Loving The Fringe To Own the Libs
The Media Research Center embraces and mainstreams crazy conspiracy theories like QAnon and extremist candidates because they can be shoehorned into its pet narrative of social media conspiring against conservatives.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has a narrative that social media is solely and uniquely discriminating against conservatives, and they're sticking to it. Not even the fact that Facebook is continually sucking up to conservatives in an attempt to dispel the narrative -- to the point where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is having secret off-the-record dinners with MRC chief Brent Bozell -- isn't getting in the way.
It's also a sign of the basic emptiness of the narrative that the MRC has to go further afield to find folks being "censored" by social media, which means people and groups farther to the right than the MRC usually associates with. But as it pulls these far-right extremists into its narrative -- some of whom were "censored" for good reason, since they're known for violent and hateful rhetoric -- the MRC has to whitewash that extremism and present them as mainstream conservatives to make the victimhood narrative plausible.
Let's take a look at some of the people and groups the MRC is portraying as victims these days.
In a July 20 post, Duncan Schroeder complained about how CNN analyst John Avlon "hypocritically accused the Republican Party of promoting extremism and conspiracy theories through discussing the QAnon conspiracy theory." Rather than concede that QAnon followers are pretty extreme, Schroeder shifted into whataboutism mode, ranting that "CNN has promoted multiple “nonsense” conspiracy theories about Trump," declaring that "If Avlon was not a Democratic hack, he would discuss how Democrats have directly pushed misinformation and conspiracy theories," and whining that "CNN was also involved with awarding the bogus 1619 Project a Pulitzer," which he declared to be "leftist fan fiction."
Schroeder's ranting was not done: He concluded by ranting, "CNN has become an enabler of dangerous, radical, far-left extremism, but will hide that fact by attacking a few extreme right wingers. Facts do not matter for the network, it has an election to win."
That's a rant written by someone who feels like he has an election to win -- and his silence about QAnon speaks volumes.
Two days later, Alexander Hall had a sad that QAnon-related accounts were deleted by Twitter. He actively downplayed their extremism, declaring these deleted accounts to be "pro-Trump":
Twitter declares war on QAnon theorists! Thousands of Pro-Trump accounts have been purged as Twitter targets theorists on the right while ignoring radicals on the left.
The closest Hall got to noting what QAnon actually does is repeating a New York Times description of the "ideology" of the group as being that Trump "ran for office to save Americans from a so-called deep state filled with child-abusing, devil-worshiping bureaucrats." Hall censored the Times' further description of QAnon's extremism and serial harassment of their targets, regarding how they believe that "the president’s enemies are prominent Democrats who, in some telling, extract hormones from children’s blood" and their link to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which led to a "vigilante gunman" showing up at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria and firing an assault rifle inside it.
Instead, Hall went the whataboutism route, complaining that "The presence of far-left extremists like Antifa groups is strangely tolerated online" while not presenting any compelling evidence that they are.
Hall whined in an Aug. 19 post:
Facebook revealed its new “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” policy to crack down on groups the platform said are “tied to violence.” It was the latest of many revisions in Facebook policies in recent weeks, all seemingly connected to the election.
As usual, Hall censored the fringe nature of QAnon, then portrayed them in an end-of-item call to action as mainstream fellow travelers who are being victimized the same way the MRC loves to complain conservatives are: "Contact Facebook headquarters at 1-650-308-7300 and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on 'hate speech' and equal footing for conservatives."
On Aug. 31, Hall complained that "Twitter censored a post retweeted by President Donald Trump indicating that the amount of COVID-19 deaths has been greatly exaggerated." But in noting that Trump had retweeted a QAnon adherent named Mel Q, Hall oddly framed a description of the conspiracy theory as coming from a bastion of the "liberal media," as if to discount the description: "Mel Q appears to be associated with the 'QAnon' conspiracy theorists, who according to The New York Times, reportedly believe: 'Mr. Trump ran for office to save Americans from a so-called deep state filled with child-abusing, devil-worshiping bureaucrats.'"
