The MRC's Playbook On Kavanaugh
The Media Research Center knew what it had to do as a Trump loyalist: Defend Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and denigrate the women who accused him of sexual misconduct (and bury the fact that a key witness used to work for the MRC).
By Terry Krepel
First order of business: minimize and dismiss the allegations. Gabriel Hays sniffed that it was "one paltry allegation of sexual assault" and whined that "Hollywood liberals have taken to social media to blast Kavanaugh for his alleged abusive past (if one unsubstantiated allegation can be called a past), because it’s the only thing they’ve got to delay his confirmation." When another claim of sexual misconduct surfaced, Hays declared it to be "flimsy," adding that "rabid lefties seek to annihilate his reputation and humanity before he’s found guilty of anything" -- apparently oblivious to the fact that he's a member of the brigade trying to destroy the reputation and humanity of Kavanaugh's accusers, in part by blithely dismissing their claims.
Next order of business: getting offended when anyone brings up the shameful history of sexual misconduct of Trump administration officials and conservatives in general when talking about Kavanaugh. Curtis Houck grumbled that MSNBC host Katy Tur -- a longtime MRC target -- engaged in "skullduggery" that was "ghoulish at worst" in airing "a video mash-up comparing Kavanaugh to other men such as the late Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, Roy Moore, and Rob Porter because they too were firmly defended by President Trump as they faced their own allegations of sexual impropriety." Houck also made sure to reference the first order of business by calling the claims against Kavanaugh "flimsy."
Third order of business: equivocation. Ryan Foley touted how "Laura Ingraham pointed out the hypocrisy of Democrats, who 'howl for answers from Brett Kavanaugh in an opaque charge' while not 'asking the same of DNC co-chair Keith Ellison,' who faces credible abuse allegations from a former girlfriend." Foley didn't mention that Ellison, unlike Kavanaugh, is not up for nomination to the Supreme Court, nor did he discuss the hypocrisy of himself and his employer obsessing over Ellison while downplaying the accusations against Kavanaugh.
Nicholas Fondacaro combined a couple of these approaches in another post:
Despite the fact that the latest sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was so full of holes it looked like Swiss cheese, CBS Evening News actually scoffed at the notion that the accusations against him were part of a smear campaign during their Monday broadcast.
Fondacaro didn't explain how he was able to read Cordes' mind to determine she "scoffed."
It's all in the MRC playbook, apparently.
Hiding Mark Judge's MRC work
References at the MRC to Mark Judge, the prep-school classmate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who was reportedly in the room at the party where Christine Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, are relatively scant despite his central role in the story. At NewsBusters, almost all references to Judge are in passing or limited to mentions in transcripts, except for one article that attacked a "massive error" in a New York Times story about Judge. At the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, Judge was largely mentioned only in passing.
The MRC has almost completely hidden the fact that Judge used to be an employee. From mid-2015 to early 2017, Judge was a "blog reporter" for CNS, and from April 2017 until mid-September, he was a writer for the MRC's video-centric operation MRCTV. his last MRCTV post was on Sept. 13, just a few days before Ford's accusations against Kavanaugh and citing Judge's involvement in the incident.
Much of Judge's CNS blog work focused on entertainment, celebrities and pop culture as seen through CNS' right-wing mission -- which is to say, praising conservative values and mocking what are portrayed as liberal values. Typical was an item featuring author S.E. Hinton denying any gay subtext in her classic teen novel "The Outsiders."
ConWebWatch documented how Judge gushed over Mel Gibson, touting his then-new film "Hacksaw Ridge" and helped him tease his plans for a sequel to his Christian film "The Passion of the Christ" while hiding Gibson's ugly past of anti-Semitism and alleged domestic abuse.
As Media Matters documented, a few of Judge's MRCTV posts reflect his history of bigotry and borderline misogyny. For instance, Judge mocked comedian Amy Schumer as "big-boned Barbie" in a May 2017 post.
Judge is also clearly not fond of the LGBT community. On July 24, he ranted about a Broadway play that he portrayed as "a lecture from transgenders" and speculated that there is no such thing as a "straight white playwright." Another Judge post positively reviewed a book he said claimed that "the modern transgender phenomenon and its defenders share a similar mentality to that which produced Nazi Germany."
