Tim Graham, Terrible Media Critic
There's a reason the Media Research Center bigwig sticks mostly to friendly, sheltered confines to peddle his anti-media attacks: It keeps him from getting schooled in person about how his "media criticism" is all about ideology and rarely about journalism.
By Terry Krepel
Nicholas Fondacaro sure did what he could to make his boss look good in in writing about his appearance for an MRC post:
The Media Research Center’s Tim Graham appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday to discuss The New York Times’ recent article featuring leaked information about Donald Trump’s taxes. Even though the information is striking, Graham took issue with the Times’ motives for writing the way they did, “They have the anonymous tax expert on the front page of the paper today say he benefited from his vast destruction, like he was Hurricane Donald.”
What you didn't see in Fondacaro's writeup -- and he makes only a brief appearance in the edited transcript of the segment included in his item -- is the other person appearing in the discussion with Stelter and Graham, the Daily Beast's John Avlon. The video clip accompanying Fondacaro's post is even more censored, using less than a minute from the pair of segments on "Reliable Sources" Graham took part in, which lasted more than 13 minutes.
Why? Because Avlon pretty much mopped the floor with Graham, sharply countering his kneejerk right-wing ranting about the "liberal media" with a dose of reality. And the MRC doesn't want you to know that.
In the first segment discussing the Times article, Fondacaro omits the fact that Graham spread a falsehood in asserting that the person in the Times article who said Trump "benefited from his vast destruction" was anonymous. In fact, that quote is on the record, attributed to Joel Rosenfeld, an assistant professor at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. When Stelter noted he couldn't find the anonymous quote Graham claims in the Times article, Graham continued to petulantly insist it was there.
When Avlon pointed out that the Times article is solidly backed up, which is "uncomfortable for people with partisan agendas," Graham huffed, "Oh, and you don't have one, John? You're about as Republican as Lester Holt. To come on here and say you're not ideological? Nobody buys that." Avlon pointed out he's "not a right-wing ideologue who profits from polarization."
Also omitted is Graham's petulant response to Avlon's claim that right-wing attacks on the well-sourced Times story are just "pure partisan spin": "The New York Times is pure partisan spin! ... This newspaper is trying to intimidate Trump into releasing his tax returns." When Avlon pointed out that Trump has flip-flopped on releasing taxes, Graham played the Clinton Equivocation: "Oh, and Hillary Clinton have never violated a standard?" After more ranting from Graham about how "everybody's out to destroy Trump," Avlon retorted, "When did conservative start loving to play the victim so much? When did that happen?"
Another large chunk of the CNN discussion censored from Fondacaro's article is Avlon's response to Graham's rehearsed attack line on Holt (which curiously appears only in the transcript) that "If Lester Holt was referencing a football game, he would have gotten thrown out of the stadium" and his weird assertion that "the whole assumption of liberal media is Hillary somehow never lies."
Fondacaro's transcript cuts off before Graham falsely claims that "everybody cites PolitiFact and says Hillary never lies," then, as the full video shows, goes back to the '90s to claim Hillary Clinton lied about not knowing about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Avlon pointed out that Hillary's trustworthiness levels are low "in part because for 25 years she's been demonized by partisan media. And so it comes back to partisan media and the role it plays." Avlon added: "And those of you on the side of partisan media who say that the implicit bias of mainstream over the years can only be corrected by explicit bias, well, you carried the day for a while, but now people are hip to your tricks, and it's a fundamental problem that's undercutting trust in media, journalism and democracy writ large."
Graham, as he is wont to do, responds by mocking and sneering, only to get smacked down by Avlon again:
GRAHAM: Nobody buys this whole pretense that somehow John Avlon and the Daily Beast are the soul of objective media coverage when you sat in a studio and you all made fun of Dick Cheney's heart trouble and what wouldn't take his heart in a transplant --
In short, Avlon outlined everything that's wrong with the MRC. Graham clearly doesn't want to have to defend that on his own website, so he made sure the discussion never appeared there.
