The MRC vs. Google
The Media Research Center is going after the search-engine giant with some less-than-convincing weapons: "whistleblowers" with far-right sympathies and a Google-hating researcher using dubious data.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center's current schtick is to advance the right-wing narrative that high tech in general and social media in particular are uniquely discriminating against conservatives -- never mind that it isn't really true and that it translates into the MRC tacitly supporting far-right extremists who are being deplatformed by social media for good reason.
In taking on Google, the MRC has been invoking self-proclaimed whistleblowers -- but hiding their far-right sympathies for people and causes even the MRC doesn't support. It's also embraced a Google-hating researcher whose data has been roundly criticized -- and, no, the MRC won't tell its readers about that either.
In 2017, the MRC rushed to the defense of James Damore, a Google engineer who wrote a notorious memo bemoaning diversity in his employer's hiring processes, insisting that women were psychologically and biologically unsuited to work as engineers and was later fired. Nicholas Fondacaro accused Google of "being disgusted by a diverse opinion, albeit a controversial one," then defended Damore's views as reasonable: "Were Damore’s comments controversial and greatly unpopular with many people? Yes. But they were not some “major setback” to diversity as [CBS] Anchor Anthony Mason described them. What liberals view as wrong-think is actual diversity. Google's firing of the employee did more to set back diversity than the original comments. Liberals only want the diversity they can see, and activity stamps out the diversity of the mind."
Tom Blumer similarly defended Damore's views, insisting that his clear implication that females aren't suited for tech jobs didn't happen because he didn't explicitly say it, and that anyone who claimed that is trying to "deliberately and irresponsibly smear Damore." Blumer also defended Damore's anti-diversity views in another post: "The company appears to have placed 'diversity' above 'maximizing profits' or 'maximizing shareholder value.' If that is indeed the case, it's a fundamental betrayal of shareholders."
Clay Waters insisted that Damore's "rather mild manifesto" was "backed by research" and wasn't "offensive" at all. (In fact, as Wired reported, Damore's manifesto cited as evidence for his claims "two studies, three Wikipedia pages, and an article from Quillette, a contrarian online magazine that often covers free speech on campus and alleged links between genetics and IQ.") Kristine Marsh insisted that Damore "had much more positive things to say about women brought to the workplace," but media outlets were ignoring Damore's "numerous criticisms of the company’s lack of tolerance for political viewpoints that weren’t from the far-left."
Jeffrey Lord cheered how "James Damore is filing suit against his former employer for his audacity in diversity by expressing - gasp! - some conservative thoughts on the way the leftist-group think out there in Silicon Valley really works." Blumer added that Damore's lawsuit revealed how "corporate culture" has gone "stark raving mad." Ashley Rae Goldenberg touted Damore's lawyer going on Fox News to tout "the famous James Damore lawsuit against Google." (Damore later dropped the lawsuit in favor of pursuing arbitration.)
But what the MRC didn't tell you is how widely Damore's memo was embraced in far-right circles, and that Damore himself appears to have far-right sympathies. According to Wired, one of Damore's first media interviews over his memo was with Stefan Molyneux, a white nationalist and eugenicist. In 2018, the MRC published a column by Michelle Malkin whitewashing Molyneux as an "author and philosopher."
Kevin Cernekee and Zachary Vorhies
The Media Research Center has a narrative to push about high-tech companies and social media outlets being uniquely inhospitable to conservatives -- never mind that it's not actually true. Which explains how Corinne Weaver used an Aug. 1 item to tout the latest cause celebre-cum-victim on that front:
Conservatives might not be able to have a career in tech engineering unless they turn liberal.
Weaver followed that up with a post promoting how President Trump embraced Cernekee's victimization narrative.
But Weaver is hiding something -- Cernekee is very much a committed far-right activist, not merely the "conservative" she claims.
As Gizmodo documented, Cernekee used internal Google message boards to promote a far-right crowdfunding platform that has defended the likes of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. He also argued that documented neo-Nazi groups merely "reject racial supremacy." A former Google co-worker of Cernekee's criticized his "questionable viewpoints and questionable tactics" and noted that his denials of being an extremist ring hollow. Even the conservative Daily Caller has written of Cernekee and the narrative he provides that conservatives like Weaver embrace: "Conservatives angry at big tech may view such postings as a cautionary lesson in the importance of vetting their cause célèbres."
Despite the highly questionable claims this "conservative" whistleblower made, Weaver repeated the process (and the narrative) with an even more dubious person. She dutifully repeated no an Aug. 14 post:
Google used a blacklist and a blocklist for search results. And those two lists reportedly blocked a large amount of conservative content from the app including NewsBusters.
Reminder (and something Weaver didn't remind her readers of): Project Veritas is so notorious for disreputable and sleazy tactics that even the MRC has denounced it. But it seems that advancing the narrative is good enough for James O'Keefe's group to get back in the MRC's good graces.
Later that day, Weaver scored an interview with Vorhies (see, following the narrative pays off in scoops!) in which he detailed Google's alleged diversity efforts. She apparently made no effort to fact-check Vorhies' claims.
The next day, Alexander Hall contributed to the narrative, touting a claim by Vorhies about how Google and YouTube purportedly manipulate search results to address "pro-life accuracy" and other issues. He too got an exclusive blurb from Vorhies. Weaver returned to promote a document allegedly leaked by Vorhies regarding Google's cooperation with federal immigration officials.
