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The Debate Double Standard at the MRC, Part 2

The Media Research Center did the same thing it did during the primaries, attacking debate moderators for not being sufficiently right-wing-friendly -- except for Chris Wallace of conservative-friendly Fox News.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/26/2016

Last year, the Media Research Center demonstrated a blatant double standard with the moderators for Republican presidential debates, attacking moderators whose questions were deemed insufficiently right-wing-friendly -- except for those who represented Fox News and Fox Business, even when Donald Trump complained about them.

It should be no surprise, then, that the MRC is doing the exact same thing regarding the debate moderators for the general election.

ConWebWatch has already documented how the MRC has attacked Lester Holt, moderator for the first presidential debate, and Matt Lauer, who moderated a forum featuring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton prior to that debate. The MRC smeared Lauer as a lightweight and seemingly questioned his sexuality by reprinting photos of his cross-dressing Halloween costumes in a bid to show he lacked "gravitas" -- but when he ended up following the MRC's agenda by questioning Clinton much tougher than he did Trump, the MRC flipped and ran to his defense.

The MRC, however, didn't flip on its treatment of Lauer's NBC co-worker Holt -- even the fact that Holt is a registered Republican didn't dissuade it from giving him the usual working-the-refs treatment. And when he served up tough questions to Trump, the MRC ran numerous hit pieces on his performance.

CBS' Elaine Quijano, who moderated the vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, managed to escape the brunt of the MRC's typical harsh treatment because, as MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham noted when the moderators were first announced, "The MRC doesn't have a thick file on Elaine Quijano." Evidence of that lack of thickness was Graham trying to present as "classic anti-Tea Party tilt" a Quijano report that noted the indisputable fact that there was "small but passionate minority" in the tea party movement that was "voicing what some see as racist rhetoric."

So bereft of material was the MRC that Graham had to resort to guilt by association, using a Sept. 29 post to attack Quijano because the husband of a CBS co-worker of Quijano's was prepping Kaine for the debate. But even Graham had to concede that there was no there there, admitting that "There is no allegation of suspicious coordination between Quijano and the Barnett-Braver household. But the perception of what Dan Rather would call 'tick-tight' CBS associations creates a perception problem."

Funny, we don't recall Graham being concerned about the "perception problem" when Fox News' Greta Van Susteren had a husband who was working as Sarah Palin's lawyer.

After the debate, of course, MRC chief Brent Bozell trotted out yet another "the moderator is biased" press release that was probably drafted before the debate even began:

Elaine Quijano is given the honor of a lifetime and she can only muster one tough question for Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrat? Miraculously, she was able to craft EIGHT challenging questions to Gov. Pike Pence, the Republican.

Once again, it's one standard for the Democrat, a different one for the Republican. This is a broken record. Softballs for Democrats, curve balls for Republicans.

Did no one inform Elaine Quijano that the role of a moderator is to ask questions and take a step back while the candidates DEBATE? Quijano and Virginia’s over-caffeinated senator repeatedly challenged and interrupted Gov. Pence. By the looks of it, he didn't mind the 2-1 disadvantage.

When are Republicans going to learn that the network media are just Democratic Party operatives with press credentials?

The idea that debate moderators should not correct false claims during a debate is part of the MRC's war against facts, a tactic made necessary because Trump seemingly lies all the time.

MRC vs. Raddatz and Cooper...

The MRC quickly commenced the grim task of working the refs for the next debate, posting an article on "the worst examples" of the "liberal bias" of the moderators, ABC's Martha Raddatz and CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Scott Whitlock kicked off the post-debate bashing by going a little sexist, calling Raddatz "pushy" in the headline of his item. He complained that "Raddatz frequently interrupted Donald Trump and sparred with the businessman over media bias and fairness during Sunday’s debate.

