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The MRC's War On Journalists, Part 3: Craven Callousness

The Media Research Center tries to protect its brand and insists its (and President Trump's) hateful anti-media rhetoric doesn't inspire violence against journalists -- then claims that it's "self-centered" for journalists to be worried about their safety.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/15/2018

As we've seen with its hateful attitudes toward NBC's Katy Tur and CNN's Jim Acosta, the Media Research Center doesn't care about the safety of journalists who cover President Trump and avoid right-wing stenography in doing so. It's been like that since Trump started echoing the MRC's anti-media agenda in his 2016 presidential campaign.

Indeed, as it cheers on Trump's portrayal of the media as the "enemy of the people," the MRC has become increasingly callous toward the safety of any journalist in the Trump era -- and more interested in trying to create a separation between its (and Trump's) brand of nasty anti-media rhetoric and actual violence against journalists.

It was callous before the 2016 election, when a post by Kyle Drennen grumbled that "ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos worried about Donald Trump making the liberal media an 'enemy' in the presidential campaign, confessing that 'it's hard to walk down the street right now' and warning that reporters need 'security.'" Drennen didn't rebut Stephanopolos' claims, but by complaining that they were made, he was essentially suggesting that it's "liberal media bias" for even mention that it's happening -- as if Stephanopoulos deserved to be harassed by random people for doing his job.

Meanwhile, the MRC didn't mention the T-shirt of a man at a Trump rally that stated "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required."

MRC cool with GOP candidate assaulting journalist

The callousness then ratcheted up. When Idaho Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in May 2017, the MRC's Curtis Houck conceded: "Importantly, any assault of anyone (reporter or non-reporter) isn’t okay. This should be common sense. That being said, the deranged reactions to the incident must be denounced too."

True. But some of those deranged reactions are coming from Houck's higher-ups at the MRC -- who seem to think the assault is quite OK -- and Houck most certainly will not be called upon to denounce those.

MRC chief Brent Bozell tweeted: "Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I'm not surprised he got smacked." Bozell didn't mention that he has something of a past with Jacobs. In 2013, Jacobs -- then a reporter for the Daily Beast -- documented the MRC's legally questionable purchase of a house in Pennsylvania from MRC vice president David Martin. Jacobs was also among the reporters who highlighted the revelation that Bozell didn't write his own syndicated columns.

The MRC's Tim Graham -- the guy who actually does write Bozell's columns and belatedly got a co-author credit after the revelation surfaced -- huffed in his own tweet: "Let's ask why on Earth a House candidate in Montana should have to answer questions from a reporter for a BRITISH newspaper????"

Funny, we remember when Graham was more than happy to tout reporting from British newspapers on happenings in America. Also, the Guardian has operations in the U.S., and Jacobs is an American.

To his credit, Graham did tepidly concede in a later tweet that "It is wrong, and well, unusual, to apparently hurt a reporter's elbow over a CBO score." Then he whined: "But HOW is this a half-hour story on MSNBC???" As if Fox News wouldn't have done the same thing -- and the MRC wouldn't have gone wall-to-wall on it -- had Gianforte been a Democrat.

Meanwhile, MRC minions were assigned a different task: trying to shout down the idea that Gianforte's assault wasn't part of increased hostility toward reporters cheered on by Trump and fomented in part by the MRC.

Curtis Houck -- again, clearly not knowing what his bosses were doing -- prefaced one post by saying that "Importantly, any assault of anyone (reporter or non-reporter) isn’t okay. This should be common sense" before laying into "supposedly right-leaning blogger" and frequent Heathering target Jennifer Rubin for speaking the inconvenient truth that Gianforte's assault is the end result of Trump's (and, by extension, the MRC's) anti-media rhetoric since "the fish rots from the head":

So, Jennifer, let’s talk about your fish analogy. If you don’t want to blame the President for all this, here’s two examples of things you’ve said that haven’t exactly been helpful to creating a healthy discourse. On December 11, 2016, you referred to people selected for Trump’s cabinet as not just “billionaires” and “generals” but “ignoramuses” as well. How classy!