In contrast to Hall, though, others at the MRC do seem to recognize that QAnon is something that should perhaps not be mainstreamed. Clay Waters groused in an Aug. 15 post that a New York Times reporter "smeared the Tea Party by comparing it to the nutty QAnon conspiracists." Waters also rebutted the claim that the Tea Party embraced Obama birther conspiracy theories by huffing that "the 'birther' rumors about Barack Obama originated among Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 primary." Waters conveniently omitted the fact that it was not Hillary supporters that obsessively pursued birther conspiracies for eight years but, rather, the likes of the definitely-not-Hillary-supporters at WorldNetDaily.
An Aug. 18 post by Heather Moon took offense to ranty "pro-Trump radio host" Bill Mitchell being described as a QAnon supporter and gave him space to finesse that claim while not explicitly denying it: "Mitchell addressed such claims on his Parler account. He explained that he has interviewed a few prominent QAnon (Q) followers on his radio program, and that he has 'nothing against Qanon and those from the movement I have met seem to be true patriots and love Trump.”' However, he clarified that he’s “never personally followed Q,” and noted that 'it’s just too esoteric for my tastes.'"
Reddit's "r/The_Donald" subreddit
Another nest of far-right extremism the MRC has been defending is Reddit's r/The_Donald subreddit. Corinne Weaver wrote in a February post:
Reddit will once again crack down on users and communities it considers undesirable.
Weaver, however, was curiously vague about the content that got r/The_Donald put on the warning list beyond a reference to it being quarantined for "significant issues with reporting and addressing violations of Reddit’s rules against violence." Meanwhile, others have documented how the subreddit has been notorious for "its promotion of racism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, and violent memes starring a cartoon frog," adding:
r/The_Donald has been a pain point for Reddit for years. It was created in June 2015 to discuss and promote Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and quickly became a hotbed for extreme political rhetoric. Members of the subreddit amplified the Pizzagate conspiracy theory in late 2016, and in August 2017, they promoted attendance at the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
When Reddit shut down r/The_Donald for good in June, the MRC still wouldn't admit that there was any problem with it other than supporting Trump. A June 29 post by Alexander Hall declared that it was "conservative speech" and a "popular political platform" being shut down for being "politically incorrect."
Hall also weirdly took offense with a Reddit rule arguing that "people who are in the majority" lack some protections on the forum. He ranted that this was a "double standard on who is allowed to be openly hated," adding, "Essentially, a person who is in the 'racial minority' may call somebody in the racial majority 'sub-human and inferior' with impunity."
Hall touted how "The r/The_Donald community, exiled from Reddit, can be found at the new TheDonald.win forum website" and also threw in a call to action: "Contact Reddit admin and demand that the platform mirror the First Amendment: Tech giants should afford their users nothing less than the free speech and free exercise of religion embodied in the First Amendment as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court."
The MRC has also continued to attack a former Reddit CEO, Ellen Pao, over "free speech" issues, despite the fact that she left the company in 2015 and was only CEO for eight months. In a May 2019 post, Weaver complained that Pao "slammed the existence of subreddits like The_Donald. She also strongly emphasized the need for tech companies to regulate in order to rid themselves of bullies and allow 'actual conversation.' Pao also expressed the belief that tech companies lived in 'fear' of their users, especially when it came to conservative groups." Weaver groused in September 2019 that "Pao has been lobbying for Twitter to suspend the president’s account for two years. Now, she’s using the latest tweet uproar to push one last time for a suspension."
In a April 14 post, Hall huffed that Pao "took a swing at President Donald Trump during a time of crisis" by pointing out that what Trump has called "fake news" is usually accurate but makes him look bad. Hall offered only whataboutism in response: "Pao does not have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing leadership. As CEO of Reddit, Pao cracked down on speech she found offensive. One of the most infamous rules she implemented was using off-site behavior as an excuse to ban users from Reddit itself."
