Hacks Weigh In On Hacking
Led by the Media Research Center, the ConWeb seeks to shield Fox News from the fallout of a phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers.
By Terry Krepel
On April 13, Media Research Center director of news analysis Tim Graham used a NewsBusters post to attack NPR for reporting on "a voice-mail-hacking scandal at his U.K. tabloid News of the World." While Graham called it "disreputable media conduct," he also sought to dismiss the scandal by claiming that "the socialist newspaper The Guardian has been all over this story." In case Graham's ideological bias wasn't clear enough, he emphasized the point later on by complaining that one person NPR interviewed writes "for that socialist newspaper The Guardian -- where he presently has a blog on media."
Graham was also hacked off that NPR wasn't shilling for his preferred right-wing causes: "Not being investigated by NPR: close ties between international financier George Soros and NPR -- not to mention NPR's intense ties to the Obama political establishment." Graham even ran to the defense of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, asserting that there was a slant to NPR's story: "Wouldn't the average listener conclude that NPR was saying Coulson was culpable in the scandal?"
Finally, Graham drew a false equivalence between the News of the World phone-hacking and a late-1990s case in which someone "hacked" a phone call by then-House Republican Leader Newt Gingrich. Of course, that's not exactly what happened; it was recorded over a legally purchased police scanner that could pick up the frequency Gingrich's cell phone was using. News of the World, by contrast, was actively obtaining passwords to the voice mail of their targets and, in the case of missing British girl Milly Dowler, was actively deleting messages, thus giving her parents and authorities hope that she was still alive (she was later found dead).
That's the last anyone read of the News of the World scandal at the Media Research Center for three months afterward. By the time the MRC acknowledged its existence again, Coulson had been arrested on charges related to the phone-hacking, vindicating NPR's reporting and discrediting Graham's attacks.
When the scandal exploded on July 4 with the revelation of the hacking of Dowler's voice mail, the MRC wouldn't touch it for days afterward; by the time it finally did, it set the template for the ConWeb's coverage by trying to equivocate the scandal away like Graham did and protecting Fox News -- like the now-defunct News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. -- from the fallout.
The first NewsBusters reference to the scandal post-explosion was eight days later in a July 12 post by Scott Whitlock, who laughably tried to suggest that actions by Newsweek/Daily Beast editor Tina Brown were just as "amoral" as those done by News of the World. Whitlock's evidence? Brown saying on "Morning Joe" that Republicans who oppose raising the debt limit were acting like "suicide bombers" and ... the Newsweek cover with Princess Diana inserted into a picture of Kate Middleton. Whitlock really seems to think that Photoshopping someone into a picture is just as bad as hacking the voice mail of a missing child.
Meanwhile, a July 12 MRC TimesWatch item by Clay Waters tries to equivocate the scandal away, complaining that the New York Times was "piling on" the News of the World scandal by "featur[ing] various angles of the story on its front page for 5 out of the last 7 days, plus multiple stories in the International News section on every aspect of the sleazy saga," while it "was far less aggressive in its coverage of an American media scandal, the September 2004 attempt by the CBS News show '60 Minutes' to bring down George W. Bush with forged documents." At least Waters conceded the the News of the World scandal is "sleazy," which is more than we've seen from the rest of the MRC.
Aubrey Vaughan used a July 13 NewsBusters post to equivocate the phone-hacking to ABC paying the defense team of accused (and acquitted) killer Casey Anthony for access to pictures and video of her. Of course checkbook journalism is not the same thing as phone-hacking.
The MRC's Matthew Balan was upset that NPR reported on a self-described "geek socialist" who is leading a fledging boycott against News Corp. Apropos of nothing but the MRC's anti-gay agenda, Balan concluded by noting that earlier in the year NPR had "spotlighted a homosexual activist's income tax protest."
A July 15 NewsBusters post by Ken Shepherd gleefully reprinted a blogger who "pours cold water" on the idea that there's something to the claim that News of the World hacked the phones of 9/11 victims. Shepherd added, without providing supporting evidence: "It's politics that accounts for the probe being initiated, not rational detective work. And it's politics that has and will account for liberal Foxophobes cynically using the development to openly fantasize about a media environment devoid of Fox News."
Graham finally weighed in for the first time since April in a July 13 post, once again attacking NPR for covering the story. As he has before, Graham whined about "the million-dollar grant NPR received from George Soros at almost the same time that Soros gave a million-plus to Media Matters for America to get cable operators to 'Drop Fox.' NPR should really try a fuller disclosure when it dives into scandals that please its liberal sugar daddies." Graham, of course, makes no mention of the conservative sugar daddies he must please by writing such things.
In a July 17 post, Graham went ballistic over the Washington Post publishing an op-ed by pornographer Larry Flynt criticizing News Corp. over the scandal, sneering, "After all, to the WashPost elite, pornography is just harmless fun, while Fox News is ruining democracy and civil discourse."
Graham went on to complain that the correction in the Guardian "ran on page 36 not exactly where the original story ran," but the Guardian noted that the correction appeared where corrections always appear. Funny, we don't recall NewsBusters publishing a front-page correction to a false post, even though every post starts out there.
