The MRC vs. The Movies
The Media Research Center heaps scorn on any movie that doesn't reaffirm its right-wing, uber-Catholic agenda -- and, in the case of "Ghostbusters," dares to replace male characters with females.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has a "culture and media" division, which is the center for a good portion of the MRC's gay-bashing content. Another thing the division does is critique movies.
More to the point, it attacks movies that don't advance the MRC's right-wing, anti-gay agenda. The MRC has singled out numerous movies over the years for those reasons and more, such as highlighting unsavory behavior in the Catholic Church or simply for telling the other side of an issue it deems to have no other side worth telling, like abortion.
Here are some of the films the MRC has attacked in the past few years.
One way Brent Bozell and his MRC expressed their uber-Catholic identity is by attacking the film "Philomena," about a young, unmarried Irish woman who became pregnant in the early 1950s and was sent off to a convent, where she worked as a servant in the laundry and raised her child until he was three, at which point he was taken from her and adopted away by an American family.
A November 2013 NewsBusters post by Dave Pierre -- best known around these parts for trying to spin away decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and contemporaneous cover-ups by church officials -- dismissed the film as "dreary" and "anti-Catholic" and touted how New York Post movie critic Kyle Smith trashed the film, insisting that "in 1952 Ireland, both mother and child's life would have been utterly ruined by an out-of-wedlock birth and that the nuns are actually giving both a chance at a fresh start." Right-wing film critic Christian Toto followed by whining at NewsBusters that "Philomena, a movie that accuses the Catholic Church of cruel adoption policies, and much worse, received several key nominations from the Golden Globes while Lone Survivor got shut out."
In a December 2013 column released just before the film came out, Bozell denounced it as an "anti-Catholic attack film," also praising Smith's nasty review. Bozell dismissed how the real Philomena Lee, whose story the film is based on, took issue with Smith's review and called it "incorrect." Lee praised the film as "a testament to good things, not an attack" and pointing out that "despite some of the troubles that befell me as a young girl, I have always maintained a very strong hold on my faith." Bozell's only response to Lee: "Dissent is not welcome."
In a January radio appearance, Bozell reinterpreted the film to better suit his agenda, as documented by Right Wing Watch. In Bozell's revisionist take, the child really wasn't taken from her since he was "adopted by loving parents," and the girl "obviously" did "something wrong" for the nuns to take the child from her.
Despite Bozell's view of "Philomena" clashing with reality, his Media Research Center still pushed it. In a Feb. 5 MRC item, Matthew Balan complained that "Good Morning America on ABC ballyhooed the 'breaking news' that Pope Francis shook hands with the real-life inspiration for the anti-Catholic movie 'Philomena' at the Vatican." Balan's only evidence that the film is "anti-Catholic" is a link to Bozell's column.
And the MRC's Scott Whitlock used a Feb. 20 item to once again assert that "Philomena" is "anti-Catholic" with "harsh anti-Catholic plot points." He then complains that the film "includes a scene where actor/writer Steve Coogan denounces the 'fucking Catholics.'" He didn't mention that the woman whose story the film is based on doesn't think the film is anti-Catholic.
Apparently, dissent is also not welcome when anyone points out Bozell's flawed take on this film.
Nobody at the MRC, including Bozell, gave any evidence they actually viewed "Philomena" before trashing it, despite journalistic honesty dictates that you actually watch the movie you're passing judgment on. That's an MRC trend.
In a June 2014 MRC Culture & Media Institute column, Katie Yoder ranted about the film "Obvious Child," complaining about the "abortion romantic comedy" and how "lefty media types were enthusiastic" about it. Given that Yoder wrote her article five days before the film opened, it's highly unlikely she had a chance to see the film before spewing her opinion on it.
The ignorance continued in Bozell and Tim Graham's column a few days later, in which they railed against "the courageous destruction of God's most beautiful and most innocent creation" and smear the film as "feminist nihilism." Their column was posted on the morning of June 6 -- the day the film opened -- making it highly unlikely that they too bothered to watch the film they're trashing.
Yoder followed up with an article posted later on June 6 in which she complained that people who have actually watched the movie -- unlike her -- are expressing positive opinions about it. Even though Yoder may have had the chance to watch the film before posting her article, there's no indication she did.
Then again, since Yoder, Bozell and Graham were clearly going to trash this movie whether they saw it or not, they apparently decided to cut out the alleged waste of time of seeing a film they've already formed an intractable opinion about.
