A Fox News-Shaped Blind Spot
The Media Research Center can't bring itself to criticize Fox News for its pro-Trump bias -- even when it documents irrefutable evidence of the bias. And when the MRC can be moved to criticize Fox News at all, it hides behind Mark Levin to do it.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has a blind spot in its so-called media research, and it's shaped like Fox News.
This was clear last fall, when the MRC refused to promote Donald Trump's criticisms of how Fox News and sister channel Fox Business ran their Republican presidential debates and his accusations of media bias; by contrast, the MRC couldn't scream loud enough about alleged bias in a Republican debate hosted by CNBC. Of course, MRC chief Brent Bozell had demanded that Fox News host GOP debates, so he couldn't lodge any bias complaints. Also, Bozell would like to continue to appear on Fox News, something he and other MRC officials have done regularly for years.
It's a synergistic relationship. In return, the MRC does things like giving Fox News regulars a platform to regurgitate MRC spin -- like host Megyn Kelly claiming against all evidence that her employer is "fair and balanced" and Kelly and complaining about a "left-leaning bias" in the media, or repeating Fox News commentator Brit Hume's attack on non-Fox media for a purported pro-Hillary bias (without disclosing that Hume is a conservative). The MRC even parroted Kelly's criticism of excessive Trump coverage in the media while forbidding any mention of the excessive Trump coverage pushed by her employer.
Yet, as much as the MRC despised Trump during the primary process -- giving birth to a conspiracy theory that the "liberal media" deliberately skewed its coverage to make Trump the GOP nominee so he would lose to Hillary Clinton in November -- it did all it could to avoid hold Fox News responsible for its crucial role in creating Trump the candidate. The MRC's tracking of Trump's media coverage was almost exclusively limited to the broadcast networks (and usually limited even more to the networks' evening newscasts); after all, excluding all of cable news from scrutiny automatically means Fox would also not be scrutinized.
And scrutinizing Fox News is the last thing the MRC wants to do, even as acts increasingly nonsensical in doing so. For example, Curtis Houck huffed in an April 4 MRC NewsBusters item:
On the night before voters in Wisconsin go to the polls for the presidential primary, ABC’s World News Tonight found it worthwhile to spend nearly its entire time allotted for Ted Cruz rehashing the unsubstantiated smears from the National Enquirer tabloid about extramarital affairs.
That's right -- Houck is not criticizing Megyn Kelly and Fox News for asking Cruz about about the "unsubstantiated smears" regarding Cruz, but he's accusing ABC for being biased for playing a clip of the Fox News segment.
How is this not a blatant double standard? Well, Houck has decided it's not, and he invented a pretty lame explanation to exonerate Fox News for reporting the same story ABC did:
At the end of the day, it’s one matter for Kelly to spend a small amount of time alluding to the smear since she had an hour to speak with Cruz, but it’s another for a network newscast with only a handful of minutes to summarize the day’s news and harping on something that hasn’t been corroborated.
Again: It's not bias for Fox to focus on the Cruz scandal because it was a "small amount" of a larger interview, but it's bias for ABC to do so because it has "only a handful of minutes to summarize the day’s news." Uh, yeah.
The MRC's Fox hypocrisy even extends to something the MRC normally loves: sex scandals involving TV correspondents.
In February and March alone, the MRC highlighted four stories reported by Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry that other, less conservative-biased media didn't cover (or "censored," in the MRC's favorite parlance).
But the MRC hasn't mentioned Henry since March 30. Why? Perhaps because in early May, Henry was taken off the air after reports surfaced of the married Henry having an affair with a Las Vegas hostess. The MRC has yet to mention this scandal to its readers -- which is funny, because it normally has no problem delighting in the personal peccadilloes of TV correspondents.
In 2011, the MRC reported on NBC correspondent Chris Hansen getting "caught on hidden camera having an affair with a woman 21 years younger than him" after a sting operation by the National Enquirer (the same folks whose report of affairs by Ted Cruz were dismissed by the MRC as uncorroborated). Writer Aubrey Vaughn smugly added: "While there is nothing illegal about Hansen's affair, his being caught by hidden cameras is quite ironic, considering he used the same hidden camera setup to catch unsuspecting predators on his television program during its four-year run."
And when CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft was caught in an affair, NewsBusters' P.J. Gladnick -- who hasn't breathed a word about Henry's affair -- couldn't get enough. In one post, he salaciously asked to "let us look at the kinky details already revealed which Kroft does not deny," which include "kinky tastes such as drinking champagne ala tush and is an incredible cheapskate."
And in another post, Gladnick chortled about the "karmatic kickback" of being ambushed by a (right-wing) New York Post reporter about the affair (who asked, "How do you live with yourself?"), complete with a "review some of the New York Post highlights (or lowlights) of the scandal." Gladnick called the footage of the ambush "must see video."