On March 9, you insinuated the President should be blamed for future U.S. terror attacks if his budget shrinks the size of the federal government. How responsible!

To broaden it out to The Washington Post, their cartoonist depicted Ted Cruz’s daughters in December 2015 as toy monkeys with Cruz holding an organ grinder.

If “[t]he fish rots from the head,” how’s Donald Trump the sole person responsible, Jennifer?

That's what's called distracting from the issue. Making his way back to the subject at hand, Houck huffed further (after another disclaimer that he doesn't approve of Gianforte's behavior):

However, solely blaming one flawed human being’s actions on someone else (President Trump) is a bridge too far. Further, the instant drive to connect everything to the President is tiresome.

Same goes for suggesting that the media bias movement was to blame here. The crusade against liberal media bias has been going on for decades. Heck, the Media Research Center is marking its 30th anniversary in 2017.

So, this idea that, suddenly, criticism of the media has become anti-American, uncalled for, or violent is exactly what the left wants people to believe. Turns out, one can be against assaulting reporters and for fighting liberal media bias. Who would have thought!

Houck followed up with another attack post, this one at CNN's Dylan Byers for explicitly citing "anti-media rhetoric" leading to Gianforte's behavior:

Let’s not stick to the person who’s alleged to have lost their cool and attacked a reporter. No, let’s attack people (like the ones on this site) that have pushed the issue of media bias for decades (without violence).


In the world of folks like Dylan Byers, they’re firmly opposed to President Trump and anyone who stands in their way. Instead of looking at the incivility being promulgated by CNN, NPR, or The Washington Post, it’s sites like this one that are supposedly the problem for suggesting the media are not the angels they paint themselves to be.

Nevermind the reality that NewsBusters has been around for 12 years and not promoting violence (with parent organization Media Research Center being around for 30 years), but this space is here to argue it’s quite easy to be against physical assault and believe the media have a liberal bias.

Except, you know, we have the example of the MRC attacking Tur for not being a Trump sycophant, closely followed by Trump doing the same thing to Tur in person at his campaign rallies -- resulting in the Secret Service having to walk Tur to her car to protect her from Trump fans ginned up on hate.

Kristine Marsh, meanwhile, cheered CNN conservative Ben Ferguson's attempt to distract from the issue at hand by irrelevantly talking about Anthony Weiner. And Scott Whitlock sneered at NBC's Andrea Mitchell for bringing it up, bizarrely arguing that Trump couldn't possibly be responsible because he's out of the country:

Guilt by association. That’s what Andrea Mitchell believes. Despite the fact that Donald Trump is on another continent, the Andrea Mitchell Reports anchor thinks that the assault against a journalist by a Montana congressional candidate is an “extension” of the President. Talking about Greg Gianforte’s attack on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, the MSNBC host connected, “There is so much hostility, frankly, to the press, a lot of it generated by the Donald Trump rallies.”

Kyle Drennen highlighted former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh offering a strange it-was-only-words defense -- "Trump has called out the media, he's never body-slammed the media" -- then dismissed any attempt to link Trump to violent attacks on journalists as a "left-wing line of attack."

MRC VP Dan Gainor was also on spin patrol in a Fox Business appearance, harrumphing: "The American media are so thin-skinned, so narcissistic, that any criticism, any attack, becomes this great metaphor for everything going on in the world."