No NewsBusters item mention Judge's MRC employment. The only CNS article or column referencing Judge that discloses it is a Sept. 19 article by editor in chief Terry Jeffrey admitted that Judge "used to be a writer for CNSNews.com," albeit not until the 15th paragraph of his story.
By contrast, some MRCTV posts referencing Judge in relation to Kavanaugh not only disclose that "Mark Judge is a freelance writer who has written pieces for MRCTV," they link to Judge's MRCTV archive. Apparently, there was a communication breakdown and the folks down the hall didn't notify MRCTV of the Judge omerta.
Since the MRC's playbook on Kavanaugh is to protect him and attack his accusers, you likely won't read much about at any MRC website about Judge's days as a heavy-drinking prep student, or of the fact that Judge's memoir of said days referenced a "Bart O'Kavanaugh" who passes out drunk and throws up in a car.
A Sept. 27 CNS article by Susan Jones attempting to undercut Ford's veracity by highlighting her Senate testimony that she "said hello" to Judge at his job at a grocery store parenthetically noted that "For the record, Judge has written about his drunken/hungover high school years" but didn't disclose, parenthetically or otherwise, that Judge wrote for the MRC for more than three years.
The Media Research Center has spent years attacking Hillary Clinton for saying that a "vast right-wing conspiracy" was out to destroy her husband's presidency in the 1990s. As recently as July, the MRC's Brent Bozell and Tim Graham mocked Clinton's claim as "ridiculous" (even though Bozell declared in 2001 that "Yes, Virginia, the vast right-wing conspiracy did exist all along!")
But Bozell and Graham have their own conspiracy to peddle now. In their Sept. 25 column, unironically titled "The Vast Anti-Kavanaugh Conspiracy," the two rant at anyone who doesn't see the conspiracy they do against Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination:
Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi wrote a Sept. 25 article on liberal-media bias headlined "Kavanaugh Supporters See a Conspiracy Afoot." The Post painted this as a little crazy, like a UFO is involved. Can anyone imagine the idea of the Democrats and liberal reporters working hand in glove to torpedo a Republican nomination?
Funny how conspiracies become real for Bozell when they can be politically exploited.
Having thus received its marching orders from the top, the rest of Bozell's MRC started going similarly conspiracy-crazy. Kristine Marsh alluded to one in a Sept. 26 post complaining about an ABC segment asking teens about the Kavanaugh controversy. She added in a update that one of the teens interviews was "accused of planting a question to Hillary Clinton during a 2016 townhall." Marsh relayed the conspiracy theory wrong; actually, the teen was accused by right-wing media of being a "child actor" plant at the townhall because she once had a small role in a short film. In fact, she was the daughter of a local politician who got to take part, and Clinton had no knowledge of her question beforehand.
In a Sept. 27 post, Fondacaro went full Bozell in sneering at a "thick-headed" columnist, Kirsten Powers, who "couldn’t understand how Kavanaugh could think there was a conspiracy against him." Fondacaro howled:
Hmm, maybe he knew the radical Democrats were out to destroy him because nearly all of them announced they were opposing his nomination before ever meeting with them. Some, in fact, were opposing anyone President Trump nominated. That’s not to mention that there were New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono who declared him guilty days before the hearing.
Even as WorldNetDaily is becoming less WND-like due to its continued fight for survival, the MRC has decided to be even more WND-like by embracing conspiracy theories it used to despise.
Normalizing teen drinking
Another way the MRC defended Brett Kavanaugh through the Supreme Court nomination process is to insist that teenage drinking, even to the level allegedly consumed by Kavanaugh that was testified to and hinted at, is totally normal and not unhealthy at all -- and tried to parse Kavanaugh's words to claim he really didn't get that drunk or that he didn't mislead anyone about his youthful drinking.
In a Sept. 27 post, Fondacaro highlighted how Kavanaugh addressed "an accusation that he would routinely get blackout drunk. As nearly any college student can tell you, there is a vast difference between getting really hammered and getting blackout drunk." Another post the same day by Clay Waters claimed that Kavanaugh's reportedly heavy drinking during college is "an aspect of college life hardly unique to Kavanaugh."
