Topic: Media Research Center
On the rare occasions the Media Reserarch Center criticizes Fox News, it's usually in the form of Heathering -- for example, hating Shepard Smith for reporting facts instead of right-wing narratives or for a single news segment that didn't hate transgender poeple enough. It almost never criticizes Fox News for the same reasons it criticizes the "liberal media" regarding bias, even though it's much more biased than any of those channels. Indeed, the MRC is must more comfortable serving as Fox News' PR division and cheerleader than its critic.
So when filings by election-tech company Dominion in its defamation lawsuit against Fox News showed that the channel's hosts knew that Donald Trump's claims of election fraud were lies but instead chose to spread those lies on the air rather than tell viewers the truth -- a much larger scandal than anything the MRC has ever accused any "liberal media" outlet of doing -- the initial response by the MRC was to censor it as best it could. In the first coule weeks after the revelation of the scandal, references to it were oblique or buried:
- A Feb. 18 post by Alex Christy referenced only "Fox News and its lawsuit with Dominion" but said nothing about what that involved, instead playing whataboutism by promoting an attack by Bill Maher on MSNBC host Ari Melber claiming that the channel is just like Fox News in telling viewers what they want to hear.
- Tim Graham waited until the 15th paragraph of a Feb. 19 post criticizing NPR for failing to sufficiently hate President Biden before noting that the NPR program in question "wrapped up with enjoying how the Dominion lawsuit against Fox ended with juicy revelations that hosts didn't believe in the election-fraud stories they were promoting after the 2020 votes were cast" before also going to whataboutism: "NPR has absolutely no time to talk about how they misled their own audience (playing to liberal sentiments) in October 2020 that the Hunter Biden laptop was Fake News, a 'pure distraction.'" Graham didn't mention that the New York Post -- a pro-Trump, anti-Biden outlet -- offered no independent verification of the laptop story at the time that would have bolstered the story's credibility.
This followed the pattern Fox itself used regarding the scandal, in which it not only censored the story, it expressly forbade its media reporter, Howard Kurtz, to talk about it. The MRC censored all mention of that censorship, though Kevin Tober wrote a Feb. 26 post touting how Kurtz "used the opening monologue of his Sunday media analysis show MediaBuzz to call out the media's double standard and selective outrage in how they deal with controversial comments from conservatives and leftists."
Meanwhile, Graham was playing the same whataboutism card on Twitter in a way he wouldn't commit to writing in an MRC post -- though he still clung to the whataboutism narrative in arguing with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. A March 1 tweet by Graham admitted the Fox News revelations were "scandalous" but instead complained that "CNN puts on David Zurawik to lecture Fox has never, ever been a 'news channel.'"He them complained that Folkenflik said that Fox News "really a business operation around which is wrapped a highly ideological and political shop, around which is wrapped the public face of a news operation." Rather than disputing anything Folkenflik said, he played Hunter laptop whataboutism:
GRAHAM: This is a scandal, to be sure. But you work in a highly ideological and political shop, wrapped in the face of a news operation. Your ardor to Get Fox is part of it.
FOLKENFLIK: Not even close, buddy. Thanks tho.
GRAHAM: OK, buddy why don't you review how you people have covered (refused to cover) the Hunter Biden laptop?? Even your "Public Editor" embarrassed herself on that one.
Folkenflik refused to respond, presumably because he saw that arguing with Graham would be futile. As Media Matters' Matthew Gertz pointed out about Graham regarding this exchange: "Devote your career to working the refs over liberal media bias --> the right-wing outlet you prop up against it turns out to be filled with liars deliberately working to elect Republicans. Maybe just sit this one out?"
Finally, two weeks after the scandal broke, the MRC finally committed something to one of its websites regarding the scandal. Graham's promotion for his March 3 podcast offered no judgment whatsoever against Fox News -- weird given its usual love of hot takes -- even though he would be ranting hard had a "liberal media" outlet done only a fraction of what happened here:
The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News has uncovered an embarrassing collection of messages underlining that Fox's owner and stars had contempt for wild claims about Trump winning the 2020 election, but aired lawyers like Sidney Powell, who pledged to "release the Kraken" of truth....that never arrived. Tucker Carlson, for one, called her out on TV.
CNN's Oliver Darcy, one of America's premier haters of Fox News, reported with glee in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter that text messages and emails showed that privately, Fox was much harsher with these election-fraud claims than they were on television.
Fox was worried that their pro-Trump audience would leave them for Newsmax. Ex-conservative Mona Charen claimed conservatives were more interested in "agreeable fictions" than on "complex facts." Conservative journalists and conservative media critics and conservative media consumers should never be rightly accused of seeking "agreeable fictions."
