MRC vs. Acosta: The Battle Rages On
When the Trump White House pulled the press pass of CNN's Jim Acosta, the Media Research Center had no problem ratcheting up the hatred even more -- so much so that its "news" division rooted for CNN's lawsuit to reinstate Acosta to go down in flames.
By Terry Krepel
When Trump insulted Acosta for trying to ask a question at a Nov. 7 presidential briefing, the MRC's Scott Whitlock reveled in it, hyperbolically calling it "WAR" in his headline and touting: "The President slammed Jim Acosta as a 'rude,' 'horrible' and 'terrible person.' At one point, Trump told Acosta to sit down as a White House aide tried to take the microphone away from him." Whitlock went on to happily transcribe:
As a White House aide attempted to take away the microphone from Acosta, the journalist pushed her away. Trump snapped, “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN.”
When CNN personalities defended Acosta, noted Acosta-hater Curtis Houck put "HISSY FIT" in all-caps in the headline of his rant, sneering that the defense was a "20-minute love letter to itself":
After Wednesday’s free-wheeling and tense White House press conference, CNN went on the offensive against President Trump, illustrating a level of self-centeredness that’s unrivaled in the media and showing petty levels of emotion on-set reacting to the President’s condemnations and heated exchanges with chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, political analyst April Ryan, and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor.
Of course, Houck also thinks that it's "self-centered" for journalists to be concerned about their safety in the face of an anti-media president, so his priorities are a little distorted.
When the Trump White House pulled Acosta's press credentials, Houck was excited about that too, squarely blaming "circus act" Acosta and, again, a purportedly narcissistic CNN and certainly not a thin-skinned president:
As Acosta had likely hoped, it drew attention to himself and CNN, triggering over 20 minutes of CNN expressing its love for, well, CNN while showing its undeniably deep disdain for the President.
And, predictably, Houck whined again when CNN defended him on air.
Also predictably, the MRC almost completely ignored the fact that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a doctored video showing the contact between Acosta and the White House intern trying to take the microphone away from him as more violent than it actually was. It was only obliquely referred to in a Nov. 8 post by Kristine Marsh noting the "suggestion" that Acosta assaulted the intern.
When CNN filed suit against the White House over the pulling of Acosta's press pass, the MRC cranked up the anger again. MRC chief Brent Bozell issued a rant claiming that "Jim Acosta is not a reporter; he is a left-wing activist" and "CNN is not a news organization but a political hit squad for the far left." He and Tim Graham followed with a column listing "Six Reasons the CNN Acosta Lawsuit Is Lame," one of which was defending Trump's right to take questions from whomever he chooses like other presidents have, adding: "President Obama never consented to questions from Sean Hannity."But Hannity is not and never has been a White House correspondent; he's a right-wing Fox News ranter with an affinity for conspiracy theories.
Geoffrey Dickens and Bill D'Agostino introduced a montage of out-of-context "disruptive behavior" moments by Acosta under the headline "Here’s Why Jim Acosta Should Be Kicked Out of the White House," huffing: "CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta during the Trump administration has shouted at and talked over press secretaries Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders. He has interrupted his fellow White House press corp [sic] colleagues, called the President himself “fake news” and even screamed at Trump as he was talking to children at the annual Easter Egg roll."
Alas for the MRC, that was not to be, at least in the meantime: a judge restored Acosta's press pass. And, of course, they grumbled about that:
And the immature, unprofessional potshots continued: Houck chortled when Trump called Acosta "bad for the country," sticking "Ouch!" in his headline, and Randy Hall touted how Hannity "spent almost nine minutes hammering" Acosta -- which, if a liberal commentator had done to a favored conservative, the MRC would have dismissed as obsessive behavior.
The MRC can't even lose gracefully.
Lame surrogates, lame hypocrisy
That gracelessness extends to the compilation pieces the MRC published that are filled with people who say how terrible Acosta purportedly is.