But one can appeal to the MRC's sense of shame on occasion -- sort of. Yoder defended her deliberate ignorance in a June 18 MRC article and attacked the critics who called her out for bashing a film she hadn't seen as raising a "bogus" argument because any film that doesn't depict abortion as horrible is automatically unworthy of praise:
When “Obvious Child” hit theaters this month, conservatives were aghast the media glorified it without irony as an “abortion romantic comedy.” Liberals lashed back, claiming, like the movie’s Director Gillian Robespierre, that "[Conservatives bashing Obvious Child] haven't seen the movie; they're basing it on articles and trailers."
Yoder's defensiveness is itself bogus. Simple journalistic honesty dictates that you first fully encounter something before you attack it. Apparently, the MRC doesn't teach its writers to do that.
Yoder's column is actually her account of finally bothering to go see the film -- not to behave responsibly, mind you, but to "play along" with her critics. But since Yoder has an agenda, she made sure to keep her mind closed, determined to find nothing whatsoever rewarding about the film:
After watching “Obvious Child” last week, I’m only more determined to continue my “bashing.” The difference is I sat through a lot of crude sex jokes. From comparing an abortion to a “drive-through” or a DMV visit to concocting a plot where every main female character aborted a baby at some point, the film sets out to normalize abortion as a part of everyday life. “Obvious Child” is in the end little more than slick pro-abortion agitprop.
Of course, anything that doesn't slavishly follow the "pro-life" agenda is "pro-abortion agitprop" to Yoder, who appears to be mostly upset that the film won't demonize a character who has an abortion, as Yoder and her MRC colleagues strive to do in real life.
Since Yoder treated viewing the film as a chore to mollify critics instead of the open-minded fact-finding mission a real writer would have done, it's no surprise that she wasn't moved by it. She never had any intention of allowing that to happen.
With the release of the film "Spotlight," about how the Boston Globe broke the story of systemic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, the MRC tried to do what it always does when the subject pops up in the media: spin and change the subject.
The Catholic League's Bill Donohue -- who likes to falsely claim that the abusive priests were all gay -- took a crack in a Nov. 6 NewsBusters post, complaining that the media obsessed over the Catholic abuse "but there is little interest in this issue when non-Catholics are implicated in such crimes." Donohue then selectively recounted random, isolated cases of abuse from across the country. For instance:
In May 2014, Michael Travis, an assistant softball coach at a Nebraska high school was arrested for sexually assaulting two softball players. Two more alleged victims came forward in December. This past August, he cut a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to simple assault, and was told he would not have to register as a sex offender or spend a day in jail. It received little media coverage.
In addition to getting the location of the case in question wrong (it happened in Iowa, not Nebraska), Donohue didn't mention that the plea deal was approved by the alleged victims because it would force Travis to surrender his teaching and coaching licenses and agree to never teach or coach again, or that some of the charges against Travis had to be thrown out because they took place before a law specifically outlawing the alleged behavior was enacted.
Donohue went on to whine: "If any of these accused men had been a priest, both the media and the courts would have acted differently. This is not even debatable." But Donohue deliberately omitted the reason why the Catholic abuse cases were especially newsworthy, not just in Boston but in other Catholic dioceses as well: they were widespread, and church officials spent decades covering them up. Donohue cannot say that about any of the isolated cases he cites as a distraction.
(On the other hand, kudos to the MRC for disclosing at the top of Donohue's post that MRC chief Brent Bozell is a member of the Catholic League's board of advisers, which it didn't do until we started pointing it out.)
Then, in a Nov. 15 post, MRC official Tim Graham sneered that the film "claims to be an accurate representation of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning crusade in 2001 and 2002 against clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church," then followed Donohue into distraction mode by also falsely playing the blame-the-gays card: "Surely, it's a true story that there were monsters disguised as men of God that abused children. But it's also true that there are contrary facts that this reporter-boosting movie excluded, like the gay-activist priests that the Globe promoted in its pages -- until it turned out their gay liberation was unleashed on children."
The headline of Graham's post reads, "WashPost Critic: Heroic Liberal Reporter Movie Like 'Watching Porn'." But Graham gets this wrong too: As the excerpt he uses makes very clear, the Washington Post critic is actually quoting someone else saying that.
Graham's manufactured freakout over that statement is odd, since he apparently wasn't offended by his boss, Brent Bozell, creepily called Republican ranting about media bias "better than sex."
After "Spotlight" won an Oscar for best picture, Donohue was back in distraction mode with a Feb. 26 NewsBusters post complaining that "Hollywood has no interest in turning its cameras on itself, which is why the public's eyes have been shut tight from seeing a movie that documents child rape in Tinseltown." Donohue doesn't even mention "Spotlight" after the second paragraph.