All these attacks on Pao referenced the r/The_Donald subreddit -- but made no mention of the offensive content it had become known far. That kind of censorship is at least as bad as what MRC accuses others of doing.
Marjorie Taylor Greene
The mainstreaming of Georgia Republican congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene actually began at the MRC's "news" division.
Last October, CNS' Craig Bannister touted a meaningless petition demanding that Nancy Pelosi be impeached for "treason" launched by Greene, whom CNS blogger Craig Bannister lovingly described as "a business owner, wife and mother" and whom, it just so happened, "has launched a campaign to become the Republican House candidate for Georgia’s 6th district." Bannister, of course, didn't tell his readers that she was a notorious enough far-right activist to earn her own profile from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which stated that Greene "uses a cheery persona and smiles to sugarcoat a message of intolerance toward different targets all based on the opportunity for publicity. She hangs out with Islamophobic extremists like Laura Loomer as well as anti-government militia leaders, and she has also heckled survivors of the Parkland school massacre as 'brainwashed' for pushing to change gun laws."
Well, Bannister kept writing about her as her primary race drew closer and she pulled a big publicity stunt. He wrote in a June 2 post:
“I have a message for ANTIFA terrorists,” Marjorie Taylor Greene says while holding a semi-automatic rifle in an 18-second video on her Congressional campaign Twitter page.
Bannister didn't indicate whether Antifa was ever a threat in the northwest Georgia district Greene is running in. Instead, he promoted her campaign and once again plugged her anti-Pelosi petition.
Bannister was also pretty giddy in a June 10 post, touting that "Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose video campaign ad featuring her holding a semi-automatic rifle while warning Antifa terrorists to 'Stay the hell out of northwest Georgia' was banned from Facebook, handily garnered the top vote total in Tuesday’s Georgia 14th district GOP primary." Not only does Greene not even live in the district (moving there only after she filed to run there), she didn't even fully win the primary; she was slated for a primary runoff with the second-place finisher in August.
Bannister obscured that fact, but he completely censored Greene's far-right extremism, which was further revealed after the primary. Turns out Greene made a series of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic videos that she posted on Facebook, and is also an avid believer in fringe QAnon conspiracy theories, which has caused prominent Republicans to withdraw their support of her campaign.
Bannister, meanwhile, didn't breathe a word of this at CNS. They're not terribly interested in reporting the truth when it's inconvenient to their pro-Trump, pro-Republican agenda.
Greene won the runoff election, making her the official GOP candidate for the seat, and now the MRC wants you to think that she's a completely normal conservative -- or at least try to change the subject when it can't do so.
In a July 20 post, Duncan Schroeder responded to a CNN commentator pointing out Greene's QAnon and extremist affinities with a blast of whataboutism: "CNN has promoted multiple 'nonsense' conspiracy theories about Trump including the Russia pee tape, Russia collusion, and the abuse of power allegations which resulted in his impeachment." In an Aug. 15 post, Clay Waters conceded in passing that Greene is a "QAnon acolyte," but he was more angry that the New York Times portrayed QAnon as an outgrowth of the right-wing Tea Party movement.
Alexander Hall, however, went for normalization by portraying Greene in a Sept. 8 post as just another conservative who is being " censored" by social media:
The U.S. House candidate for Georgia’s 14th district appears to have been locked out of her Twitter account after posting about potential voter fraud in her home state.
Hall censored the fact of Greene's well-documented history of racism, anti-Semitism and QAnon affiliations.
The MRC loves to mainstream fringe ideologies like QAnon and fringe candidates like Greene and Laura Loomer to further their victimization narrative by social media against conservatives, while hiding the true nature of their extremism. It never stops to think about how extremist it looks in the process.
An Aug. 11 item by Alexander Hall declared:
Famous Christian public figures were censored for expressing disbelief that patriotism in the current year amounts to submitting to forced vaccinations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, Hall is trying to defend attacks on vaccination as "patriotic." If getting vaccinated against coronavirus helps people and the country, what's the problem?
