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Anonymously Yours, The MRC

The Media Research Center loves to rant about anonymous sources in the "liberal media" -- while it invokes its own anonymous sources on stories that advance its right-wing agenda.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/3/2019

There are few things the Media Research Center likes to to more than rail against the media citing anonymous sources while hypocritically promoting stories that promote its conservative agenda that cite, yes, anonymous sources.

Most notoriously, the MRC spent the days before the 2016 election enthusiastically promoting an anonymously sourced claim by Fox News' Bret Baier that an indictment of Hillary Clinton was imminent, to the point that MRC chief Brent Bozell declared, "We will report developments on this continuing cover-up every hour from here on out." None of those hours, however, were spent telling readers that Baier retracted the story.

in 2018, the MRC embraced an anonymous alleged ex-boyfriend who slimed Christine Blasey Ford, who made allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh -- despite Brent Bozell and Tim Graham ranting at the same time that the Washington Post "quotes anonymous sources multiple times a day" in order to make President Trump look bad.

And when CNN correspondent Jim Acosta published a new book earlier this year, Graham rushed to attack him for using "irresponsible" anonymous sourcing -- even though the MRC had gleefully quoted anonymous "reporter peers" trashing Acosta.

It will not be a surprise to anyone that this hypocritical criticism has continued since then. For instance, Graham complained in a April 3 post:

From the "Brian Stelter Won't Report This" file, Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner reports that "complaints from media critics of the Trump administration" prompted a leading hostage-rights group to withdraw its “Freedom Award” to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his (and the president's) efforts to free political prisoners around the world.

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, named for an American journalist and political prisoner beheaded by ISIS in 2014, announced its intention to give Pompeo the award. Not only did they withdraw the award, they also disinvited Pompeo from the event "due to protests from angered media members who threatened to disrupt the event."

Instead, the foundation gave Pompeo’s award to Brett McGurk, the diplomat who recently resigned from the government over Trump's announcement of withdrawal from Syria. McGurk helped win the release of Americans from Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

Graham curiously failed to mention that Bedard's sources were anonymous -- indeed, Bedard cited only "knowledgable sources" and offered no on-the-record confirmation of his claims.

By contrast, in a May 2017 Fox News appearance, Graham huffed that "the news media today gets to use these anonymous sources, and the anonymous sources can say all sorts of terrible things about Trump," insisting that the use of anonymous sources allow "Trump's powerful enemies to be presumed as all-wise and nonpartisan, even patriotic, when no one knows their identities or motives."

Graham's boss, Brent Bozell, also weighed in, calling the claim of the award withdrawal "cowardice." And like Graham, he was silent on his apparent reversal on being critical of claims made by anonymous sources.

In other words, Graham and Bozell contradicted themselves because Bedard's anonymous sources are telling a story that fits neatly in the conservative victimization narrative.

(Both Graham and Bozell also failed to disclose the conflict of interest that the MRC has had a promotion deal with Bedard since 2012.)

Nevertheless, Graham couldn't stop his hypocritical ranting. Here he is in a Sept. 10 post:

Imagine CNN running with a story based on anonymous sources that Barack Obama thought his children were stupid. Or the Clintons thought Chelsea was a moron. Unthinkable? Naturally. But with the Trump family, anything goes. On CNN Tonight on Tuesday, Don Lemon brought on McKay Coppins of The Atlantic to tout his tabloidish story about how Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump are furiously fighting each other to be president.

We could suggest two words about these hot palace-intrigue stories about dynastic dreams: "Jeb Bush."

CNN, which imagines itself a global force for good journalism, pays zero attention to the sourcing of this "fascinating" soup. They just drank it in as Coppins ladled it out: Don Jr. "emerged as this kind of shouty, testosterone-soaked, you know, mini-Trump," while Ivanka stayed in the White House and "kind of very quickly figured out that she was out of her depth."

The Trump kids are dummies. CNN loves that stuff.

At this point we should add that not only has the MRC embraced anonymous sources when convenient, it has employed at least one NewsBusters blogger who wrote anonymously under a fake name. Among Graham's titles is executive editor of NewsBusters, so he's surely aware of this -- even if he's not aware of how foolish he looks in perpetuating this hypocrisy.

