Not-So-Special Reports, CMI Division
The MRC's Culture & Media Institute follows its parent in issuing reports using skewed evidence that push questionable conclusions.
By Terry Krepel
Just like its Media Research Center parent, MRC's Culture and Media Institute likes to issue "special reports" on various issues it likes to highlight. Unfortunately, also like its MRC parent, CMI's reports demonstrate its biases in its use of overly narrow parameters and predilection for dubious conclusions.
Just before the November 2008 election, for example, CMI released a report by Colleen Raezler and Brian Fitzpatrick that purported to document how Americans "turned against" Sarah Palin because of "a blizzard of bad reports" about her, "running 18 negative stories for every positive one." But the overall tone of the report is more about complaining that anything negative was reported about Palin at all, that what was reported didn't reflect the McCain campaign's talking points, and that -- channeling Stephen Colbert -- facts and reality have a well-known liberal bias.
The report carefully limited its scope to only the broadcast news networks and to coverage in "the two weeks beginning September 29 and ending October 12." This avoids having to discuss the period immediately following Palin's nomination and Republican National Convention speech, when news coverage of her was largely -- and, it can be argued, disproportionately -- positive, focusing instead on coverage following Palin's Sept. 24 and 25 interview with CBS' Katie Couric. The report complained: "Most observers agree that Palin did not perform well in the Couric interview, but the network coverage dwelled on the worst moments, making Palin look as unprepared and inexperienced as possible." After noting the focus on Palin's refusal to give a straight answer to Couric's question about what magazines and newspapers she read, the report stated:
The network coverage of this exchange left the impression that Palin was unable to identify any news sources because she isn’t interested in current events an implausible supposition to make about an accomplished politician.
The report didn't mention that Palin could have avoided such a focus by simply answering the question.
The report also complained that Tina Fey's dead-on "Saturday Night Live" impression of Palin got news play, calling the impression "demeaning" and adding: "Funny stuff, but is it news?" The report also baselessly asserted that "Palin’s strong performance during the October 2 vice-presidential debate sucked the oxygen out of the attacks on her qualifications and intellect," failing to note that polls taken immediately after the debate found that a majority of respondents thought that Democrat Joe Biden won the debate.
After lamenting that the networks reported "criticism of Palin from a handful of conservative writers," the report added, "The networks failed to mention that Palin enjoyed the enthusiastic support of far more influential conservative pundits, including premier talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin." So a guy who says, for instance, that "It's not the National Organization of Liberal Women, it's the National Organization of Ugly Women," and a guy who repeatedly makes references to anal sex, are "premier" conservative radio hosts in the eyes of Raezler and Fitzpatrick?
The report also expressed annoyance that the networks were "depicting Palin as nothing more than GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s attack dog. ... Rather than investigate the substance of Palin’s accusations against Obama, the media suggested the criticism was somehow improper." In fact, Palin was the McCain campaign's attack dog, as her campaign assertions that Obama was "palling around with terrorists" amply demonstrated.
Finally, Raezler and Fitzpatrick got to their key bit of annoyance: "The networks failed to acknowledge adequately that Palin was doing more during her speeches than attacking Obama. She was also talking about issues, McCain’s plans for the nation, and her own qualifications." In other words, the networks weren't spewing campaign talking points to Raezler and Fitzpatrick's satisfaction. Since when is it the news media's job to by a campaign PR service?
Raezler and Fitzpatrick also appeared to confuse negative coverage with bias, scoring stories by "negative," "positive" and "neutral," then deciding on that basis which network was the "most biased." Despite suggesting that the "negative" stories were not factual, no evidence is offered to support it.
This was far from the only questionable study CMI has published in an attempt to promote its agenda. In March 2007, CMI released a "National Cultural Values Survey," which divided the country into "Orthodox" ("fundamentally religious in outlook ... see moral issues in black and white, right vs. wrong"), "Progressives" ("fundamentally secular and are opposed to religious values in government ... believe in situational ethics"), and "Independent" ("do not fully accept either Orthodox or Progressive values"). The survey asserted that "The religious Orthodox believe in living by God’s revealed morality, while the secular Progressives believe in writing their own moral code. Based on the survey data, departure from God’s moral precepts is the cause of America’s widely perceived moral decline." It added, "Americans have clearly identified the media as primary culprits in the nation’s moral decline."
