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Stories Gone Bad: The MRC's Double Standard

The Media Research Center bashes ABC News for a story it claims is wrong -- but a story the MRC promoted is quietly buried when it turned out to be false.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/31/2006

When questions were raised about an ABC News report that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was "in the mix" of a corruption investigation centering around disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Media Research Center was right there to repeat every attack and denial:

  • A May 25 NewsBusters post by Tim Graham was quick to attack Brian Ross, the ABC correspondent who first reported the story: "Is ABC or Brian Ross so perfect and unassailably objective that we can believe their anonymous sources more than the government here? Or can they occasionally display an overactive and perhaps ideological sense of public corruption at times?"
  • A May 26 NewsBusters post by Brent Baker (repeated as a CyberAlert item that day) claimed that ABC's "World News Tonight" "hyperbolically led" with the Hastert story, adding that the report "didn’t sound as ominous" as what ABC originally reported: "Doesn't 'not a formal target' contradict Ross' original claim that the 'bribery investigation now includes' Hastert?"
  • A May 26 NewsBusters post by Noel Sheppard repeated radio host Laura Ingraham's attack on the ABC story: "This is an example of an agenda driven story without fact-checking, and with shoddy sourcing."
  • A May 26 NewsBusters post by Graham complained that ABC gave the Hastert bigger play than an investigation into Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, adding that "it is quite obvious there is some serious liberal bias by placement here."
  • A May 27 NewsBusters post by Graham noted "how isolated ABC is on their embarrassing assertion" about Hastert, adding that "Power Line's John Hinderaker is right on about how this Ross story is a good example about how shaky anonymous-sources stories can be."
  • A May 29 NewsBusters post by Baker (also appearing in a May 30 CyberAlert) repeated Fox News' Brit Hume's bashing of his former employer: "They ought to back off this story, and the sooner the better."
  • A May 26 MRC press release quotes MRC chief Brent Bozell calling the story "very similar to CBS’s and Dan Rather’s false story about George Bush’s National Guard service" and demanding that ABC "formally retract its unfounded story about Speaker Hastert and apologize for its sloppy and politically slanted reporting."

Meanwhile, on May 19, the conservative-leaning Canadian newspaper the National Post reported: "Human rights groups are raising alarms over a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear coloured badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims."

Shortly thereafter, Noel Sheppard wrote in a NewsBusters post the same day:

The question is: will America’s media report this? At this point six hours after the National Post article was published, a Google news search identified that, other than Canadian and German news sites, no major American media apart from blogs have covered this story. Moreover, if someone from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A. was questionned on this matter, American media can’t be in the dark on this issue.

As such, where is the media outrage concerning this extremely heinous move by the current extremists in Iran?

In the comments section, Sheppard added in response to another commenter: "Still think this is a bogus story, Scotty...or just one that the drive-by media aren't going to inform people about?"

Sheppard, by the way, is no outsider among the bloggers the MRC assembled for NewsBusters; he is listed as a NewsBusters contributing editor, as well as a contributing writer to the MRC's Business & Media Institute (formerly known as the Free Market Project).

After Sheppard made his post, however, the story unraveled. WorldNetDaily, not always known for reporting inconvenient facts, pointed out in a May 20 article that the story was being denied by the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa as well as "several experts on the workings of the Islamic regime." The blog High Clearing noted that while the story quoted a "Mostafa Pourhardani, Minister of Islamic Orientation," there is nobody by that name in the Iranian cabinet (even as the New York Post repeated the article despite the questions being raised bout it). Amir Teheri, the person with whom the story originated, was revealed to be backed by Benador Associates, a public relations firm that represents several neoconserative politicians and advisers, so he presumably has a vested interest in making Iran look as bad as possible. (Teheri still stands by his story.)

What about the confirmation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that Sheppard touted? The Jewish Week talked to a Simon Wiesenthal Center representative, who "denied he had ever confirmed to the National Post the allegations about mandated dress for religious minorities."

Finally, on May 24, the National Post retracted the story.

So, where was the MRC while all of this going on? Was it devoting multiple NewsBusters posts to the National Post's perfidy? Did it issue a press release demanding an apology for running it? Was Brent Bozell comparing Amir Teheri to Dan Rather?

No, no, and no. Sheppard's post is the only place on any MRC website that addresses the Iran-badges story. Five days later, NewsBusters executive editor Matthew Sheffield posted an two-sentence addendum to the post noting that the story has been retracted. Neither he nor Sheppard could be bothered to note that in a fresh post that NewsBusters' readers would actually notice.

Then again, they're too busy beating up on ABC News for allegedly doing the exact same thing the National Post did. Its own mistakes and mea culpas get buried (as ConWebWatch has previously noted).

This serves as yet another reminder that the MRC cares about politics, not journalism. It lies in wait for only those it has deemed liberal journalists; inaccurate or biased conservative journalists get a free pass. That is the spirit in which much of its media criticism should be taken: The purpose of the MRC is to attack liberals, actual or otherwise. That some of those purported liberals are journalists is almost beside the point. Conservatives are trying to build a case for attacking Iran over its nuclear program -- WorldNetDaily, for instance, has been agitating for it for months, which makes it all the more surprising that it was quick to raise doubts about the Taheri story -- and the fallout from a false claim regarding Iran would certainly interfere with that.

The rest of the ConWeb, meanwhile, has a mixed record on this story. We've already noted WND's quick response. NewsMax did its own article on May 19, then followed up with a May 25 article noting the National Post's retraction. The David Horowitz network of websites reprinted NewsMax's original report on its Discover The Networks site, followed by a lengthy May 24 FrontPageMag article by Andrew G. Bostom is predicated on the Iran badges story being true. Even though the story was well on its way to falling apart, the only hint Bostom provides that his story was problematic is a tiny parenthetical insertion that the story is "now disputed."

But Horowitz plays fast and loose with the facts (as has been amply documented). The MRC, by its criticism of the media when it gets things wrong, creates a higher standard that it will get things right itself, or at least admit when it doesn't. Burying the fact that a story it promoted turned out to be false falls way short of that expectation.

Again: The MRC doesn't care about journalism. If it did, you'd never hear the end of Amir Teheri.

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