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The MRC's Trump-Media Conspiracy

According to the Media Research Center, the "liberal media" (which somehow includes Fox News) is conspiring to make Donald Trump the presidential nominee. And MRC friend Ted Cruz is more than happy to parrot it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/11/2016

The creeping WorldNetDaily-ism at the Media Research Center is manifesting itself in another form: embracing conspiracy theories.

Throughout the Republican presidential primary process, the MRC has obsessed over the amount of time network news -- but not the cable news channels -- devote to covering Donald Trump. The endgame of that obsession is clear: a conspiracy theory that the "liberal media" is plotting to get Trump the Republican nomination so that he will be trounced by the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in November.

The MRC's Curtis Houck outlined the conspiracy clearly in a Feb. 29 post:

By essentially deleting his opponents from their airwaves, the networks (and cable outlets) have been employing a visible strategy to force the billionaire on GOP primary voters and through to the general election against Clinton or Sanders.

My colleague Rich Noyes brilliantly highlighted this very problem as it was evident for months with the month of January seeing Trump be bequeathed 60 percent of the total GOP race airtime on the network evening newscasts (with Cruz well behind at 30 percent and Rubio at four percent).

The Media Research Center’s Bias the Minute writer Mike Ciandella outlined the same pattern on CNN in an even shorter window as between August 24, 2015 and September 4, 2015, Trump was the topic of discussion in over 77 percent of their primetime election segments. For reference, Jeb Bush came in second for this study but only attracted roughly 12 percent.

MRC chief Brent Bozell and right-hand man Tim Graham echoed the conspiracy in their March 2 column, complaining that "On the night before Super Tuesday voting, the networks obsessed over Trump with more than 15 minutes of coverage, compared to just two for Rubio and less than a minute for Cruz." Bozell and Graham then declared: "The accusation should be made. The liberal media want this vulnerable, blabby billionaire with the high unfavorable numbers to be the Republican nominee."

Employing the Occam's Razor approach to the issue -- which the MRC is steadfastly refusing to do -- most objective media analysts would argue that Trump is being covered because he is, in fact, the most popular Republican running and has been for months -- with a big assist from Trump himself knowing how to play to the media's bias not toward ideology (since Trump realy doesn't have one) but, rather, toward an easy, fun-to-cover subject heavily prone to saying outrageous things -- and not because there is a grand, secretive media conspiracy to get him the nomination.

The idea that Trump is being "forced" onto voters is belied by the fact that the voters don't seem to mind -- they, not the media, voted for Trump in droves at the ballot box. And Bozell and Graham would be screaming about "negative" coverage of any other Republican, so their claim that "negative" coverage of Trump is part of the conspiracy is ridiculous.

Further, the entire MRC conspiracy coterie has been silent about the one media outlet that has done more to promote Trump than any other: Fox News, which effectively established his campaign by giving him more than $30 million in free airtime in 2015 alone. And the night before Super Tuesday, Sean Hannity devoted half his show to an interview with Trump.

The MRC's absolute refusal to scrutinize Trump's symbiosis with Fox News is not just a huge blind spot in its so-called media research, it's also self-serving. As they've shown in their selective outrage over how various media outlets have conducted GOP debates -- slobbering all over Fox-hosted debates and bashing everyone else -- Bozell and Co. don't want to go after Fox because it's their main TV outlet. Bozell has long had a weekly spot on Hannity's show, and he and others pop up regularly on Fox News and Fox Business.

One of the things the rise of Trump has exposed is the hollowness and shoddiness of the MRC's "media research." So Bozell and crew no choice but to continue to blow smoke about the "liberal media" conspiracy to boost Trump so his fellow conservatives don't figure that out.

There's also a factor that the MRC doesn't like to talk about: Bozell has endorsed Cruz and disparaged Trump. In a special anti-Trump issue of National Review, Bozell specifically shunned Trump because he doesn't "walk with us."

