The Media Research Center starts a blog -- which is just as biased and questionably sourced as the regular MRC stuff.
By Terry Krepel
What a difference a year makes.
In July 2004, Media Research Center chief Brent Bozell was mocking the bloggers and other online sources (including ConWebWatch) used by David Brock in his book "The Republican Noise Machine," smearing them (and us) as "fringe radical left-wing activists." (Full disclosure: I work for Brock's Media Matters for America. And the challenge still stands for Bozell to name anything at ConWebWatch that is "fringe radical left-wing activist.")
Now, the MRC has its own blog -- NewsBusters, with the slogan "Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias," launched in early August. The MRC hired Matthew Sheffield and Greg Sheffield, brothers who were behind the Dan Rather-bashing site RatherBiased.com, to run it. The MRC claims that NewsBusters' goal is "to have NewsBusters play a leading role in blog media criticism by becoming the clearinghouse for all evidence of liberal media bias by joining to this formidable information store the contributions of already-established netizens as well as those who want to join in the web revolution." Indeed, many of NewsBusters' contributors aren't MRC employees (though the usual suspects, such as Tim Graham and Brent Baker, post regularly).
And therein lies a problem. Some of NewsBusters' contributors are so eager to smear that distortions and outright falsehoods make their way in -- which is surprising since you'd think that the MRC would want to enforce some sort of standard of accuracy on its contributors.
We got a glimpse of what to expect from NewsBusters in the first few days of its operation with its biased sendoffs for dead journalists. It served up headlines like "Pro-war Iraq journalist Steven Vincent, RIP" ("Unlike many (most?) journos covering the war in Iraq, Vincent supported the invasion," poster Clay Waters of MRC's TimesWatch noted) and "David Shaw, RIP" (Shaw wrote a series claiming that news coverage of abortion was tilted toward the "pro-choice" view), the death of ABC's Peter Jennings got only the headline "Peter Jennings Dies" and no "RIP" tag.
One offender is Vinny Fiore. In an Aug. 10 post making a NewsMax-like defense of Jeanine Pirro, candidate for Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat and, thus a conservative darling -- ConWebWatch has already documented NewsMax's love affair with Pirro -- misleadingly describes what President Clinton did in his Whitewater investigation-related testimony: "It is common knowledge that what Clinton did was commit perjury before a Grand Jury." Well, no. Perjury has a specific legal definition, and to be a perjurer, one must have been convicted of perjury. Lying under oath is not necessarily perjury. As Fiore himself later writes, Clinton was found in civil contempt of court, not perjury.
Another Fiore post, from Aug. 28, claims that antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan is "insisting" that "America is not a country worth dying for." But those aren't the words she said; rather, she said, "This country is not worth dying for," and there's evidence that the country Sheehan was talking about was Iraq, not the United States.
If this seems like nitpicking, note that later in his post, Fiore engages in similar hair-splitting, berating Sheehan for making what he called "obvious misstatements" about President Bush. After quoting Sheehan as saying that Bush "always said that if you are not for us, you are against us," Fiore adds: "Bush has never said the above in relation to the American public. He has always said, though, to governments that do not take a proactive hand in defeating terrorism, that 'Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorist [sic].'"
A Sept. 4 post by Fiore follows the Bush party line in bashing Reuters for daring to suggest Bush has any responsibility for the Katrina aftermath. He concludes: "It is why sites like NewsBusters, and the site that led me to this story, Little Green Footballs, are so integral to getting the facts as they exist."
ConWebWatch has previously noted Fiore's erroneous, alarmist claims that run contrary to "the facts as they exist" about Social Security.
Speaking of following the Bush party line, a Sept. 15 post by Noel Sheppard ("an economist, business owner and contributing writer for the Free Market Project," operated by the MRC) claimed that a Newsweek article "offered some dubious and misleading conclusions about America’s poverty rate" by noting that "after a decade of improvement in the 1990s, poverty in America is actually getting worse." As a rebuttal, Sheppard cited a report Sheppard wrote for the Free Market Project that heavily spun poverty numbers to make President Bush look good. "[T]he 2004 Census Bureau survey indicated that poverty in America is actually lower than the average rate achieved during the decade of the '90s," Sheppard wrote.