In the actual podcast, his focus was not on what Fox News did, but that CNN reported on it: "It's been a glorious week at CNN. Now, I don't mean in the ratings department -- theiy are firmly in third place -- I mean the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News has revealed a scandal I think we can call Krakengate." He then summed up the scandal as Fox News having Trump lawyer Sidney Powell making claims of election fraud I dare say that in real time, most of us listening to her thought she sounded, um, implausible?"
If so, Graham and the rest of the MRC made little effort to tell their readers that; indeed, no post by Graham from that time referenced Powell. A Nov. 20, 2020, post by Mark Finkelstein complained that MSNBC's "Morning Joe" noted that right-wingers criticized Fox News for the few times it reported facts instead of right-wing spin, ironically citing as an example then-Fox reporter Kristin Fisher doing a "takedown of yesterday's press conference featuring Rudy Giuliani" -- as we have learned from Dominion's filings, Fisher was criticized by her bosses for not "respecting our audience" by fact-checking Giuliani, and Fisher said she lost on-air opportunities as punishment for it. Finkelstein waited until the final paragraph to menion that a reference "an FNC primetime host 'bewildered' by yesterday's press conference with Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell was presumably a reference to Tucker Carlson, who questioned the absence of evidence supporting Powell's assertions."
Three days later, however, the MRC was portraying Powell as a victim in a post by Kayla Sargent noting that Powell was dropped by Trump's legal team," which Twitter saw as the perfect opportunity to suspend her account for twelve hours." The following month, Finkelstein was complaining about criticism of reports that Trump was considering "the possible appointment of Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate the election"; the next day, Finkelstein did concede that "In this NewsBuster's opinion, President Trump would have been better advised not to have invited Michael Flynn or Sidney Powell into the White House over the weekend," but he did not specifically criticize Powell. Later in the month, Kristine Marsh groused that MSNBC employed "hyper-partisan spin" in naming Powell to a year-end list of dishonors.
In January 2021, however, it was back to playing the victimhood card for Powell; a Jan. 4 post by Corinne Weaver whined that video clips of Powell on Trump's Twitter account were among those that were "censored," and a Jan. 12 column by Cal Thomas huffed that Powell's Twitter account was "permanently banned as Twitter announced a purge of 'accounts dedicated to sharing content related to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.'"
Graham went on to whine that CNN's Oliver Darcy reported on all this, then tried to give credit to Carlson for briefly calling her out. Graham then shockingly criticized Fox News and Trump, albeit only barely mentioning them by name and framing that criticism as coming from the "liberal media":
But conservative media outlets also have to consider that whatever good faith they've built up with people who are not as conservative could just get wiped out when the big liberal media can all unite and show that they have thte same regard for the truth that Donald Trump has. Conservative media will not be credible if doesn't have the courage to stick with what journalism is supposed to be: Do you have a story that will stand up, or doesn't it? Is it underbaked, half-baked? Is it a compost heap? It is absolutely defensible to question election results, for a news company to let the Democrats or the Republicans challenge the results in the weeks after an election. That is part of democracy. But the bottom line of election is if you lose in court, the election is over. You can't riot your way into the presidency or a second term of the presidency, or you don't really have a democracy. Trump's lawyers couldn't win in any state, so it was over. Now, from November to December you can be a news channel and put on Republican laywers or Democrat [sic] lawyers and hash it out -- I'm sure that Hillary Clinton's people would have wanted to hash out the idea that Trump stole the election with the help of the Russians. But we should all want to question wild claims of voting machines somehow stealing millions of votes from Trump or anyone else.
But Graham's employer never did any of that questioning -- instead, the MRC manufactured its own parallel conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump because the Hunter Biden laptop story didn't cause Biden to lose, based on dubious polls it bought from highly biased pollsters. Graham cannot credibly denounce Trump's conspiracy theory without rejection a very similar one pushed by his employer. Graham also failed to note that the "liberal media" did not push claims or Russian election-meddling to the extent that Fox News gave a platform to Trump's bogus election claims, which shows that they are more responsible than Fox News is.
Graham continued: "We want to root for Fox News. We root for the conservative media. The liberal media in this country needs balancing. One of the things that's most important about it is the way the other news media want to say, 'X will not be a story. None of us are going to talk about it. When Fox talks about it, that's for your crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving Day table.' This is the game that is played." Graham went on to complain that right-winger Jonah Goldberg, "who took many dollars from Fox News as a contributor and now takes dollars from CNN," criticized the Fox News scandal, when whined again that the scandal let CNN credibly criticize Fox News:
But for many of us, the worst part here is how this set of texts and emails enables Oliver Darcy and company to mount their high horses and suggest that Fox News has never, ever been a news channel. CNN, next to Jonah Goldberg, put on screechy liberal David Zurawik, who said this whole Fox News channel thing has been fraudulent since is was founded in 1996. And then comes this puke-tastic part about how [speaks in hoiry-toity voice] so-called mainstream journalism, they only provide information for the citizenry and let them make good choices. This is not really a definition of what they're doing on CNN.
