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At Home With a Crappy Study

The MRC's designated New York Times-basher issues a report on the paper's coverage of Hillary Clinton that's full of dubious and unsupported claims.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/27/2006

On April 19, Clay Waters, director of the Media Research Center's Times Watch website -- its motto: "Documenting and Exposing the Liberal Political Agenda of the New York Times" -- released a study called "Hillary Clinton, At Home with The New York Times." In it, Waters claims that "the newspaper has used its seat more as a cheering section for Clinton than as a dispassionate perch for objective observation."

But Waters' study is full of unsupported claims, opinions stated as facts and examples that provide dubious support at best to his central claim.

Waters' first claim is that the Times refuses to properly identify Clinton as a liberal -- his gauge of liberalism: rankings by the American Conservative Union -- and falsely touts her moderate leanings, while conservative politicians are labeled as such. But in citing Sen. Rick Santorum as a counterexample of a Republican who is regularly labeled a conservative, Waters serves up two examples in which pointing out Santorum's conservative leanings is essential to the story. The first contrasts its description of Santorum as "conservative" by calling Democratic strategist Donna Brazile "garrulous" -- a less flattering description than the one given to Santorum; Waters would seem to have nothing to complain about there. In the second example supplied by Waters, a recounting of the controversy over NewsMax's false claim that the band U2 was holding a fundraiser for the senator, Santorum was called "conservative" in order to contrast the description of U2 singer Bono's "politically progressive" views.

Waters then turned his attention to his claim that the Times "was always eager to find rabid 'Clinton-haters' assaulting the defenseless Mrs. Clinton." The first example he cites is a Times article on the case of a convicted felon, Peter Paul, alleging that his donations to Clinton's 2000 senatorial campaign weren't properly reported "dispersed the blame away from Clinton" and painted Paul and his then-legal representative, Judicial Watch, as "dogged Clinton haters." But Waters offers no evidence that this is not the case -- that Clinton was, in fact, directly involved in what Paul alleges or that Paul (whose cause WorldNetDaily has long championed) and Judicial Watch, which has filed dozens of Clinton-related lawsuits over the years, are not "dogged Clinton haters."

The second example Waters serves up in this category is coverage of Edward Klein's Hillary-bashing tome, "The Truth About Hillary." But Waters' claim that "many conservatives acted against their immediate political interests by shunning Klein's book" is misleading because most of that conservative criticism came out after the Times article he attacks. The Times article was printed on June 17, 2005, before the book was officially released; John Podoretz's New York Post column calling the book "one of the most sordid volumes I've ever waded through" was printed on June 22, and Joe Scarborough canceled a planned appearance by Klein on his MSNBC show, claiming that "the stories were inflammatory, the sources were weak, and the book's relevance was less than zero," on June 27. In neither his study nor in his original Times Watch item, on which this section was based, did Waters cite any examples of conservatives "shunning Klein's book."

Waters further claimed that "Mickey Kaus at Slate eviscerated the Times' story" for pointing out that the book "advertised on a Web site that once got some money from Richard Mellon Scaife!" In fact, Kaus misleads Waters -- and everyone else -- with that statement. NewsMax's relationship with Scaife is much deeper than having "once got[ten] some money" from him; as ConWebWatch first reported, Scaife is an investor and third-largest shareholder in NewsMax. And given that NewsMax lost more than $10 million in its startup years, it's not unlikely that Scaife has kept NewsMax afloat to the tune of millions of dollars. As a result of the Times article, NewsMax was forced to publicly admit for the first time on its website to its Scaife connection.

Waters then moves on to his claim that the Times is " throwing roadblocks in front of her potential Republican Senate opponents." He suggested that the Times shouldn't have reported on the peccadilloes of the husband of Jeanine Pirro: "That took a bit of nerve, given Bill Clinton’s ethics and extramarital affairs." Does Waters really believe that this should not have been reported at all? Pirro was, after all, virtually unknown in New York state outside of the suburban New York City county where she served as a district attorney when she announced her candidacy. And does Waters really believe that people are not aware of Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior? Clinton's peccadilloes are known worldwide; those of Pirro's husband weren't known outside of Westchester County. Does Waters wish that this was the way it should have stayed? Apparently, reporting the truth is Waters' idea of a "roadblock."

Waters further attacks the Times because it "reveled in sleazy details about Pirro's husband." That's a rather ironic statement coming from an employee of an organization that has reveled in sleazy details about the Clintons. (You'll remember that NewsMax, which works in references to Sen. Robert Byrd's 60-years-past Ku Klux Klan association every chance it gets, ludicrously insisted that Pirro's husband's scandalous behavior was "old news," thus taking a similar path as Waters.)

Finally, Waters claims that Clinton's "most inflammatory remarks were either ignored or quickly brushed aside by the Times," citing the "most notorious" example of Clinton's remark comparing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to a plantation where dissent is not tolerated. Waters claims that "a fuller reading of her remark demonstrates how it was both offensive to Republicans and patronizing to her black audience" -- but that's his opinion, not a verifiable fact.

Waters makes other claims he doesn't back up. One of these is his assertion that when Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenged John Kerry's military record in 2004, "the Times didn't investigate the charges but instead rushed to Kerry's defense time and again, declaring the Swift Boat Veterans' allegations 'unsubstantiated' no less than 20 times in campaign coverage." Waters implies that the Swift Boat Vets' allegations were, in fact, substantiated, but again, he offers no evidence to back that up (though he linked to a 2004 Times Watch report making a similar claim); ConWebWatch has previously noted that Times Watch's sister MRC operation, CNSNews.com, uncritically repeated the Swift Boat Vets' claims.

Waters' report is more a summarization of MRC biases and spin points against Clinton and the Times than a "study" in the traditional sense -- which, of course, makes it mostly useless as a scholarly venture.

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