The MRC's War Against Facebook: Still Failing
The Media Research Center still insists that Facebook is uniquely discriminating against conservatives -- even as Mark Zuckerberg is having secret off-the-record dinners with Brent Bozell and others who push that right-wing narrative.
By Terry Krepel
Facts keep getting in the way of the Media Research Center's war on social media, and Facebook in particular.
In July, Media Research Center chief Brent Bozell issued a statement attacking Facebook for "allowing the ACLU and 90 left-wing organizations to dictate nearly every aspect of Facebook’s policies." The headline: "Facebook Shouldn’t Cave to Demands of Left-Wing Mob." Of course, Bozell would rather that Facebook cave to his right-wing mob, which has been flogging the narrative that Facebook is uniquely discriminating against conservatives.
That narrative, however, is continually undermined by the inconvenient fact that Facebook has been sucking up to conservatives like Bozell in an attempt to counter that narrative. Is Facebook slowly learning that the conservative narrative is more important than reality? Perhaps. Not that it's stopped Facebook's seemingly futile attempts to suck up, though.
One of those caves to Bozell was Facebook's hiring of former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl to conduct an "audit" of whether the company is biased against conservatives, in which more than 130 conservatives were interviewed. An interim report issued Aug. 20 noted conservative complaints about Facebook and conceded the company has work to do to gain their trust, but it did not document any conservative bias.
Naturally, that failure to support the right-wing narrative enraged the MRC. Corinne Weaver complained about the report's "non-endorsement of conservative complaints" and that "very few of conservatives’ actual concerns were voiced in the audit," adding that "the wording of some of the concerns was made to look as if conservatives believed things that were not true."
Bozell ranted that the report "refuses to publicly acknowledge that conservatives have been disproportionately affected by their content policies" -- though, again, he offered no evidence that's actually the case. Bozell further ranted about the failure to support his narrative: "We have waited over a year for Facebook to properly address the long list of issues raised by the conservative movement, but have received nothing of substance in return." So his mob will ramp things up: "We are set to meet with a group of distinguished attorneys to discuss issues relating to Big Tech's standing under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, along with other possible responses, including anti-trust proposals."
This was followed by a letter from Bozell's Free Speech Alliance huffing that Kyl "shockingly left us with a hollow report devoid of substantive policy proposals" and adding: "No conservative leader or organization should accept this as a legitimate response to the undeniable issues we have raised." The letter's signatories include fringe right-wing figures as WorldNetDaily's David Kupelian, Floyd Brown of the Western Journal (an organization founded by WND's Joseph Farah) and anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel (whom Bozell inexplicably graces with the "Lady" title).
When Kyl responded to the criticism coming from the likes of the MRC, Weaver went on the attack again, grousing that "The report was full of the same kind of language that made conservatives lose trust in Facebook. It treated the blatant censorship of conservatives on Facebook as a myth, without addressing any of the issues. " She was particularly incensed that Kyl stated that "censorship of conservatives is a 'belief,' as opposed to a fact. He said that people who complained about Facebook 'felt that they were discriminated against.'" Weaver highlighted that "76 percent of conservatives already don’t trust Facebook" without noting the time and money spent by the MRC and other right-wing organizations to further that impression -- indeed, that particular finding came from a poll bought and paid for by the MRC.
Bozell repeated that poll finding in an Aug. 28 column for Fox News, dishonestly attributing it only to "one national survey." He went on to rant that the Kyl report "cleansed of the evidence and downplayed their criticisms. It didn’t even acknowledge conservative complaints as legitimate." But, remember, the narrative is more important to Bozell than the facts:
The report focused on the word “believe.” Kyl used it nine separate times. We are told, “many conservatives lost trust in Facebook, believing it discriminated against them.” It wasn’t many, it’s most; they don’t just believe, they know.
Bozell also cited anecdotal examples of what he framed as anti-conservative bias. But liberals can do that too; the liberal website Wonkette has pointed out how Facebook is refusing to let its subscribers see its posts by claiming it violated a policy against "clickbait." Funny how Bozell and Co. are not terribly up in arms about that -- particularly since it undermines their victimization narrative.
Meanwhile, the MRC has been attacking Facebook on other fronts. Alexander Hall bashed Facebook's plans to reintroduce a curated news feed because an algorithm-driven feed run by journalists (and you know how much the MRC hates journalists) might exclude conservative-friendly items. Hall even tried to co-opt a liberal argument that an algorithm can be programmed for bias, albeit with a not-terribly-helpful example: "If a programmer trains an algorithm to filter out an opinion as extreme or hateful for example, a critical story could be made to never see the light of day."
Weaver returned to criticize Facebook for failing to make some data sets available to researchers -- laughably ironic because the MRC consistently refuses to make public the full data that backs up its so-called studies claiming "liberal media bias."
The narrative must be preserved, after all. Facts are secondary.
