ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

Fighting Against Nature

The MRC defended Peter Jennings and got criticized for it. So they've gone back to their old ways, rooting for the cancellation of "Politically Incorrect."

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/11/2001

The Media Research Center has joined the many who have discovered that no good deed goes unpunished.

In a spirit of unity following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks reminicient of reports of people calling to check on the well-being of long-ago-ex-spouses and significant others, the MRC came to the aid of ABC's Peter Jennings, defending him of charges of bias during his TV coverage that day.

In a Sept. 19 "Media Reality Check," MRC's Rich Noyes reports that "some ABC viewers thought they heard Peter Jennings take a couple of cheap shots at President Bush" on Sept. 11, when "Jennings was on the air for 17 hours, from shortly after 9:00 am EDT through 2:00 am the next day." MRC analysts reviewed tapes of that day, Noyes wrote, "and found no insults or disrespectful comments by the ABC anchor, although he did fret about why the President had not returned to Washington in the middle of the day."

MRC's defense got some good mainstream press after Rush Limbaugh repeated the alleged Jennings remarks on his radio show, including a story in the Washington Post, and MRC seemed especially tickled to be the main source disproving the remarks at an urban legend-debunking site.

However, some MRC devotees, trapped in their cognitive dissonance, didn't like the fact that the MRC was defending Jennings, forcing the MRC to defend its behavior. As Brent Baker wrote in the Oct. 1 CyberAlert:

... (M)any e-mail writers suggested the bias came through the tone and facial expressions shown by Jennings. That’s very subjective and intuitive. With such an important story the MRC would be poorly serving our audience if we lowered our standards from tracking what is actually said by a reporter to intuiting his or her mood.

... (I)n the hours and days after the terrorist attacks a series of bizarre and preposterous claims were made in e-mails and elsewhere about what Jennings said on the air. Many included full sentence statements from Jennings within quote marks. That led people to demand that the MRC expose Jennings and then to ask why we were conspiring to cover up his "treason."

That put the MRC in a difficult position since we normally are critical of journalists, but in this case realized from our recollections of watching the live coverage that the claims did not sound accurate. So, we decided to review the coverage to definitively determine what Jennings really said.

All else being equal, we would have done something on his demands to see and hear immediately from Bush and how they illustrated the way the networks have turned the presidency into the empathizer in chief, putting his public appearance and words ahead of him making important decisions at closed meetings.

But, and this is the big but, the claims about what he said were so ludicrously distorted, to the extent that we feared that many really believed what they heard or read, that we felt correcting the record was most important.

All of that sounds great, except for the part about lowering standards "from tracking what is actually said by a reporter to intuiting his or her mood." MRC does this regularly, maining in the form of going beyond words to extrapolate the mood and/or agenda of whomever they're criticizing. On Aug. 30, for example, a CyberAlert citing a poll of media professionals inwhich 59 percent reported being "moderate" (as compared to 25 percent who identified themselves as "liberal" and 6 percent as "conservative") got the following speculative response from the MRC's Brent Baker: "I’d bet many of those who said "moderate" are actually quite liberal given how reporters so often tagged Senator (James) Jeffords as a 'moderate' and consider Gary Condit to be 'conservative.'"

(Some, on the other hand, choose to believe what they want about Jennings regardless of the record. This would include WorldNetDaily's Hugh Hewitt, spends his Oct. 2 column chronicling alleged "distasteful remarks" and "disingenuous defenses." He likes to think that Jennings "sniffed his way through the day of the attack, remarking that some presidents are better than others at rallying the country. He is said to be hurt that millions of viewers thought him objectionable. He was." The facts just don't seem to bother Hewitt one whit.)

