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The MRC's Film Promotion Division

The Media Research Center and its CNS "news" division don't just bash films they don't like, they relentlessly plug the ones they do like -- read: conform to the MRC's right-wing agenda -- then censors their failure at the box office.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/19/2017

The Media Research Center loves to attack movies that don't advance its MRC's right-wing, anti-gay agenda. If they flop at the box office, there's lots of grave-dancing to be had.

But it likes movies as well -- particularly ones that advance said agenda. And if they flop at the box office, the MRC will do what it can to bury that news, even employing its "news" division, to similarly plug the films and censor or bury their failures.

Below are a few films the MRC loved so much over the years that it gave them a huge editorial push -- so huge at times, one wonders if it was paid to do so.

"For Greater Glory"

In 2012, the MRC took a particular shine to an independent film called "For Greater Glory" -- to the point that it seemed the production company was paying the MRC to promote it.

The movie told the story of the Cristero rebellion in early 20th century Mexico, which pitted militant Catholics against a government that tried to enforce anti-Catholic laws. Since the MRC is heavily Catholic, it's no surprise that Brent Bozell and Co. ate that sort of thing up. One article by editor in chief Terry Jeffrey lionized the film as "an epic story of freedom that Hollywood would not make" portraying a "struggle for liberty could echo powerfully in the United States today" and interviewed a star of the film, Andy Garcia. Jeffrey also interviewed another actor from the film, Eduardo Verastegui, who parrots Jeffrey's own derogatory and highly leading question to him: "When President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are saying to Catholic business owners and Catholic institutions around the country you must buy sterilizations and abortifacients and contraceptives, are they doing the same thing as Henry VIII [in martyring St. Thomas More] and [the film's villain] President Calles?" Never mind the fact that Verastegui isn't even an American citizen -- he's from Mexico.

Craig Bannister joined in the shilling -- and the Obama-bashing --in a CNS blog post, headlining his post "Catholics Die Fighting President's Mandate in New Movie" and falsely suggesting that Obama "mandate[d] that all churches be closed" like the Mexican government officials in the movie -- and calling it "a humbling call to self-reflection and inspirational, the stuff of which legends are made."

The film also generated an unusual MRC convergence -- both Jeffrey and his boss MRC chief Brent Bozell, devoted their columns to the film on the same day.

Bozell's column hinted that he got an advance screening of the film -- presumably a perk for all the advance work the MRC did. He disingenuously portrayed a single negative review of the film on an obscure website as representative of the entire "secularist press." Bozell went on to slobber over the film: "it's a full-fledged major motion picture with grade-A talent. And it's wonderful." Unusual for Bozell, he did disclose a personal interest in the film: "My grandfather Will Buckley Sr. was a strong supporter of the Cristeros'."

Jeffrey did his own bit of slobbering: "Long after the politicians in power in Washington today have gone the way of Plutarco Elias Calles, Americans will still be watching this movie. Unlike most movies made today, it tells a story built to last." Jeffrey also used the film as a excuse to further his anti-Obama agenda:

Nor could the makers of "For Greater Glory" have anticipated that less than two weeks before their movie was set to be released, 43 American Catholic dioceses and institutions — including the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the University of Notre Dame — would file 12 different lawsuits alleging that the Obama administration was attempting to force Catholics to act against their faith by commanding them to purchase and/or provide health care plans that cover sterilizations, artificial contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

In fact, morning-after pills and contraception covered under health care reform are not abortifacients under the medical definition of the word.

At the MRC's NewsBusters, Christian Toto interviewed the film's producer about the "liberty lessons" it contains.

No dissent from the MRC's uniformly fawning (if not bought-and-paid-for) praise of the film was tolerated. Scott Whitlock huffed that "Elitist film critics at several big city papers" gave the film bad reviews, adding that "Once again, some of the nation's most prominent film critics have shown their disdain for movies with strong religious content." Whitlock apparently never considered the possibility that it would be a bad film regardless of content.

Unmentioned in any of the MRC's articles on the film: Its production was financed in part by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus, which had provided aid to the Cristeros and, thus, had a vested interest in having the film turn out a certain way. That way was described in (non-elitist) film critic Roger Ebert's review, which criticized a "pro-Catholic tunnel vision" so strong that he "began to question its view of events."