The headline of a Nov. 15 item by Geoffrey Dickens declared, "Even Acosta’s Reporter Peers Think He’s Gone Too Far." He insisted: "It’s not just President Donald Trump, White House press secretaries Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders who think Jim Acosta is out of control. Even some of his journalist colleagues think his antics are bad for journalism."
Dickens' first example of a "reporter peer," however, is Joe Concha. But he's not a White House correspondent -- he's currently a media reporter for The Hill. While he denies it, he's also conservative; otherwise, the MRC wouldn't be quoting him regularly for hew adherence to its right-wing agenda, under headlines like "Joe Concha: Media’s Trump Anger Mostly ‘Performance Art at This Point’" and "Joe Concha Trashes the Media in 2017: It ‘Sticks to Your Boots,’ Cites MRC."
In other words, not really a "reporter peer" at all beyond being in the same general profession.
Dickens also cited anonymous CNN co-workers attacking Acosta in a Politico article. Wait -- doesn't the MRC normally despise anonymous sources? Only when they don't benefit the MRC's agenda, apparently.
The same day, there was an anonymously written piece noting how "we at the Media Research Center reached out to conservative leaders around the nation" to get reaction to Acosta, and "these leaders responded with frustration at CNN’s dramatic publicity stunt." Among the responses was this:
The Acosta-intern video shows what it shows, whether CNN likes it or not. We can disagree over how to characterize the video, but any claim that there was no contact is akin to, as CNN would put it, calling an apple a banana.
Yes, that James O'Keefe -- whose very brand is publicity stunts and doctored videos -- apparently defending the doctored video sent out by Huckabee Sanders showing Acosta's contact with a White house intern trying to take a microphone away from him as being more brutal than it actually was.
Maybe the MRC should screen its signatories closer before promoting them.
The MRC also got an assist from its favorite media outlet, Fox News. In a Nov. 13 post, Ryan Foley noted a segment featuring conservatives talking about Acosta -- no complaint, of course, that the panel was unbalanced for lacking a non-conservative. Foley got to once again invoke, yes, Joe Concha:
Concha brought up the media’s reaction to Neil Munro, then a staffer for The Daily Caller, interrupting one of President Obama’s speeches. Concha read aloud some headlines written in response to Munro’s interruption of President Obama.
In fact, the MRC never criticized Munro's behavior, even as it apparently now concedes that his behavior was no different from that of Acosta, about which it has spilled a torrent of anger. The MRC never complained that Munro crossed the line between reporting and editorializing by heckling President Obama during a news conference, there was no declaration that Munro was an activist masquerading as a journalist, or that Munro embarrassed himself and his profession, or that Munro is operating outside the confines of honest journalism, or that conservatives who expect fair and honest journalism should ignore Munro.
Indeed, one MRC writer accused Munro's critics of "flaming, presidential boot-licking hypocrisy."while another offered this defense: "Henceforth the Obama administration might want to signal when questions will be allowed from the media and when reporters will be expected to emulate statuary."
Of course, the Trump White House has signaled its question-statuary ratio by issuing new post-Acosta rules. Needless to say, the MRC is far from outraged by these rules: Curtis Houck cheered the "brief but simple guidelines" made necessary because of "bombastic, self-centered behavior."
Houck, Bozell and the MRC would have been screaming had these very same rules been issued by the Obama White House in the wake of Munro's tirade. It's hypocritical for them to condone Trump's actions now.
CNS helps with Acosta attack
Meanwhile, the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, served up its own body of biased anti-Acosta work. A Nov. 7 blog post by Craig Bannister cheered Acosta's pass suspension, adding that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders "tweeted that the White House stands by its decision to suspend Acosta and invited Americans to watch the video of the incident she embedded in her post," and embedding the Sanders tweet containing the video in his post.