All that criticism from their own side must have gotten to them -- Baker tries to pull the plug on the debate by exhorting all involved to "move on and monitor Jennings for any future anti-conservative or pro-liberal bias" -- because they're gone back to their old ways. Baker is happy that David Letterman is making Clinton jokes again, not just because it marks "a sure sign things are returning to normal," as he writes in his Sept. 27 CyberAlert, because it means he can resume his own snide comments about the man. (And since Baker almost always runs Top 10 excerpts as the last CyberAlert item, his juvenile remarks collide with the end-of-column notice that the MRC is an "educational foundation." Glad to see those tax-deductible donations don't go to waste, eh?)

It also means that the folks at MRC are pretty much the only folks on the ConWeb rooting for the cancellation of Bill Maher's ABC show "Politically Incorrect."

In the very same Oct.1 CyberAlert used to defend its defense of Jennings, Baker tries to make a case for the death of "PI" by running excerpts of a letter to the editor in the Washington Post by the management of the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., that stopped airing the show after Maher's remarks calling the American military cowardly for fighting battles and launching missiles from thousands of miles away, as well as a long excerpt of a Jonah Goldberg column in National Review Online in which he declares that "Politically Incorrect deserves to be canceled more than any show not currently on the WB." Baker himself then concludes that "Indeed, while Maher’s show may not be produced by ABC News, its advocacy of liberal positions and nightly denigration of conservatives, should long ago have led ABC to either correct the imbalance or replace the program."

MRC chief L. Brent Bozell III also weighs in on the "perpetually snide" Maher in an Oct. 2 column. While he, like Baker, doesn't explicitly call for Maher's cancellation, he rails against Maher's "regularly kooky left-wing remarks" and alleged slights to conservatives and concludes: "If 'Politically Incorrect' falls like a tree in its obscure late-night forest, will anybody hear it? Even if it survives, conservatives ought to skip out on the smackdown."

Bozell, Baker and Goldberg are pretty much alone right now in continuing to demand Maher's head on a pike. Fellow ConWeb denziens NewsMax gave up its bordering-on-xenophobic fight against any dissent and Maher in particular after they realized they agreed with the guy, if only because they found a way to turn his comments around into Clinton-bashing. As columnist Neil Boortz wrote Oct. 2: "Come on, folks. There is some basis for that remark when you consider who ordered the launch – none other than Bill Clinton!"

And WorldNetDaily, already under fire for post-attack columns it ran, never joined the censorship bandwagon, though WND editor Joseph Farah did take the time Sept. 26 to call Maher's show "thoroughly unfunny and tasteless" and added, "I've seen him say a lot worse than that plenty of times."

The ConWeb also gave scant attention to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's remarks that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and that this is not a time for remarks like that. It never is."

WorldNetDaily did nothing with it. NewsMax ran a fairly straight story on it while they were in Maher kiss-up mode. CNS did nothing, but MRC, in an Oct. 5 Cyber Alert, caught ABC's "Nightline" contradicting itself about how threatening the remarks were and who they applied to. (The press conference at which Fleischer made his remarks also touched on statements by Louisiana Republican congressman John Cooksey, who said that everyone "that's got a diaper on his head" needs to be investigated, and Jerry Falwell.)

Writes MRC's Baker at the end of the item: "So, it’s inappropriate to say Americans should 'watch what they say' and not call the U.S. military and political leaders "cowards," but it’s perfectly fine to call for restricting speech that impugns an ethnic group? Sounds like Koppel is just drawing the anti-free speech line, which he and Donvan were condemning, at a different place." And it sounds like Baker would have those two attitudes in opposite places on that free-speech line.

Ultimately, though, it's clear that the MRC is going to use weasel words to keep from getting caught stating their beliefs. Baker and Bozell are never going to put their money where their mouths are and demand that "Politically Incorrect" be canceled, though it's clearly what they want. Instead, they will rant about Bill Maher 'til the cows come home and hope their fans get the hint and take up the banner so they don't have to dirty their hands with the actual work of putting their beliefs into action.

A little intellectual honesty is always nice, but as the MRC demonstrates, that's hard to find on the ConWeb.

Send this page to:
Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-01 Terry Krepel