It's almost as if the MRC has forgotten that it spent the Obama years promoting conservatives who directly linked rhetoric from President Obama to later violent acts:

  • A 2014 post by Jack Coleman highlighted Rush Limbaugh claiming that Obama's remarks regarding racially charged incidents in Ferguson, Mo., as "inane ramblings that were designed subtly to feed the rage."
  • The MRC published a 2014 column by Rush's brother, David Limbaugh, asserting that Obama "has fanned the flames of racial tension in this country " and is "fomenting further distrust between the black community and law enforcement."
  • Tom Blumer touted a poorly written Associated Press headline on unrest in Baltimore, "Obama pledges help to riot," as purportedly containing "more truth than the wire service and the headline's actual creators will ever admit."
  • A May 2015 column by Jeffrey Lord lamented that "There is no way in the world that the liberal media - the Times in this case - will contribute to the bonfire by blaming Obama or Clinton much less the liberalism that has run Baltimore lo these several decades."
  • Blumer returned to cheer how Bill O'Reilly blamed "leftists, up to and including President Obama" in part for "the violent records and actions" of Black Lives Matter.

The MRC would rather you not point out its hypocrisy.

Capital Gazette shooting

The MRC's first reaction to June's shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper offices in Maryland, killing five, was damage control -- for President Trump as well as for the MRC's brand of petty, mocking, politically motivated right-wing media criticism.

Curtis Houck whined that one CNN correspondent "blamed President Trump’s near-daily comments about the news media for the deranged gunman’s actions" (he didn't note that those "comments" involved trashing said media). He went on to huff:

Everyone should be careful with what they say in private and public, but most (or at least enough) people were raised to be responsible for their own actions. 2018 is certainly part of an era where the level of partisanship seems like it couldn’t possibly get any worse, so it would behoove all of us to take a few deep breathes.

However, recklessly blaming the President for a deranged and sadistic gunman’s actions serves no one besides push a partisan agenda. And such behavior helps no one on a dire day such as this one.

Two days earlier, however, Houck's MRC colleague Nicholas Fondacaro championed Fox News' Tucker Carlson pre-emptively blaming Rep. Maxine Waters for any possible violence resulting from her urging people to publicly confront members of haustrum administration -- despite the fact that Waters did not advocate violence and none had actually occurred. Fondacaro hypocritically lamented that "many reasonable people were rightfully fearful that we might be headed for a tragedy" as a result of Waters' comments and insisted it was "out of control hatred" to liken Trump to Richard Nixon.

Despite that hypocrisy, Kristine Marsh complained that "journalists and media outlets irresponsibly sent out provocative tweets directly or indirectly blaming the president for supposedly inspiring the deadly shooting, even as reports revealed the shooter had a personal dispute with the paper, in 2012," and Scott Whitlock groused that "we've seen this attempt at blame play out on multiple media outlets."

Another post by Houck feared that by highlighting Trump's vicious attacks on the media in connection with the Capital Gazette shooting, it would hurt media criticism -- specifically, the MRC's version of it, which tracks closely with Trump's views though with slightly less viciousness. He pretended to read the minds of a couple of people on CNN, insisting that when they referenced "the rise of threats against journalists" they really meant "criticism of the news media." Houck then tried to deflect scrutiny away from his employer with a bit of unusual-for-the-MRC praise of the media:

Journalism is a basic tenet of our representative republic and democracies throughout the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re free from criticism and offering sober, substantive appraisals of media in all its forms. And that’s what we try to do at NewsBusters.

Feel free to laugh at that overinflated self-assessment.

Does Houck think his war on Acosta for not parroting the Trump White House line -- which involves derisively mocking him for being worried about his safety because he's not an MRC-approved toady or for even expecting to have his words taken in context -- is sober and substantive? Does he think that his boss, Brent Bozell, was offering a "sober, substantive appraisal" when he called President Obama a "skinny ghetto crackhead"? Is freaking out every time someone in the media fails to hate the LGBT community as harshly as the MRC does "sober and substantive"?

Sober and substantive media criticism is appreciated -- but that's not what Houck, NewsBusters and the MRC do for a living, and Houck embarrasses himself trying to pretend otherwise.