Despite the MRC's heavy push, "For Greater Glory" tanked at the box office, making a paltry $5.67 million in its theatrical run.

"13 Hours"

Months before the Michael Bay-directed film "13 Hours" was to hit theaters, the MRC was already touting it as a film that would hurt Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

"Mark down January 15, 2016 on your calendar," wrote P.J. Gladnick in a September 2015 NewsBusters post, highlighting the film's release date. "Judging from the movie trailer, this film directed by Michael Bay is exactly what Hillary doesn't want the public to be reminded about."

When the film finally came out, the MRC whined that anyone dared to criticize it. Christian Toto asserted in a Jan. 16 NewsBusters post that the movie's being bashed because it depicts "depicting heroic military types risking their lives against people from a foreign country" and because "the men in the movie are men." Toto also made sure to get his right-wing talking points in on the incident: "We’re mad because Hillary Clinton blamed the coordinated terrorist attack on a YouTube video to the families of the dead and the media rolled over rather than speak truth to power. We’re seething because some of those who died that day might still be alive if help could have reached them in time."

Toto didn't mention that this central narrative has been challenged by one of the key figures involved in the actual incident. The Washington Post reported that the CIA chief in Benghazi at the time said there was no stand-down order, as the movie claims. This reinforced findings by a Republican-led House committee that came to the same conclusion.

Toto also took care not to mention that as someone who as written for right-wing sites like Breitbart and the Washington Times -- his personal website touts how Andrew Breitbart is an inspiration to him -- he is the target audience for "13 Hours," to the point that the filmmakers are actively courting people like him and the MRC.

The Hollywood Reporter described how the film was being marketed to conservatives, buying commercial time on Fox News and courting right-wing radio hosts. It also described the Texas-sized premiere held for it at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium with 32,000 in attendance. Among them: Accuracy in Media's Roger Aronoff, who served up a predictably slobbering review of the film and the related junket, noting that "I was there along with other members of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi." You remember, the right-wing kangaroo court AIM established a couple years back because it wanted some scalps and didn't care how they got them.

(Aronoff didn't mention whether the list of commision guests included Wayne Simmons, the commission member who was scrubbed off the AIM website after allegations surfaced that he had invented the 27-year CIA career he invoked to get government consultant jobs and get on AIM's little kangaroo court.) served up a review of the film by former soldier -- and, more relevant, employee of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- Dakota Wood, who proclaims how the film is "highlighting the Obama administration’s inaction that directly contributed to the loss of four Americans." Wood went on to note that one of the Libyan terrorists who attacked the facility had been imprisoned at Guantanamo, adding: "Various reports cite a recidivism rate of those released from Guantanamo of nearly one-third, surely something to keep in mind as Obama seeks to close the detention facility before the end of his final year in office." In fact, actual confirmed recidivism is about 17 percent; Wood made sure not to explicitly point out that the Libyan terrorist in question was released from Guantanamo under the Bush administration.

Unfortunately for the cause of right-wing movie propaganda, "13 Hours" tanked at the box office. In its opening weekend, the film -- which cost $50 million to make -- made just $19.2 million, despite having the action-film credentials of Michael Bay behind it and despite a wide opening on more than 2,300 screens. In its second weekend, the film took in just $9 million. Total domestic box office take just barely covered the cost of making it.

You won't, however, read about the film's flopping at the MRC -- at least, not easily. CNS published the usual Associated Press stories on weekend box office takes, one of which noted that the film "failed to make a large impact." But they were never given a link on the CNS front page, which means they may as well not have been published at all given how unlikely the typical CNS reader is to read anything on the site that didn't appear on the front page.

That didn't keep the MRC from plugging the thing, though. Tim Graham whined in a Jan. 18 NewsBusters post about how a Washington Post film reviewer told the truth about the film's political agenda. Even though that post was written after the opening weekend numbers came out, Graham made sure not to mention that his beloved film tanked.


Bozell declared in an Aug. 4 tweet: "I've previewed the remake of Ben-Hur. It is AMAZING. August 19. A definite must-see." He followed that with another tweet saying basically the same thing: "Encouraging everyone I know to check out the #BenHur remake August 19. I went to a screening last week. Fantastic!"