In none of these articles, however, did Weaver or Hall tell readers that Vorhies is even farther to the right than Cernekee.
The Daily Beast reported that Vorhies "is an avid promoter of anti-Semitic accusations that banks, the media, and the United States government are controlled by “Zionists.” He’s also pushed conspiracy theories like QAnon, Pizzagate, and the discredited claim that vaccines cause autism." He has also accused "Zionists" of killing Andrew Breitbart and Israel of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Weaver and Hall are censoring serious credibility problems with their alleged "whistleblowers" and the organization promoting them. That hurts the MRC's credibility as well -- but, apparently, pushing the narrative trumps all.
Robert Epstein is the Media Research Center's favorite Google-hating researcher. His claim to be a Hillary Clinton supporter gives him cover to be a conservative darling pushing claims that Google is biased against conservatives -- which conveniently fits in with the MRC's anti-media agenda.
A September 2018 post by Corinne Weaver touting the anti-Google film "Creepy Line" noted how Epstein supplied the film's title: “Google crosses the creepy line every day. ... Google can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by up to 80 percent in some demographic groups just by altering the order in which search results are shown."
A couple days later, Weaver cited how Epstein "told the Media Research Center that Google was building personal profiles of users mainly through Gmail" and that "conservatives have 'special reasons to be concerned' based on the leaked emails and videos from Google concerning the 2016 election." Weaver added that "Epstein clarified that he was not a conservative."
In a November 2018 post, Weaver intoned: "The scariest thing about Google Search is the algorithms and changes that users don’t see. Dr. Robert Epstein of AIRBT (sic: the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, of which Epstein is the apparent sole staff member) has spent years studying Google and the algorithms behind it." In a July 11 post, Alexander Hall gushed that the "prolific American psychologist, journalist, and author" Epstein "will soon unleash a report that he claims will bring down Google." And an Aug. 20 item reprinted MRC chief Brent Bozell's letter to Google, signed by other "conservative leaders," citing Epstein's claims of "pro-liberal bias" in a demand that Google "explain reports and allegations that the search engine is attempting to block conservative sites and exclude voices that don’t fit the liberal narrative."
But the MRC has a conservative narrative to push, and Epstein is a big part of that. So when Hillary Clinton and other media outlets pointed out the flaws in Epstein's research, the MRC rushed to his defense.
In an Aug. 21 post, Weaver claimed that Epstein was "smeared" by Clinton and CNN over his finding that "Google had helped influence 2.6 million votes in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016," gushing that Epstein "responded with his first ever 'twitter storm,' in essence factually disarming Clinton’s comment."
Well, not so much. Clinton had claimed that Epstein's research "was based on 21 undecided voters," which is effectively true. Epstein's paper -- which examined whether Google search results could influence the voting preference of undecided voters in the 2016 presidential election -- says that his research was based on the work of 95 people, 21 of whom were undecided, meaning that his conclusions were, in fact, based on how those 21 undecided voters reacted. In that tweetstorm, Epstein objected by citing the "3,207 election-related searches & the 98,044 web pages linked to those searches," which he claimed showed "substantial pro-Hillary bias."
But as the Washington Post pointed out, Epstein's paper doesn't explain how it determined whether a given website exhibited "pro-Hillary bias" -- which makes us wonder if it's using methodology from groups like AllSides that echo the MRC's right-wing narrative that mainstream media outlets, which typically populate news searches, are reflexively "liberal" -- nor did it describe how those "election-related searches" were conducted. Epstein also apparently threw out results that were unbiased based on a conspiracy theory that "perhaps Google identified our confidants through its gmail system and targeted them to receive unbiased results."
Weaver also bashed a CNN article debunking Epstein's study, complaining that it "cited the opinions of two academics who disagreed with Epstein," then huffed: "The issue is that in the world of academic studies, one can always find two academics to either agree or disagree with you. That’s not a litmus test for accuracy or truth."
Of course, Weaver did not mention the nature of those academics' objections. One noted that even if such search bias did exist, "Epstein has failed to establish that any such biases have had anywhere near the magnitude of impact on American presidential voting that Epstein suggests," while the second pointed out that the study "did not take into account how much a voter might care about a particular subject" or "how people's voting preferences might have been affected by other technological platforms, such as Facebook, which he said was 'quite clearly gamed by third parties' in 2016."
Weaver further repeated Epstein's defense of himself:
Epstein also defended the integrity of his work, which Clinton dismissively referred to as a “debunked study.” He asked, “If my work has been "debunked," why was it included in a volume just published by #Oxford U.? Why have I been invited to speak about it at prestigious venues worldwide: #Stanford U., #Yale Law School (where both you & Bill went), even our #Senate.”
Weaver would never admit that getting published in a prestigious journal is no guarantee of credibility, as medical journal The Lancet learned when it published since-discredited research on vaccines and autism. But Epstein has his own issues in that department as well. Slate reported that Epstein supplied seven pages of citations to support his congressional testimony in July in which he rehashed the above study, "but all of them are papers or op-eds he wrote or co-wrote himself" and only one of those products was peer-reviewed, though "even that study didn't demonstrate that this has actually happened."
Yes, there are obvious problems with Epstein's research. But because his work advances the MRC's narrative, it won't tell you about them.