A revised version of Donohue's post appeared as a column at the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, where he asserted that the film's makers "are unaware of the fact that the homosexual scandal occurred mostly between 1965 and 1985, and that no institution in the United States has less of a problem with this issue today than the Catholic Church. That's because Pope Benedict XVI made it hard for practicing homosexuals to enter the priesthood."
Contrary to Donohue's assertion that the priest sex scandal was exclusively "homosexual," a report by John Jay College commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that "there is no causative relationship between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual victimization of children in the Church. Therefore, being celibate or being gay did not increase the risk of violating children. So, blaming the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on gay men or celibacy is unfounded."
"The Danish Girl"
Graham -- who has a history of being unusually hostile to transgenders -- and Bozell devoted their Jan. 2 column to unloading on their newest target, the film "The Danish Girl," for telling the true story of a man who became transgender and underwent the first gender-reassignment surgery. The sneering begins right out of the gate, with the very first sentence devoted to attacking NPR for not pretending the film doesn't exist: "As night fell on Christmas Eve, National Public Radio was in its usual holy-day mode, using your tax dollars to mock the traditional Christian creed."
Actually, Christmas Eve isn't a "holy day" in most Christian religions, and Bozell and Graham offer no evidence that any "tax dollars" went toward the production of its story. So they're wrong right of the gate as well.
Graham and Bozell go on to rant that any promotion of the film is "propaganda," as is the film itself, and they're appalled that gender-reassignment surgery is being called "gender confirmation surgery" because it's really nothing more than "maiming of the male body." In response to the main character's declaration that "God made me a woman," they hiss: "God did not do this; it is man attempting to undo what God created."
Graham and Bozell raged further that "No one is allowed to rebut [the film's star Eddie] Redmayne’s Christmas Eve 'trans ally' sermonizing with facts or, even worse, Christian teaching." Read: It's MRC policy that fair-and-balanced media means gays and transgenders must be denigrated in the media at every opportunity, preferably with as much bile as possible.
They then attack the man whose story inspired the movie as having descended into "madness," then complained that the movie didn't portray it, favoring the "radical politics" of treating a transgender person like a human instead of the monster they wanted to see on screen.
That is, if Graham and Bozell had actually bothered to see the film. They give no indication that they have; apparently, all that was required to generate a column's worth of hateful swill is that NPR story.
Yep, no need to offer an informed analysis of the film when right-wing ranting serves Graham and Bozell's purpose just as well.
The 2016 remake of "Ghostbusters" got busted frequently by the MRC, mainly for the offense of having women star in the roles held by men in the original.
A May 17 post by Maggie McKneely complained that Hillary Clinton would appear with the "GhostBusters" lead on Ellen DeGeneres' show, huffing that this was a "feminist dream show" and that "This is just another example of liberal Hollywood using its powerful platform to support its political candidates."
Well into July, after the film's release, McKneely was insisting that "Ghostbusters" is "a poorly made film" -- something she never backed up -- and anyone pointing to sexist hostility against it is making excuses for its lack of success.
Then, when "Ghostbusters" co-star Leslie Jones became the target of Twitter trolls who sent racist messages to her after the film's release, the MRC was more offended that Dan Ackroyd, who starred in the original, said that Jones' Twitter trolls would surely vote Republican.
Right-wing movie critic Christian Toto returned to offer an ideologically motivated "review" of the film, insisting that while the original film "embraced capitalism while mocking bureaucrats," the reboot used "victimization storylines ripped from today’s snowflake-encrusted headlines. Our heroines feel used, abused and neglected." He declared that "Ghostbusters is the reboot our culture deserves" and sneers to the female cast, "Pick up a thicker skin while you’re shopping for new proton packs."
When "Ghostbusters" proved to be a relative disappointment at the box office -- it earned $180 million a month after release but reportedly needed to earn $70 million more than its expected total box-office take to recoup filmmaking and marketing expenses -- the MRC rushed to dance on the film's grave. Eliot Polsky touted the film's "box-office and critical failure," even though he admits " Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a decent 73% from critics," and dismissed the "PC victimhood adventure" that the film purportedly is.
Toto returned to do more politically motivated bashing, similarly cheering the film's alleged failure because "the reboot became a cause celebre with journalists" who wanted it to succeed and that it highlighted "the entrenched media bias in entertainment reporting." Toto didn't address his own bias.
But Toto wasn't done; he cranked out one more column denouncing the film:
Ghostbusters isn’t remotely political on the surface. It quickly became a new front in the culture wars all the same. The press deemed the project a corrective to the industry’s sexist practices. Suddenly, the movie’s success became more important than your typical summer blockbuster.
It seems Toto is the film critic the MRC deserves -- someone who, like the MRC, puts his conclusions first then builds evidence afterward.