Apparently, those tweets were the marching orders for the MRC to plug the film across all its platforms. On Aug. 8, the Twitter accounts of CNS, NewsBusters, MRCTV, MRC Culture, the MRC's Business and Media account and the main MRC account all sent out the exact same message: "A must see film! Check out the new Ben Hur movie," accompanied by a link to the film's trailer.

CNS, which parades as the "news" division of the MRC, took the whole promo thing to the next level. An Aug. 15 article by Mark Judge dutifully transcribed the producers' praise of their own film:

This is not you [sic] grandfather’s "Ben-Hur."

That’s the message from Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the producers of “Ben-Hur,” a new version of the 1959 film classic. Both movies are based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace.

“It was a great movie in ’59,” Burnett told in a recent interview, “and it’s about time to update 55 years later. We reimagined changes from the original film where instead of a movie about revenge this movie is about reconciliation and forgiveness - and it still has a huge chariot race scene and a sea battle scene. So it provides all the values that theatergoers are expecting. In it Judah Ben-Hur encounters Jesus, and those encounters give him the understanding to forgive and teach him how to reconcile rather than seek revenge.”

Judge shills further in an Aug. 17 article, hammering home the film's religious content:

In a recent interview with the Christian Post, Jack Huston, star of the new film “Ben-Hur,” talked about the power of a particular scene in the film. In it, Ben-Hur, a Jew living in Jerusalem in 33 A.D., witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Prior to witnessing Christ, Ben-Hur had been in a years-long bloody feud with his brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), a Roman soldier.

“That was very emotional actually,” Huston told Jeannie Law about the scene. “The actual act is very effective, the crucifixion that is followed by forgiveness, everyone was affected up there on that mountain.”

An Aug. 17 MRC item by Katie Yoder is basically an expanded version of Judge's CNS article on how the film's actors were "changed" by the shooting of the crucifixion scene.

Needless to say, neither Judge nor anyone else at the MRC had any interest in doing factual reporting pointing out the film's bad buzz prior to release. Variety reported that "The $100 million Biblical epic is battling devastating pre-release tracking that suggests the story of a prince who is betrayed by a Roman nobleman may be one of the year’s most painful flops," with a projected opening weekend take between $10 million and $20 million despite a wide release. Variety also noted how the film is being heavily promoted to faith-based audiences and that the makers "believe that the film and its story of redemption will be able to draw faith-based crowds, who may not be getting polled by tracking services." Even the conservative PJ Media admitted that "the director, Timur Bekmambetov, is known for what are more or less flops: Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)."

"Ben-Hur" lived up to the bad buzz. The film made less than $12 million its opening weekend and just $26 million during its theatrical run, earning the title "the bomb of the summer."

Needless to say, news of the film's failure did not make the front page of any MRC website, including that of CNS.

If it's any consolation, the MRC's promotion of "Ben-Hur" was somewhat less ham-handed than that of Newsmax. Robert V. Carl's July 29 article declared that "The first time "Ben-Hur" hit the big screen, the Cold War was raging and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing." But the 1959 film was not "the first time 'Ben-Hur' hit the big screen": It was first filmed in 1907 (but just the chariot race), and it got a more elaborate silent production in 1925.

Newsmax made a game attempt to spin the film's box-office failure with an Aug. 23 article by David Patten, blaming the bad reviews on the "mainstream media" who actually reviewed the film and found it wanting. Patten made excuses for producers (and Christian-media faves) Burnett and Downey, whom he baselessly proclaimed to be "Hollywood's No. 1 power couple": "If the film's director and producers are guilty of anything, it is their soaring ambition in trying to boil down a story that took three hours and 32 minutes to relate in the 1959 version — clearly too long for modern audiences – to a little over 2 hours in the remake."

Patten also claimed that "Evangelicals trust Burnett and Downey to handle their cherished biblical narratives with care," ignoring the fact that "Ben-Hur's" main story -- a revenge story involving a Jewish prince forced to become a slave and a climactic chariot race -- is not a "cherished biblical narrative"; it's from a novel published in 1880. In the book, the crucifixion of Christ is a parallel narrative to the story of Judah Ben-Hur.

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