Silence and Slime at the MRC
Not only have Brent Bozell's Media Research Center subordinates refused to criticize Rush Limbaugh for his misogynistic attacks on Sandra Fluke, they defended Limbaugh's purported humor and did some Fluke-bashing of their own.
By Terry Krepel
If you thought Brent Bozell was a profile in cowardice when it came to Rush Limbaugh's misogynistic attack on Sandra Fluke, wait 'til you meet his employees.
Bozell, as ConWebWatch detailed, not only couldn't bring himself to say anything more critical of Limbaugh than that he "crossed a line" and said "inappropriate" things, he and his Media Research Center created an "I Stand With Rush" website that seemingly rewarded Limbaugh's hate. (About a week after the site was created, however, Bozell's istandwithrush.org redirected to the website for the MRC's "Tell the Truth!" campaign, a deceptive and hypocritical effort.)
Not only did Bozell's MRC subordinates follow in his footsteps by not criticizing Limbaugh, they defended the radio host's alleged humor in denigrating Fluke and even chimed in with their own mean-spirited and misogynistic attacks on her.
The MRC was attacking Fluke even before Limbaugh did. A Feb. 24 CNSNews.com article by Penny Starr dismissed the hearing she testified at as "staged" further claiming it was "playing to the media and framing the argument as one of “women’s health.” At no point did she describe the Republican hearing on contraception -- which invited only religious figures and others opposed to contraception -- as "staged" or "playing to the media" even though it was arguably no less so than the Democratic hearing.
Starr issued a more direct attack on Fluke in another Feb. 24 article, mocking Fluke's testimony that "a fellow female student at the law school-who is married--had to stop using contraception because she and her husband could not afford it" because "There are three federally funded Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington, D.C.--none being more than 3.2 miles from the Georgetown Law School." Starr continued the mocking by noting that the Planned Parenthood website states that condoms "cost about $1 each, but are sometimes available for free."
After Limbaugh's initial attack, the MRC wouldn't criticize him; instead, MRC writers ran to his defense by playing the equivocation card.
MRC senior news analyst Scott Whitlock responded to Chris Matthews' criticism of Limbaugh by retorting, "MSNBC, of course, is no stranger to controversial comments. One anchor on the network recently compared Rick Santorum to mass murderer Joseph Stalin."
Over at CNSNews.com, Craig Bannister -- the CNS communications director whose Feb. 29 attack on Fluke inspired Limbaugh's three-day parade of misogyny -- reproduced a statement by Nancy Pelosi criticizing Limbaugh, then tried to change the subject by adding, "Does any one remember if Pelosi put out a similar statement when her colleague, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said the 'Tea Party can go straight to hell' or, reportedly, called Republicans 'demons?'"
Whitlock followed up with a March 2 MRC item insisting that criticism of Limbaugh's hateful remarks was a "left-wing attack on Rush Limbaugh." Whitlock claimed with NBC "Today" co-host Robin Roberts "could barely contain her contempt" over Limbaugh's remarks, while avoiding any mention of the words that earned that contempt outside of an end-of-item transcript of the segment.
A March 2 NewsBusters post by Geoffrey Dickens complained that MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell "actually had his production team make up a graphic of Rush Limbaugh’s sex life, adding "Of course, O’Donnell and [Alex] Wagner completely ignored the point that Limbaugh, unlike Fluke, has never demanded that the American taxpayers should pay for his or any other person’s birth control." Dickens, of course, completely ignored the fact that Limbaugh cast aspersions on Fluke's personal life by calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute," thus creating an opening to criticize Limbaugh's own sex life.
MRC employee Kyle Drennen, meanwhile, huffed that Fluke was allowed to appear on the "Today show, where co-host Matt Lauer did not pose "any challenging questions to Fluke" and "gave Fluke a platform to slam the conservative radio host and urged her to denounce 'what seems to be a deafening silence coming from the right in standing up for you.'" Drennen didn't mention that some of that "deafening silence" about Limbaugh was coming from his own employer.
Drennen weirdly declared that it was "contemptuous" for Lauer's to claim that Limbaugh's "business model" is to make comments "that he hopes will get more people to talk about him, more people to listen to his radio show or buy his books." Drennen made no effort to disprove that analysis, suggesting that it's at least partly accurate.