Just one problem: the video was doctored. A video expert enlisted by the Associated Press documented how the video tweeted out by Sanders had frames speeded up to make Acosta's action in trying to keep a White House intern from taking the microphone from him while he was asking President Trump a question look more aggressive than it was in reality, while other frames were slowed down to make the video's run time the same as an unaltered video. The doctored video apparently came from a reporter for far-right conspiracy site Infowars. Heck, even one of CNS' favorite conservatives, Ben Shapiro, called out Sanders for sending out a doctored video.
Despite all that, Bannister's post was never updated to reflect the controversy over the video.
Two days later, an article by Melanie Arter addressed the issue not by admitting the clear, unambiguous evidence that the video was doctored, but by starting out in stenography mode, giving Trump three paragraphs to falsely rant that the video wasn't doctored:
President Donald Trump called out the media for reporting that a video that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released of a White House intern trying to take the microphone away from CNN’s Jim Acosta at Monday’s White House press conference was doctored.
Even though the facts are not on Trump's side, Arter chose instead to present the story as a he said-she said, following Trump's rant with a statement that "The Washington Post reported Thursday that Sanders shared a video 'that appeared to have been altered' to make Acosta’s actions 'look more aggressive toward a White House intern,'" with two additional paragraphs from the Post article.
Giving falsehoods the same credulity as the truth without admitting that the falsehoods are, in fact, false is the very definition of false balance. That's what you do when you're a stenographer and not a reporter.
Arter concluded her article with some uncritical dissembling from Sanders on the doctored video:
After the media questioned the reasoning behind the White House’s decision, Sanders issued a statement Thursday addressing reports that the video she shared was doctored.
Arter did not mention that the question was actually about the doctored video, nor did she point out that Sanders refused to answer the question that was asked. She is a stenographer, after all.
Arter also wrote an article focused on the White House's legal response to CNN's lawsuit -- but she waited until the seventh paragraph to note that the MRC's favorite news outlet, Fox News, filed an amicus brief on behalf of CNN, which you'd think would be the more newsworthy of the two.
In addition to running Bozell and Graham's column calling the CNN lawsuit "lame," CNS also called in the usual suspects in attacking the lawsuit in general and Acosta in particular, with special attention given to a certain right-wing radio host to whom CNS has already spent more than 100 articles so far this year promoting:
There were, of course, no posts uncritically arguing the merits of CNN's lawsuit.
Rooting for CNN's defeat
So sure was CNS that the fix was in against CNN, in fact, that it touted the bias of the judge reviewing it. Arter was practically salivating in a Nov. 14 article when she wrote: "The judge in the case--Timothy J. Kelly--was appointed to this judgeship by President Trump and before that worked on the staff of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa). Prior to that he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia during the administration of President George W. Bush." Strangely, other articles Arter wrote in anticipation of Kelly's ruling failed to mention that he is a Trump appointee.
But when Kelly granted CNN's request to at least temporarily restore Acosta's press pass, Arter came off as a bit dejected, turning in another unusually balanced article that again failed to note that the judge is a Trump appointee. She did follow up, though, with an article giving heavy play to the White House's claim that it was drawing up "rules and regulations" for reporter conduct.
CNS couldn't stop the bias, though -- one article touted right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro, who has a law degree but no apparent expertise in media law, insisting that "no major precedent was set" in the ruling, and another quoting Trump saying the ruling is "not a big deal" (though this one did admit Kelly was a Trump appointee). Another post, by managing editor Michael W. Chapman, called on former CNN host Larry King, whose current show airs on Russian propaganda channel RT -- something Chapman curiously failed to tell his readers -- to complain that CNN "is not a news network" anymore.
Still, CNS' animus toward Acosta is such that it published a Nov. 19 article -- anonymously written under the "CNSNews.com Staff" byline -- trying to suggest that Acosta told an actionable lie when he stated in a court filing "under penalty of perjury" that he "politely" questioned Trump.
That pretty much sums up the level of absolute hatred the MRC has for Acosta.