Graham even got himself quoted in full Fox News protection mode in a Washington Post article examining coverage of the scandal:
“The radicals at the Guardian have clearly salivated to ruin Old Man Rupert,” said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group based in Alexandria. The American media, he said, have joined in: “It’s blatantly obvious that this pile-on . . . is all about Murdoch and his perceived noxious effect on American politics and media.”
NewsBusters also published a column by R. Emmett Tyrrell claiming that Murdoch is a victim of the "Kultursmog," which he defines as "that set of ideas and tastes that are utterly polluted by left-wing values and carried by the liberal news media to pollute people's minds." (Newsmax published this same column.)
Noel Sheppard joined the MRC's effort as the chief Fox News apologist. In a July 17 NewsBusters post, Sheppard tried to deflect criticism of Fox News by CNN's Howard Kurtz for its initial reticence in covering the scandal by noting a Media Matters report on cable news coverage of it: "does Kurtz really think 30 reports on this subject by Fox from July 4 through July 13 is them ignoring the story? ... 30 reports in ten days not only means three a day, but also that Fox is continuing to cover the matter."
First, given that Fox News is a 24-hour cable news operation, shouldn't we expect more than an average of three reports a day? Sheppard is setting the coverage bar extremely low, especially since CNN and MSNBC aired at least twice as many reports on the scandal during that time. Second, Fox News did actively ignore the scandal early on. Fox's first report wasn't until July 6, two days after it exploded with the Milly Dowler revelations.
Sheppard also sought to exonerate Fox's media-criticism show, "Fox News Watch," for initially ignoring the scandal by huffing that the following week the show "did two segments on the scandal encompassing two thirds of the program." At no point does Sheppard comment on "Fox News Watch" not only ignoring the scandal the previous week but also declaring in a web-only segment that they won't "touch it" -- even though that's in the Kurtz transcript Sheppard includes in his post.
Sheppard was still at it in a July 24 post, responding to Ariana Huffington's criticism of Fox News by launching a personal attack on her:
Actually, one of the biggest embarrassments to journalism in recent memory was AOL buying out the perilously liberal Huffington Post.
More embarrassing than Sheppard, who is continually shocked by things that aren't shocking at all? We find that hard to believe.
Sheppard went on to uncritically parrot Fox Business employee Charlie Gasparino's defense of Fox News' coverage of the scandal, then reference his own previous post on the subject:
As NewsBusters reported last Sunday, Fox had done at least 30 reports concerning this scandal in the first ten days after it broke.
Again, Sheppard failed to acknowledge that Fox News' coverage of the scandal fell far behind that of the other cable news networks. Indeed, it can be argued that if it were not for scrutiny of that lack of coverage, the deficit might be even bigger that it is.
MRC's "news" website CNSNews.com even got in on the storyline with a July 22 article by Susan Jones on liberal groups highlighting the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers to raise questions about "Fox News, a favorite target of liberals." Jones served up a peculiar description of Fox News:
Fox News, with its “fair and balanced” slogan, is pegged as a conservative news outlet because it presents viewpoints overlooked or excluded by the liberal media and it employs conservative (as well as liberal) hosts and pundits.
Of course, Fox News is "pegged as a conservative news outlet" because it is a conservative news outlet.
Over at Newsmax, editor Christopher Ruddy followed in the MRC's Murdoch-apologist footsteps in a July 12 column:
This news hurricane currently overtaking the media should really be re-titled “Time to Beat Up on Rupert Murdoch.”
Ruddy didn't mention that one of the problems was that Murdoch papers were working a little too closely with police, as in bribing them to track cell phone signals of celebrities and others.
Murdoch as a victim of the left is a theme he repeats later in the column:
And this really gets me to the guts of my story, the real backdrop: The left hates Rupert Murdoch.
Ruddy likely wouldn't be so eager to paper over this scandal if Murdoch wasn't so conservative-friendly.
WorldNetDaily has been largely disinterested in the scandal; the only "news" article it has published on the subject is a July 22 article by Aaron Klein complaining that "A slew of organizations funded by billionaire George Soros have been utilizing the alleged News of the World phone hacking scandal in the U.K. to call for investigations of News Corporation's U.S. interests, particularly Fox News Channel."
Fox News' most weirdly enthusiastic defender, though, has been Accuracy in Media. It issued a July 18 press release in which editor Roger Aronoff warned that "it is premature to assume individual criminal liability, or that Rupert Murdoch media properties in this country engaged in similar practices." He continued:
“The Left smells blood, and would love to see Fox News in particular somehow implicated and weakened by this scandal,” added Aronoff. “But it should be remembered that Murdoch has done much to counter the weight of the liberal influence in the mainstream media by allowing conservative voices a platform, which has helped shape the debate on many issues in this country, and for that he should be applauded. Beyond that, we should reserve judgment until the facts are known.”
AIM also served up the most wildly enthusiastic spin of the scandal: It's a great time to buy News Corp. stock! From a July 16 blog post by AIM chairman Don Irvine:
The storm over the scandal that has enveloped Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is probably far from over, but in the meantime it has created a possible window of opportunity to pick up stock in the company at a substantial discount.
Yes, Irvine really thinks the scandal-driven devaluation of News Corp. stock is a good thing. That's how far the ConWeb will go to defend Fox News.