CNS Protects The Duggars
Despite calling itself a "news" website, CNS did its best to ignore news of a sexual molestation scandal in a family of right-wing darlings as long as it could, reporting the facts only grudgingly.
By Terry Krepel
A recent fundraising pitch by the Media Research Center to scare up donations for its "news" division, CNSNews.com, begins: "Americans deserve and demand the truth from their news media. Unfortunately, America's newsrooms are full of lies, bias, and even censorship. That's why CNSNews.com exists."
Needless to say, the MRC will never tell potential donors that CNS is just as filled with lies, bias and censorship, if not more, as the "liberal media" it loves to bash. And it will tell the truth about right-wing darlings reluctantly, when it does so at all.
The Duggar family controversy is just the latest example of CNS putting those principles in action.
Josh Duggar is interviewed by CNS in a May 1 video.
Less than three weeks later, on May 19, news broke that Josh Duggar, as a teenager, was named as an "alleged offender" in an underage sexual abuse probe. Technicalities and other issues in the police investigation led to Duggar failing to be prosecuted in the case.
Two days later, People magazine reported that the case involved Duggar molesting five underage girls as a teenager. The Duggar family issued a statement saying that he underwent counseling and that he regrets his actions, and that he has resigned from his job as executive director of the Family Research Council's political action division -- the position from which Josh Duggar was speaking at the time of his May 1 CNS interview.
Yet none of this was newsworthy at CNS -- it did not devote a single word of original coverage to Josh Duggar's scandal for three days after the story first broke, even though it would almost certainly not hesitate to do so if the perpetrator was not a cultural conservative and right-wing celebrity. A few Associated Press stories from that time are in CNS' archives, but they were never promoted on the front page.
So, what was front-page news at CNS on the day that story broke? Likening President Obama to Osama bin Laden. No, really: A May 21 article by Susan Jones declared that "On the same day President Obama told graduating Coast Guard cadets that climate change poses “a serious threat to global security” and “an immediate risk to our national security,” his administration released some of the documents found in Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout, showing that al Qaeda leaders also worried about the effects of climate change, particularly on the Muslim world."
It was not until May 22 that CNS' own reporters finally got around to reporting on the Duggar sexual molestation scandal. But, oddly, it still didn't consider this to be "news."
Melanie Hunter's item on Duggar is presented not as "news" but, rather, as a blog post -- the same status also afforded to Michael Chapman's stenography of Franklin Graham and posts dedicated to the stylings of "Evan Sayet, the nation’s leading conservative, political comedian."
Hunter also presented the Duggar scandal in as perfunctory a manner as possible -- apparently finally moved to write about it only after the Duggars' "19 Kids and Counting" show was put on hiatus because of the revelations -- keeping to reporting only statements and refusing to dig into the issue. For instance, Hunter notes that Josh Duggar's victims "live[d] in the Duggar home," but failed to make the obvious connection that Duggar was molesting his sisters.
Hunter also uncritically repeated a claim that Duggar was "sent to a Christian treatment program," but ignored reporting detailing that the "treatment program" appears to have been nothing more than some guy in the home remodeling business who was actually "more of a mentor ... kind of" rather than someone with actual counseling credentials, which you'd think would be important in dealing with a teenager who molested his sisters.
The Duggar family's interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly the following week was also too big to ignore, so CNS couldn't get away with censoring it the way it did the original allegations. Thus, we have a June 4 article -- unbylined, credited only to "CNSNews.com Staff," as if no CNS employee wanted to be on record reporting facts about that Duggars that conflicted with their pious right-wing Christian image -- that dutifully summed up the interview. The article was still an advocacy piece for the Duggars, playing down the actual offenses of Josh Duggar and playing up the family's self-proclaimed victimhood at the public release of the police report on his offenses.
Those offenses are only referenced once in the first 12 paragraphs of the article, euphemistically described as him having "inappropriately touched" his sisters and "groped a babysitter." The article stuck to the Duggars' agenda, declaring that "the Duggars detailed the problem they faced 12 years ago -- a son who three times came to them and confessed to molestation; what they did about it -- eventually sending him out of the home for Christian-based counseling and later to talk with a policeman; and what they now see as the bigger scandal -- the illegal May 21 release of their son's juvenile police record to a tabloid." The article further insisted that "The Duggars explained the facts of the case."
CNS was certainly not about to live up to its mission statement to "fairly present all legitimate sides of a story" and acknowledge criticism of the Duggars. Thus, you won't read at CNS how some of the Duggars' answers to Kelly are at odds with the established facts in the case. And you certainly won't see CNS point out the obvious conflict between Jim Bob Duggar's claim that "We had nothing to hide" and his complaint about the record of Josh Duggar's offenses being released.
