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Swing to the Right

With the addition of bigger-name bloggers, NewsBusters has taken a hard-right turn -- and a step down in accuracy and civility.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/29/2006
Updated 8/30/2006

As the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog has grown in popularity -- an Aug. 3 post by executive editor Matthew Sheffield declared that it was "one of the top 10 conservative blogs and one of the top 100 blogs in the world according to Technorati" -- it has attracted more attention from other established conservative bloggers. Some of them have even been invited to blog (or, at least, repeat posts from their own blogs) at NewsBusters.

If these additions to NewsBusters' stable of bloggers are being held to any consistent standard, however, it's difficult to tell. A number of them, it seems, are prone to the same uber-partisan rants of dubious accuracy at NewsBusters -- with the backing of a multimillion-dollar organization and an editorial staff -- as on their own personal blogs.

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Going to Extremes

The leading exhibit is Dan Riehl, who runs the blog Riehl World View; according to his NewsBusters profile, he joined around Aug. 11. In an Aug. 25 NewsBusters post, headlined "Allen Critic S. R. Sidarth Exposed," Riehl asserted that Sidarth -- the University of Virginia student videotaping Republican Sen. George Allen's campaign for Allen's opponent, James Webb, whom Allen famously called a "macaca," a racial insult in some circles -- was "making fun of an Hispanic William & Mary student's death."

But the UVA discussion board Riehl cited contains no racial slurs on Sidarth's part, and no actual "making fun" either. Sidarth started the thread by merely linking to an article about the W&M student's death -- but offering no comment, racial or otherwise, beyond the link. Later in the thread, when the discussion shifted to sports, Sidarth added another post: "Al Groh left the NFL to coach UVA." The article on the student's death, by the way, offers no obvious clue that the dead student was Hispanic; his last name, Reyno, is not an obviously Hispanic name.

So Riehl "exposed" Sidarth as nothing other than someone who likes football and, apparently, doesn't like William & Mary, which is much more suggestive of a college rivalry than racism. In an update to the post, Riehl tried to defend it:

I understand some are questioning the point of this post, so please allow me to clear this up from my point of view. The Washington Post has been showing us this sensitive, hurt young man named SR Sidarth for a week. Now, we find out that Sidarth is fully capable of using the death of another individual, who also happened to be Hispanic, as a means of feeding his ego and touting his school.


But I am addressing his obvious lack of sensitivity, not calling him a racist. Frankly, I think mocking a young man's death is just a bit more repugnant than calling someone a silly name. And if you wish to suggest he wasn't mocking the man's death by posting that story so it could be held up to ridicule, then you need to either read the thread, or consider extending that same generousity to Senator Allen.

But by repeatedly asserting the alleged ethnicity of the dead student -- it's still unclear where Riehl got the idea that he was Hispanic -- Riehl was indeed intimating that Sidarth was being racist, despite having zero evidence to support that contention. Riehl is the only one talking about the race of the dead student here -- not Sidarth, not even anyone else on that thread.

Then, to make the point that he wasn't calling Sidarth a racist, Riehl brings up the dead student's alleged ethnicity again and, to top things, gets his name wrong, calling him "Reyes" (it's "Reyno"). Further, even though he insisted that he was addressing Sidarth's "obvious lack of sensitivity," where, exactly, is the insensitivity in Sidarth posting this link? Riehl appears to be claiming that starting the thread was an attempt to "ridicule" the student, but that would require knowledge of Sidarth's intent at the time, which Riehl clearly does not have.

Unsurprisingly, Riehl had previously defended Allen's "macaca" remark in an Aug. 15 post: "Also, if an individual takes on the task of dogging a political campaign with a video camera for the opposition, being held up to scorn doesn't sound like such a bad thing to me."

(Update: Meanwhile, on his own blog, Riehl was making more allegations against Sidarth -- this time, accusing him of posting "vile and offensive content" on those same discussion boards. After Sidarth denied making the posts and doing further research, Riehl admitted: "Whether the S R Sidarth posting on the board in question is the same as the one currently in the news cannot be verified." Finally -- after first issuing a warning to other conservative bloggers to "at least slow down, if not back up" from a claim he himself claimed to be the "originator": the hotly debated claim that Israelis bombed two Red Cross ambulances during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict -- Riehl issued something of a mea culpa on the Sidarth story: "While I moderated my posts, apparently some juvenile posting board member was impersonating S R Sidarth and, frankly, I got duped." We are assuming Riehl is referring to the UVA discussion boards and not the comment thread on his own site; he might want to clarify that.)