The anonymous whistleblower -- and more hypocrisy

This hypocrisy continued over the whistleblower who exposed President Trump's quid-pro-quo phone call with the president of Ukraine, whom the MRC attacked for remaining anonymous (even though the whistleblower's claims have largely been corroborated).

As rumblings of impeachment of President Trump grew, the MRC -- being dedicated Trump loyalists -- had to construct a narrative to try and save Trump. From the start, it to discount the allegations of the whistleblower as non-credible because he has chosen to remain anonymous and over the allegedly vague nature of the allegations:

  • It seems every week the media spends day after day obsessing over another anonymously-sourced report that makes claims no one can back up. Thursday, journalists were in a frenzy over a Washington Post report which alleged an anonymous “whistleblower” who formerly worked for an intelligence agency, claimed President Trump had promised something “troubling” to an unnamed foreign leader, earlier this Summer. -- Kristine Marsh, Sept. 19
  • An anonymous intelligence official has claimed that President Trump said something to someone during a phone call that the unnamed official found troubling. That is a summation of the flimsy reporting in The Washington Post that all three network morning shows seized on Thursday morning. -- Kyle Drennen, Sept. 19
  • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, left-wing regular Donny Deutsch was convinced that vague allegations of someone overhearing President Trump making controversial comments to another world leader during a private phone call would be the commander in chief’s downfall. -- Kyle Drennen, Sept. 20
  • Despite that there were still few facts known and a whole lot of speculation about the allegations made by the anonymous and so-called “Trump whistleblower,” ABC and NBC were more than willing to throw their weight behind the effort. -- Nicholas Fondacaro, Sept. 22
  • The liberal media have begun yet another round of frenzied impeachment speculation, this time in reaction to anonymously-sourced media reports about a supposed whistleblower complaint that has not been released. -- Bill D'Agostino, Sept. 24

But in the midst of all of these attacks on the Trump whistleblower for being anonymous, the MRC was praising another anonymous whistleblower ... who was involved in one of the MRC's favorite narratives of attacking social media for purported bias. Alexander Hall gushed in a Sept. 23 post that "Another anonymous Big Tech insider has come forward to take his company to task for election meddling," citing a "Google insider" who allegedly turned over documents and a laptop to the Justice Department" and touting how this person "reportedly has already corresponded with guerrilla journalist organization Project Veritas" and had information that “will provide proof that Google has been manipulating the algorithms and the evidence of how it was done.”

The MRC won't complain about anonymous whistleblowers -- as long as they are being an anonymous whistleblower for its preferred causes. (Though we have to wonder: How soon before we discover that the whistleblower is a far-right white nationalist like other Google "whistleblowers"?)

In an Oct. 9 post, Geoffrey Dickens gushed over a claim by the conservative Washington Examiner's Byron York that the whistleblower had a "significant tie to one of the Democratic presidential candidates, complaining that "So far ABC and CBS have spiked the story, even with President Donald Trump tweeting about it on Tuesday evening." But Dickens didn't tell his readers that York's sources for this claim are themselves anonymous; York cited three anonymous people "with knowledge of what was said" by the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, over the situation, with no on-the-record confirmation.

Of course, fear of being exposed as hypocrites wasn't going to stop the MRC from running with this story. Kristine Marsh got excited when "CBS was the only network to concede that their own reporting corroborated the President's claims" -- though she didn't note whether CBS had on-the-record confirmation of the claim. (Funny how "liberal media" outlets like CBS suddenly become credible when they report something the MRC thinks helps its right-wing agenda.) Marsh also didn't mention the fact that York's sources are anonymous.

Kyle Drennen touted how "as reported by Washington Examiner’s Byron York, the whistleblower having a 'political bias' and 'professional relationship with one of the 2020 candidates' was something revealed by Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson during recent congressional testimony," complaining that the whistleblower's "attorney denied the connection, but didn’t offer any actual evidence to 'refute' the charge."

When another Washington Examiner article reported that the Joe Biden was the candidate the whistleblower had a relationship with, the MRC pounced on that too, with Curtis Houck turning in the standard MRC "the liberal media won't report this right-wing claim so they're obviously biased" article. Scott Whitlock whined on Oct. 14 that "The fact that the CIA whistleblower had a 'professional tie' to Joe Biden still hasn’t garnered any interest on the network morning and evening newscasts. Three and a half days after it was first reported by The Washington Examiner, ABC, CBS and NBC yawned at the story."