Needless to say, the New York Post and the MRC's own resident ambush guy, Dan Joseph, aren't gearing up to pounce on Henry to ask, "How do you live with yourself?" -- the former because the Post and Fox News have the same owner and would never trash a co-worker, and the latter because MRC employees from Brent Bozell on down love to appear on Fox News and wouldn't dare jeopardize that.
If Henry was still working for CNN, Gladnick and the rest of the MRC crew would be pouncing on his affair and gleefully reporting the even more salacious details emerging -- as well as Fox News chief Roger Ailes gravely intoning that the affair raises "serious questions" about Henry's judgment. But being a Fox News employee with a history of supplying conservative-friendly talking points earns you a free pass from further embarrassment from the MRC.
Hiding behind Levin to criticize Fox
So afraid is the MRC of angering Fox, in fact, that it can't do so in its own voice -- even when it finds irrefutable evidence of its bias, it either won't call it what is or will hide behind another commentator to do so.
On April 18, the MRC finally got around to analyzing cable news coverage of the 2016 presidential election, and Rich Noyes and Mike Ciandella detailed the obvious:
Our study found that FNC spent much more time interviewing Trump and his surrogates than either of his GOP competitors. Over the past four weeks, Trump was interviewed for a total of 178 minutes on Fox, vs. 106 minutes on CNN and 43 minutes on MSNBC. (Interviews includes network-sponsored town halls as well as sit-downs with a network host, but not debates or live coverage of rallies or speeches.)
Noyes and Ciandella didn't explain why the MRC excluded rallies and speeches from candidate coverage, even though they explicitly star the candidate; perhaps that would have made the Fox News numbers even more skewed for Trump.
Curiously, Noyes and Ciandella refused to use the word "bias" in describing Fox News' highly skewed coverage of Trump, though the post given the "Bias by the Minute" taxonomy.
The next day, Noyes and Ciandella highlighted an even more stark example of Fox News' bias, noting that while "the three main Republican candidates (Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Ohio Governor John Kasich) and their surrogates were interviewed for a total of 666 minutes on the Fox News Channel during this period ... neither former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave any interviews to any of FNC’s prime time programs during the four weeks we examined, and their surrogates appeared for a total of only 13 minutes a greater than 50-to-1 disparity."
Rather than criticize Fox News' clear anti-Democrat bias, Noyes and Ciandella endeavored to excuse and justify it, again without uttering the B-word:
What’s the reason? Since 2007, Democratic presidential candidates have generally boycotted Fox News, refusing to let the top-rated cable network host any of their presidential debates. Earlier this year, Fox News anchor Bret Baier pressed DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz about “letting the Fox News debate team handle” one of the then-upcoming debates; Schultz demurred.
Those aren't excuses the MRC are likely to grant to the "liberal media" for their allegedly biased coverage.
When explicit criticism of Fox News does appear at the MRC, it's usually done by quoting right-wing radio host (and friend and business partner of the MRC) Mark Levin.
On April 20, Tim Graham wrote about how Levin was "hitting back at all the election propaganda being spouted by the media and pundits after the New York primary results," going after Fox News in particular: "The Fox News Channel the Donald Trump super PAC hasn’t discussed any of this, all day long. Instead, the pom pom boys and girls are dancing all over the place. Telling you that everything’s changed, even though nothing’s changed. They repeat what Donald Trump says. They repeat what his sycophants say, his surrogates say."
Graham didn't explain why the MRC doesn't criticize Fox News itself instead of trotting out Levin to do the dirty work for them. Because Bozell would like to continue appearing on Fox, perhaps?
Graham played Levin stenographer again on May 4: "In a LevinTV video made publicly available, conservative author and talk-radio host Mark Levin slammed Fox News for allowing Donald Trump to spread the bizarre National Enquirer smear of Ted Cruz’s father Rafael, suggesting that he was “caught on camera” standing next to John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans in 1963."
Graham kept the passive Fox voice while quoting Levin or others citing Levin criticizing Fox News:
Levin offered the same message on his radio show on Tuesday night: “You’re not a news channel anymore. You’re the Fox Channel,” Levin said. “And what the hell is with the hosts on the Fox & Friends show? That didn't even challenged Donald Trump!...Not a damn question! Nothing! Zero!” He also roasted Fox’s The Five for “laughing” about the Trump smear. "They have humiliated themselves,” Levin said. “Does Donald sound like he’s cutting a joke [with this JFK allegation]? Does Kilmeade sound like he’s laughing? No, it’s very serious.”
No mention, of course, of how the MRC is sharing its bed with both Fox and Levin.
For Graham to call out Hannity in this fairly passive way , though,is probably the closest the MRC has come to bashing Fox News for its Trump fanboyism. Graham even committed the unusual (for the MRC) tactic of praising CNN's Jake Tapper for being hard on Trump for his attack on Cruz, but he still stayed passive by adding: "A 'pro-truth position' is what we should expect any news channel or journalism organization to take."
Now if Graham could explicitly admit that Fox News is the organization that needs to take that "pro-truth position" regarding Trump, we'd have some real evidence that the MRC actually does care about media research.