He's also lying about the Benhams' background. It wasn't "conservative views" that cost the brothers their TV show -- it's their extreme anti-gay and anti-abortion stances, smearing homosexuality is "demonic" and ranting outside abortion clinics that they are the "altars of Moloch." Hall can't, and doesn't, demonstrate that those are mainstream "conservative views."
And it's laughable how Hall and the Benham brothers are complaining that "the only acceptable form of patriotism in 2020 America is unquestionably obeying the government" when the MRC has done nothing to unquestioningly obey Trump for the past four years.
Like Gab, Parler is a Twitter wannabe that has gained a reputation as the place right-wingers go when they get kicked off Twitter for being too extreme. And like Gab, the MRC has promoted Parler as a "free speech" alternative for right-wingers who enjoy playing the victim by whining about how they got kicked off Twitter for their extremism.
While the MRC and its writers never had the courage of their convictions by completely abandoning Twitter to join Gab, they are joining Parler (while hedging their bets by not quitting Twitter). The tipping point appears to be right-wing activist Dan Bongino buying a stake in Twitter. Alexander Hall gave Bongino and Parler some free promotion in a June 16 MRC post:
Bongino declared on the June 16 episode of The Dan Bongino Show that this platform is “the social media alternative to the tech tyrants which have declared war against conservatism, liberty, and everything we stand for.” He heavily cited founder and President of the Media Research Center Brent Bozell’s opinion piece at Fox News, which declared that the “fate of democracy” will be decided by how conservatives fight for free speech online.
A few days later, MRC writer and NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck announced he had started a Parler account, declaring (on Twitter) that Bongino's "urging on his show finally convinced me, along with Twitter deciding law and order is offensive." Houck didn't mention that because Bongino now owns a piece of Parler, it's in his financial interests to promote its use by others. The next day, MRC official Tim Graham announced he had joined Parler at Houck's urging.
Around the same time, the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, published an article touting how "conservatives are flocking to Parler, which considers itself an 'unbiased social media network,' after two conservative accounts were banned from Twitter earlier this week."
The MRC, however, won't tell you that Parler isn't exactly the "free speech" bastion it's been made out to be.
Parler also has the issue of imposters and trolls posting under the names of famous people -- many of them Republican Party officials and politicians -- and it's turning into a right-wing echo chamber as liberals have declined to take part in the conservative migration.
Instead, the MRC served up Parler puff pieces. A July 31 post by Joseph Vazquez touted how Parler CEO John Matze appeared on Fox Business (of course)to talk about how "his site is doing its part to defend freedom of speech. Vazquez let Matze lie about the state of censorship on Parler by redefining the word: "There is no censorship of any kind. We do have clear rules about violence, any illegal activity anything that you couldn’t do in public, you couldn’t do on Parler but there is no ideological censorship or ideological bias of any kind."
Vazquez didn't mention how much Parler users have to sign away in order to use the platform, nor did he note any of the other problems Parler has. Then again, this was little more than a commercial for Parler.
Instead, the MRC let CNS handle the damage-control stuff. An Aug. 5 article featured an interview Rob Shimshock -- CNS' commentary editor, by the way, not an actual reporter -- conducted with Parler's CEO. It sure reads like damage control:
John Matze, CEO of social media company Parler, committed not to ban users for "hate speech," stated that his company would fix an "awkward" "fighting words" clause in its community guidelines, and called the decision by Big Tech companies to censor the America's Frontline Doctors video "ridiculous," in an exclusive interview with CNSNews.com.
Shimshock made sure to gloss over the fact that Parler is only now having a "real lawyer" review its policies doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the company, as does its walking back of certain policies that contradict its reputation in right-wing media as a "free speech" platform, like not allowing users to sue Parler and forcing users to pay Parler's legal fees.