The Name-Callers Haven't Left the Building
Does the MRC's right hand know what its CNS right hand is doing when it comes to how it refers to Judicial Watch?
By Terry Krepel
It sure sounds like a slam-dunk case of liberal media bias, to hear the Media Research Center tell it.
Apparently stunned by the media coverage given to Judicial Watch's filing of a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney over accounting practices at the oil-services company Halliburton while Cheney ran it, the folks at MRC strapped on its conspiracy-sniffing device and claimed it found one.
"When Judicial Watch was suing Clinton administration officials the networks, on the rare occasions when they deigned to even mention the group, made sure viewers realized it was 'conservative.' But when the organization run by Larry Klayman filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Vice President Dick Cheney, it suddenly became a non-ideological 'watchdog group,' 'Washington watchdog group,' 'legal group,' 'legal activist group' or 'legal advocacy group,'" wrote MRC's Brent Baker in a July 11 CyberAlert. Baker added that "it marked the first time, at least since January 1996, that all three broadcast networks aired a story on the same night about a Judicial Watch lawsuit." Baker then provides examples of network coverage referring to Judicial Watch as "conservative" when suing Clinton officials and not using the tag when referring to JW's suits against Republicans.
Sounds irrefutable, right? Well, Baker refuses to supply a little relevant background that would contradict him. Namely: At least until 2001, Judical Watch was a conservative group.
Somehow, despite that pile of evidence, the MRC apparently believes we're not supposed to conclude that the media was justified in calling Judicial Watch a "conservative" organization during its Clinton sue-happy phase -- which hasn't exactly ended despite its current focus on suing Republicans. But the fact that it is treating the Republicans the same way it has treated the Clintons and other Democrats appears to be at least surface evidence that Judicial Watch has moved beyond being a blatantly partisan "conservative" organization. Therefore, not only was the media absolutely correct in calling Judicial Watch "conservative" during the Clinton years, it is at least technically correct in dropping the "conservative" label in describing it regarding the Halliburton suit.
Those stories, by the way, are two of only three references on CNS to Judicial Watch actions against Republicans out of 95 CNS articles that make reference to the group, according to a CNS site search. (The third one, by the way, is not about the Halliburton suit, which CNS has so far ignored.) That puts it right up there with the rest of the ConWeb in giving short shrift to Judicial Watch actions against Republicans. NewsMax, which used to run Judicial Watch press releases nearly verbatim, ignored or buried most Judicial Watch GOP actions until last week, when it decided it was proud of Klayman after all and touted a victory over Cheney in the energy task force lawsuit. (Then again, it may just be a case of NewsMax trying to piggyback on Klayman's mainstream media exposure over the Halliburton suit.) WorldNetDaily is the ConWeb component that has come the closest to treating Klayman and Judicial Watch the same no matter which party is on the receiving end of its lawsuits.
Update: Additionally, a mid-July search through the CNS database at stories published before the 2000 presidential election -- the period that MRC's Baker says the TV networks "made sure viewers realized it was 'conservative'" -- show that CNS was twice as likely not to use the word "conservative" in describing Judicial Watch. Of a total of 41 separate CNS articles mentioning Judicial Watch between 1998 and October 2000 examined by ConWebWatch, only 13 used the word "conservative" in describing the group; the other 28 used terms like "legal watchdog group" or no description at all -- the same "non-ideological" terms Baker complains the networks are using now. (A couple other CNS stories appear to be versions of Judicial Watch press releases.)
Instead of complaining about how the networks have suddenly discovered Judicial Watch, Baker might want to find out why his co-workers glossed over the group's conservative origins during the Clinton years and would rather pretend it doesn't exist at all, at least when it sues Republicans. He seems oblivious to the fact that it works both ways.