Graham vs. Ziegler
Graham clearly learned nothing from his encounter with Avlon -- except, perhaps, to make sure he never has to share a segment with Avlon again -- because he continued to spout his usual right-wing talking points masquerading as media criticism.
Graham spent an Oct. 17 post lashing out at conservative activist John Ziegler for pointing out at Mediaite that Donald Trump's constant complaining about media bias is the desperate defense of a terrible candidate -- while obscuring what he considers genuine media bias -- and that the MRC is simply trying to cash in by latching on to it because it "fundraises off of bad media coverage and wouldn’t exist if the problem ever really got solved."
It's not an unreasonable argument to make, especially given how the MRC routinely ignores cases of media bias that don't advance its right-wing agenda -- for example, "60 Minutes" reporting a fabricated account of the Benghazi attack or the MRC's refusal to criticize Fox News even when Trump himself is calling it out for bias. It's also reasonable given that it appears a wealthy conservative with close ties to Trump's campaign, Rebekah Mercer -- who sits on the MRC board of directors and supplies one-fourth of its multimillion-dollar annual budget -- seems to have flipped MRC chief Brent Bozell toward becoming a Trump backer.
How did Graham respond? By portraying Ziegler as a drunk for saying it, making odd "Breathalyzer" references. Commence the whining, Tim:
There's nothing laughable in the charge that the problem of media bias against Trump isn't "real." You may argue Trump is not a movement conservative (many did during the primaries and many still do). But the reality of media bias against Trump surrounds anyone who follows the political media right now. Ziegler then launches into arrogant boasting about how he takes media bias too seriously to face "fake fighters against bias" like the "conservative" "Media Research Center."
Yet it's undeniable that the MRC's embrace of Trump's media bias claims has been selective, depending on the target. As ConWebWatch documented, the MRC wouldn't touch Trump's accusations of media bias in 2015 -- but then, they were targeted at Fox News, where Brent Bozell has a weekly slot on "Hannity" and he and other MRC employees make regular appearances. It's only when Trump started targeting the so-called "liberal media" -- coincidentally, the MRC's main target -- in the wake of bad news about his vile misogyny that the MRC bothered to echo them.
Also remember the MRC's big flip-flop: It moved originally bashing the "liberal media" for being too soft on Trump to bashing it for any criticism of Trump.
But Graham is too busy smearing Ziegler as an alcoholic to address the substance of his criticism, that Trump didn't push the "crooked media" line until women started stepping forward with tales of his boorish behavior, and "Trump’s complaints are not based in truth, but in desperation. He is saying whatever might sound good at the moment to his base of fanatical future subscribers to whatever media venture he will create after he loses."Graham certainly knows this as well. But as long as he's saying the right words about a "crooked media," Graham won't bother to acknowledge that Trump's just playing to the base to save his political skin and not making an intellectual argument.
That appears to be because Graham knows he's right about the MRC being opportunistic. If the MRC was sincerely interested in media, wouldn't it have taken all bias complaints by Trump seriously? But then, accusing Fox News of media bias wouldn't rake in the donations that accusations against its predetermined targets generate.
To see that just requires applied logic, not a chemically altered state. The fact that Graham can't, or won't, see the difference between the two tells you all you need to know about the MRC.
Graham vs. Folkenflik
For some reason, Graham loves to pick fights with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik -- fights that he tends to lose.
In 2011, for example, Folkenflik analyzed six months of guest lists for the "All-Star Panel" on Fox News' "Special Report" and found that "the same mix typically prevailed: two clear cut conservatives and one other analyst, sometimes a Democrat or a liberal, but usually a journalist from a non-ideological news outlet." Graham got mad because Folkenflik's findings ran counter to the MRC's talking points, scoffing at the idea that the news outlets like Washington Post would be considered "non-ideological": The Post is a 'non-ideological news outlet'? See the arrogance of media liberals on display." Graham, of course, was proudly displaying the arrogance of media conservatives by portraying any outlet that does not uncritically regurgitate right-wing talking points -- which, of course, Fox News does on a regular basis -- as axiomatically "liberal."
