The MRC Plots Revenge
The Media Research Center couldn't save Bill O'Reilly's job, but it's trying to save Sean Hannity's by hiding the truth, and it's lashing out at anyone who dares to criticize President Trump.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has long been bad at its job, with its insistence on substituting logic and reason with shrillness and venom, an attitude personified by dishonest, perpetually tantrum-prone MRC chief Brent Bozell.
As a result, the MRC is treated as a group of partisan bullies instead of a source of credible research -- to the point that any action it takes against people and networks it despises are seen as less principled criticism and more right-wing revenge.
Nowhere has the MRC been less credible and more partisan than in its attempts to defend its fellow conservatives when they get in trouble.
Following Fox News' removal of Bill O'Reilly after it was revealed that he and Fox News had paid out millions to settle sexual harassment lawsuits against him, Bozell and Tim Graham began their April 21 column this way:
Fox News took Bill O'Reilly off the air after a heavy campaign to fire him led by CNN's media unit and The New York Times. If all the charges of sexual harassment are true, his case is indefensible. That said, it's time for his media critics to stand down. They are guilty of rank hypocrisy.
Hold it right there. Two guys who couldn't be bothered to say anything publicly about the accusations against O'Reilly until Fox News had safely fired him -- and after Graham had appeared on the final episode of O'Reilly's old show, renamed "The Factor" after O'Reilly's official departure, where even then he couldn't be moved to say a word about O'Reilly -- are accusing others of hypocrisy? It's as if Bozell and Graham care more about ensuring they continue to appear on Fox News in the future than speaking truth to power.
Graham and Bozell went on to play the Clinton Equivocation card, complaining about a Times editorial that "noted that Hillary Clinton had told a New Hampshire town hall questioner a month earlier that Juanita Broaddrick's tale of rape was not to be believed." Well, that's not exactly what happened; the Times editorial did, in fact, note that Clinton responded to a question about whether Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones should also be believed -- but added that "Mrs. Clinton’s response was odd, and unhelpful." The two also fail to mention that there's a good reason why Broaddrick's accusation has believability issues: she spent nearly two decades denying that any rape had taken place.
Graham and Bozell huffed that the Times editorial was in service of bashing Trump as "sexist and beyond the pale" for bringing up old Clinton stuff -- but then, they went even harder on the Clinton Equivocation when tales of sexual harassment against Trump began to surface late in the 2016 campaign. Bozell whined then that "you did not get as much coverage of Juanita Broaddrick as you got on Donald Trump in 48 hours."
That's hypocrisy. Speaking of which, Graham and Bozell weren't done with their hypocritical ranting: "Women deserve a workplace where men don't harass them for sex. But that's not what these sanctimonious liberal journalists care about. It just doesn't matter how brutal the alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick was. What matters is that Bill O'Reilly had to go. Bill Clinton is laughing."
Probably because he, like the rest of us, can see through the sanctimonious load of horsepuckey Graham and Bozell are serving up here.
Bozell and Graham obviously have no problem with sexual harassment if a conservative or a Republican does it, and they are incapable of criticizing a conservative's misdeeds without equivocation. They rant at length about Clinton's sex life at the slightest provocation, but they offer only a token one-word criticism about the terrible behavior of O'Reilly and Trump -- then spend hundreds of words ranting about Clinton some more. Their outrage is driven by partisan politics, not by any sense of morality they claim to hold, which is why they give O'Reilly and Trump a pass. They're more mad that the media exposed O'Reilly's bad behavior than by the behavior itself.
And that is the biggest hypocrisy of all.
Defending Hannity's conspiracy theories
Meanwhile, back at Fox News, host Sean Hannity was irresponsibly descending into the abyss of pushing crazy, discredited conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer murdered in 2016, prompting an ad boycott. Apparently in an effort to make up for not rushing to O'Reilly's defense quick enough to stop his firing, the MRC suddenly rushed into action.
A May 25 MRC post intoned, "Liberals, both inside the media and on the outside, are attempting to take down Fox News host Sean Hannity," followed by a statement from Bozell focusing its firepower on one particular advertiser who left, insurance company USAA:
The attack on Sean Hannity is a part of the liberal strategy to re-establish their monopoly over television news. They want only one voice on the air: their own. All others must be silenced.
A few hours later, Bozell returned with another statement, this one attacking insurance company USAA for pulling its ads off Hannity's show:
“USAA is dishonest and their spokesmen are terrible liars. First they pander to the far-left by announcing they were pulling advertising from Sean Hannity's TV show, and when there is an uproar against them, they state on Twitter that they don't advertise on 'opinion shows.' That is dishonest. They advertised on MSNBC Hardball just last night. We have several other examples of USAA advertising on left-wing shows that would clearly violate their stated 'policy.'