Even then, CNS endeavored to bury this story. While it appeared on the CNS front page the morning, all trace of it was off the front page by that afternoon. And even on the CNS "culture" section page, it was buried under much older stories, such as a May 27 article detailing the latest attempt to portray any LGBT-related federal spending as a waste -- thus guaranteeing it wouldn't appear even on the culture section of the front page, which lists headlines for only the top five articles.
After ConWebWatch noted CNS' blatant attempt to bury the Duggar story, CNS quietly bumped up the story on the culture page into the fifth slot, meaning that at least the headline would appear on the front page. But in the entertainment section below it, an Associated Press article on Fox News' ratings for the Duggar interview occupied the top slot there, which also meant it, unlike the Duggar story, got a front-page photo.
So, apparently, touting the ratings coup for CNS' friends at Fox News for the interview is bigger news than the content of the interview itself. It also means that news is "news" at CNS only if it advances the right-wing agenda of its parent, the Media Research Center. Otherwise, it will get short shrift.
Indeed, CNS wasn't the only MRC division trying to think of ways to not cover the Duggar scandal.
The vast majority of Graham's "open letter" to the Post is dedicated to raging at Petri for noting that the Duggar scandal "is a reminder of how badly the cult of purity lets victims down.” It involves putting a lot of words in Petri's mouth and a lot of mind-reading -- apparently, what Petri actually wrote wasn't worth getting upset over. She is "obviously bad at hiding her glee" over the Duggar scandal, Graham declared without evidence, adding -- also without evidence -- that she "doesn’t believe in sin."
Graham also declares that he can read "between the lines" of what Petri wrote to determine what she actually meant to say: "Religious people have an unhealthy attitude toward sex, and are against educating children about sex. That's wrong." How convenient for Graham to put those straw-man words in Petri's mouth to attack her for them and knock them down as "wrong."
Graham does concede that Petri "is right to suggest that it is wrong to assert that someone who’s lost their virginity is immediately and permanently like a cup of spit or a dirty used bicycle especially for pure, faithful children who’ve become the victim of sexual abuse." But he leaves out the critical context that this is the message the Duggars themselves publicly spread -- and, again, the fact that among Josh Duggar's victims were his own sisters.
This, by the way, is the only mention of Duggar's victims -- odd for an official of an organization that can't mention Ted Kennedy without bringing up Chappaquiddick or Bill Clinton without bringing up his sexual scandals. If Graham is trying to tamp down discussion of the Duggar scandal, he's also tamping down the fact that there were underage victims of a sexual assault.
Graham then attacks "feminists and libertines" -- and he clearly believes Petri is among them through all of the words he put in her mouth -- who purportedly "have an unhealthy attitude toward sexual commitment, and are against educating children about preserving yourself for a committed relationship. Libertines insist virginity is impossible, unless you’re an indoctrinated robot...like they think of the Duggars."
By the time he attacks things Petri wrote a year ago that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Duggars but everything to do with smearing someone he doesn't agree with, it's clear how desperately Graham is to change the subject -- so much so that he's dragged his own family into it by professing that his wife "has never been a campsite or a used bicycle." Um, yay?
(Again, that metaphor was espoused by the Duggars, not Petri. Graham might want to keep that in mind.)
And then Graham goes to some really weird territory: "Post columnists could call me a loser or a nerd or something worse, but I know I have never exploited another human being like a blow-up doll or sought a quick thrill without an 'emotional stranglehold.'"
Remember: None of this has anything to do with what's happening with the Duggars -- and that's the way Graham wants it.
All of Graham's histrionics are in service of distracting the MRC's right-wing audience from the Duggar scandal and the fact that Petri dared to write about it -- nothing else. The fact that his post was only the second original reference to appear on any MRC website (after the CNS blog post) a full week after the scandal broke is ample proof of that.
It's hard to criticize the media when you know they're right. Graham knows that the media is generally doing a good job on the Duggar story, and he also knows that the MRC can't defend the Duggars too vociferously lest it appear to condone Josh Duggar's behavior. Hence, this pathetic effort at misdirection to drown out the Duggar scandal by putting words in the mouth of a columnist he dislikes so he can bash her for -- well, anything, really, to change the subject.
For all of Josh Duggar's pre-scandal complaining about "dissenting opinions" supposedly being censored, he himself had friends in the ConWeb who were more than happy to censor dissenting opinions on his behalf -- in this case, the actual facts of Duggar's scandal.
If the MRC's own "news" operation can't live up to the standards it demands that other media outlets follow, it has surrendered any moral authority to sit in judgment of them.