Fighting the Facts
The Media Research Center's $5 million campaign to get the media to "Tell the Truth!" about the election also covers trying to intimidate reporters into not telling the truth about Republicans.
By Terry Krepel
Earlier this year, the Media Research Center launched what it called the "Tell the Truth!" campaign -- something from which the MRC appears to have exempted itself as well as conservative and Republican candidates, just as it did in previous such campaigns.
Since then, the MRC has spent the election season doing flashy, expensive promotions of dubious value in order to expend the $5 million budgeted for the campaign. It also attacked pretty much anyone who tried to tell the truth about Republican candidates, including media fact-checkers.
ConWebWatch has documented examples of the MRC ignoring context for President Obama's statements while demanding it regarding statements by conservatives, as well as its general refusal to fact-check Mitt Romney, attacks on debate moderators, and NewsBusters blogger Noel Sheppard's war against facts. But Sheppard's behavior has been endemic throughout the entire organization.
Dropping cash on billboards, RNC
In February, shorting after announcing the promotion, the MRC spent $180,000 on a billboard in Times Square that screamed, "Don't Believe the Liberal Media!" MRC chief Brent Bozell proclaimed in a Feb. 21 article at the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, "There is no better location for this billboard than the liberal media’s own backyard."
But a static billboard, even at 1,684 square feet, it a miniscule presence among the flashing neon and giant video screens of Times Square. Plus, February isn't exactly a peak month for tourism, so it's questionable whether it was viewed by the "1.3 million onlookers" that the MRC expected to see it.
The MRC spent even more money preaching to the choir at the Republican National Convention. From an Aug. 27 CNS article:
From now until Sept. 2, the media watchdog group, which is the parent organization of CNSNews.com, has rented three 14 ft- by-48 ft. billboards along Route 60 -- the primary road running from the Tampa airport to the convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Does the fact that the MRC had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get its message out to a targeted audience that should theoretically already be highly receptive to it indicate the weakness of that message? If the MRC thinks so, it certainly won't say so in public.
Bozell is quoted in the article making this curiously worded statement:
“Our goal is not--and I underscore this--our goal is not to do what they do, which is to attempt to elect or defeat a candidate," said Bozell. "We want a level playing field. We want the rules to apply to both sides. If you are going to have hard-hitting investigative reporting on one side, perfect. Then have hard-hitting investigative reporting on the other.”
Bozell is legally obligated to say that the MRC's efforts are not intended "to attempt to elect or defeat a candidate" -- the MRC would be violating its 501(c)3 nonprofit status if Bozell wasn't tossing out that disclaimer and keeping up the pretense that it's not an arm of the Republican Party and Mitt Romney campaign.
However, Bozell is simply lying when he says that "we want the rules to apply to both sides." The MRC has never applied the same rules to, say, Fox News that it applies to the "liberal media."
Once the Republican primary settled on Mitt Romney as the nominee, the MRC was quick to defend him and bash anyone who contradicted him -- even to tell the truth about him. ConWebWatch detailed the MRC's efforts at protecting Romney in late September, which continued through the final month of the campaign.
In an Oct. 4 MRC item, Kyle Drennen was annoyed that NBC's David Gregory pointed out to Romney adviser Ed Gillespie that "the math simply doesn't add up" in Mitt Romney's tax cut plan. Drennen then declared that "Gillespie fact-checked Gregory's supposed fact-check" by claiming that "six studies now that have analyzed what Governor Romney has proposed in terms of lowering tax rates and expanding the base."
But Drennen did not fact-check Gillespie's "six studies" claim -- which appears to be bogus. It's an apparent embellishment of a previous Romney claim that "five studies" back up Romney's claim about his tax plan. But as PolitiFact discovered:
Romney is using the word "studies" generously. Two items on his list are newspaper editorials that can be analytical but are rarely treated as independent research. One article comes from a campaign adviser, a connection that generally suggests a less than independent assessment. That leaves just two reports out Romney’s five.
Gillespie was merely spouting campaign rhetoric, which Drennen presented as a "fact-check."
An Oct. 29 NewsBusters post by Jack Coleman unleashes a torrent of hate against MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, under the headline "It's Official: Rachel Maddow Completes Conversion to Baghdad Bob":
"The Rachel Maddow Show" really shouldn't air weeknights on MSNBC. It is much better suited for Saturday mornings, you know, along with the other cartoons.