The MRC's Tim Graham similarly tried to draw a line between the MRC's -- and President Trump's -- occasionally vicious anti-media rhetoric and the idea that such rhetoric might inspire violence in a June 30 post, complaining: "One nasty, if hardly unexpected result of the horrific mass shooting at the Annapolis Capital-Gazette newspaper is the attempt to smear it onto "anti-press sentiment." Liberals protest that they're not really accusing conservatives of shooting reporters, but they are, as usual, part of a 'climate' of hatred." Graham attacked Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan for making that argument. Graham huffed in response:

The biggest Fake News that people like Sullivan are pushing is that the press equals democracy, and criticism of the media elite is anti-democracy.

Sullivan would not agree that Black Lives Matters smears on the police can be "connected" to cop shootings. Or that just because James Hodgkinson (the failed softball-field mass murderer of Republicans) liked Rachel Maddow on his Facebook page Maddow can somehow be "connected" to shooting congressmen. So this is a reckless tactic at a highly emotional time.

Funny -- if Maddow can't be blamed for Hodgkinson's actions, why did Graham specifically highlight that connection at the time? It's as if he was trying to create a link or something. Graham also doesn't list the anti-police "smears" made by Black Lives Matter that he thinks are linked to violence -- perhaps because Black Lives Matter's agenda isn't as radical as he thinks.

And it's weird how Graham apparently thinks all journalists who don't reflexively spout right-wing, pro-Trump talking points are somehow "elite" and must be attacked and mocked at every opportunity.

Graham then tried the "I know you are, but what am I?" approach:

If contempt for the press is "dangerous," then why can't Sullivan and [CNN's Brian] Stelter see that the rabid fear and loathing of President Trump might be "dangerous"? Why can't they imagine being on the wrong end of "If you attack the elected president, then you attack democracy"?

This from the organization that defended Rush Limbaugh for declaring that he hoped President Obama failed -- and, again, whose president (and Graham's boss) likened Obama to a "skinny ghetto crackhead." We don't recall the MRC ever being concerned that such overheated right-wing anti-Obama rhetoric having violent consequences.

Finally, Graham echoed Houck by pushing the dubious the idea that the MRC's and Trump's anti-media rhetoric is somehow meaningful criticism:

CNN reporters have been fulminating against Trump's use of terms like "Fake News" and "enemy of the people" and Trump's "war on the press," suggesting they encourage violence. Stelter quoted Dan Shelley, director of the Radio Television Digital News Association: "Watch your backs, but don’t back down..."

No journalist in America should fear violent reprisals for reporting the news. But calling the media "fake" is not a threat. It's just as much a part of democracy or free-speech as the left-wing diatribes they uncork in the national media, and then call themselves "news" people.

Calling the media "fake" not for reporting something that's fake but for reporting something that doesn't conform to a certain political agenda demeans media criticism -- and exposes the MRC as nothing but a partisan shill. But then, Graham has always been a terrible media critic because he puts right-wing ideology before journalism.

MRC: April Ryan ought to feel threatened

The MRC has treated political analyst April Ryan with the same disdain and callousness it treats Acosta. An Jan. 18 post by Kristine Marsh about a panel on which both Ryan and Acosta appeared first suggested that Acosta deserves anything that might be coming to him for being such a purportedly biased reporter -- then bizarrely claimed that Ryan "gushing" when she said, "It’s very real for some of us...For me it’s real. I’ve been getting death threats just for asking a question. A logical question...the FBI is on speed dial, so is the Secret Service and local police department."

Again: Marsh actually claimed that Ryan was "gushing" about receiving death threats. That's not how that works, Kristine.

In an Aug. 3 post, Houck mocked for coming to the defense of the hated Jim Acosta. He claimed Ryan "dismissed the harassment and threats against the White House Press Secretary [Sarah Huckabee Sanders] and melodramatically surmised that Jim Acosta’s 'life...was in jeopardy' at Tuesday’s Trump rally." Houck then ratcheted up his dismissive attitude: "Later, she also showed a visceral disdain for conservatives and Second Amendment supporters by brushing aside that part of the Constitution in favor of the First Amendment which many journalists seem to think only concerns them."