The MRC also published a post by Graham attacking USAA, huffing: "This company's brand is all about support for veterans....and they're turning on Sean Hannity?"
But there was one thing conspicuously missing from all of these posts: the reason why there is an ad boycott in the first place.
Pulling ads off a show that's become synonymous for peddling false and malicious conspiracy theories is not "pandering" to the "far-left" (there's that increasingly meaningless name-calling again!) -- it's common sense.
Bozell's and Graham's rants ignore on seriously inconvenient fact: Hannity, not anyone on the "far-left," is the only one responsible for this. He's the one making himself toxic by pushing discredited conspiracy theories.
The MRC itself has mostly refused to traffic in any wild claims about Rich, which is commendable -- and which makes it all the more puzzling that it has decided to defend Hannity for doing so.
Perhaps for that reason, the MRC's tactics shifted from a direct defense of Hannity to attacking advertisers who dropped his show. Graham cranked out a two more posts bashing USAA for having ads on "wild-eyed MSNBC." But those were apparently the only ads the MRC found there over two-plus months, which seems within ad-booking error. Needless to say, none of Graham's posts about USAA mentioned the salient reason why there is an ad boycott against Hannity in the first place.
Until Bozell can acknowledge the simple fact that Hannity brought this upon himself, there's no reason to take his organization's decision to protect Hannity seriously.
Still, when USAA said it was reversing its decision about advertising on Hannity's show, the MRC was more than happy to declare victory. A May 30 post by Curtis Houck repeated Bozell's smug declaration: “It goes without saying that USAA has not experienced this kind of customer outrage in its entire history.”
Houck went on to grumble that "USAA withdrew its advertisement spots on Thursday from Hannity’s FNC show after pressure from far-left organizations running a smear campaign in hopes of causing Hannity to lose his job." But curiously, Houck never explains how, exactly, Hannity was being "smeared."
It's only in an excerpt from that AP article farther down in his post that Houck inadvertently reveals the reason -- for the first time at the MRC -- behind the boycott: As stated by the AP, Hannity was "reporting a discredited story involving the death of a Democratic National Committee staff member."
There. Now, was it that hard to tell the entire truth to your readers that you couldn't have mentioned it before now?
But instead of committing to telling the truth, the MRC vowed revenge.
The revenge campaign
The MRC explained the plan in a name-calling May 31 post:
Media Research Center (MRC) President Brent Bozell today announced a new campaign that will focus on informing the American public and corporate advertisers about leftist shows and on-air personalities who use their programs to spread vicious lies and hate.
But isn't this kind of monitoring what the MRC's job is supposed to have been for the past 30 years? Is the MRC admitting that it's terrible at its job?
The MRC also whined about "smear campaigns" against conservative hosts, but it never explained how it is a "smear" to point out that O'Reilly paid millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits or that Hannity is peddling discredited conspiracy theories about a murder victim even after the victim's family begged him to stop.
The fact that the MRC can't even mention Seth Rich's name while defending Hannity tells us just how cynical and spiteful this campaign is. It knows Hannity is being as repulsive and morally bankrupt as it claims liberal hosts are, but it will never admit that in public because Bozell's buddies must be defended no matter how blatant the cynicism and hypocrisy in doing so.
Even the MRC's target list is lame. The first show on the list is Al Sharpton's MSNBC show, which got busted down from daily to weekly some time ago and the which MRC itself hasn't written about in two months.
Bozell kept up the dishonesty in a June 1 appearance on (where else) Hannity's Fox News show, where he touted his revenge campaign and once again complained about conservatives being smeared. Again, Bozell failed to explain how pointing out Hannity's malicious conspiracy-mongering is a "smear."
It seems that the MRC is targeting these shows simply for being critical of President Trump -- you know, the same way the MRC was critical of him before the big flip.
The MRC found its first revenge-campaign target in Reza Aslan a religious scholar who had hosted a show on fringe religions on CNN. Aslan had tweeted -- not said on CNN's air, tweeted -- that President Trump is a "piece of shit" for exploiting the weekend's terror attack in London to push his travel ban. The MRC post by P.J. Gladnick on Aslan's tweet mysteriously left out that context, instead bizarrely attacking Aslan for purportedly lacking "the slightest hint of sympathy for the victims of the June 3 terror attacks in London."
