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Wednesday, December 9, 2009
MRC's Double Standard on Conspiracy Theories
Topic: Media Research Center

The MRC's Culture & Media Institute has as its motto "Advancing Truth and Virtue in the Public Square." But it's now saying that truth and virtue can be ignored if you have a decent conspiracy.

A Dec. 2 CMI article by Jeff Poor defends Glenn Beck's frequent spinning of conspiracy theories, in this case about the breach of security that let a couple into a White House state dinner without an invitation:

The problem, Beck warned, is that if the media fail to do their job, it could lead to the start of a conspiracy theory – which some on the left loathe, like the whole Obama/birth certificate conspiracy theory.
“But this is how a conspiracy theory grows, because we're not – we don't have honesty, we don't have facts,” Beck said. “The situation doesn't – where is the common sense in this? How do we stop conspiracy theories? We do not bury our heads in the sand, and the media demands answers. It's called the Internet. People will come up with these if you in the media don't do your job. I mean, it can all go away if you're honest, you give us answers and facts and it makes common sense.”
Beck offered up his own theory behind what happened – that someone got the couple into the event and didn’t own up to the responsibility for it.
“I mean, here's what I think happened. These two guys were in line, they were having problems getting in, they weren't on anybody's list. And somebody walked by, I don't know who, and they said, ‘Oh, no, let me in. They're with me.’ The Secret Service – knowing the Secret Service – they went, ‘Oh, no, I don't think so.’ [But the other person said] ‘I've got responsibility and authority, let them in.’ It turned out bad. It's now a big deal. And that person didn't take responsibility. That seems most likely to me.”

So, it appears that Poor agrees with Beck's theory that if information about something (involving Democrats, anyway) is not forth coming to your satisfaction, it's perfectly OK to simply make up stuff about it and present it as a grand, evil conspiracy.

That, of course, conflicts with the MRC's previous criticism of conspiracy theories, at least when they're promoted by people they don't agree with. For instance:

  • Both the 2006 and 2007 MRC Best of Notable Quotables contain a "Tin Foil Hat Award for Crazy Conspiracy Theories" category.
  • A 2006 MRC press release bashed MRC's "Today" for "floating a conspiracy theory that the GOP is manipulating gas prices to influence the election -- a ludicrous idea for which NBC has no evidence and no facts and yet makes the theory into 'news' in its Oct. 25 broadcast."
  • A Sept. 21 TimesWatch item by Clay Waters claimed that New York Times book editor Sam Tanenhus, "who decries conspiracism on the right, indulged in his own when he declared of the 2000 election between Bush and Al Gore: '... the conservatives on the Supreme Court stopped the democratic process, put their guy into office.'"

No concern was expressed that these conspiracy theories were popping up because the media didn't do its job.

The MRC will occasionally be moved to shoot down a conspiracy theory -- or promote its own -- when doing so suits its interests. An example of it doing both is a 1998 report by Tim Graham defending the honor of right-wing moneybags Richard Mellon Scaife over his role in the "vast right-wing conspiracy" against the Clinton administration. It wasn't a conspiracy, Graham asserted, because the "Scaife foundations’ donations are hardly secret, with their IRS forms posted on the Internet." Further, Graham complained, "investigative journalism (much of it wildly incorrect) charging some highly implausible and terrible conspiracies committed by Republican Presidents was funded by liberal foundations without those elements ever being lumped into a 'vast left-wing conspiracy' by national media outlets." Though we suspect the MRC would have been happy to do so.

What Graham didn't disclose: The MRC was (and is) being funded by Scaife foundations. One of them, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, donated $150,000 to the MRC in 1998, and another, the Carthage Foundation, donated $10,000 to the MRC in 1997.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:16 AM EST

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