What did Maddow do that made Coleman so mad? She caught Romney in a lie -- his statement that "I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China." In fact, as Maddow pointed out, Chrysler is adding workers at U.S. plants that make Jeeps, and that production in China would be to serve that market, not shift production out of the U.S. Romney apparently got a right-wing blog's distorted view of a Bloomberg story stating that Chrysler owner Fiat "may eventually make all of its models" in China. Coleman then writes:
Still unclear to me where Romney lied about this. Chrysler is majority-owned by Fiat and hence it is within Fiat's power to move Jeep production wherever it wants. Since the company "may eventually" make all its Jeeps in China, as Bloomberg reported, citing a company executive as its source, one can only conclude that Romney's lying about this, as far as Maddow is concerned, stems from him not actually reading a story about it as he claimed, but getting his information elsewhere.
But Coleman overlooks a statement in the Bloomberg story, made by Mike Manley, chief operating officer of Fiat and Chrysler in Asia: "Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China."
Meanwhile, Chrysler itself has stated:
Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market. U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation. A careful and unbiased reading of the Bloomberg take would have saved unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments.
In other words, Maddow is correct to say that Fiat "wants to build Jeeps for China -- in China," and Romney is wrong.
Bashing fact-checkers and reporters
NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard expressed much umbrage at media fact-checkers for daring to tell the truth about Republican claims. But he wasn't the only one.
A Sept. 25 NewsBusters post by Matt Vespa complained that the Washington Post's fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, gave three Pinocchios to an American Crossroads television spot claiming that President Obama skipped almost half of his in-person intelligence briefings. Vespa chooses to ignore the larger truth that Kessler was trying to impart -- that the lack of an in-person briefing doesn't mean that Obama didn't get briefed on national security, and that President Reagan got even fewer in-person briefings than Obama -- in order to keep his blinders on and narrowly insist that the ad's claim was true:
Kessler may think it's "misguided" to argue "process," but the fact remains that Kessler cannot dispute that the gist of the ad is true: President Obama has the opportunity every weekday to receive in-person intelligence briefings, and yet he chooses to, the majority of the time, elect to simply read them rather than avail himself the opportunity to be briefed by an intelligence expert (or experts) in person. Kessler may protest the verb "skips" to describe Obama's relation to his daily briefings, but that reveals more about Kessler's biases than it does the truthfulness of the claim.
That's just desperate nit-picking that serves the larger right-wing narrative that fact-checkers must be discredited because they catch conservative politicians in falsehoods.
In an Oct. 10 NewsBusters post, Vespa went on a tirade against CNN's Soledad O'Brien over her interview of Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz over alleged security lapses:
With a House Oversight committee slated to hold a hearing on the deadly Benghazi consulate terrorist attack at noon today, there was really no excuse for CNN's Starting Point to not cover the story. But alas, anchor Soledad O'Brien checked her journalistic credibility at the dressing room door, going on air with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sounding more like an Obama apologist than a hard-nosed reporter.
Why shouldn't O'Brien have asked Chaffetz about his vote on State Department security funding? Vespa never really explains. Indeed, he goes on to insist that "the story centers on the state of our security concerning our embassy in Libya. It’s not whether Rep. Chaffetz’s vote to cut off embassy security funding had a hand in the death of Ambassador Stevens."
It seems that, in addition to sounding like he works for Mitt Romney's campaign, Vespa simply did not want the question asked at all.
What happened is that PolitiFact Ohio rated as "mostly false" a claim by Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sherrod Brown, "missed over 350 official votes" as a congressman. PolitiFact points out that the claim ignores the facts that the number of missed votes is a small number compared to the more than 10,000 or so votes Brown did take part in, and that most of those missed votes were due to injuries suffered in a car accident.
But Hall doesn't care about context -- he insists that the claim is "true" and that PolitiFact Ohio is engaging in "media bias" by telling the full truth about Mandel's claim. He goes on to repeat claims by a Mandel spokesman that "Brown's missed-vote ratio is higher than the median rate for all members of Congress, which is 2.5 percent, while Brown's rate is 3 percent."