The MRC was then off and running, with Bozell issuing his jihad against Aslan:
It’s up to CNN President Jeff Zucker to cut ties with Mr. Aslan and ensure he will no longer have a show on CNN, which still lists him as a host on its website. We will call on him to do so and report back to the public what CNN’s formal position is. Certainly, Mr. Zucker would sever ties if a CNN host had said the same thing about President Obama. The Media Research Center continues to put all media personalities on notice: we will publicly call out your media outlets -- and the decision makers at those outlets in the event of any personal, character assassination attacks.
Bozell's attack on Aslan is utterly cynical and hollow, and not just because he's on the record smearing President Obama as a "skinny ghetto crackhead." In 2012, when conservative darling Rush Limbaugh spent three days hurling every denigrating, sleazy insult he could think of at Sandra Fluke for committing the alleged offense of advocating for birth control in public -- including "slut" and "prostitute" -- the Media Research Center gave him a pass, insisting that we should just accept Limbaugh's meager, self-serving apology and just move on. The MRC even rewarded Limbaugh's foul-mouthed tirade of misogyny by building an "I Stand With Rush" website, even as Brent Bozell's employees were doing their best (or worst) Limbaugh imitation by tossing their own slurs at Fluke.
The MRC burrowed further into Aslan's Twitter account for other tweets it deemed offensive, finding one that called right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza an "adulterous piece of sh*t felon." D'Souza is, in fact, an adulterer and a felon -- from which one can easily and reasonably deduce Aslan's final descriptor.
The MRC did not dispute the accuracy of anything Aslan tweeted. It's pretending to be outraged that he said them, which tells us that the goal is not civility but censorship.
Manufacturing outrage, however, just wasn't getting the job done, so the MRC ramped up the shrillness factor.
A June 5 post touted how Graham made a "must-see joke" -- promoted on the front page of NewsBusters as a "funny joke" -- about Aslan and CNN's failure to capitulate to the MRC by immediately firing him during an appearance on (of course) Fox Business. (Pro tip: If you have to sell your joke by telling people that it's "funny," it probably isn't. Indeed, we watched the segment and didn't laugh once.)
Meanwhile, Bozell got all ranty again in an open letter to CNN president Jeff Zucker:
For CNN to continue to do business with someone so vile as Mr. Aslan after Kathy Griffin's sickening stunt is tantamount to announcing to conservatives that you consider them nothing more than a basket of deplorables. If, Mr. Zucker, you want to do the right thing and correct this notion, you must immediately end CNN's relationship with Mr. Aslan and apologize for the disgrace he has brought to your network.
Bozell made no such appeal to dignity to Rush Limbaugh's syndicator over the host's vile slurs of Fluke.
Graham and Bozell then combined their rantiness for a June 7 column rehashing their previous rants and whining that Aslan "really doesn't like conservative Republicans." Limbaugh doesn't like liberal women, but Graham and Bozell are totally down with Limbaugh being vile toward them.
The MRC's shrill, partisan attacks paid off in the scalp it was so desperately seeking: CNN canceled the second season of Aslan's show "Believer."
A June 9 post by Curtis Houck was quick to cheer the news, slamming Aslan as "an anti-Christian, far-left pundit." Only in the right-wing world of the MRC would a scholar who wrote a book about the life of Jesus be considered "anti-Christian" and simply criticizing President Trump be garner the "far-left" label.
As expected, Bozell was also quick to spike the football:
America has sent an unmistakable message to CNN. We will not stand idly by while their so-called "religious scholar" smears the president of the United States and conservative leaders with obscenity-laden insults. MRC supporters generated an avalanche of over 7,000 phone calls to CNN this week demanding Reza Aslan’s removal. CNN paid attention and ultimately did the right thing -- which they should have done immediately. When left-wing pundits and journalists use social media as a platform to slander those with whom they disagree, including President Trump, there will be consequences. It is reckless, sophomoric and unprofessional. Our campaign to hold the liberal media accountable does not end here. This is just the beginning.”
The "unmistakable message" that actually comes through, however, is that the MRC's shrillness has been rewarded and it's almost certainly seeking out its next scalping victim as we write. And that the MRC will never hold Hannity or O'Reilly or Limbaugh to same standards it held Aslan. And that the MRC's goal is not to "hold the liberal media accountable" but, rather, to censor any criticism of Trump, no matter how justified.
Unless Bozell and the MRC can resolve their hypocrisy in defending Hannity and Limbaugh and their silence on O'Reilly, this new revenge campaign will not be taken seriously -- like the rest of the MRC.