Ryan soon found she needed her own bodyguard to deal with threats. Marsh addressed that issue in a sneering Aug. 24 post by basically arguing that Ryan ought to feel threatened:

In a laughably obtuse interview with The Hollywood Reporter published August 21, April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio and CNN contributor, griped about needing to pay for security because of how often she is approached or heckled in public. This comes just a few weeks after Ryan complained that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders shouldn’t need security guards.

According to the media outlet, Ryan said she feared for her personal safety at times because she is approached in public and complained that the White House should fund her bodyguards.


She added:
There is a concern now. I mean, I've had death threats, I've had craziness, so I have a real concern. An honest, real concern.... Do I have a bodyguard? Yes, I do. Am I paying for it? Yes, I am. And, I think [Sanders] should have to pay for it, especially if she's stirring it up with her boss [Trump].... I did not sign up for this. I was just doing a job.
Sound familiar? Isn’t this exactly what Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters explicitly ordered liberals to do to Republicans? The media didn’t care about public harassment then, as long as it wasn’t happening to them. In fact, many journalists went on television and defended the abuse of Trump Administration officials and Republican party members. But suddenly it’s a different story when the shoe is on the other foot.

So Ryan should feel threatened because some people in the White House feel threatened? Talk about utter hatred for -- and the desire for vengeance against -- journalists doing their jobs.

'Self-centered' for journalists to care about safety
When CNN anchor Don Lemon took to the air in January to point out actual death threats called into the network and blamed the anti-media environment encouraged by President Trump (and, truth be told, by the MRC), Randy Hall denounced Lemon for engaging in "a pathetic act of self-sanctimonious behavior," then retorted to political analyst Brian Karem after making a similar observation: "Wait, so Brian, would that mean that you'd agree that James Hodgkinson was inspired by Rachel Maddow and Bernie Sanders to try and murder Republican congressmen in June at a Virginia baseball field?"

Of course, if Hall could show any evidence that Maddow or Sanders ever called Scalise an "enemy of the people," let alone criticized him personally in any form whatsoever, he might have a point.

Curtis Houck -- who's currently leading the MRC's war on Acosta and gets a tingle up his leg every time Acosta is heckled while covering a Trump rally -- demonstrated his callousness toward the humanity of journalists who don't work for Fox News in an Aug. 1 post about a discussion between Tur and director Rob Reiner about the current hostile environment for journalists in the Trump era. Here's how Houck utterly mocked their concerns in the first paragraph of his post, headlined "Self-Centered Lefties: Katy Tur, Rob Reiner Showcase Why People Hate Hollywood, the Media":

In roughly eight minutes Wednesday afternoon, MSNBC Live host Katy Tur and far-left liberal actor Rob Reiner were able to showcase why the embarrassingly smug behavior of Hollywood and the liberal media has continued to lose them supporters despite their deranged attempts to play the victim card.

That's right: According to Houck, it's apparently "self-centered" and playing "the victim card" for a journalist to be concerned about one's safety. (So, um, Curt, what exactly is a "far-left liberal"? Is that oppose to a far-right liberal?)

Houck sneered that Tur was hosting a "pity party" for journalists -- even though crowds at pro-Trump rallies she covered turned so hostile against her that she needed Secret Service protection to leave arenas -- and complained that she showed a "video of CNN’s Jim Acosta being heckled at a Tuesday night Trump rally" (which, again, Houck is totally down with).In Houck's warped right-wing view, Tur "ranted" and "howed how out of touch she is with the American populace when she seemed exasperated at the notion that, three years after Trump began his candidacy, droves of people still believe that “the media” and Hollywood don’t “represent regular people.” And an MRC post referencing Reiner wouldn't be complete without derisively calling him "Meathead," demonstrating Houck's inability (and that of the MRC as a whole) to separate the actor from a role he hasn't played in 40 years.

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