After Limbaugh issued a so-called apology for his remarks, a NewsBusters post about it regurgitated Limbaugh's insistence that his real concern is "over the contraceptive mandate and the larger erosion of personal responsibility and accountability through federal mandates that social costs for personal expenses onto taxpayers or employers.
NewsBusters associate editor Noel Sheppard, meanwhile, went on a tirade after the Huffington Post's story on Limbaugh's statement used the headline "Rush Caves," never mind that a half-hearted apology buried on the weekend after three days of impugning Fluke, coming in the face of a growing advertiser boycott, really can't be described as anything other than a "cave." Sheppard huffed that HuffPo criticized Limbaugh for "doing what it believed was the right thing to do." Note that Sheppard narrowly described Limbaugh's statement as only what HuffPo "believed was the right thing to do," not that it simply was the right thing to do, which strongly suggests that Sheppard doesn't think it was. Sheppard goes on to whine: "This is so typical of liberal media outlets. They bash conservatives for everything they do, think, say, or advocate, and when one actually reconsiders his behavior, they ridicule him for 'caving.'"
Remember that at no point before this did Sheppard or any other MRC employee express the opinion that Limbaugh's behavior needed to be reconsidered.
In a follow-up post, Sheppard highlighted Newt Gingrich criticizing NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory for beginning their interview "by asking him about contraceptives and Rush Limbaugh." Sheppard touted how Gingrich "correctly" pivoted the issue from Limbaugh to the right-wing talking point that the question of contraception is not a women's health issue but a religious freedom issue.
Sheppard also promoted a FoxNews.com column by Kristen Powers, "one of the many intelligent, reasonable, liberal contributors to Fox News," claiming that Limbaugh isn't the only "media misogynist." In none of these posts does Sheppard criticize Limbaugh's behavior -- rather, Sheppard praises Limbaugh's apology, which he claims "should diminish accusations of his misogyny."
In another NewsBusters post, MRC vice president for research and publications Brent Baker conceded that Limbaugh "didn’t have any defenders ... not even amongst the conservatives." Still, Baker wasn't about to offer criticism of his own, because he had talking points to deliver: "Of course, Limbaugh’s comment only deflected attention from Obama’s antagonism to religious liberty because the news media eagerly pounced to push liberals efforts to make Limbaugh the issue."
In a March 6 post, Sheppard took offense to "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart "hysterically claiming" that if having insurance cover the cost of contraception is paying for someone to have sex, as Rush Limbaugh contended, then so is paid maternity leave. Sheppard's big response: "unpaid maternity leave depending on how much a woman makes could cost her and her family tens of thousands of dollars." That really has nothing to do with the issue, but whatever.
Then Sheppard huffed: "But there’s potentially a larger point in Stewart’s attack on Limbaugh and Kelly: if Fluke were a conservative going to Congress and asking for her birth control to be covered, the Daily Show host and his crew would have savaged her."
Wrong -- Sheppard's MRC colleagues would have savaged her first before Stewart would have a chance.
Since free birth control is not a conservative position, Sheppard and the MRC boys would be adamantly deny that a woman who advocates it -- even if she meets all the other requirements of conservatism -- is a true conservative.
How do we know this? Because Sheppard's colleagues perform this same bit of party-line Heathering on conservatives they have deemed insufficiently conservative, from Kathleen Parker to David Brooks to David Frum to Joe Scarborough to Jennifer Rubin. Sheppard has forgotten that his employer is more ideologically rigid -- and picks its friends and enemies accordingly -- than Stewart will ever be.
Week 2: More slime, more silence
A week after Limbaugh's initial attack on Fluke, MRC writers were still piling on the attacks and equivocation -- and keeping the code of silence on Limbaugh.
In a March 7 post, MRC employee Matt Hadro was offended that a CNN contributor claimed that Bill Maher's remarks about women were not as bad as Limbaugh's. At no point did Hadro criticize what Limbaugh said.
In a March 9 post, Noel Sheppard uncritically repeated Sarah Palin's criticism of President Obama's PAC accepting a $1 million donation from Maher. Sheppard is silent about Limbaugh, who received the MRC's inaugural "William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence" in 2007.
A March 9 post by MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham repeatedly criticized Maher for donating to Obama's PAC. He was silent about Limbaugh.