Bozell and Graham push the conspiracy again in their April 13 column: "But if democracy was organized to give everyone a fair and equal shot to impress the voters based on their knowledge and experience, then this system has been rigged for Donald Trump for the last nine months. The media – not just the liberal media, but some 'conservative' media, too – have been the gale-force wind beneath Trump’s wings."

Note that almost parenthetical admission that conservative media outlets -- which somehow earns scare quotes from Bozell and Graham in a subtle form of Heathering -- are promoting Trump as well, which is undoubtedly a factor in Trump's popularity. But the writers won't call them out by name.

Bozell and Graham wait until the very last paragraph to mention something very important: "Let's have full disclosure here. We have personally endorsed Ted Cruz, which for some might cast doubt on this column. We challenge you to dispute any of what is above." But if they were truly interested in "full disclosure," wouldn't they have disclosed their endorsement of Cruz at the beginning of their Trump-bashing column?

Bozell and Graham do concede that most of the media coverage of Trump is negative -- which you think would please them, but it doesn't: "Anyone who watches is aware that the network coverage is often negative, but it still denies air time to opponents."

Admitting that most of Trump's media coverage is negative, of course, doesn't keep the MRC from complaining it's somehow not negative enough.

Nicholas Fondacaro grumbled in an April 26 post that NBC failed to report "major news" that " the New York attorney general announced that the class action lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of fraud, for his failed Trump University." Fondacaro added that "oddly, neither Univision nor Telemundo reported about Trump going to trial on fraud charges. Both are networks that love to bash Trump whenever they get the chance."

On April 28, Scott Whitlock complained that "All three broadcast networks, thus far, have ignored a shocking moment on Wednesday night when Donald Trump touted his endorsement by convicted rapist Mike Tyson."

We're confused. If the already-negative tone of Trump's media coverage is irrelevant, why does it matter if even more negative news about him is covered?

It seems that the liberal Trump-loving media (which, again, includes Fox News) can do nothing right in the MRC's eyes, even when they're doing what the MRC supposedly wants them to do.

The MRC-Cruz conspiracy complex

If there's anything the MRC loves more than its Trump-media conspiracy, it's that Ted Cruz -- who, again, has been endorsed by the leader of the MRC -- has been pushing it.

And, thus, from the MRC's mouth to Cruz's ears, as chief conspiracy-monger Curtis Houck eagerly regurgitated in a March 6 post:

Republican presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz (Tex.) sat for an interview with CBS’s John Dickerson Friday afternoon in National Harbor, Maryland that aired on Face the Nation. Cruz lambasted the media for “hav[ing] a coronation” of Donald Trump as the GOP nominee so he could be viciously defeated by Hillary Clinton in November.

While discussing the possibility of a brokered Republican National Convention, Cruz pointed to how he’s remained close to Trump in the delegate count but at the same time, “the media wants to just have a coronation” of Trump “because the media knows Donald can't win the general, that Hillary would wallop him.”

Needless to say, Cruz conveniently omitted the facts that 1) even conservative voters like Trump; 2) the "liberal media" has produced much negative reporting on Trump, which competitors like Cruz have largely ignored until recently; and 3) Fox News, which is decidedly not the "liberal media," has been the biggest Trump promoter of them all.

Scott Whitlock quoted Cruz saying the same thing for a March 15 post:

During his Super Tuesday election speech, Ted Cruz called out the media as Donald Trump surrogates, hitting them for the disparity in coverage given to Trump. Talking to supporters, Cruz denounced, “The mainstream media, the network suits who make the decisions, want Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.”

He added, “That's why they've given him hundreds of millions in free advertising because they are partisan Democrats ready for Hillary and they know that Donald may be the one person on the face of the Earth that Hillary Clinton can beat in the general election.”

the MRC does it again. Nicholas Fondacaro does the honors in a May 1 post:

Sparks flew Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press when Senator Ted Cruz called out the liberal media for their pro-Donald Trump coverage and their biased executives. “The media created this Trump phenomenon and then they don't hold him accountable,” said the Senator during a very long heated interview with the host Chuck Todd. An exchange where Todd was visible agitated by what the senator from Texas was saying about his profession.