But that claim was anonymously sourced as well; the Examiner article cited only "intelligence officers and former White House officials" -- specifically, a "retired CIA officer," "an experienced CIA official" and a "former Trump administration official." Neither Houck nor Whitlock told their reader that the Examiner's claims are anonymously sourced.

The MRC did not admit that the Examiner is a conservative outlet and, thus, effectively an opposition-research arm of the Republican Party (like the MRC is). Nor did it disclose that it has a deal with Examiner columnist Paul Bedard to promote an MRC item every week as the "Mainstream Media Scream" on the Examiner website.

The Oct. 22 column by MRC honchos Tim Graham and Brent Bozell was an extended -- and hypocritical -- screed against anonymous sources:

Thus the dominant narrative of the first two years of the Trump presidency was the accusation of Russia colluding with the Trump campaign….until it collapsed. The network evening news shows wasted thousands of minutes just oozing with doom for the president. In 2018, the Russiagate stories were 98 percent negative. Now they’re doing it all over again with Ukraine.

All of this is based on what? Evidence provided by whom? How many dozens, maybe hundreds of television and print reports have been based on “anonymous sources”? How many times have we read about the reporter’s conversation with “multiple” or “six” or “more than a dozen” or some such number of sources?

Why can’t a single one come forward? Why must we find out, after digging and digging, that their most recent “whistleblower” has vanished from the scene?

As consumers of “news,” it’s exhausting to wade through wild quotes, accompanied by phrases like “the official spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.” But how on Earth would we know if the source was “candid”? The word, after all, is defined as “the quality of being open and honest in expression.” So why not come forward?

No mention, of course, of all the anonymous sourced claims the organization they run has promoted over the years.

Meanwhile, Curtis Houck whined that the anonymous author of an "infamous" New York Times op-ed stating how White House staffers are trying the save the country from Trump's worst impulses is writing a book: "Despite the fact that there’s no way for anyone other than The Times or the book publisher to vet them (plus the claims they’re leveling), the book will undoubtedly be celebrated as a modern-day Gospel by the liberal media. All the while, this person will be allowed to remain anonymous and thus take the coward route." He whined further: "Yuck. So a book about being anonymous and why it’s a good thing the author is staying anonymous will financially benefit an industry (the WH beat) that operates almost entirely on anonymous sources. Neato!" The MRC's Nicholas Fondacaro and Alex Christy similarly whined about the book.

With all that whining, you knew what was coming next: another patented MRC "study"! Bill D'Agostino did his duty:

Despite the unreliable nature of anonymous sources, the three major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) have used them in nearly three fifths of their news reports about the impeachment probe since it first began, mostly to pass along damning accusations against the President that cannot be independently verified.

From September 24 — the day the impeachment inquiry was announced — to October 24, these three broadcast networks devoted 322 minutes to the probe in their evening newscasts, across 140 separate news segments. Of those, more than half (82, or 57%) relied at least in part on information from anonymous sources:

D'Agostino then intoned: "A policy piece by the Society of Professional Journalists cautions strongly against the use of anonymous sources, noting: 'Some organizations do not allow anonymous sources except in the most vital news stories.'"

The chart that accompanied D'Agostino's article referenced "TV's Impeachment Coverage" when, in reality, it was the MRC's usual extremely narrow slice of TV in the form of network evening newscasts. Apparently, Fox News is not part of the "TV" world for D'Agostino. This was followed by the MRC's promotion of the requisite Fox News segment that touted this so-called study.

While all that whining was going on, the hypocrisy got deeper as the MRC was touting yet another story that was, yes, anonymously sourced.

An Oct. 21 post by Gabriel Hays excitedly touted how, according to a Hollywood Reporter article, China is demanding edits to Quentin Tarantino's new film "Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" before it can be shown there. Hays wrote: "The outlet’s anonymous sources claimed, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's local release has been indefinitely put on hold.'"

Oops! Looks like someone forgot to check with the narrative creators at the MRC to make sure his post didn't undermine said narrative.

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