At no point, though, did Graham dispute the basic conclusion of Folkenflik's research -- that even if you assume that "Special Report" host Bret Baier is neutral and every reporter from a "non-ideological news outlet" is a liberal, most "Special Report" panels are still unbalanced because the other two participants are conservatives. Even Graham, it seems, is not so foolhardy to even try to counter that.
In June -- by this time toeing the MRC's recently acquired pro-Trump line -- Graham attacked Folkenflik for accurately pointing out that, in Graham's words, "Donald Trump [is] a crybaby who can't handle rude press coverage." Graham didn't dispute the accuracy of Folkenflik's assessment; instead, he complained about how Folkenflik addressed Trump on the subject of pulling the credentials of the Washington Post reporter following Trump's campaign for the paper's insufficiently fawning coverage of him; Folkenflik wrote of Trump: "Well, look, boo-hoo! This is the job, man! You know, you're going to run for president. You have to face scrutiny. You've got to take the lumps."
Graham justified Trump's action against the Post by citing examples of "the remarkable hostility the paper has shown Trump, which are mostly limited to a few op-eds and a couple in house editorials noting that Trump's plan to remove all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. would be "a forced movement on a scale not attempted since Stalin or perhaps Pol Pot." Graham didn't provide an example of what would be a more favorable comparison.
Graham then displayed his own Trump-like petulance by posting screenshots of his Twitter fight with Folkenflik. In it, Folkenflik pointed out Trump's anti-media attacks such as having proposed loosening libel laws, threatening to sic anti-trust lawyers on Post owner Jeffrey Bezos, mocking a disabled reporter and "point[ing] out reporters for denigration at rallies."
Graham responded by obsessing about Hillary and painting Trump as the victim of the media: "Folkenflik failed -- like many other liberals -- to balance the ledger by noting Hillary Clinton's hostility to the press, even though she has much less to complain about than Trump."
Graham got huffy with Folkenflik again in an Oct. 27 post:
NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik loves to report negative stories about Fox News, over and over again. Since July 6, he’s filed 16 negative reports on Fox News and the sexual-harassment lawsuits, leading to the departure of longtime boss Roger Ailes.
Those 16 reports on Fox News and Ailes are, as we've noted, approximately 16 more than the MRC has devoted to the story. Fox News is the MRC's favorite news outlet, and Brent Bozell and crew appear there regularly, so they clearly didn't want to jeopardize that by reporting such unpleasant things.
(Also: This is coming from the guy about whom it can be rightly concluded that bashing NPR is a favorite pastime.)
Graham went on to whine: "The least surprising story on Wednesday night’s All Things Considered was Folkenflik enjoying the Tuesday night Fox News fight between Megyn Kelly and Newt Gingrich. Like the other leftists, Folkenflik took the side of Kelly, scorning Gingrich as a finger-wagging old man who specialized in cheating on his wives losing voters for Trump."
But criticism of Gingrich was not coming solely from "leftists" (and Graham does not prove Folkenflik is one). For instance, Katie Pavlich and Cheri Jacobus -- who cannot plausibly be described as "leftists" -- also criticized Trump.
Stranger than Graham's attempt to pick another bogus fight with Folkenflik is how the MRC promoted it. A post on its NewsBusters Twitter account carried the introduction "GEORGE SOROS GRANT NEWS."
Graham didn't even mention Soros in his post, nor did he engage in a "defund NPR" rant that is usually a staple whenever Graham writes about NPR.
The NewsBusters tweet was apparently a reference to a donation Soros' Open Society Institute made to NPR back in 2010 -- but that was earmarked for NPR's "Impact on Government" project and apparently not to Folkenflik's salary.
But, hey, when has anyone ever accused Graham and the MRC of caring about inconvenient facts?
Graham vs. Washington Post
In December, the Washington Post did a big story on how Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of TV stations in the country, required its local news operations to run negative stories about Hillary Clinton during the election and worked with Donald Trump's campaign to air interviews with him on those stations.