This was followed by a November 2007 study, conducted with the MRC's Business & Media Institute, largely focusing on news coverage of the subprime mortgage crisis. It claimed that evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC "overwhelmingly blamed business for 'luring' consumers to make bad decisions. At the same time, the three networks ignored personal responsibility and portrayed borrowers as helpless victims who had no hand in their own financial failures." The study seemed to assume that businesses were not responsible for making loans to people who could not afford to pay them back, despite the fact that there's evidence financial institutions deliberately did just that.
In February 2008, CMI released a study focused on the "Dear Abby" advice column. It complained that Abby's "columns on sex reflect an unwillingness to support traditional, common-sense moral values that steer people away from destructive behavior and protect them from harmful situations. Dear Abby’s advice on sexual matters cannot be trusted." The study missed the point of what Dear Abby is -- a place to go for advice on difficult personal and family issues, not for lectures in morality.
Nevertheless, the study concluded: "The logical result of following Abby’s advice is fewer marriages, more sexual experimentation and fewer strong families producing self-governing citizens."
(CMI followed up this attack on Dear Abby in a July 31, 2009, column by Matt Philbin that excoriated Abby for her answer to a writer who was opposed to accepting money from her porn-star sister for her children's education. Philbin interpreted Abby's advice that "the money has already been earned" and that the writer should love her sister "for the generous and caring aunt she is trying to be and let the money be used for something positive" as actually saying, "Don’t be such an up-tight prude. The important thing is that the money makes your life easier and your porn star sister doesn’t feel rejected.")
Such baseless, unsupported claims permeate the report. It similarly insisted that "every major broadcasting network leans to the left," and that "No major conservative-leaning broadcast television network exists," without offering any evidence to back it up. It also claims that CNN, CNN Headline News and MSNBC are "liberal-leaning"; surprisingly, it did concede that Fox News is "conservative-leaning," contrary to the MRC's longtime efforts to pretend otherwise.
It further claimed that the "weekly news magazine medium," as represented by Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report, "is composed exclusively of liberal-leaning sources." That's unsupported as well -- in fact, it's wrong. U.S. News has historically skewed conservative, and doesn't famous conservative George Will have a column at Newsweek?
Regarding newspapers, the report claimed:
America’s leading newspapers overwhelmingly tilt to the left. Twenty-one of the 25 newspapers with the highest daily circulation lean liberal, three lean conservative, and one paper fits in neither category. The paper with the second greatest circulation, The Wall Street Journal, has a famously conservative editorial page, but the Journal’s news pages are among the nation’s most liberal, so we list the WSJ as “mixed.”
Again, no evidence is provided to back up these assertions of newspapers' political "tilt." Indeed, evidence shows the report's classifications of the "tilt" of the top 25 papers is not accurate at all:
A June 2009 report by Philbin and Dan Gainor made the not-exactly-earth-shattering discovery that some content at YouTube is not for children. Of course, any sentient adult knows this, but CMI has taken it upon itself to quantify some of this:
CMI looked at the most popular search results for the word “porn” 157 videos that each had more than 1 million views. The analysis showed that while actual nudity has been blocked by YouTube, the site is filled with videos, images and spoken and written language that children should not be exposed to and many adults would find objectionable.
Philbin and Gainor contradict themselves here -- regardless of whether the videos in question "advertised themselves to be actual pornography," they could not be because, as they noted earlier, "actual nudity has been blocked by YouTube."
Even more shocking to CMI: There are videos of homosexual people!
As if all the porn and obscenity weren’t enough, parents concerned about children’s exposure to the gay agenda or just gay content have another reason to be cautious about YouTube.
This is reminiscent of a line from one of the "Porky's" movies made by a bluenose school official who was shocked -- shocked! -- that one of the students was showing a porn movie: "I sat through every filthy, disgusting frame of this repulsive movie ... twice." It seems that Philbin and Gainor spent day after day digging through YouTube looking for every video offensive to their sensibilities that they could find ... perhaps twice.
One of CMI's recommendations is that "Parents should remember that even seemingly harmless videos and search terms can have disturbing results for children." Then again, the seemingly harmless act of going to church can have disturbing results for children as well.
As with its MRC parent, CMI's "special reports" aren't all that special -- or fair or well documented.