Bozell vs. CPAC
The Media Research Center chief has been spending much of the past several years at war with the annual conservative gathering, with his MRC employees caught in the middle.
By Terry Krepel
This year, it's all about Bozell throwing a fit because CPAC invited (then disinvited) an atheist group to have a booth. It's the latest in a string of conniptions Bozell has had involving the conference, which typically ends up making his MRC employees pay by not being able to represent the organization at CPAC despite the prominence of both organizations in the right-wing universe.
Let's review Bozell's recent history with CPAC, shall we?
WorldNetDaily reported in January 2011 that the MRC would not participate in that year's CPAC "because of the continued participation of the homosexual activist organization GOProud."
Strangely, that announcement did not appear on any MRC website, including its own "news" division, CNSNews.com.
(Since WND is involved, it went without saying that it couldn't get the story completely correct. Fitzpatrick also portrayed the Heritage Foundation as pulling out of CPAC over GOProud; Slate's Dave Weigel reported that Heritage spokesman Mike Gonzalez -- whom Fitzpatrick quotes in his article -- says that GOProud's participation is not why the group is not taking part in CPAC this year.)
A NewsBusters post by Ken Shepherd timed to the start of the conference read: "Today marks the opening of the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Regardless of where you may stand on internal debates about some of this year's co-sponsors, there's no denying that for nearly four decades its been an enduring legacy of conservative political activism" -- but Shepherd didn't note that his own employer was refusing to take part.
The MRC's dealings with CPAC -- taking a bold stand by boycotting, but not terribly eager to publicize that stand -- came off as cowardly and contradictory. It wasn't until after the conference ended, in a Feb. 14 CNS article by Penny Starr, that the MRC straightrforwardly admitted it wasn't taking part in CPAC. Starr didn't explain why she or any other MRC employee hadn't reported this until now, even though it had been public knowledge for more than a month.
Starr's article later received this curious "correction": "Several conservative organizations chose not to participate in CPAC this year; they did not boycott the event." It's not explained why several organizations choosing "not to participate" in CPAC in protest of the presence of another group does not amount to a boycott; that seems like a distinction without a difference.
The MRC did take part in the following year's CPAC -- for a while. That is, until Bozell petulantly withdrew the MRC from CPAC because he wasn't granted a prominent speaking slot.
The Daily Caller reported:
Sources tell The Daily Caller that the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog located in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., withdrew from the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday because its president, Brent Bozell, was not offered a “prominent” speaking slot at the annual conference.
This too went unreported by the MRC's own websites, making its treatment just as cowardly as the previous year.
Still, after it was over, an MRC TimesWatch item complained that a New York Times article on CPAC "contains 23 instances of the word “conservative” in a 28-paragraph story" -- apparently oblivious to the fact that CPAC is a gathering of conservatives, and that "conservative" is the most logical descriptor for them.
And Bozell's snit did not keep the MRC from protecting one CPAC participant that year. During one seminar, conservative columnist Cal Thomas declared that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow "is the best argument in favor of her parents using contraception." The MRC apparently didn't think that opinion was in any way controversial, for no mention of it whatsoever can be found on any of the MRC websites.
Thomas penned a column a few days later in which he offered a full, unequivocal and abject apology to Maddow, stating: "One of the principles in which I believe is not to engage in name-calling; which, to my shame, I did. ... I had embarrassed myself and was a bad example to those who read my column and expect better from me."
Even though NewsBusters carries an archive of Thomas' columns, his Feb. 16, 2012, column -- the one with his apology to Maddow -- is curiously absent.
Bozell apparently got the prime speaking slot he wanted, because in 2013 he and the MRC took part in CPAC.
Bozell used that prime slot to do some serious Heathering, continuing the expansion of his right-wing purity test to the entire Republican Party. Craig Bannister quoted from his boss' speech in a CNS blog post:
"So what do we conservatives believe? What is a conservative?
It was right-wing red meat, with a not-so-coded message to the hosts who capitulated to his demand for a prime speaking slot: Deviate from right-wing orthodoxy again, and CPAC will be the target of another Bozell tantrum.
And that's exactly what happened. CPAC invited the group American Atheists to have a booth, only to disinvite them shortly afterwards. Still, Bozell was so incensed about it that he spread his displeasure across the MRC empire:
“The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself.
A couple points here:
Bozell then started using his "news" division, CNSNews.com, to hammer home his animus toward CPAC.
A Feb. 27 CNS article by Barbara Hollingsworth and Michael Chapman features a CPAC board member criticizing the since-rescinded invitation to American Atheists, and trying to get other CPAC board members and sponsors to answer whether CPAC "should insist on an official policy guideline making it clear that groups that are openly hostile to any one of the four major pillars of conservative thought--including traditional values--will not be allowed to participate in future CPACs." The authors couldn't be bothered to contact American Atheists for a comment.
CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey also did his boss' bidding with a blog post quoting William Buckley's "God and Man at Yale" and declaring:
There are Americans today, holding themselves up as conservatives, who argue that one can be both an atheist and a conservative. This is absurd.
Jeffrey didn't mention the CPAC controversy, but he didn't have to. He did mention it, however, in his March 5 column, which expanded on his blog post by bringing Ronald Reagan into it and explaining why it's a good thing for CPAC and the ACU censor views it doesn't agree with:
Are atheism and promoting atheism consistent with American let alone conservative values and principles?
Strange to see the head of a so-called "news" organization advocate censorship of viewpoints different from his. Again, this deviates from the MRC's declared mission.
While this is all moderately entertaining political theater, there are people caught in the middle: MRC employees who, for the third time in four years, will not be allowed to represent their employer for at least part of the conservative movement's largest annual gathering.
But this is war, and Bozell is taking no prisoners in trying to enforce his absolutist views on his fellow right-wingers -- the latest in Bozell shenanigans. As long as he continues to use the MRC as a cudgel to advance his personal political agenda instead of a tool to help Republicans, this war will continue for some time to come.