Graham was mad about this, of course, because he is a terrible media critic and doesn't think right-wing media should face the same scrutiny as the "liberal media" the MRC pays him to attack. So he ranted about it in a Dec. 25 post (yes, Graham apparently spent his Christmas Day wining about this):
Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi dug into the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group to warn of conservative pro-Trump bias. The headline at the top of the Style section front page was “How a giant TV company helped Donald Trump's campaign.” It’s nothing like giant TV companies like, say, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or (“not for profit’’) PBS. But pro-Trump bias is offensive inside the Post headquarters. The major networks demonstrating a pro-Hillary bias is just favoring compassion, intelligence, and diversity.
Needless to say, Graham offered no evidence that any of those "liberal media" outlets he cited issued "must run" orders from corporate on stories attacking Trump, like Sinclair did for anti-Hillary stories.
Graham didn't mention how Farhi reported that Sinclair "managers have been particularly close to Carson, who practiced medicine in Baltimore for many years," and "aired his hour-long autobiographical promotional film, called 'A Breath of Fresh Air, A New Prescription for America,' just before Carson’s official announcement [of his presidential campaign]. The Carson infomercial was produced by a company run by Armstrong Williams, which paid Sinclair an undisclosed fee for the airtime."
Neither Graham nor Farhi noted that Williams, who is also Ben Carson's handler, is in business with Sinclair. His Howard Stirk Holdings owns several TV stations that are operated by Sinclair through "sidecar" LMA agreements.
If any of this bias and cozy self-dealing happened with a non-conservative owner of TV stations, Graham would be screaming bloody murder. But Sinclair's bias is the kind of bias he likes -- and his complaint about the Post's report on Sinclair is the height of hypocrisy.
Graham vs. Shepard Smith
The MRC loves to bash Fox News anchor Shepard Smith for his failure to toe the right-wing line followed by other Fox News hosts. Graham unloaded on Smith in a Jan. 14 post for highlighting "the Trump strategy to delegitimize the reporters and the news organizations whose goal for the American people is to hold truth to power." Graham huffed in response:
Liberals like Smith can't seem to accept Trump's approach. It doesn't matter if you're the press or a business competitor. If you attempt to delegtimize him, he will offer you a healthy dose of what you are offering him. Arrogant journalists think they are beyond criticism. They pretend that attacking the media is like attacking democracy. But if the media's approval rating with the public is in the toilet, how can they claim to represent the public?
Graham demonstrates once again how little he knows about the profession he has devoted his career criticizing. Journalists -- like those in any other profession, including Graham's -- do not think they are beyond criticism; they do, however, think they are beyond malicious attacks done to score political points, as well be as being dismissed as partisan shills simply for doing their jobs.
And Graham's assertion that the media cannot be representing the public because its "approval rating with the public is in the toilet" is simply absurd. Reporting the news is not a popularity contest -- at least, it shouldn't be. (Graham also forgets to mention that his career is dedicated to making sure the media's approval rating is in the toilet.)
After Smith again referenced Trump's "strategy to delegitimize those who are holding truth to power" in reaction to Trump's attack on CNN reporter Jim Acosta, Graham ranted once more: "Can we stop with the "holding truth to power" sloganeering? This is supposed to be TV news, not belly-up-to-the-bar boasting at a journalists' convention. Acosta wasn't 'holding truth to power.' He was acting like a corporate tool for CNN, trying to please his bosses, not necessarily the public." And Graham is acting as a tool for the MRC, not offering reasonable analysis.
Graham is so pro-Trump -- and anti-media -- that he even attacked Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple for pointing out Trump's undeniable anti-media strategy: "But Wemple never pondered it from the point of view of Trump -- and the many voters who don't trust the media."
And Graham simply doesn't want Trump held accountable. That's why he and the MRC have attacked media fact-checkers who scrutinize Trump -- he says enough of the right things, he brought conservatives to the promised land of political power, so he cannot, and must not, be challenged.
Again: This is not media criticism, this is partisan anti-media rhetoric. Graham cares nothing about journalism and everything about advancing ideological interests -- including shutting down and delegitimizing any and all critics of Trump, including the media.
That's why the MRC cannot be taken seriously. And it's also why the MRC will never post the full video of Graham's "Reliable Sources" appearance on any of its websites.