Hall also ranted that "PolitiFact Ohio has often trumpeted information and statistics that favor Brown over Mandel, such as stating that the Democratic candidate supposedly tells the truth two-thirds of the time while the Republican lies two-thirds of the time," adding that "fact-checking is rapidly becoming just another way for liberals to vent their venom regarding Republican candidates." In reality, right-wingers like Hall and his fellow NewsBusters have engaged in a war on fact-checkers simply for having the audacity to fact-check what Republicans say.
Hiding truth about conservative causes
The MRC also doesn't like the idea of the media telling the truth about pet conservative causes.
In an Aug. 15 NewsBusters post, Paul Wilson complained that a Huffington Post blogger referenced the Family Research Council, "which the Southern Poverty Law Center deems a hate group." To Wilson, this was an "attack" and a "slam" on the FRC, "whose members were targeted by a gunman less than three hours earlier" before the Huffington Post made the post live; Wilson went on to smear the SPLC as "left-wing hacks."
But the Huffington Post blogger was simply stating a fact -- the SPLC did call the FRC a "hate group." That's not something that's open to debate, nor is it an "attack." You can dispute whether the FRC actually is a hate group, but it's unambiguously true that the SPLC called them that.
This objection to reporting an unambiguous fact popped up elsewhere at the MRC:
None of these MRC writers offered any evidence that would contradict the SPLC's designation. That suggests the SPLC is accurate, and the MRC can't handle the truth.
Clay Waters who writes the MRC's TimesWatch blog -- which is dedicated to criticizing the New York Times' supposed "liberal political agenda" -- was a veritable font of fact-bashing.
Waters used an April 9 TimesWatch item to mock New York Times writer Joe Nocera for accurately pointing out that right-wing media outlets like Fox News have been carrying out a vendetta against the Chevy Volt hybrid car. Waters portrays Nocera's criticism of Volt-bashers as "what he saw as a Fox News conspiracy campaign against it."
Waters doesn't mention that Nocera is correct. As Media Matters pointed out, Fox and other right-wing media have relentlessly attacked the Volt as part of its anti-Obama agenda (even though the Volt had been in development well before the federal government bailed out GM).
A June 14 TimesWatch article by Waters complained that the Times was reporting accurately on the past of Virginia Republican Senate candidate George Allen -- or, in Waters' words, "injecting all the old controversies and rumors of racism into the current news cycle." Waters made no effort to contradict anything that was reported -- he simply complained that it was reported at all.
(If you'll recall, MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham has long been upset with the media reporting accurately about Allen's notorious "macaca" comment.)
In an Aug. 23 TimesWatch item, Waters complained that the New York Times is "trying to change the subject from the bad economy to social issues, for Obama's sake" by trying to "tie controversial comments by Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin to Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan." He huffs that the Times "irrelevantly noted that Paul Ryan and Todd Akin voted the same way" on several anti-abortion bills.
How is that irrelevant? Waters never explains. Inconvenient to Waters' right-wing agenda? Sure. But hardly irrelevant.
Waters took this to a ludicrous extreme in a Feb. 10 NewsBusters post, in which he complained that a Times article on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference "contains 22 examples of the word “conservative,' the headline making 23." Waters added, "By way of comparison, the common conjunction 'and' appears 24 times."
Yeah, we wouldn't want to use the word "conservative" to describe conservatives, would we? That would be biased and totally untrue.
All of this cash the MRC was throwing around had one weird consequence: a odd little protest outside the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. As the Madison Capital Times noted, the protesters said they were "part of an effort by the Media Research Center to 'keep media bias out of the 2012 election,'" and they were protesting that the Journal Sentinel had reported on an inquiry that has seen a number of close aides and contributors to Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, charged with felony wrongdoing.
The irony, according to the Capital Times, is that the Journal Sentinel endorsed Walker for governor, supported much of his agenda and opposed efforts to recall him.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times reporter Ashley Powers told in February of her experience of being kicked out of a Nevada presidential caucus meeting simply for being a reporter, even though she had the right to be there, She noted: "A woman waved a button at me, which said: DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA. Tough crowd, I thought."
"Don't Believe The Liberal Media" is, of course, the mantra of the MRC's "Tell the Truth" campaign.
Both of these incidents were attempts to intimidate the media into not reporting anything negative about conservatives, even if that supposed negativity was coming from media allies -- and even if it was true.
And ultimately, that sort of intimidation -- not fairness -- was what the MRC's $5 million was trying to buy.