The Mark Levin News Service
As befits a Media Research Center operation, CNSNews.com is such close buddies with right-wing radio host Mark Levin that it published an article about him every 2.7 days in 2018 -- and at one point farmed out its editorial agenda to him.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has a very close relationship with right-wing radio host Mark Levin. As ConWebWatch has documented, the MRC had at one point a cross-promotion agreement in which Levin plugged various MRC crusades on his radio show and the MRC would promote Levin.
It's unclear if that agreement is still in force, but the MRC appears to be behaving as if it is -- to the point that the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, may as well be named the Mark Levin News Service.
ConWebWatch counted every time in 2018 CNS devoted an article uncritically repeating something Levin or a guest or guest host on his radio or TV shows. Our tally: 135 articles -- one article every 2.7 days. That's up from 2017, in which we counted 105 articles on Levin's pontifications plus eight more on Levin guests.(A November 2017 post by Michael Morris was basically a lightly rewritten press release on Levin's new TV show -- so lightly rewritten that Morris simply copied-and-pasted the last three paragraphs of the press release to fill out his article.)
That tally actually left out other instances when CNS promoted Levin. For example, when Levin started his Fox News TV show in February, CNS ran an article promoting the debut of the show, an article about a guest on that show, and another one touting the show's ratings.
In December, CNS published two posts touting the merger of CRTV, a division of the Levin-founded Conservative Review, with Glenn Beck's The Blaze. Craig Bannister proclaimed in a Dec. 3 article: "The new Blaze Media company debuted Monday, consolidating the draw of popular conservative pundits Mark Levin and Glenn Beck under one multiplatform entity with a combined monthly reach of 165 million." Bannister also included a list of the "popular pundits" who would appear on the merged channel. At the top of the list was Michelle Malkin, who would announce the next day she was departing the channel.
Also on the list was Eric Bolling, who had joined then-CRTV after leaving Fox News following allegations he sexually harassed his colleagues there. (And, no, neither CNS nor its Media Research Center parent has ever reported on the allegations against Bolling.)
Conspicuously missing from that list, however, was longtime CRTV host Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, whose propensity for violence and white nationalist leanings have earned them classification by the FBI as an extremist group. As we've documented, CNS and the MRC has also censored any controversy regarding McInnes and the Proud Boys.
As of November 2018, shortly before the announced Blaze-CRTV merger, only five references to McInnes on NewsBusters, the MRC's main content outlet. Two are columns by Malkin; The third is a 2015 piece by Tim Graham quoting a McInnes tweet about drawing Mohammed.
The other two, though, are pieces by Corinne Weaver, on Sept. 25 and Oct. 4, both of which complain that an antifa-adjacent group "doxxed" McInnes by posting his phone number on Twitter. The earlier post described McInnes as "the founder of Vice Media and host of a show on the Conservative Review," while the second didn't describe him at all. Weaver didn't mention McInnes' link to Proud Boys violence, or that the group mocked McInnes in the "doxxing" by asking people to "tell him you love white genocide."
Meanwhile, a piece on MRCTV on the "doxxing" of McInnes did include the mocking message, but writer Nick Kangadis benignly described McInnes only as a "fiery Conservative Review commentator and host" and excluded his links to the violent Proud Boys and rushing to his defense: "McInnes may say some controversial things at times, but at least he tells it like it is. His brand of political analysis might not be for everyone, but that’s not an excuse to essentially dox him and open him up for more constant harassment." Kangadis didn't explain how advocating violence is "telling it like it is."
The next day, Emily Ward wrote the standard fawning CNS piece featuring Levin on his radio show spinning the merger as "not about personalities; it's about liberty." No mention of the controversies surrounding McInnes and Bolling, of course.
A few days after that, though, Blaze Media fired McInnes and his YouTube account was disabled. Curiously, CNS didn't find that, or Malkin's departure, to be news worth reporting despite its reporting on the merger.
In the December runup to the Trump-forced government shutdown, a Dec. 18 blog post by Ward went totally synergistic, touting how Levin "quoted from a news story on CNSNews.com" on his radio show about how "75 percent of the government is already funded, as reported by CNSNews.com." Ward didn't disclose that she wrote the story that Levin was referencing.
Also in December, CNS also touted Levin receiving an "Impact Award" from the right-wing group United in Purpose, the reporting of which was so important to CNS that it reported this a day before before reporting on its publisher and MRC president, Brent Bozell, receiving the same reward.
The CNS-Levin editorial agenda
At one point last summer, it appeared that CNS decided to hand over partial control over its editorial agenda to Levin.