Bashing Facebook for someone's Facebook group
The MRC hates Facebook so much, in fact, that it found a way to blame Facebook for someone creating an offensive Facebook group.
After ProPublica broke a story in July about a secret Facebook group for former Border Patrol agents filled with racist and sexist comments and jokes about dead migrants, the Media Research Center did something that had nothing whatsoever to do with "media research" -- it rushed to the Border Patrol's defense by throwing out what might be generously described as alternative facts.
In a July 5 post, Weaver asserted that "Facebook’s past policies may have implicated innocent users in some controversial activities" -- even though she admitted that ProPublica double-checked names in the group against that of known Border Patrol agents. She continued:
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that before December 2018, users could be added to a group without agreeing to be added. They would receive an invitation to the group, but the invite automatically added the user. Now, the new policy makes users “accept invitations” before they are added to a group.
Weaver is simply making excuses. The facts remain that this Facebook group does exist, and these agents did belong to it -- even Border Patrol chief Carla Provost was forced to admit she belonged to it and, contrary to Weaver's conspiracy theory, willingly joined it (though she denied being an active member).
It's highly unlikely that Weaver or anyone else at the MRC would give the same benefit of the doubt to anyone who belonged to a Facebook group that published offensive content that could be considered liberal-leaning -- recall its incessant whining about the "Journolist" listserv because non-conservative journalists were involved (and its complete silence about Groundswell, the secret listserv for conservative journalists and activists, not even to discuss whether any MRC employee took part in it).
Weaver's defense of the Border Patrol is nothing but political damage control that's little more than just another MRC double standard.
Attacking Facebook for fact-check it can't prove wrong
The anti-abortion activists with Live Action don't want their views to be challenged -- no matter how false they are -- and the MRC is helping to advance this dubious cause.
The MRC had previously uncritically repeated Live Action's bogus claim that Pinterest shut down its account because of a purported campaign to censor conservative content when, in fact, it was because it was using the account to promote misinformation. This was followed by a tag-team attack on Facebook to deflect from the misinformation Live Action pushes.
A Sept. 3 post by Weaver repeated the Live Action talking point that Facebook was "actively working to suppress pro-life content" and "censor" it by pointing out that some of Live Action's content was false:
Facebook chose a side in the abortion debate and is actively working to suppress pro-life content.
Weaver also parroted the unsupported talking point that "the message of the videos is based on the opinions of 2,500 pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists." But Weaver didn't note any rebuttal of the fact-check, which pointed out that there are indeed circumstances in which a fetus may need to be aborted in order to save the mother's life.
A Sept. 9 post by Alexander Hall was essentially a Live Action press release:
Big Tech companies are facing their day of reckoning from the Pro-Life movement.
Hall also repeated the misleading claim that "Pinterest placed Live Action on a blacklist among pornographic sites, blocking the pro-life group’s content from being shared on the platform." In fact, Pinterest explained that the label was a quirk of the company’s internal content moderation tools due to such bans being originally directed at porn, and that the account was never actually labeled as pornography.
On Sept. 12, Weaver and Hall did more PR work for Live Action by advancing its attack on Facebook's fact-checkers, citing a letter from anti-abortion republican congressman claiming that "Facebook’s ‘independent fact check’ of the Live Action videos was performed by two pro-abortion activists with significant ties to abortion-rights advocacy organizations." Weaver and Hall did not note any claim from Live Action or anyone else that the fact-check was incorrect -- which tells you the partisan political nature of this.
Facebook eventually backed down, but Live Action -- and, thus, Weaver -- were not done complaining. In a Sept. 16 post, Weaver complained that one of the medical experts who did the fact-check on Live Action videos said that "People who lie about abortion should be banned from Facebook for spreading hate." Again, Weaver failed to cite any evidence the fact-check was false, but instead repeated the Live Action talking point that "Lila Rose, the founder of Live Action, was echoing the professional opinions of several doctors."
Hall cheered Facebook backing down in a Sept. 20 post, gloating that "Facebook apparently knows that it made a mistake with the pro-life community. He claimed that "the bogus fact check that condemned [Rose's] content has not been retracted" -- but, as before, he offered no evidence there was anything bogus about the fact-check. Instead, he parroted Rose's bogus attacks on Facebook as a "far-Left, politically motivated puhlisher," conveniently ignoring the fact that Live Action is a far-right, politically motivated publisher who doesn't want its bogus attacks to face any sort of factual challenge.
It's almost as if Live Action paid the MRC for all this PR work.
Burying the truth about a Facebook ad ban
An Aug. 26 post by Hall pushed the claim that "Facebook has banned pro-Trump news outlet The Epoch Times from any further advertising on its platform," suggesting the ban because the outlet is "pro-Trump." But Hall waited until the sixth paragraph to rather softly admit the full truth: that The Epoch Times "may have violated a Facebook rule by pushing its ads under other names such as Honest Paper, Pure American Journalism, Best News, and Patriots of America."
