Topic: Media Research Center
The Media Research Center has long beem afraid of criticism of its work -- particularly that they're a bunch of partisan hacks who care more about scoring political points than contributing to journalism. They're especially sensitive to the argument that they're bad-faith critics.
MRC executive Tim Graham complained in his June 4 column about how CNN's Brian Stelter believes right-wingers like Graham will respond to the idea that the news media should receive government subsidies:
As for critics? Stelter writes: "Billions in funding for local news?! I can hear the bad-faith mockery on Fox News at the same time I type these words." Stelter is so unsubtle that every conservative critique of the liberal media is a "bad-faith mockery."
One problem, say the liberals, is "less local news meant more polarization" in communities. But anyone can see that hot issues like transgender "girls" in school sports or teaching "critical race theory" are inherently polarizing on a local level, and, in each case, the left sees only one "civic" opinion worth hearing. The other should be discouraged if not crushed.
Does anyone think Stelter's CNN demonstrates a concern about "polarization" in its national product? Does it offer conservatives a "good-faith" platform for discussion?
Ah, but conservative media criticism is done in bad faith, because its goal is to demonize and destroy, not improve. Can Graham argue with a straight face that every single criticism the MRC has made in the past three decades lacked partisan intent, that it wasn't done to brand the media as "liberal" in order to advance a political narrative? Of course he can't -- he knows what his employer is all about.
(Also, it's quite rich to hear Graham rant about evil government subsidies when the MRC sought and received as much as $2 million in pandemic relief money last year.)
So irked by Stelter's statement that Graham spent his June 16 column ranting about being accused of bad-faith criticism:
The arrogance of the liberal media can be measured by their dismissal of all conservative criticism as "bad faith" attacks on the press. Assuming that conservative critics are dishonest and disreputable cynics is a common trope of CNN's Brian Stelter when liberal journalists become mired in scandal.
In a June 15 "Academic Minute" podcast, Marist College professor Kevin Lerner explicitly defined the entire conservative movement as bad-faith media critics.
"These bad-faith attacks on the press began to rise most recently in the 1960s and '70s, led by a concerted effort among conservative journalists and critics," Lerner argued. "Along with efforts to create a conservative counterbalance to the mainstream press, they engaged in attempts to delegitimize legacy news organizations by painting them as irredeemably biased. This strain of bad-faith criticism is alive and well today."
"Good-faith" criticism, he insisted, is "based on the premise that a strong, independent press, responsive to the needs of an engaged citizenry, is essential to the functioning of a democratic society."
There are several obvious flaws in this argument.
First, conservatives don't see "legacy news organizations" as "independent." They are not watchdogs of both parties. They are savage destroyers of one party and cuddly defenders of the other. They are not "responsive to the needs" of all citizens but to the political needs of one party. This argument is somehow in "bad faith," regardless of the evidence.
Second, conservatives dare to argue that the "press" is not synonymous with the "mainstream press." Lerner's side always implies that there is not a liberal media and conservative media, but a mainstream media and an extreme media.
Third, criticizing liberal news organizations is part of the "functioning of a democratic society." We want a vibrant press, but media criticism is not anti-democracy. It defines democracy. Liberals like Lerner believe that democracy functions best when "legacy media" never lose public trust, no matter what kind of partisan hackery they foist on the public.
Notice that Graham cites criticism of onbly "liberal news organizations" as essential -- he does not see criticism of, say, Fox News as valid. And given that the MRC is dedicated to the destruction of media that doesn't act like Fox News, it's entirely fair to assume that Graham and his boss, Brent Bozell, have no interest in maintaining "a strong, independent press, responsive to the needs of an engaged citizenry."
And as much as Graham gets paid to lash out at the "liberal media," it's clear that he believes there is no such thing as "conservative media" -- not even the MRC's own "news" division, CNSNews.com, which has an unmistakable right-wing bias and refuses to publish any columnists who aren't conservative.
Graham, by the way, will not hold Fox News responsible for even the most egregious issues of bias and ethics. So unbothered was he by Bill O'Reilly's history of sexual harassment that he appeared on the final episode of what was his show on Fox News and didn't mention O'Reilly's sleaze at all.
Graham and the MRC attacks the "liberal media" for things it would never dream of criticizing Fox News for (lest it jeopardize future appearances on the channel). That's the essence of bad-faith criticism.
Meanwhile, in neither of those columns does Graham made a coherent argument that the MRC's attacks on "liberal media" -- funded by millions of dollars in nonprofit money every year -- are done in good faith and only the best of intentions. That's because he can't.