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The MRC's War Wagon

There's no dissent allowed in its ideal of coverage on Iraq. Criticism and distortion of dissenters' views, however, are more than welcome.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/18/2002

The Media Research Center wants to blow up stuff.

Well, more accurately, it wants President Bush to blow up stuff in Iraq. And it wants people who have reservations about it to please shut up.

The MRC in recent weeks has been hammering the TV networks and others for not being unquestionably behind a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The crime, in the MRC's eyes, is too much focus on the justification and consequences of war and not enough repetition of what an evil bastard Saddam Hussein is.

Taking a particular beating is ABC's Peter Jennings. It seized on comments he made on David Letterman's show that being raised in Canada, he was "raised with anti-Americanism in my blood, or in my mother's milk at least," duly transcribing it for a Sept. 9 CyberAlert along with another comment that the Founding Fathers "blew it" on the issue of race, to which writer Brent Baker retorts that "Jennings' supposition failed to address how the Founding Fathers were ahead of their time in setting up a system which gave the nation the ability to correct shortcomings so that the United States is well ahead of any other multiple race nation on the rights of all races."

And where would such a comment by a TV news anchor be without MRC chief Brent Bozell to turn it into a column-long harangue? Fortunately, Bozell does his duty the next day, stating early on that "Taking a leading role in assembling all the reasons why war in Iraq is certifiably insane is ABC, and the perpetually pompous Peter Jennings" and alleging that his "anti-American" attitude "is not suppressed on the air."

Bozell also pins the blame on Jennings for allegedly pulling country singer Toby Keith from the list of performers for the network's Independence Day festivities (though Jennings says he didn't) for writing a song with lyrics like "we'll put a boot in your ass – it's the American way." (If Bozell is so proud of the words to this song, why did he spell it "a**" in his column? And isn't coarse language on TV -- where Keith's song would have appeared -- something Bozell frowns upon when he has on his Parents Television Council hat?) In a Sept. 5 column, he goes on to denounce the "cultural elite" that gave more press to Bruce Springsteen (who Bozell nicks for being too emotional and having a "novelistic sensibility" and for "playing September 11 as tragedy, not as outrage") and Steve Earle (whining that "his verses pulse with Taliban empathy" in "John Walker's Blues," a song written through the eyes of the American Taliban guy).

Jennings earns further MRC demerits as well: in a Sept. 13 CyberAlert for appearing "disappointed by the lack of Democratic opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy;" on Sept. 18, grumbling that "If you’re Peter Jennings what better way to celebrate the 215th birthday of the Constitution than by highlighting how some history professors complained that the failure of Congress to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq 'has left the President solely in control of war powers to the detriment of democracy and in clear violation of the Constitution'", and on Sept. 20, deciding that when Jennings said, "what we appear to have here is an administration powerful enough to have its own way," what he was really saying is that the Bush administration is "a bully," in addition to alleging ABC "dedicated its Capitol Hill story to detractors" of Bush's Iraq resolution.

ABC is not the only network MRC cites for daring to highlight things beyond what the Bush administration says about Iraq. After Al Gore made a speech critical of Bush's Iraq policy, a Sept. 24 CyberAlert whacks CBS' Dan Rather because he "went another step in order to make Gore seem more credible." The MRC, of course, would rather Gore not be seen as "credible."

The MRC's Baker did find a network he liked, though -- big surprise here -- Fox News Channel. A Sept. 27 CyberAlert showcased the work of Fox's Brit Hume alleging a contradiction in Gore's speech (which Baker at this point is calling "anti-Bush"), comparing remarks with "how back in 1991 Gore had said the opposite, specifically saying President George H.W. Bush should not be blamed since the 'consensus' was only for 'pushing Iraq out of Kuwait.'" Baker then added: "Naturally, Dan Rather did not update his viewers about Gore’s hypocrisy."

The problem here is that Hume got it wrong. His excerpt from Gore's recent speech was incomplete, and one would have to assume deliberately so. As both the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby and the Counterspin weblog reveal, Hume's excerpt ends in mid-sentence; the complete sentence and a fuller reading of Gore's 1991 speech show that he did not contradict himself. Slate's Timothy Noah has compiled further evidence that Gore's recent speech does not contradict his earlier statements on Iraq.

Will the MRC correct its remarks the way it demanded Dan Rather "update his viewers" on something that didn't needed an "update"? Don't count on it -- they're too busy milking the distortion. In fact, the question that appeared on MRC's stacked online poll on Sept. 30 was this: "The networks reported Gore's attack on Bush's Iraq policies, but didn't mention his factual errors. Why do you think that's the case?" The two answers to choose from: They think Gore's too smart to make mistakes" and "They want more people to criticize Bush."

MRC's embrace of anything Fox News has to say (again, facts be damned) is an indicator of its view of the world. Another is the stories that appear on its sister organization, Consider that MRC has a news service for the presumed purpose of showing how it thinks stories ought to be covered. If so, the CNS modus operandi is the occasional "straight" story mixed with a lot of conservative bias.

A relatively balanced Sept. 25 story on a speech by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (which a Sept. 26 MRC CyberAlert tries to dismiss as a "temper tantrum") is followed by a Sept. 27 story given almost completely to conservative speculation about Daschle's motives with the speech. There is also a Sept. 26 story by writer Susan Jones about House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's appearance on a Fox News show that is colored by its lead, which accuses Gephardt of "continuing the indignant tone toward the White House that ... Daschle raised on Wednesday." (Jones also puts the term "special interests" parenthetically after a mention of labor unions.) A semi-related Sept. 27 story on remarks by Bill Clinton, also by Jones, also throws a conservative slant in an otherwise straight story. She spends a couple of paragraphs on Daschle's "angry outburst," trying to prove that "Daschle took President Bush to task for questioning the patriotism of Democrats, although Bush did no such thing."

CNS also follows up a more-or-less straight Sept. 27 story on remarks by Sen. Edward Kennedy critical of Bush's approach on Iraq with a companion piece the same day on how Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was, in the words of reporter Jim Burns, "recommending 'appeasement' in the face of a rapidly growing military power that the United States would eventually have to fight in World War II." The companion piece apparently exists to imply that Ted Kennedy is as wrong about Iraq as his father was about Nazi Germany. A search of's search engine shows no similar concern over the fact that George W. Bush's grandfather and great-grandfather were, as one article describes it, "among the chief American fundraisers for Germany's Nazi Party," and a Bush-controlled banking concern was seized in 1942 under the Trading With the Enemy Act.

The MRC has a point of view it wants to prevail -- which, in this case, is whatever Bush wants to do on Iraq, preferably launching the bombers as soon as possible. Any airing of a divergent view, it appears -- even something as relatively benign as suggesting that an international coalition be built before said bombing commences -- is nothing but "bias" ripe for distortion per the conservative line, as the MRC's promotion of Brit Hume's misleading remarks on Gore illustrate.

The MRC does that kind of thing a lot, singling out remarks not because they're an example of bias but because they don't agree with them. For instance, the Sept. 26 CyberAlert bashes Newsweek's Jonathan Alter merely for suggesting that Daschle makes a better Senate majority leader than Trent Lott, and a Sept. 23 CyberAlert froths at the mouth over a celebrity-penned anti-war ad in the New York Times -- which, being advertising, has nothing at all to do with media bias. Conservatives can easily go and buy their own pro-Bush ad.

MRC clearly wants a war. What it doesn't want is anyone arguing otherwise.

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