In between, Hall dismissed journalist Judd Legum, who first uncovered the story, as "left-wing," then complained that NBC, which later picked up the story, "editorialized by referring to the Epoch Times as somehow pushing 'conspiracy ads.'" But Hall never explained why that description was somehow false or merely an opinion and offered no evidence that the Epoch Times ads weren't "conspiracy ads."
Hall also soft-peddled the Epoch Times' ties to anti-communist cultists with a severe end-times eschatology, calling it merely "unusual": "Epoch Times itself has an unusual background in that it was founded by Chinese Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is a Chinese religious movement 'with the stated goal of taking down China’s government' and believes, according to NBC News, 'in a coming judgment day that will send communists to hell.' In addition these adherents believe that President Donald Trump is helping to accelerate this coming judgment day." But as long as they're pro-Trump, it appears that the MRC will give the Epoch Times the same pass it gave the Washington Times for being owned by a self-proclaimed messiah and cult leader.
More sucking up, more defense
An Oct. 14 Politico article reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been hosting "informal talks and small, off-the-record dinners with conservative journalists, commentators and at least one Republican lawmaker" -- one of which was MRC chief Bozell. That sent the MRC into defense mode once more.
An Oct. 15 MRC post by Weaver put a "liberals pounce" frame on it: "The intolerant left has a long list of things they consider unforgivable sins. One of them includes simply talking and dining with those on the right." Kyle Drennen touted how it was "surprising" that CBS This Morning "co-host and Democratic donor Gayle King was quick to defend the practice, asking, 'What’s wrong with that?'"
Alex Christy, meanwhile, complained that MSNBC called out the meetings: "A Silicon Valley liberal meeting with conservatives to discuss a relevant controversy, how horrible. They can't stand that. Any good liberal guardian of the 'truth,' or the news, should not be kowtowing to conservative demands of neutrality. At least that is how MSNBC sees it."
The way these writers addressed the conflict of interest in their boss being a part of this story varied widely. Weaver disclosed that Bozell met with Zuckerberg; Drennen didn't disclose the current meetings but noted that "In May of 2016, NewsBusters publisher and Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, along with several other conservative leaders, met with Zuckerberg to discuss concerns of anti-conservative bias on the social network"; and Christy didn't mention his boss at all.
Bozell, meanwhile, tweeted out his own justification for the meetings:
Leftists at Facebook are actively working with leftist groups to advance their leftist agenda.
The issue that all these MRC writers conveniently ignore is that, as Media Matters' Parker Malloy pointed out, all these meetings with conservatives won't stop them from attacking Facebook -- the narrative is too strong and lucrative, and it will continue no matter how many times Facebook caves to their demands, even as research continues to prove that there's no systematic anti-conservative bias at Facebook.
Now, the MRC did praise Facebook for deciding not to censor political speech or fact-check political ads on the platform. Drennen claimed that "The disturbing irony of the news media that make their living from the First Amendment actually being upset by a social media company refusing to censor political speech is stunning," while Weaver framed the decision as Facebook deciding not to "define and correct what the platform calls hate speech."
But a couple days after that, it was back to attack mode, as Alexander Hall complained: "In the latest incidence of Big Tech being in bed with liberals, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have been caught recommending campaign hires to a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Hall waited until several paragraphs later to concede that "Zuckerberg had recently held private meetings with conservative leaders to address their concerns," though he didn't disclose that one of those "conservative leaders" was his boss.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg's Oct. 18 sit-down interview with Fox News was strangely and completely ignored by the MRC.
The tone flip-flopped again in an Oct. 30 piece by Weaver headlined "Media War on Zuckerberg" and unironically whining: "The media are opposed to anything that remotely resembles a neutral approach. So when Facebook decided to leave political ads from politicians untouched, the liberal news media declared war." Not a word, of course, about the MRC's war on Zuckerberg and the fact that too doesn't want a "neutral approach" -- it obviously wants Facebook to share its right-wing bias.
In sum: The MRC will always find a reason to attack Facebook, no matter how many times it's been demonstrated there's no anti-conservative bias or how many times Zuckerberg buys Bozell dinner.
Still, all that sucking up may have bought Zuckerberg a little time. In early November, the MRC began promoting an Nov. 12 interview Bozell was to conduct with Donald Trump Jr. that would air on ... Facebook Live. The promotion linked to, yes, Bozell's Facebook page.
It's as if Bozell and the MRC are merely trying to exploit a perceived conflict with Facebook for personal and political advantage and that they would never leave the platform -- after all, if Facebook were really as biased as Bozell claims it is, he would never air this interview on it, right?
It's as if Bozell has been completely insincere about this the whole time. Or maybe he can be bought off with the right amount of secret, swanky dinners.