Craig Bannister dedicated a May 26 blog post to Levin's latest crusade, insisting that "the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is unconstitutional and he’s not the only constitutional scholar to make the case." Bannister enthusiastically touted how "Levin credits Northwestern Law School Professor Steven Calabresi for raising many of these points with him over the weekend. 'I agree completely with his analysis,' Levin says."
Two days later, CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey devoted his column to parroting Levin's claims:
Calabresi concluded that those targeted by Mueller "should challenge the constitutionality of his actions on Appointments Clause grounds."
CNS also ran a June 4 article by Susan Jones that touted a Trump tweet echoing Levin's argument, then rehashing the entire argument.
But that wasn't enough. With the coming of summer comes a new crop of interns to the MRC, some of whom get assigned to CNS. So the interns harassed no fewer than six senators with the exact same question: "Professor Steven Calabresi of Northwestern Law School and Mark Levin have argued that Robert Mueller’s appointment violates the Appointments Clause because he is a principal officer exercising at least the authority of a U.S. attorney but was not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate. Do you agree that Mueller’s appointment is unconstitutional?"
That's not reporting -- that's doing the bidding of a right-wing radio host.
Meanwhile, George Conway -- as it happens, the husband of Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway -- posted an article that effectively dismantled the argument made by Levin and Calebresi that Mueller's appointment is unconstitutional.
You'd think that given the amount of space CNS had devoted to advancing Levin's argument -- a whopping nine articles and columns -- it would want to give a fair and balanced airing to an opposing argument. Nope.
A June 14 article by Jones rehashed the Trump tweet she wrote about 10 days earlier before pivoting to an interview Fox News' Laura Ingraham did with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to further Levin and Calebresi's argument. It's not until the ninth paragraph that Conway's rebuttal is mentioned -- but only for the purpose of giving Giuliani the opportunity to shoot it down without specifically addressing anything Conway wrote:
In her Wednesday night interview with Giuliani, Ingraham noted that Kellyanne Conway's husband George has written an article debunking arguments that Mueller's appointment as special counsel is unconstitutional.
Neither Jones nor Giuliani addressed any specific points made by Conway; Jones simply regurgitated Giuliani's outright dismissal. Jones then concluded her article by repeating yet again specific arguments Calebresi made in support of his view.
CNS' mission statement suggests that it puts "a higher premium on balance than spin" and "endeavors to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story." It seems to be doing all it can to violate that mission with a very unfair and unbalanced presentation of a legitimate point of view that interferes with its pro-Trump, pro-Levin agenda.
Letting Levin's falsehoods and hypocrisy stand
Meanwhile, since they're such close buddies, CNS and the MRC as a whole will never call out Levin's double standards and false claims. For instance, Levin has joined Trump White House officials on CNS' list of whose falsehoods and misleading claims it lets stand without challenge or fact-checking. Levin got the non-treatment in an Aug. 10 blog post by Michael Morris:
On his nationally syndicated radio talk show Thursday, host Mark Levin said that if the Israeli government had their own Special Counsel, a Robert Mueller, they could’ve indicted then President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State John Kerry for election meddling.
In fact, as ConWebWatch documented when WorldNetDaily made the same charge, the Obama administration did not "interfere" in the 2015 Israeli presidential election. The State Department gave the Israeli group OneVoice $350,000 to promote peace efforts between Israel and Palestine; the infrastructure that money helped build was later used by the group during the election to criticize right-wing President Benjamin Netanyahu. Investigations found no wrongdoing -- no grant money was ever spent in for election purposes, OneVoice complied with the the terms of the grant, and there was no limitation on post-grant uses of the resources. Nobody has ever proven that Obama gave the money to the group for the specific purpose of influencing the election, which is what Levin is alleging.
Levin has also ranted about hateful rhetoric, as transcribed in an Oct. 25 CNS post:
Do the media in this country understand that they are leading the charge on the heated and hateful rhetoric? Do you know, yesterday alone, Donald Trump I counted four four times was compared to Adolf Hitler on MSNBC and CNN? Six times, he was called a racist.
Because it only does stenography when it comes to Levin, CNS will never report that Levin is a complete hypocrite. The Daily Beast summed it up:
In late 2013, Levinwhose shouty, nasaly radio voice has an obnoxious cartoon characterwent on a tear on his show comparing supporters of the Affordable Care Act to Nazi “Brownshirts.”
Meanwhile, FAIR found an instance in which Levin claimed that Obama was “really into these big German-like events that he creates in this country.”
So Levin gets a pass, just like the misogynous, violent right-winger Gavin McInnes got one because he had a show on Levin's CRTV.
As an apparent reward for all that (possibly paid) publicity, Levin had CNS' publisher, MRC chief Brent Bozell, as a guest on his Jan. 6 Fox News show.