In another friendly Fox Business appearance, MRC chief Brent Bozell huffed of Raddatz: "She showed utter contempt for Donald Trump on a national stage. She dismissed his answers. She even argued with him about his answers. She actually entered into the debate Candy Crowley-style. So I don't blame Donald Trump at all for saying it was a one-on-three debate." Bozell didn't explain why a man who talked in such a vile manner about women that even Bozell himself conceded was "disgusting" -- the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump was released a couple days before the debate -- did not deserve to be treated with the "utter contempt" he claims Raddatz showed him.

While all this utterly predictable right-wing bashing of Raddatz was going on, the MRC's Kyle Drennen was unironically complaining that "the liberal media predictably celebrated the moderator’s biased performance."

Rich Noyes then followed his boss to Fox Business for a softball appearance, where he regurgitated Bozell's attack on Raddatz and Cooper: "Yeah, it was about 2-1. You know, about 20-something interruptions, you know some of those might be multiple interactions, to fewer than a dozen for Hillary Clinton. But it was more than interruptions. You know, they were challenging Donald Trump. They were pressing him in a very adversarial way. They asked her tough questions but not in that challenging adversarial way." Noyes also expressed his anger at Cooper for pushing Trump to answer questions about the vile video: "Anderson Cooper's questions at the beginning of the debate about this inside -- Access Hollywood tape where he pressed him over and over and over again to get the answer he wanted."

Yes, how dare Cooper press Trump to answer a question about something Noyes would be praising Cooper for doing were the person who said those vile things not a Republican.

... but Chris Wallace feels the love

In complete contrast to its treatment of Quijano, Raddatz and Cooper -- yet just as predictable -- the MRC heaped lavish praise on Fox News' Chris Wallace's performance as moderator of the third presidential debate. After all, the fix was in from the beginning -- more specifically, since 2007, when Bozell demanded that Wallace be allowed to host a debate specifically because he would be Republican-friendly.

When Wallace was named a moderator, Graham cheered "the first nod to Fox News." The MRC had a curious hands-off policy on Wallace in the run-up to his debate. It cranked out no working-the-ref articles detailing what it claimed to be the most "liberal" moments of Wallace . In fact, Graham insisted that Wallace wouldn't skew right: "Wallace won't want to look like a Trump booster, and the liberal media noted some tough questions in the primaries. The Washington Post in March hailed how Wallace set a 'bear trap' for Trump in a budget question."

When the earlier debates were over, MRC chief Brent Bozell rushed to attack the moderators. After Wallace's debate, Bozell was practically slobbering over the guy, giving him an "A+ PERFECT" grade:

Chris Wallace killed it tonight as moderator. He was perfectly fair to both, asking the exact same number of tough questions to both sides (eight to each). He asked the questions that his colleagues at CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC refused to ask in the three prior presidential and vice presidential debates. His questions were substantive, relevant, issue-based, and focused on the records and quotes of the two candidates. He also remembered the first rule of debate moderating: GET OUT OF THE WAY. He was a total pro in every way, allowing the candidates to debate each other and explain themselves. I hope Fox’s competitors took notes. This is how it's done!

Bozell offered nothing to back this up, just like he never bothered to back up any of his attacks on alleged bias of the other moderators.

One can argue that he didn't have to, because none of Bozell's post-debate statements had anything to do with actual performance. Wallace got that slobbering praise because he works for Fox News, where Bozell and other MRC staffers appear regularly. The other moderators were bashed because they don't work for Fox and because bashing them furthers the MRC's anti-media agenda.

So dedicated is the MRC to protecting Wallace that Graham went after one commentator who deviated from the "near-universal praise" for him. Graham, like Bozell, ignored evidence that Wallace was not balanced and put a right-wing spin on some questions.

Remember: The main goal of the MRC's criticism of debate moderators is not to advance the cause of journalism but to advance the agenda of the Republican Party -- no matter how vile the Republican presidential candidate is. That's why, as the Daily Beast's John Avlon memorably explained to the MRC's Tim Graham during a joint appearance on CNN's "Reliable Sources" a few weeks earlier (in such a direct manner that the MRC won't let its readers see it, having censored that discussion from its version of the video), the MRC has no credibility on such things because it cares only about politics, not journalism.

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