The way conservatives have promoted stupid ideas on social issues to become the dominant narrative in the news is simple and interesting…and horrifying.
- Start with a cranky, bigoted idea that few people like.
- Create a group with a catchy name that does sound like something they’d like: Moms for Liberty, for instance, or The American College of Pediatricians. They sound sensible and reasonable, right?
- Find your few fellow like-minded cranks and bigots, and get them to sign up for your group. All it takes is a few to seed your cause.
- It used to be that you’d fire up your fax machine, but nowadays it’s even easier: get on Facebook. Facebook lets any ol’ crap get through.
- Start spamming the media with press alerts. Eventually, some gullible newspaper or television network — like Fox News — will invite you on. You’ll find more cranks and bigots.
- Eventually, a billionaire — a demographic that’s particularly rich in idiots — will find you and throw money at you, and you’re a success.
It’s been happening. The anti-choice movement in this country is driven by a small number of cranky zealots who have mastered this recipe, as illustrated by The American College of Pediatricians.
A small group of conservative doctors has sought to shape the nation’s most contentious policies on abortion and transgender rights by promoting views rejected by the medical establishment as scientific fact, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post that describe the group’s internal strategies.
The records show that after long struggling to attract members, the American College of Pediatricians gained outsize political influence in recent years, primarily by using conservative media as a megaphone in its quest to position the group as a reputable source of information.
The organization has successfully lobbied since 2021 for laws in more than a half-dozen states that ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, with its representatives testifying before state legislatures against the guidelines recommended by mainstream medical groups, according to its records. It gained further national prominence this year as one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit to limit access to mifepristone, a key abortion drug.
They’re a tiny group, barely qualified to pontificate on the subjects they promote, and is dominated by ideological opposition to abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and trans care. That’s the glue that holds them together, rather than an honest medical consensus.
Records from early 2022 show membership of the American College of Pediatricians at about 700 people — just over 60 percent of whom self-identified as possessing medical degrees, including some holding prominent positions as hospital chiefs and a state health commissioner. The group, citing privacy, would not comment on the size or makeup of its membership.
It’s a religious organization.
Joseph Zanga, founder of the American College of Pediatricians, who had led the American Academy of Pediatrics in the late 1990s, described the splinter organization as “a Judeo-Christian, traditional-values organization” in a 2003 interview with the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, which promoted conversion therapy. His organization’s core beliefs are “that life begins at conception, and that the traditional family unit, headed by an opposite-sex couple, poses far fewer risk factors in the adoption and raising of children,” he said at the time. Zanga declined a Post request for an interview.
They followed the Right-Wing Recipe, though, and got picked up by the worst of the worst of media, convincing audiences that they are legitimate and credible, when they are not.
The group found an eager audience through conservative media, including the Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham shows on Fox News, the documents detail. Since 2016, the American College of Pediatricians has been mentioned in more than 200 articles published by conservative news sites such as Breitbart, Daily Wire, the Epoch Times, the Washington Examiner, the Blaze and the Gateway Pundit, according to a Post analysis. Its profile has continued to rise. The volume of articles mentioning the group during the first four months of 2023 was five times that of the same period in 2020, according to GDELT’s online news database.
“They’re part of a coordinated, politically motivated anti-science ecosystem,” said Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine and an expert in misinformation.
One more element to add to the formula: when their strategems are revealed and exposed, it is an attack on them, and they can then deploy the “silent majority” gambit.
“There’s a silent majority out there that stands with us,” she said. “This act has awoken a sleeping giant.”
The numbers may say they’re a loud minority, but they can always claim that the majority of Americans are with them, they just don’t say it aloud. This was also a popular excuse from the early days of the internet: “the lurkers support me in email,” even when they didn’t, but how could you check?