L. Brent Bozell and Mark Levin hang out during Levin's visit to MRC headquarters in 2013. (Source: MRC Facebook page)
Needless to say, the interview -- he was the sole guest on the hourlong show -- was a cushy one for Bozell. Levin was not about to ask him any hard questions about the MRC's terrible, biased "media research" or any cross-promotion deal he has with the MRC -- or even Bozell's huge flip-flop on Trump
(even as they spent several minutes bashing Mitt Romney for being an opportunistic chameleon). Instead, the interview was loaded with softballs that let Bozell spout his right-wing anti-media attacks unchallenged. In return, Levin gushed that "I rely on you guys a whole lot" and "what your organization does, in my view, is crucially important." Bozell got his usual tired potshots in, snarking that "I'm convinced when Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, he didn't know about CNN." And he gushed as well, saying of Levin: "Your show is so extraordinary because it's an hourlong discussion about a serious issue, going in depth with your guest. We must have more of that in the public conversation."
Also needless to say, CNS was keen to collect those softballs, under blog posts headlined "Brent Bozell with Mark Levin: If Media ‘Were Doing Their Job,’ They ‘Would Be Blasting Democrats’ on Gov’t Shutdown" and "Bozell: 'CNN Is There to Do Nothing But Anti-Trumpism'" (as the post's URL indicates, that headline originally began, "Levin, Bozell Agree").
When Levin gives a similar hourlong softball interview to the head of Media Matters, we'll agree with Bozell that Levin's show is "so extraordinary."
All that promotion has continued unabated thus far in 2019. In the first four months of the year, CNS devoted 43 articles to Levin's rantings. That's a slightly slower rate than 2018 -- one every 2.8 days. One post declared: "Mark Levin: ‘We Don’t Need Lectures’ from Media on ‘Objectivity When It Comes to News’.' It's ironic that Levin grouses about media objectivity when he benefits from a complete lack of it at CNS.
MRC pushes Levin's book
Levin put out a new media-bashing book out in May, "Unfreedom of the Press," and the MRC as a whole was there to lavish praise on it. (Almost as if it was being paid to do so.) That directive comes straight from the top, and Bozell and Tim Graham led the way by gushing in their May 22 column:
Best-selling author and talk-radio star Mark Levin has another terrific new book that debuted at number one on the charts. The media habitually ignore Levin's books -- no New York Times reviews, no TV interviews, nothing -- and it must drive them insane that he still sells 1 million copies. But this one's is called Unfreedom of the Press, and this one's a direct shot at them, so some may find it impossible to resist a response.
(Actually, we reviewed Levin's "Liberty and Tyranny" for the Huffington Post back in the day, uncovering several factual errors in the process, and Levin had no interest in engaging with us over it.)
Bozell's MRC minions followed in lockstep. Under the headline "Watch Levin Take a Blowtorch to the ‘Thin-Skinned’ Liberal Media," Curtis Houck effused in a fit of meta-promotion:
Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin dedicated Sunday’s edition of Life, Liberty, & Levin to promoting his new book Unfreedom of the Press (set for release Tuesday) with Fox & Friends: Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth and, as expected, “the Great One” didn’t hold back, throwing the liberal media through a wood chipper and calling out their rampant Trump hatred.
Graham returned for damage-control mode in a June 2 post when someone defied his prediction and did engage with Levin's book in a Washington Post op-ed. When that writer pointed out that right-wing activists "purport to analyze the leftward lean of the press with a scholarly veneer," Graham insisted that "We would put our own books at the Media Research Center into that 'wake,' analyzing liberal bias with a 'scholarly veneer.'" As ConWebWatch has documented, the MRC's "media research" is very much just a veneer, more interested in manufacturing data that fits its right-wing, anti-media agenda than following the data where it leads the way a real researcher would.
When the writer accurately pointed out that the New York Times and the Washington Post are not "liberal equivalents of Fox News," Graham went on attack again: "That's hilarious. But it's the media equivalent of his 'I'm scholarly, you're fake.' It's almost not worth quoting, but [the writer] uncorks the time-worn cliche that liberals are the open-minded cosmopolitans that make the best journalists."
Of course, the idea that the Times and the Post are farther to the left than Fox News is to the right is a foundational MRC belief, and Graham couldn't let it go unchallenged, even if he could offer nothing but juvenile mockery in response.
Graham attacked another less-than-glowing review of Levin's book in a June 5 post. First, he played whataboutism by complaining that the reviewer liked a book critical of Trump by Michael Wolff, "the guy who claimed without evidence that Trump was having an affair with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley." (Levin falsely claimed that President Obama directly intervened in a Israeli election in 2015, and we didn't hear Graham demanding a fact-check over that.)
Graham then inserted Twitter posts from Levin making the same attack against the reviewer. Great minds (are maybe paid to) think alike.