Todd wanted to talk about the numbers. So talk about the numbers Cruz did. “Well, actually, with all due respect the media has given $2 billion of free advertising to Donald,” stated Cruz. The claim by Cruz can be backed up by a number of Media Research Center studies. In January the MRC found that very little of coverage of Trump was about his very liberal past. An MRC study from February found that Trump was receiving three times the coverage his next two rivals were receiving. The trend sky rocketed in April when the “big three” networks bathed Trump in five times more coverage than his rivals, yet another MRC study found.


“The media created this Trump phenomenon and then they don't hold him accountable,” Cruz continued, “Now, I'm sure the media planned to do so if he's the nominee in general election. Suddenly you'll hear every day about Donald Trump's tax returns.”

Many on the right speculate that is what the liberal media has planned for Trump. Citing how the media played nice with John McCain in ‘08 and Mitt Romney in ’12, but then took the gloves off after the Republican National Convention. Although Todd may not like it, Cruz is right to point out that the media does have a bias for Trump. He drives up their ratings and they think Hillary can beat him. What’s not to like about him for the media?
Needless to say, neither Cruz nor Fondacaro brought up the fact that Fox News -- definitely not part of the "liberal media" -- has been the biggest Trump booster of them all. Wouldn't want to ruin a perfectly good conspiracy theory, after all.

Cruz, however, did address the Fox News-shaped hole in this conspiracy theory a couple days later, declaring that "Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at Fox News have turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7." But you won't find that clip anywhere at the MRC.

So sensitive is the MRC to its conspiracy -- and so in the tank is the MRC for Cruz -- that it declared it was "biased" for the media to report pre-election polling if those polls reflected bad on Cruz. That's the tone in Kristine Marsh's May 2 NewsBusters item:

The evening news broadcasts set the negative tone for Ted Cruz Monday night, all virtually predicting that Cruz would lose to Trump in Indiana and his chances at the nomination were slim to none.

The path to the nomination “appears to have run out for Ted Cruz” Scott Pelley intoned on CBS Evening News. “After being crushed” by Trump in the most recent primary, Scott Pelley stated, Cruz was “likely looking at another loss” tomorrow. CBS all but declared Trump the winner of Indiana as correspondent Major Garrett noted the “frantic pace” at which Cruz was campaigning in Indiana, claiming it matched the Senator’s “sense of anxiety” about his “standing in the polls” which show an impending “Cruz-crushing sweep” in Trump’s favor.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened to Cruz. Marsh did not write a follow-up piece admitting the networks were correct in reporting pre-election polling that turned out to be accurate.

Nicholas Fondacaro continued the bash-the-truth tone in a post complaining that "With the Indiana primary a day away the liberal media is franticly [sic] pushing the narrative that Ted Cruz is going to lose and Donald Trump is destined to be the nominee." He singles out Bloomberg TV's "With All Due Respect":

Co-host of the show John Heilemann declared Indiana was the end of line for Cruz, “this was the last stand for the Never Trump movement.”

[Republican operative Nicolle] Wallace claimed that her experience in being a part of failed campaigns gave her unique insight to recognizing Cruz’s was failing, “I have been inside a campaign in their final days. And I think there are things you know and things you say, and I get the distinct impression watching Ted Cruz there.” Wallace claimed the election outcome was so obvious everyone including Cruz knows what’s coming, “I think he knows exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Heilemann threw the spin into overdrive by claiming Cruz could drop out of the race Tuesday night. “If it’s a shellacking tomorrow, if Trump wins by 15 points as the NBC/Marist/Wall Street Journal poll suggests, or more,” Heilemann heavily speculated, “It's not outside the realm of possibility that Cruz will quit, I think. Not outside the realm of possibility.” When a candidate like Cruz is saying that Trump is the same as Hillary Clinton it’s are to argue that he’s going to just surrender.

Which, again, is exactly what happened. Like Marsh, Fondacaro has yet to admit the speculation was fact-based and spot-on.

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