By comparing current poverty rates to a 10-year average of the 1990s, Sheppard obscures the fact -- also depicted in the census data -- that the poverty rate went down each year of the Clinton presidency and has increased each year of Bush's presidency. In other words, Newsweek was telling the truth, and Sheppard didn't want anyone to know it.
Sheppard has been promoting his new favorite pollster, Rasmussen Reports. In a Sept. 17 post citing a Rasmussen poll putting President Bush's approval rating several points higher than the record-low ratings cited by other pollsters, Sheppard claimed that "few media outlets pay attention to the poll conducted on a daily basis by Rasmussen Reports. Could it be that Rasmussen's numbers don't mirror the negativity of the other polling groups?" In a Sept. 18 post, Sheppard claims that "regardless of how accurately Rasmussen Reports predicted the 2004 election results, America's media continue to ignore their polling data."
As ConWebWatch has detailed, the reason Rasmussen doesn't get much mainstream play is that it produces conservative-skewed results, having been promoted by the likes of WorldNetDaily. That conservative-friendly 'tude is, presumably, the real reason Sheppard is so infatuated with Rasmussen.
Sheppard's defensive mechanisms are a reminder of what the MRC is ultimately all about: Protecting Republicans comes before telling the truth.
How far into the tank for Bush is NewsBusters? It's perhaps the only place where you'll read a defense of slow-to-react, thinly qualified (and eventually ousted) FEMA head Michael Brown. A Sept. 9 post by "political commentator" Dustin Hawkins takes issue with a Time magazine piece on Brown:
While accusing Brown of both padding his resume and having no emergency management expience [sic] prior to becoming FEMA head, TIME simply doesn't acknowledge his work as having "served as FEMA's Deputy Director and the agency's General Counsel. Shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Mr. Brown served on the President's Consequence Management Principal's Committee, which acted as the White House's policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks." Nor does TIME mention his handling of some 150+ handling of other declared disasters and emergencies prior to Hurricane Katrina and the job he did.
The NewsBusters denizens are as eager to smear liberals as they are to rush to Bush's defense. An Aug. 26 post by Dan Gainor (whose day job is director of the MRC's Free Market Project) implies that concerns that a mercury-based preservative in children's vaccines are linked to autism are merely "radical environmentalist claims" and a "left-wing crusade." In fact, articles at NewsMax and WorldNetDaily -- not known for being radical environmentalists -- have also advanced the claim.
For instance, a June 2003 WND article, reproduced from the late Moonie-owned magazine Insight (also not known for radical environmentalism), claimed that "vast majority of finger-pointing [about the causes of autism] has been directed at childhood vaccines as the culprit." And an April 2003 NewsMax column by Michael Arnold Glueck and Robert J. Cihak -- Cihak is a past president of the conservative Association of American Physicians and Surgeons -- quoted a study that found "a strong correlation ... between dosage of thimerosal from childhood vaccines and the incidence of autism, speech disorders, and cardiac arrest."
Of course, there's the requisite bashing of the mainstream media (or MSM in conservative parlance). Greg Sheffield was quick to bash CBS News' attempt at starting a blog, insisting in a Sept. 12 post that it "will devolve into a way for CBS to finally respond to charges made against it in the blogosphere." Sheffield doesn't say why it's a bad thing for CBS to have a blog-like forum to respond to bloggers.
Tim Graham commented in an Aug. 29 post on labeling at the Washington Post: "Ever notice how liberals like the Posties won't use 'pro-life' too much, because that would be calling the liberals 'anti-life'? Or they use 'anti-abortion,' but almost never 'pro-abortion'?"
Has Graham ever looked down the hall at his colleagues at CNSNews.com? A CNS article that very day used the terms "pro-abortion" and "pro-lifers" -- the same (though reversed) type of labeling bias Graham accuses the Post of engaging in (and ConWebWatch has documented). You'd think that since they're all in the same building, Graham would have better luck convincing his CNS co-workers to avoid engaging in labeling bias.
Of course, Graham is a senior editor for NewsBusters, and we see no inclination that he has enforced any sort of standards there beyond the MRC mantra of running defense for Bush and screaming "liberal bias!" on a regular basis.
And we haven't said a thing until now about "Gaggle," Greg Sheffield's comic strip that not only trades in lame liberal stereotypes, it has forgotten the basic mission of a comic strip: being funny.