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Creating A Catholic Controversy

Brent Bozell and the Media Research Center try to manufacture outrage over purported lack of coverage of a lawsuit by Catholic groups against the Obama administration. Too bad they feel the need to throw Jews under the bus to do it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/30/2012

For Brent Bozell and his Media Research Center, 2012 has been a year of failures in right-wing activism.

First came Bozell's attempt to distract from Rush Limbaugh's three-day tirade of misogyny against Sandra Fluke -- inspired by MRC employee Craig Bannister -- by pointing the finger at controversial comments made by hosts on MSNBC. Not only could Bozell not express any meaningful, let alone forceful, criticism of Limbaugh, his own MRC employees embraced Limbaugh's slurs with glee. The MRC also killed its "I Stand With Rush" website after a week when that petition apparently fizzled (perhaps because it looked more than a little unseemly to "stand with" someone who said such vile things about a woman).

Then, Bozell ratcheted up his attacks on MSNBC by trying to get his right-wing buddies in Congress to intimidate its parent company, Comcast, by demanding that Congress interfere in an unrelated deal involving the sale of wireless spectrum owned by Comcast until his demands were met. That went nowhere as well, and Bozell ultimately dropped it.

Bozell and the MRC have now returned to full hair-on-fire mode, trying to manufacture a controversy out of the TV broadcast networks -- he's conspicuously silent about cable networks -- not covering something that appeals to its right-wing readership and donors.

That would be the lawsuit filed by various Catholic entities against the federal government over its contraception coverage mandate. A May 22 MRC press release declared this "the largest legal action in history to defend our Constitutionally-protected religious freedom," without providing any evidence to back up this claim.

But never mind that -- Bozell's frothing at the mouth:

This is the worst bias by omission I have seen in the quarter century history of the Media Research Center. Every American knows about the Chinese communists withholding for 20 years the news that the US had landed on the moon, because it reflected poorly on the government. Our US media today are no different. They are now withholding news from the American people if it is harmful to the re-election of Barack Obama.

“This is not a mistake, nor is it an editorial oversight by the broadcast networks. This is a deliberate and insidious withholding of national news to protect the ‘Chosen One’ who ABC, CBS and NBC have worked so hard to elect and are now abusing their journalistic influence to reelect. And when a network like CBS mentions the suit ever-so-briefly, they deliberately distort the issue by framing it as a contraception lawsuit instead of what they know it to be: a religious freedom issue. It’s bogus, dishonest – a flat out lie.

“The fact is that the Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising ‘we will not comply’ with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty. If this isn't 'news' then there's no such thing as news. This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports. Instead, these networks are sending a clear message to all Americans that the networks will go to any lengths – even censoring from the public an event of this historic magnitude – to prevent the release of any information that will hurt Obama’s chances of re-election.

"The so-called 'news' media have sunk to a new low. This is despicable."

The MRC followed that up the next day with another press release proclaiming that "Nine prominent Catholic leaders have joined the Media Research Center to voice outrage over the broadcast networks deliberately withholding news of the momentous 43 Catholic entities suing the Obama administration for violating their religious freedoms."

Curiously buried among the groups is the Catholic League -- it's not mentioned in the opening paragraph, and Bill Donohue's quote is the final one in the release. Completely unmentioned, however, is the fact that Bozell is on the Catholic League's board of advisers.

A May 24 MRC press release gave its entire game away by making this statement: "For the third night in a row the broadcast networks have refused to cover this correctly."

The MRC's use of the word "correctly" tells us the real agenda here. If there is a "correct" way to report on this -- which, in the MRC's view, is to report it the way the MRC wants it, without any questioning about the political agenda involved -- there is also an "incorrect" way, which is anything that fails to adequately promote the MRC's right-wing agenda.

In short, it's about conservative correctness. We saw this in the ConWeb's war on Christmas, and we see it every time NewsBusters unleashes a round of Heathering on any conservative who falls short of total fealty to right-wing talking points.

The MRC tried to create an echo chamber on this story over Memorial Day weekend by churning out NewsBusters posts on people repeating the MRC's talking points:

  • Noel Sheppard promoted Mike Huckabee's bizarre claim that not reporting on the lawsuit is "like missing the Roe v. Wade decision." Of course, a lawsuit and a court ruling are two entirely different things.
  • Tim Graham touted how, on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace not only interviewed Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington DC, but asked him about the MRC’s finding that the broadcast network evening news shows only gave the Catholic lawsuits against Obamacare 19 seconds of air time.
  • Brad Wilmouth similarly parroted Fox News' parroting of "a recent MRC finding" on reporting about the lawsuit, this time coming from "liberal FNC analyst Kirsten Powers." Actually, Powers isn't that liberal -- she signed onto the MRC agenda of distracting from Limbaugh's misogyny by pointing at liberal commentators.

The MRC is so taken with this pro-Catholic crusade that it will throw other religions under the bus to promote its pro-Catholic agenda.

In a May 24 NewsBusters post, MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham took offense to covering a Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia instead of the lawsuit, adding: "While CBS highlights the Catholic sex-abuse allegations in Philadelphia, it’s ignoring the Jewish sex-abuse story in its own hometown."

Huh? What does that have to do with anything? But Graham has decided that it has. After quoting from a New York Times story about a Brooklyn prosecutor facing "intense scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community," Graham adds: "Sex-abuse charges in the Catholic Church are deadly serious, but aren't they in all religions? Aren't they in public schools? But Pelley was singling out the Catholics, spreading across the nation the prosecutors comparing the Catholic Church in Philadelphia to the Nazis during World War II[.]"

But a national network news program is not supposed to cover "hometown" news -- it's supposed to cover stories of national interest. And since Catholics are 23.9 percent of the American population, sexual abuse is a story that a large number of Americans are interested in. By comparison, only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population are Jews, and ultra-orthodox Judaism is, in turn, a small subset of that.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that NewsBusters has invoked Jewish sex-abuse scandals to deflect attention from Catholic scandals:

  • In an April 2011 post, Dave Pierre complained about a PBS "Frontline" program about the Catholic scandal, retorting: "When will PBS’ Frontline investigate the massive child abuse and cover-ups happening today - not decades ago - in our nation's public schools? How about the recent cover-ups of abuse by Orthodox rabbis in New York City?
  • Pierre returned in December to attack the New York Times for allegedly ignoring how "85 accused child predators have been arrested in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community," while "The Times has never been shy about trumpeting cases involving allegations of abuse by Catholic priests decades ago."

It's more than a little unbecoming for Graham and Pierre to invoke Jewish scandals to deflect from Catholic scandals.

Further, Graham's attempt to throw Jews under the bus to protect Catholics came on top of NewsBusters associate editor Noel Sheppard embedding an anti-Semitic image in a post the very same day. After Media Matters called Sheppard out on it, the offending image was removed and Sheppard added an update apologizing for the image, insisting that "those familiar with my work know that's not something I would intentionally do."

The MRC doesn't care about media fairness, and it never has. It has only two purposes -- to advance an political agenda, and to denigrate any media outlet that doesn't do so to the MRC's satisfaction. That's all that's happening here.

There is no spontaneous outcry over this issue -- it has been completely manufactured by Bozell and the MRC, which have a vested interest in defeating Obama. Bozell is trying to pass off a partisan political issue as a journalistic one. A lot of people have sued the Obama administration over various aspects of health care reform, so why is this lawsuit any more special? Aside from Bozell's unsupported claim that it's "the largest legal action in history," he never explains.

In other words: This is news because Bozell, a partisan political activist, has declared it to be. No other reason.

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