the process was unfair and that there was voter suppression. In her “non-concession speech” last fall, Abrams claimed, “Despite a record high population in Georgia, more than a million citizens found their names stripped from the rolls by the secretary of state.” Adding to the suspicion is the fact that the secretary of state who did this is Brian Kemp, her opponent in the election. It is indeed true that Kemp’s office purged 1.4 million voter registrations in Georgia since 2010.

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But it is misleading to suggest that by removing voters from the rolls Kemp was doing anything suspect. Secretaries of state are required by law to purge voter registrations. “The 1993 National Voter Registration Act mandates that state and local elections officers keep voter registration lists accurate by removing the names of people who die, move or fail in successive elections to vote. Voters who’ve been convicted of a felony, ruled mentally incompetent or found to be noncitizens also can be removed,” notes a joint Carnegie-Knight News21 report on the Center for Public Integrity’s website. “The U.S. Election Assistance Commission reported that 15 million names were scrubbed from the lists nationally in 2014.”

So, the purging of voter rolls in Georgia was not abnormal, and in fact, is required by federal law. Nonetheless, in her recent New York Times op-ed Abrams again makes the unsupported claim that this is being done for suspect purposes. “Across the country, voter purges employ an easily manipulated ‘use it or lose it’ rule, under which eligible voters who exercised their First Amendment right to abstain from voting in prior elections can be booted off the rolls,” she writes.

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Yet there’s no real reason to believe that this rule is being “manipulated.” According to the same Carnegie-Knight News21 report, “News21 analyzed lists of nearly 50 million registered voters from a dozen states, and 7 million more who were removed over the last year. By comparing voter registration and purge lists against U.S. Census data, News21 found no national or statewide pattern of discrimination against voters based on race, ethnicity, poverty, age or surname.”

“After much thought and deliberation, we decided to continue with shooting Hillbilly Elegy in Georgia next month,” the Imagine Entertainment partners told THR in an exclusive statement. “We felt we could not abandon the hundreds of women, and men, whose means of support depend on this production – including those who directly contribute on the film, and the businesses in the community that sustain the production.”

Despite various highly selective, deliberately chosen data points that have been thrown around by Abrams and her supporters, there’s no good reason to believe that any major voter suppression efforts occurred in Georgia. Quite the opposite.

“While I understand the calls for a boycott in Georgia, Im going to follow a different path,” Abrams told the Los Angeles Times. “I think the superior opportunity for Georgia, in the specific, is to actually use the entertainment industrys energy to support and fund the work that we need to do on the ground because Georgia is on the cusp of being able to transform our political system.”

“If Georgia’s Brian Kemp is a vote suppressor, he’s the least successful vote suppressor alive. Turnout in Georgia was immense. In the previous gubernatorial election, Republican Nathan Deal won with 1.3 million votes. In November, Abrams lost with 1.9 million votes,” observes National Review’s David French. “There were roughly 2.5 million total votes cast in 2014. In 2018, more than 3.9 million Georgians voted. That almost matches the total votes cast for president in 2016.”

Director Ron Howard and actor Jason Bateman both want to have their cake and eat it too by continuing to shoot in the state of Georgia while donating money to organizations that will fight the newly-enacted fetal heartbeat bill that bans abortion the moment doctors detect an unborn childs heartbeat in the mothers womb.

Moreover, in Kemp’s eight-year tenure as secretary of state, African-American voter registration has surged, increasing by 31 percent — this translates into 462,000 new voters, which is a higher total than for whites. And though the Atlanta Constitution, Georgia’s dominant newspaper, has parroted the Democrats’ claims, when it came time to actually find some of these voters who had been “suppressed” and “scared,” it ran into a bit of a problem. The voters purged from the rolls were either dead, no longer living in Georgia, or apathetic.

“We see Governor Kemps bill as a direct attack on womens rights, and we will be making a donation to the ACLU to support their battle against this oppressive legislation,” the statement continued. “Should this law go into effect in January, we will boycott the state as a production center.”

“The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tried last week to get in touch with 50 people randomly chosen from the list of 2017’s purged voters,” the paper reported. “Twenty clearly would be ineligible to vote in Georgia: 17 moved out of state, two were convicted of felonies and one had died. Most of the rest left a trail of address changes and disconnected telephone numbers.”

At least for now, the boycott champions appear to be in the minority. Both filmmakers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams announced last week that they will still be shooting their show, “Lovecraft County,” in Georgia while donating money to organizations that will fight the law in court.

Suffice it to say, it would be an unnecessary errand at this point to revisit what fact checkers said about Trump’s claims of voter fraud in 2016, much less revisit the general media opprobrium when he said he wouldn’t automatically accept the results of the 2016 election.

Georgia officials note that neither Blown Deadline Productions nor Duplass Brothers Productions has ever filmed in their state. According to the Associated Press, “none of the major film or television studios have commented on the issue or altered production plans” in the week after the heartbeat bill became law. Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams still plan to film their HBO show "Lovecraft County" in Georgia in the coming weeks, taking a cue from Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who fell just short of defeating Kemp in the governors race in November.