A March 9 post by Tom Blumer uncriticially repeated a Limbaugh transcript in which he expressed pride that what Blumer called "the hate-filled left" has not been able to remove him from the air. Blumer said nothing about the hate-filled rants that brought Limbaugh to this point, nor did he criticize Limbaugh for making them -- rather, he concluded by stating, "Game. Set. Match." Blumer also failed to correct Limbaugh's falsehood that he spent only "five minutes" attacking Fluke; in fact, he spent significant parts of his show over three days doing so.
A March 10 post by Kyle Drennen attacked Andrea Mitchell for criticizing Limbaugh when "thought use of the word 'slut' one of Limbaugh's offending remarks was perfectly fine when it was to get laughs for a network sitcom. Back on the September 30, 2010 episode of NBC's 30 Rock, Mitchell made a cameo playing herself and called Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon a 'slut' following rumors of an office romance." Drennen ignores the fact that Limbaugh's radio show is not a sitcom and that Fluke is not a fictional character.
Drennen did concede that "30 Rock is fiction, and the comment was made in jest," but then added, "the fact that Mitchell agreed to use her position as a journalist to promote such language as humor certainly undermines her moral authority in condemning Limbaugh."
In a March 10 post attacking "attention-seeking" Gloria Allred for threatening Limbaugh, Noel Sheppard insisted that what Limbaugh said wasn't offensive at all: "His joke was that a woman wanting others to pay for her birth control is acting like a slut and a prostitute." Sheppard didn't explain what the difference is between Limbaugh and actual comedians like Maher, or why Maher doesn't get the comedian's defense he's offering Limbaugh.
Sheppard followed that up with a post complaining that Maher called Limbaugh "a stupid fat f--k who’s not funny." Sheppard retorted: "First off, who is Bill Maher - as one of the most vulgar people on television - to determine what's a disgusting sentiment?" Sheppard keeps quiet about his apparently favorable opinion about Limbaugh's "joke."
A March 10 post by Graham proclaimed offense that someone pointed out that Maher is a comedian while Limbaugh is the "de facto leader of the Republican Party." Graham huffed in response: "Would Reince Priebus agree that Rush Limbaugh really runs the GOP?" Graham took further offense that it was pointed out that Mitt Romney was endorsed by Ted Nugent, who has a record of offensive remarks like calling Obama a "piece of shit" who should "suck on my machine gun." (He also called Hillary Clinton a "toxic cunt.")
Rather than criticize Nugent's offensive remarks -- the MRC has given Limbaugh a pass, after all -- Graham tried to change the subject: Wait a minute. Does Ted Nugent compare to Bill Maher? Does Nugent have a weekly HBO show? Or maybe Burton would say he is the de facto leader of the NRA?" Well, Nugent is on the NRA board of directors. That's a bigger deal in some quarters (like MRC headquarters?) than hosting a show on HBO.
Meanwhile, at the MRC's TimesWatch blog, Clay Waters was under the same marching orders -- a March 9 item criticized a New York Times article for "tarring Rush Limbaugh as a thug." Waters said nothing about the offensive nature of Limbaugh's remarks.
One MRC employee, though, felt the need to match Limbaugh's sleaziness: Matt Philbin.
In a March 5 MRC Culture & Media Institute item, Philbin tried to change the subject away from Limbaugh's sleazy words just like Bozell did:
Liberals and the media continue to be upset about Rush Limbaugh’s comments, despite his public apology. Limbaugh’s comments, we’re told, were “unforgivable.”
Even as he detailed offenses by liberals, Philbin couldn't bring himself to repeat what Limbaugh actually said about Sandra Fluke.
Besides, such sanctimoniousness is laughable coming from Philbin, who at the same time he penned this empty screed was making use of his Twitter account to smear Fluke.
One tweet stated, "Anybody got Fluke's mailing address? I'm gonna send her a big Costco-sized box of condoms."
Philbin also tweeted, "Rush's prob was semantic. Shoulda said 'Woman of dubious reputation,' 'horizontal laborer' or 'Lincoln Tunnel Hitcher.'"
He followed that with this attack: "Lawschool in your 30s, kvetching on "The View," calls from the prez, free BC so you can sleep around w/impunity. Some #waronwomen."
If the MRC is giving Limbaugh a pass on his misogynism, Philbin certainly won't face any sanction from his employer. They're sexists of a feather, after all.