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Liberally Insulting

The Media Research Center has trouble finding anything offensive about an NBC reporter claiming that Chelsea Clinton was being "pimped out" by her mother's presidential campaign. But then, it's totally down with Ann Coulter's litany of insults.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/15/2008

The Media Research Center has a simple double standard on insults: Forbidden for conservatives, permitted for liberals, practically encouraged for the Clintons.

ConWebWatch detailed how last year the MRC repeatedly ran to the defense of Ann Coulter after she made numerous insulting remarks about John Edwards -- even rewarding her behavior by making her a main attraction at its annual "DisHonors Awards" banquet (she ended up not showing; the MRC claimed she was ill) -- but howling over a pair of bloggers for Edwards' presidential campaign who had made controversial remarks about religion prior to their employment by Edwards. The MRC has been so utterly sycophantic toward Coulter, in fact, that one wonders if she possesses some juicy piece of blackmail on MRC chief Brent Bozell.

Bozell, meanwhile, kept up this double standard in his Feb. 7 column, taking purported offense that Barack Obama was "endorsed by, the screechy hard-left group that distinguished itself last year by taking out newspaper ads denouncing our commander in Iraq as 'General Betray Us,' " and won a poll at the "radical" Daily Kos, where among the tens of thousands of blog posts exists one that calls private security contractors in Iraq "mercenaries." No mention of Coulter's smears of Edwards that his organization defended.

Bozell's column appeared before NBC White House correspondent David Shuster did a stint as a guest host on the Feb. 7 edition of MSNBC's "Tucker," where he said regarding Chelsea Clinton's allegedly "unseemly" role in her mother's presidential campaign: "But doesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?" Shuster apologized the next day, and -- after Hillary Clinton threatened not to appear for a debate scheduled to air on MSNBC later this month, citing Shuster's remark as part of a "troubling pattern of comments and behaviors" on the channel -- NBC suspended him at least temporarily.

The first thing the MRC did in response to the controversy was to try and ignore the idea that anyone would find Shuster's remark offensive.

Noel Sheppard, in a Feb. 8 NewsBusters post, couldn't be bothered to actually criticize the remark beyond calling it "over-the-top," as opposed to his claim that "MSNBC representatives make disgracefully offensive comments about President George W. Bush on a daily basis." Not that he offered evidence that this actually happens, of course.

John Stephenson, in a Feb. 9 post, merely found Shuster's remark "politically incorrect, and possibly derogatory," as if he was waiting for details about about Chelsea's sex life to determine conclusively that it actually is derogatory.

Tim Graham, meanwhile, used a Feb. 8 NewsBusters post to suggest that Shuster's insult, though "rude," was something of a corrective measure that was entirely justified because "[t]he media spent the 1990s using Chelsea and Gore kids to improve the public image of the Clintons and the Gores." Graham failed to mention, of course, that Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore III were under 18 during the Clinton administration. Does this mean that Graham endorsed (if not heartily guffawed at) Rush Limbuagh's slam of the 13-year-old Chelsea as the White House dog, or John McCain's joke that Chelsea is "so ugly" because "Janet Reno is her father"? Graham went on to cite a 2001 column by MRC leader Brent Bozell that depicted how, in Graham's words, "the media played up the 19-year-old Bush twins being arrested for drinking in Austin." As ConWebWatch noted at the time, the Bush twins were over 18 but not of drinking age when they tried to illegally buy liquor at an Austin bar, and -- unlike Al Gore III's speeding offense in 2000 -- the younger Gore didn't get popped for alcohol-related offenses twice within a month like Jenna Bush did, and he didn't face the threat that Jenna did of possible jail time because of a get-tough law her father signed into law while Texas governor due to an alleged third alcohol-related offense.

Graham then appeared on the Feb. 8 edition of Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes," in which he repeated his previous insult-as-corrective concept, prompting him to get pounded for his insensitivity by none other than the conservative half of the H&C duo, Sean Hannity:

GRAHAM: I would say this, however, Sean. Let me disagree with you just a tiny bit. And that is, Chelsea Clinton now is 27 years old. She is not the 13-year-old that moved into the White House. And that problem that -- we have a much greater problem in the United States today, that she's been treated --

HANNITY: But wait a minute, Tim -- but Tim, to pimp out her daughter? You don't find that -- you know what? She's a young lady, and by all accounts -- I gotta be honest. She conducts herself with class, she seems like a nice kid. Leave the children of candidates alone. Leave 'em alone, even if they're campaigning. I think it's out of bounds. Leave Chelsea alone. I don't think it's fair.

GRAHAM: Well, the younger you are, I guess, the less you object. Maybe this -- he should have made this kind of comment on MTV News, and we wouldn't have heard about it. I'm simply saying that, in fact, Sean, the New York TImes, other media outlets have reported on Chelsea and during this campaign cycle with such an adoring tone, they really treat her like Saint Chelsea.

While Hannity didn't identify Graham as a conservative -- per the template of MRC appearances on the channel -- liberal co-host Alan Colmes did, and noted the double standard he was following, as Graham continued to peddle his idea of a corrective:

GRAHAM: Well, there is a double standard. Keith Olbermann could come on and say Bush is responsible for killing 3,500 Americans. Or remember when he called Chris Wallace a monkey posing as a newscaster?