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Yet, here we are in 2019 and The New York Times is running headlines such as, “Why Stacey Abrams is still saying she won” and letting her mislead readers on the op-ed page, and the media fact checkers are missing in action. Somebody should give Abrams a towering trouser inferno and ladle on some Pinocchios. She’s earned it.

SPEED READ: Five production companies are boycotting Georgia after it passed a "heartbeat" bill. Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams still plan to film "Lovecraft County" in the state but will donate some proceeds to groups challenging the law. Seven states passed laws this year to ban most abortions. Louisiana and Missouri could be next.   Within a week of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, some Hollywood leaders are following through on their threats to boycott the state.

Stacey Abrams has repaid the tax debt she owed to the Internal Revenue Service, closing off a potential weakness as she considers a run for the White House or a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp. 

Abrams tweeted on Wednesday, “I respect the call for a boycott on Georgia, but I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change.” Instead, Abrams argued, Hollywood should help her “raise an army of resistance that wins in the courts and at the ballot. … We are placed in the unique position to fund [Republicans] defeat by investing in … more progressive voices becoming Georgia voters, more activists and providers funded by entertainment’s explosion, more women rising up to claim their rights.”

The Democrat said through a spokesman Thursday that she retired the roughly $54,000 she owed to the IRS, as well as other credit card and student loan debt she reported during last year’s election run.

RELATED Abortion Backlash: 2 States Threaten to Boycott Alabama Not Just Massachusetts: 10 Other States Have Abortion Bans Still on the Books After GAO Abortion Report, States Dispute Findings and Defend Violations States Push the Limits of Abortion Rights and Restrictions For a Glimpse Into Trumps New Era of Title X, Look at Texas Meanwhile, Kemp postponed a trip to Los Angeles meant to promote film and TV in Georgia. His office says he’s rescheduled for the fall.

“Leader Abrams has been able to resolve her debt,” Abrams spokesman Seth Bringman said, “and she will continue to speak openly about the challenges she faced — challenges that are all too common for Americans and their families.”

As The New York Times reported, Georgia and six other states — including Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Utah — passed laws this year to ban abortions in most cases. Just this week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in almost every case, including rape and incest. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Louisiana and Missouri advanced similar bills.

Bringman was responding to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution query about Abrams’ finances, which have improved with the release of a book that reached The New York Times best-selling list and lucrative speaking engagements following her defeat.  

Five production companies — Killer Films, Blown Deadline Productions, Duplass Brothers Productions, Colorforce and CounterNarrative — announced they will not film in the state, which has become a prime location for major films and TV shows, including AMCs “The Walking Dead,” Netflixs “Stranger Things,” the FX show “Atlanta” and a series of Marvel superhero blockbusters.

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Retiring the debt could choke off one of the most forceful criticisms she faced last year as she prepares for another electoral bid. Abrams ruled out a U.S. Senate bid this month but hasn’t decided yet whether she will run for president or governor. 

Abrams revealed her debt to the IRS, as well as about $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt, in financial documents in March 2018 that showed her net worth was roughly $110,000.

At the time, Abrams said she deferred the tax payments in 2015 and 2016 to help pay her family’s medical expenses and that she was on a payment plan to settle the debts. 

Rather than downplaying the topic on the campaign trail, Abrams took the unusual step of speaking openly about her financial struggles to try to connect with voters. 

She penned a column embracing the debt that gained national attention, and she invoked it in attacks against her wealthier political rivals. She also repeatedly cited her money problems to show voters that she faces the same troubles they do. 

“Sometimes we stumble and we have to have a leader who understands those struggles,” she said at one meeting. “Because falling down does not mean you have to stay there — and stay silent.”

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Her debt became a favorite GOP target once Abrams secured her party’s nomination, as Republicans questioned whether she could effectively manage the state’s $26 billion budget if she struggled to meet her personal financial responsibilities. 

“Stacey Abrams wants to raise your taxes,” one TV attack asserted, “but didn’t pay hers.” 

Shortly after he won the GOP nomination, Kemp highlighted records that showed Abrams, a tax attorney, donated $50,000 of her own money to help launch her campaign while she carried a tax debt. 

Abrams did not violate any law and dismissed the notion that she crossed ethical boundaries. But she said last year that while delaying past IRS payments to help her parents wasn’t the  “smartest move,” it gave her flexibility to support them. 

On the campaign trail, she often opened up about her financial struggles by recounting her painful discovery at Spelman College that missed credit card payments could turn modest charges into major debts.

And she tried to draw a contrast between her more limited financial means and Kemp and the other millionaires who ran for statewide office in Georgia last year. 

“For the folks that I want to represent, they know these challenges intimately,” she said at one stop. “And they are excited to know that there’s someone running for office who understands their real lives and has real plans to address them.”

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