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Tapped Out

An MRC writer tries to dismiss Jake Tapper as just another liberal reporter; Tapper proves him wrong. Plus: The MRC demands an apology from CNN for passing on bum information -- but won't correct its own.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/29/2003

It's always nice to see the Media Research Center get caught mired in its reflex assumption that everyone in TV news who doesn't work for Fox News Channel must be a "liberal." It's even better when the target of said allegation proves them wrong.

Jake Tapper did exactly that. Upon Tapper's hiring as a correspondent for ABC News, the MRC's Brent Baker went into ConWeb attack mode in a July 15 CyberAlert. Citing Tapper's book, "Down and Dirty," about the 2000 presidential election, starts out with a very slight benefit of the doubt -- "To be fair, Tapper’s book was supposedly also pretty tough on Al Gore" -- then attack mode starts:

    ... but Tapper is no independent centrist. He works for a very liberal publication, Salon, and over the years has served as liberal panelist on shows including CNN’s Late Edition and a Saturday night CNN show, the name of which now escapes me, back in 2001.

Baker plays up Tapper's assessment in his book of George W. Bush as "a brilliant schmoozer and deft liar with the intellectual inquisitiveness of the average fern," noted that "Liberals sure seem to like Tapper’s book" based on the "people who bought this book also liked ..." links at Amazon and Barnes & Noble though it's likely that, as is the case with "Down and Dirty," Baker hasn't read any of the titles on those lists either and therefore has no actual idea what, if any, "liberal" content they contain) and excerpted a review of the book from the conservative National Review that seems to be mainly bothered by all the swear words in it. (There's also a little side trip to beat up Rick Kaplan, current senior vice president of ABC News, former head of CNN and, most importantly, "Friend of Bill" who "advised presidential candidate Bill Clinton on how to handle the Gennifer Flowers revelation..." The MRC, you'll recall, wasn't bothered a bit when Fox News chief Roger Ailes offered advice to President Bush.)

Baker follows this up the next day with an item noting that Tapper, "a liberal pundit and a political reporter for the liberal," once worked as a press secretary for "a liberal Democratic Congresswoman, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky."

Tapper decided to fight back. In his July 18 CyberAlert, Baker writes that "In an e-mail on Thursday to the MRC’s Director of Communications, Liz Swasey, Tapper said he found no errors of fact in the two recent CyberAlert items on him, but he contended that they painted an unfair picture of his previous work when he has written many stories critical of liberals, items which have even angered liberals and pleased conservatives on occasion." As a follow-up, Tapper sent the MRC links to 23 stories he wrote for Salon fitting that description, plus links or excerpts of conservatives like Laura Ingraham and the National Review approvingly citing Tapper's work.

Baker surrendered, sort of: "Okay, he’s convinced me. He’s not your conventional liberal reporter and is someone who has demonstrated an interest in story topics a liberal ideologue would avoid. But will he be able to take that contrarian approach at ABC News? After all, it’s hard to imagine his Washington bureau colleagues George Stephanopoulos or Linda Douglass pursuing any of the angles listed above."

But, earlier in the July 18 item, Baker tries to justify his singling out of Tapper: "CyberAlert’s point in running the items was that like so many others hired by network news operations, Tapper brings a liberal political background and outlook to his job. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if some day ABC News were to hire, as a reporter, someone affiliated with National Review or another outlet that leans as far to the right as Salon does to the left?" Well, that's because, as Tapper's links indicate, Salon does not lean to the left as much as National Review does to the right. Salon may have a few more liberal articles than the average publication, but it's nowhere near as ideologically rigid as the Review is, nor is it a narrowly political publication like the Review; its articles cover a wider range of subjects (like sex) unlikely to appear in William F. Buckley's creation.

Here's some homework for Baker: Find 23 articles from the last few years of the National Review written by the same author that have "angered conservatives and pleased liberals" to the extent Tapper's work at Salon has done.

* * *

If reflexively branding anyone they don't like as a "liberal" is one major MRC flaw, another big one is not adhering to the standards it demands others follow.

The latest example of this is the hammering of CNN's Aaron Brown for reporting a couple weeks back a story from a gossipy Internet site claiming that a CIA consultant told President Bush directly that reports that Iraq tried to obtain uranium in Africa were wrong. The report was retracted about four hours before Brown relayed it on CNN, and he has apparently not corrected it. MRC ran a "Media Reality Check" on it, as well as the usual CyberAlerts.

MRC subsidiary joined in the fun as well, with executive editor Scott Hogenson penning a July 10 opinion piece with the ominous (and unoriginal) title, "What Did CNN Know and When Did They Know It?" in which he decries "media bias by innuendo." (Wait -- isn't that what Brent Baker tried to do to Jake Tapper?)

Should CNN correct the record? Absolutely. But we'd just as happy if the MRC would correct its own record.

During the Iraq war, the ConWeb seized on allegations made by the Christian Science Monitor that George Galloway, a member of the British Parliament who had spoken out against the war, had accepted $10 million over 11 years from Saddam Hussein's regime to promote its interests. In june, the Monitor retracted its story, saying the documents used to back up its original story were apparently forged. ran four stories. MRC led an April 29 CyberAlert slamming ABC's Diane Sawyer fore featuring Galloway's remarks critical of Bush in a February story." Sawyer owes her viewers an apology for trumpeting as credible and relevant the anti-American hatred of such a disreputable man," Brent Baker thundered. This was followed the next day with a "Media Reality Check" complaining that network news was ignoring the story, in which Tim Graham writes: "Continued silence suggests journalists care more about protecting what’s left of the anti-war activists’ appeal than they do about investigative journalism in the war’s aftermath."

To date, no mention has been made on any MRC-operated site of the Monitor's retraction. What was that about what "continued silence" suggests?

* * *

The numbers already looked good for MRC-type folks in a poll about the media, but Brent Baker decided they needed to look even better.

"By 2-to-1, Public Sees Liberal Over Conservative Bias" reads the headline on a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey reported in the July 14 CyberAlert. What's the first thing you think of when you see that? Two-thirds to one-third, 66.7 percent to 33.3 percent, right?

Wrong. Baker excerpts findings from the poll, which put the numbers in the proper perspective: "When it comes to describing the press, twice as many say news organizations are "liberal" (51%) than "conservative" (26%) while 14% say neither phrase applies." Baker's "2-to-1" breakdown assumes all respondents are accounted for when, in fact, nearly a quarter of them said neither "liberal" nor "conservative."

So, grammar freaks, a much more accurate headline is "Twice as Many in Survey See Liberal Over Conservative Bias." And accuracy is what journalism is supposed to be about -- and allegedly what the MRC is about.

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