COLMES: Well, you want to change the debate here and make it about other people and that you conservatives are the poor, put-upon people. This was a knock at Chelsea Clinton by a reporter and a network you're claiming is left-wing and part of the crowd. And yet it was a knock against the Clintons. Wasn't it John McCain who also did a joke and said she was the daughter of Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton, that's Chelsea Clinton, and of course he apologized for the joke. These are the things that conservatives are doing, it seems, to knock the Clintons.

GRAHAM: Well, David is not a conservative. I mean, I don't think -- everything you've looked at David Shuster saying in the past five years since he joined MSNBC or whatever, not a conservative. I mean --

COLMES: All right, but the point is --

GRAHAM: -- typical liberal journalist.


GRAHAM: I'm simply saying I think we do have way too much sensitivity toward Chelsea Clinton. The New York Times again -- this piece that Jodi Kantor wrote last year, where she sort of said, "People were so excited that her lips moved and sound came out." There's just too much worship there.

COLMES: Do you think it's appropriate, what David Shuster said? Are you going to defend his comments?

GRAHAM: No. I'm simply saying there's a hypersensitivity that we treat her like she's 13. I'm saying -- I'm agreeing with you. Why would you ban somebody for saying something like that when, you know, people in our public life --

COLMES: He should get his job back at some point. But Sean is right, that this is -- we shouldn't be going after the kids of candidates and people in office.

The July 2007 Times article on Chelsea Clinton that Graham complained about, while positive, is not nearly so fawning as he portrays. Still, Graham's boss, Brent Bozell, attacked it at the time as portraying Chelsea and Hillary as "two clones of Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way" and scoffed at a description of another Times article about letters Hillary wrote while a college student as "humanizing." The last thing Bozell wants Hillary to be thought of, it appears, is having human qualities.

(And Media Matters has a notable file on Shuster, which would seem to contradict Graham's claim that "everything" Shuster has said while in the employ of NBC is liberal.)

Sheppard, meanwhile, then went into full-bore equivocation mode; first, he dug up a Keith Olbermann quote saying that President Bush "pimped out" Gen. David Petraeus for political purposes. Of course, Sheppard never addresses the substance of the charge Olbermann made against Bush.

In a Feb. 10 NewsBusters post, Sheppard flippantly declared that the contretemps is "destined to be called 'Pimp Gate,' " thus invoking the Clinton Equivocation, in which the Clintons are held to a different standard than other people -- in this case, permitted (if not required) to be insulted with impunity. Sheppard went on to assert -- without evidence, of course -- that "employees of MSNBC are allowed -- nay, encouraged! -- to debase a Republican whenever the whim overcomes them." But couldn't the same be said of the relationship between MRC employees and liberals? Given Sheppard's own track record, particularly on the subject of Al Gore, the answer is arguably yes. 

In a Feb. 11 post, Sheppard purported to offer "another example of this hypocrisy" -- not his own, mind you, but what he purports that MSNBC is engaging in -- a tongue-in-cheek 2006 segment by Keith Olbermann about the Bush twins' partying ways in Argentina. Sheppard haughtily added: "I ask you: If David Shuster suggesting that Hillary's campaign is pimping out Chelsea is so offensive that he should be suspended, how can this report by Olbermann not have met with similar disdain from the top brass at MSNBC and NBC?" Sheppard curiously failed to mention that the Bush twins' history of party-hearty behavior (which, as ConWebWatch documented, the ConWeb did their best to blame everyone but the twins themselves). 

Sheppard then added: 'Well, shouldn't it be just as irresponsible and inappropriate to insult a family member of the current president? Or, is that okay if the current president is a Republican?" Sheppard doesn't say whether he would show such restraint if said president were a Democrat.

Graham jumped on the equivocation bandwagon in a Feb. 12 post, suggesting that it was OK because NBC has used it in other contexts, such as a tech-loaded bathroom that was a called a "pimped out john" and a reference to a couple who planned to "pimp out" their minivan. Graham seems to be overlooking one minor detail: Chelsea Clinton is not an inanimate object.

Finally, the inevitable occurred: Bozell devoted his Feb. 12 column to the controversy. he regurgitated Sheppard's equivocations regarding Petraeus and the Bush twins -- and, like Sheppard, failed to mention Olbermann's argument regarding Petraeus and the Bush twins' alcoholic history.

Bozell then went after Hillary Clinton: "Her idea of employee relations is also rough. Paul Fray, an Arkansas campaign worker said she cursed him out with F-bombs and ethnic slurs after Bill Clinton lost his one race for Congress in 1974." But as ConWebWatch detailed, Fray's version of alleged events is suspect at best.

Bozell does, however, deserve credit for one thing. Unlike his MRC underlings -- who were falling over themselves to avoid the idea that anyone, especially the Clintons, would be offended by Shuster's remark -- Bozell forthrightly called it "idiotic and offensive."

Will Bozell ever apply those words to anything Ann Coulter says? Don't count on it -- he's still making up the guest list for this year's DisHonors Awards.

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