A post by Bill D'Agostino complained that MSNBC hosts was "comparing his statements in a Fox News interview to a portion of his sworn testimony submitted to the Committee" regarding college era drinking, further huffing that the hosts did not "share how attending church and focusing on school work might have precluded him from consuming too much alcohol on weekends." D'Agostino followed up by grousing that another MSNBC host "donned her armchair psychologist’s hat and claimed that his highly emotional delivery proved that he was an abusive drunk." That's a funny claim given how many MRC employees are armchair mind-readers.
Jay Maxson touted how Kavanaugh's college friend Chris Dudley, a former pro basketball player, "vouch[ed] for Kavanaugh's character" and that Kavanaugh "never blacked out," adding: "Did he get inebriated sometimes? Yes. Did I? Yes. Just like every other college kid in America."
Fondacaro repeated his parsing defense in a Sept. 30 post: "But Kavanaugh admitted to being a heavy drinker during his late-high school and college years in his testimony. The Judge only contended he never got 'blackout drunk'. That’s a big difference, ask nearly any college student." Fondacaro returned on Oct. 3 to defend Kavanaugh from claims that he had portrayed himself as a "choir boy" in his Senate testimony: "Kavanaugh admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he drank a lot in his youth and he used to do stupid things."
Fondacaro once more insisted there's a "huge difference" between drinking a lot and blacking out in an Oct. 5 post:
In both the Judge’s interview with Fox News and his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he admitted that he drank heavily in his youth and did stupid things. That is fact.
Of course, the whole point of being blackout drunk is that you don't remember it, which would make Kavanaugh an decidedly imperfect authority on whether he did so or how he behaved while under that condition. Fondacaro surely knows that.
Crappy coverage "studies"
Kavanaugh wouldn't be a full right-wing cause celebre at the MRC if there weren't a couple dubious "studies" about media coverage, and it certainly comes through. A Sept. 26 item by Brad Wilmouth claimed under the misleading headline "Study: TV News Is Rigged Against Brett Kavanaugh":
During the twelve days since Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein publicly announced the existence of an unspecified allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows have spent nearly six hours (344 minutes) regurgitating various unproved allegations against the Supreme Court nominee.
The headline is misleading because it alludes to purported bias by all of "TV news" when, in fact, the MRC once again did its usual highly narrow focus on only the broadcast TV networks and pretended that Fox News doesn't exist.
Wilmouth's study in dishonest in other ways. Wilmouth complained that "Back on September 14, Kavanaugh issued a statement “categorically and unequivocally” denying Ford’s charges. For most of the coverage that followed, his flat denial was relegated to a few seconds in lengthy stories about the charges sometimes no more than a parenthetical clause that reporters mechanically inserted in stories that bombarded viewers with the salacious details of each accusation." Wilmouth didn't explain how Kavanaugh's "flat denial" could have been stretched out to match in length the detailed allegations provided by Ford.
Wilmouth was also obsessed with trying to portray "Ford's politics" as the partisan motivation for her accusations against Kavanaugh:
On September 17, National Public Radio hardly a right-wing outlet passed along how Ford’s lawyer, Lisa Banks, said the accuser “was not motivated by politics,” but NPR added crucial context to that statement: “Ford is a registered Democrat who has made small political contributions to Democratic organizations. In April 2017, she attended a March For Science in San Francisco, which was held to protest Trump administration cuts to research, and she signed a letter in June 2018 condemning the Trump administration’s policy, since abandoned, of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.”
But Wilmouth himself omitted crucial context. Ford's political contributions since 2014, all to the liberal group ActBlue, totalled a whopping $80.50 -- hardly the mark of a fire-breathing partisan who would lie about Kavanaugh for political purposes, as Wilmouth seems to be implying she is.
Such politically motivated "media research" shows why the MRC's work isn't taken seriously outside partisan circles, who will treat Wilmouth's misleading headline as undisputed fact ... as the MRC intends.
