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The MRC's War

Fox News Channel, unsurprisingly, gets the "research" group's highest marks in war coverage -- and it's still hard-pressed to be overly critical of Geraldo Rivera.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/30/2003

When the Media Research Center issues a "special report," watch out.

The results are presented with an air of objectivity, but of course that's not so. The folks and organizations that provide MRC with its multimillion-dollar budget aren't interested in "objective" analysis; it's MRC's job to deliver the biased goods -- beat up on the TV networks, praise Fox News Channel.

Which MRC pretty much does in an April 23 report by Brent Baker and Rich Noyes that graded the TV networks' performance during the Iraq war. The appearance of objectivity comes in that CBS' Dan Rather got a B-plus while Fox News Channel was given a mere B overall (though Fox's Brit Hume beat out Rather with an A), but a closer reading of the report and the criteria used allows the anti-everybody-but-Fox bias to show through.

Noyes, however, was already trying to distance the MRC from the effects of giving a dreaded liberal like Rather such high marks, as quoted in an Associated Press story. "This is just on the war," he said. "It's not a lifetime achievement award." That goes back to when the MRC defended ABC's Peter Jennings against charges of biased commentary following the 9/11 attacks -- and a large number of readers criticized it for doing so, to the point that Baker wanted everyone to just "move on and monitor Jennings for any future anti-conservative or pro-liberal bias."

And what was the MRC's criteria? A mostly conservative definition defined by what Baker and Noyes didn't like: "too little skepticism of enemy propaganda, too much mindless negativism about America’s military prospects, and a reluctance on the part of most networks to challenge the premises of the anti-war movement or expose its radical agenda." That would go against MRC's pro-war stance, which ConWebWatch has documented.

Read another way: If reporters and anchors swallowed everything the government told them and made a point of saying every chance they could that a number of anti-war protests were organized by a group that espoused (gasp!) socialism, they were hunky-dorey with the MRC. If not, expect to be the target of MRC's pin-the-liberal-tail-on-the-media game.

Fox News delivered that in spades. It "refused to adopt the liberal media’s standard for “objective” war reporting, where objectivity demanded an indifference to whether America succeeded or failed," Baker and Noyes wrote. "Yet this patriotic attitude did not compromise the quality of FNC’s war reporting and analysis. Indeed, by refusing to embrace the reflexive skepticism of most of the media elite, FNC’s audience was not misled by the unwarranted second-guessing and negativism that tainted other networks’ war news."

The only thing that seems to have kept FNC from the straight A Baker and Noyes appear to have really wanted to give it is Geraldo Rivera. For the first time in an MRC publication, Rivera was criticized, if only because he kept FNC from a better grade. But Baker and Noyes couldn't see fit to give him anything more than a demerit due to a technicality: "If Geraldo Rivera had been formally 'embedded' with the 101st Airborne, he would have been selected as the worst embedded reporter for his careless revealing of military secrets," they wrote.

Meanwhile, reporters who didn't work for FNC get much worse treatment for similar offenses, as they have all along. Peter Arnett got the "worst Baghdad reporter" award along with ABC's Richard Engel. The main criteria Baker and Noyes appear to be using was whether their reporting was "useful to the Iraqi cause." One would think that "careless revealing of military secrets" would be "useful to the Iraqi cause" and worthy of more criticism than voicing an opinion about the war that the MRC didn't like.

CNN got downgraded for putting a "positive spin" on anti-war protests and not reporting to the MRC's satisfaction that "polls showed such anti-war sentiments were shared by only a small minority of Americans." Baker and Noyes' rationale for CBS' grade seems to be not much more than it being not as "negative" as that of ABC, with "much less gloomy speculation and a greater emphasis on factually reporting battlefield developments."

As the D-minus grade shows, ABC is the MRC's target du jour. "Led by the highly tendentious Peter Jennings, ABC’s reporters presented the most adversarial and negative coverage of the American war effort," Noyes and Baker wrote. Jennings, who got an F in the report, "as the most indulgent of the anti-war movement, offering uncritical coverage."

The MRC issued another "special report" earlier this year blasting ABC's war coverage for, among other things, "question(ing) the purity of the Bush administration’s ideological and economic motives for war" and "present(ing) a 'peace' movement that would resonate with Middle America" when "many protesters are not in the political 'mainstream.'" (At the MRC, anything to the left of Brent Bozell would not be in the political "mainstream.") Report author Tim Graham, however, did actually offer a few common-sense suggestions for improved coverage, like asking "straightforward polling questions without loaded language." Now, if he could let his co-workers down the hall at in on that one, he wouldn't look so hypocritical.

MRC's treatment of the Iraq war is quite different from what it did during the last major military conflict, the 1999 U.S.-NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. Then again, a Democrat was in the White House.

There was no grading of the media's efforts. There was no fretting about "too much mindless negativism" -- in fact, the MRC seemed to believe there wasn't enough negativity. An April 2, 1999, CyberAlert was disappointed that a report critical of President Clinton's war plan in Kosovo got little attention, and two "Media Reality Checks" that month complained that the war was overshadowing news about various Clinton scandals.

Also, a May 1999 CyberAlert cited CBS president Les Moonves' approval of Clinton's actions in Kosovo. Baker, the writer of the piece, made no editorial comment, but given what it is -- a statement supporting a Democratic president made by the president of an allegedly "liberal" network -- the point of mentioning it at all was an expression of disapproval. Baker and Noyes, meanwhile, applauded FNC's Neil Cavuto's "patriotic attitude" when he said there was "nothing wrong" for a reporter to take a pro-U.S. stance in his or her reporting.

In the story on MRC's ABC-bashing report, MRC chief Brent Bozell insisted that its criticism " is not personal," citing its defense of Jennings from accusations of biased coverage following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nah, it's not personal at all -- just business. Gotta keep that conservative foundation money coming in.

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