Graham then went on a lengthy anti-liberal media whataboutism tangent, name-checking the pee tape, Michael Avenatti and the Steele dossier, then defended poliltical operative Roger Ailes running Fox News as OK because Tom Johnson, who was once an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, once ran CNN (but he didn't mention that the guy who runs the MRC's "news" division CNSNews.com, Terry Jeffrey, was a political operative for Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns in the 1990s). then it was back to whining that CNN has a point in criticizing Fox News:
Now, for us at NewsBusters, it's most distressing when Oliver Darcy touts the Bulwark trashing the conserative media critics. He wrote in his little newsletter, "Mona Charen has an excellent piece on how conservative criticism about the press gave birth to a propaganda machine. Charen, quote: "The channel that debuted with the tagline 'fair and balanced' has become comletely untethered to any standared of integrity. Its own bias bears no comparison to that of the 'mainstream media.'" At least she put "mainstream media" in quotes. But come on. She knows better. Mona Charen used to come repeatedly to the MRC to help her construct several books about media bias. She knows how the liberal media performed. So to sit her now and say 'Fox News is so, so much worse than then palces I show up now' ... So perhaps when there's a conservative propaganda machine in this equation, Mona Charen should be whipping herself for this into a frenzy.
Graham then disavowed any role the MRC played in creating Trump and the Fox News propaganda monster (which currently employs several former MRC workers, something Graham didn't disclose):
Now, you can be a anti-Trump conservative. But what we too often see is Trump somehow turning conservatives into liberals, now suggesting that the media bias monitors caused Trump. This is just a classic liberal schtick. I hated it when Politico's Tim Alberta threw it at us years ago in an interview. Came into the building, shut the door -- oh, this is kind of off the record; oh, is it? Well ... This idea that somehow NewsBusters or Brent Bozell created the Trump monster, I hated it then and I hate it now. It's not true. What you're basically saying with that whole argument that, well, obviously, you peole should never have criticized the liberal media in the first place.
Now, Mona Charen concluded with this: "For decades, conservatives longed to get the whole story into the national news. But by demanding agreeable fiction instead of accepting complex fact, they have embarassed themselves and undermined the case -- still relevant -- for fair and balanced coverage." There's another clip, I'm gonna post that on the bulletin board. Because we as conservatives should never demand agreeable fiction.
I don't accept that's what I've been doing or what we've been doing or what most of you have been doing. None of us should be comfortable being accused of being comfortable being accused of being for agreeable fiction. you can't govern a country on phantoms and hallucinations. You need some solid facts and evidence and reasoning, and we beleive that conservatism works best, and we make that case based on facts and evidence and reasoning. There is so much good journalism being done by conservative journalists you cannot slime at all as some kind of agreeable fiction that's spit out for conservatives who hate the truth. As CNN and the others try to avoid covering the bad things happening under Biden, we cannot let them suggest, "Oh, don't listen to any stories that conservatives want to tell, that we don't want to tell," That is not workable, and that's not the way democracy should work. They would have more of a high horse to ride on if they weren't skipping and avoiding and averting stories that make the Biden adminisration look bad. And we can do this over and over again.
And there's many, many people across the United States who are going to get those stories from conservatives, who listen to them on conservative media, who need that conservative media to be credible so that these stories that are real and have real, lasting impact don't get treated by crazy crackin' crap. Let's have a high standard of information, let's demand it as media consumers, and let's try to do it as conservative journalists. Lecture over.
Note that at no point did Graham specifically criticize Fox News for any specific actions it was revealed to have committed per the Dominion filings, and that he made sure not to put what little criticism he did in writing in a way that would be easily findable in a Google search. And given that we've found numerous falsehoods at the MRC, it's clear Graham is not holding his co-workers to those same standards he's now demanding that other right-wing media follow (otherwise, Nicholas Fondacaro and Jay Maxson would not still be employed there). And if Graham and the MRC really cared that much about how conservative media is perceived, they wouldnot have waited until two weeks after the story broke to speak about the scandal.
It should be the easiest thing in the world to criticize Fox News over this scandal -- you would never hear the end of it from the MRC if a non-conservative channel like CNN was involved. But the MRC still wants to be able to have its people appear on the channel and Fox Business to promote its narratives, so it will never perform that easy layup -- it will instead pontificate and play whataboutism to protect Fox News from actual, direct criticism and preserve the right-wing media bubble.