This was followed by an Oct. 5 post by Bill D'Agostino and Rich Noyes:
During the past three weeks, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has received a deluge of news coverage accusing him of vile crimes, including attempted rape and even organizing gang rapes. Though these charges did not originate with the news media, the lack of satisfactory corroborating evidence should have caused ethical reporters to refrain from gratuitously repeating allegations that painted Kavanaugh in a monstrous light.
In other words, the MRC is complaining that Ford's words were accurately quoted -- and that CNN is guilty of reporting it.
As usual, the MRC provides none of the raw data in the form of the quotes in full context. The fact that it won't do that shows that it knows it's attacking CNN for correctly quoting Ford.
So it had to distract with a good ol' Clinton Equivocation:
Nearly 20 years ago, Juanita Broaddrick accused then-President Bill Clinton of raping her while he was the Attorney General of Arkansas reportedly leaving her with a bloody lip and the words, “You’d better put some ice on that.” In the 18 days which followed Broaddrick’s story appearing in the Wall Street Journal (February 19, 1999), a Nexis search found CNN’s on-air personalities (also excluding guests) only talked about Clinton as an alleged “rapist” 34 times, and then mostly on talk shows like CNN & Company (12 times) and Larry King Live (9 times). That’s less than one-fifth the rate at which CNN today have tarred Brett Kavanaugh with the same devastating label.
Note the different search databases used: the MRC's own database for the Kavanaugh clips, Nexis for the Broaddrick clips. They're not equivalent, largely because it's unclear that CNN was transcribing its entire broadcast day for Nexis in 1999; some networks made only prime-time or branded shows available, meaning that it's likely CNN's run-of-the-mill news coverage that was not part of a branded program was never submitted to Nexis -- and, thus, making the MRC's data not necessarily an accurate reflection of what was actually broadcast on CNN. No serious, legitimate research would try to compare information from two entirely different databases and pretend that they are equivalent, and D'Agostino and Noyes are trying to do here.
So: we have another selectively edited piece of "media research" that ignores context to hide the fact that reporting is accurate, complete with an unreliable apples-to-oranges comparison to previous coverage and another refusal to make the raw data public.
The MRC spends no small amount of time ranting about the "liberal media's" use of anonymous sources. In the past couple months alone, Brent Bozell and Tim Graham huffed that the Washington Post "quotes anonymous sources multiple times a day" in order to make President Trump look bad, and Jeffrey Lord denounced the anonymous Trump administration staffer who wrote a New York Times op-ed assuring the country that there were indeed adults in the room when Trump goes on dangerous tangents as a "self-righteous idiot" who "anonymously showcase[d] Inside-the-Beltway arrogance."
But in the midst of the Kavanaugh saga, the MRC was demanding that the media promote an unverified, anonymously sourced claim. Kristine Marsh huffed in an Oct. 3 post:
ABC, CBS and the first two hours of NBC’s morning news programs completely ignored a damning letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week by Christine Blasey Ford’s ex-boyfriend, which contradicted several of Ford’s statements under oath. The only mention of the letter during the networks’ morning news coverage came during the third hour of Today, with host Megyn Kelly.
For all of the MRC's repeated insistence that Ford's claims against Kavanaugh were never corroborated, Marsh offers no evidence the ex-boyfriend's claims have ever been corroborated -- indeed, the woman for whom Ford purportedly helped prepare for that polygraph emphatically denied the claim by stating that it "NEVER" happened (all-caps are hers), something Marsh nor anyone else at the MRC bothered to tell their readers -- and Marsh downplays the fact that the ex-boyfriend is hiding behind anonymity, something the MRC was heretofore repeatedly offended by.
Over at the MRC's echo-chamber "news" division CNSNews.com, managing editor Michael W. Chapman emphasized that "The signed letter by the ex-boyfriend is legally binding, which means that if he lied, he faces a felony penalty of up to five years in prison, explained a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee." He similarly played down the anonymous nature of the accusation. He did add the woman's denial of the anonymous claim in an update to his article, though he inexplicably took her "NEVER" statement out of all-caps and made the word lowercase.
Without double standards, it seems, the MRC wouldn't have any standards at all. It's all part of the playbook.