This is not the only problematic post Riehl has contributed to NewsBusters. In an Aug. 23 post, Riehl attacked Internet hosting companies with Democratic ties who have declined to host the website for Sen. Joe Lieberman's independent campaign for Senate in Connecticut as engaging in the "fascist tactic of denying someone an ability to be heard via the Internet," but the post is headlined, "Dem Media Outlets Shut Out Lieberman for Lamont." Since when are hosting companies "media outlets"? Does that mean if ConWebWatch asks the MRC to host this website and they refuse, we can call Brent Bozell a fascist?

An Aug. 19 post attacked The New York Times and liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald for agreeing with the federal district court decision ruling that the Bush adminstration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional because of reports that some people were "distancing themselves from the decision’s reasoning and rhetoric." That report came from the Times itself, which Riehl bashed elsewhere in his post as among "purportedly professional sources of anti-Bush rhetoric" and displaying "agenda driven shallowness" and "caring not a wit about what does or doesn't make good legal sense." (Funny how the Times becomes suddenly trustworthy when it reports something that conservatives like.) Riehl accused the Times and Greenwald of ignoring the "evolution of American Law. ... What mattered was that they were reading the outcome they wanted; how our legal system went about getting there was just so much grist for the mill" (he also called Greenwald a "superficial hack").

But that's exactly how Riehl appears to be approaching the ruling. He clearly opposes it, presumably because he is not the outcome he wanted, since it contracts a policy the Bush administration supports; he offers no reason to oppose it other than that the Times and Greenwald support it. We suspect that if the judge had upheld the surveillance program, Riehl would be praising it up and down, and if the Times had similarly reported that people were "distancing themselves from the decision’s reasoning and rhetoric," he would be bashing it for promoting "anti-Bush rhetoric." In other words, Riehl is no less "agenda driven" than he accuses the Times and Greenwald of being.

Riehl is not the only recent NewsBusters inductee. Joining him is Jeff Goldstein, who operates a blog called Protein Wisdom. His inaugural post, on the victory of Ned Lamont over Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate Democratic primary, made this observation: "Lamonts’ supporters are to moderates what Jeffrey Dahmer was to gourmands."

Goldstein is a surprising choice for NewsBusters because he tends to revel in vulgarites, particularly of the phallic kind. The blog Sadly, No! compiled numerous references by Goldstein to penises, his own (in particular, slapping people with it) or that of others.

Yes, given that MRC chief Brent Bozell also heads the Parents Television Council -- which is dedicated to keeping obsession such as that of Golstein's off the public airwaves -- Goldstein is a curious choice indeed for the MRC.

Even outside bloggers who have been with NewsBusters for some time have ratcheted up their rhetoric. An Aug. 26 post by Dean Esmay (who has his own eponymous blog) launches a vitriolic attack on Daily Kos, calling it a "far-left hate-blog" and its posters "crypto-nazis," "Blame America First defeatists" and "hatemongering idiots." Esmay adds: "The Lamont Democrats have not yet gotten a tenth the kicking around they deserve. They are are vicious beyond belief." It would seem Esmay is calling the kettle black in hurling "hate-blog" accusations.

Esmay also bizarrely charges that "there is no Republican equivalent to the Daily Kos or Firedoglake or MyDD at the moment"; apparently, he's never heard of Free Republic or or Liberty Post.

NewsBusters has, of course, regularly flirted with such extremist sentiments and an eagerness to smear from the site's very beginning. Cinnamon Stillwell posted there until ConWebWatch documented her support of violent Israeli extremists. NewsBusters posters and commenters alike have a disturbing anti-journalist tendency as well.

What's new these days is an influx of new bloggers and the viciousness of their rhetoric. Having done his job in smearing Sidarth, Riehl -- joined by Bob Owens, who runs the Confederate Yankee blog -- has moved on to new quarry: Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell. Riehl and Owens are raising allegations of "post-publication editing" by Mitchell.

How did Mitchell end up in the crosshairs? Apparently because, as Owens put it, Mitchell "raised a spirited defense against questions and allegations that news may have been staged in some instances in the recent Israeli/Hezbollah war in Lebanon." In an Aug. 25 post, Owens also suggested that Mitchell became a target because of a column in which he "advocated that the media should attempt to actively undermine ... the current U.S. President." (We don't recall conservative having problems undermining a president when Clinton was in office.)

That's it -- Mitchell is writing things that conservatives have a problem with. That's why he's a target.

In other words, it's a partisan vendetta. That's what bloggers do, of course. But why is the Media Research Center giving its imprimatur -- and its resources -- to echoing such mudslinging? (And how does such partisan activity square with its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status?) The MRC, though, is no stranger to such behavior, as its attack on Rep. John Murtha's military record as revenge for his criticism of the Iraq war aptly demonstrates.

We're pretty sure about one thing, though: By documenting their actions, ConWebWatch is probably next on their jihad list.

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