The Trump-MRC Narrative on Impeachment
The Media Research Center's idea of "media research" on President Trump's Ukraine scandal and impeachment investigation is to slavishly repeat pro-Trump talking points.
By Terry Krepel
Television journalists these days sound so similar to Democrats on impeachment that it's nearly impossible to tell them apart. Weeks before the impeachment inquiry was even announced, talking heads were passing off Democratic talking points as objective information about the President's alleged wrongdoing.
First: D'Agostino is misleading here by claiming that all these TV statements were made by "journalists"; in fact, many of the people in his video were acting as analysts or commentators, not journalists. Carl Bernstein, for instance, hasn't been involved in day-to-day reporting for years.
Second: D'Agostino's claim that "These journalists have not had their words taken out of context while attempting to summarize the Democrats’ position" is an obvious lie. How can a two-second clip of a "journalist" -- some of which are simply sentence fragments -- be anything other than out of context? D'Agostino can't be bothered to supply the sources of his clips so his readers can judge for themselves how much in context they are.
And finally: There's a rich irony in the MRC accusing the media of following Democratic talking points, given how much in lockstep the MRC is in following Trump White House talking points on the Ukraine scandal. Indeed, the very act of accusing the media of following Democratic talking points is itself a Trump White House talking point that D'Agostino is eagerly parroting.
The MRC made it abundantly clear it was putting aggressive pro-Trump talking points ahead of facts in a Sept. 30 letter to its mailing list, which begged for money to stop the impeachment of Trump -- not because it isn't warranted on the facts but, rather, because it would give a win to the "leftist media" (typographical enhancements in original):
The leftist media are DESPERATE to unseat President Trump. And, as we all know, sometimes desperation can be dangerous.
The bottom of the MRC's letter claimed that it's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aimed at improving "media culture" -- but such groups are largely prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. And this letter isn't about "media culture," it's a partisan political letter about saving a partisan political figure. On its face, it certainly appears to be a violation of the MRC's nonprofit status.
Following Trump's marching orders from the start
Indeed, the MRC did its best in the early days of the Ukraine scandal to follow the Trump White House's marching orders and make it about the Bidens instead of Trump.
Curtis Houck got upset that the mostly right-wing reporters pushing the idea of Biden wrongdoing in Ukraine were chasing a conspiracy theory, complaining that one commentator "relied on what else anonymous sources to tell her that there’s nothing to worry about because Biden’s intentions of having the Ukrainian prosecutor axed or have the U.S. withhold aide from the country was “because they felt like he wasn’t doing his job” even though that same prosecutor had been investigating the energy company Hunter worked for." But Houck is pushing a conspiracy theory too. In fact, the Ukrainian prosecutor in question was fired -- at the request of not only then-VP Biden but also the European diplomatic community and reformers inside Ukraine -- because he was not investigating corruption, including at the energy company Hunter worked for.
Tim Graham rushed to the defense of an anti-Biden reporter who got snapped at by Biden for pestering him about the non-scandal: "Shortly after noon on Saturday at the Polk County Steak Fry in Iowa, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy asked a mild, Brit Hume-esque question to Joe Biden and drew a hostile response, as if Doocy were yelling like Jim Acosta." Graham then huffed that "Doocy wasn't at all like Acosta, and still the other journalists don't show him support," but he failed to acknowledge that Fox News has a pro-Trump, anti-Biden bias. This was followed by Nicholas Fondacaro complaining that other media coverage of the encounter "seemed to come at the behest of former Vice President Joe Biden" about Biden's "directions to the press" -- never mind that the MRC's entire purpose in life is to issue directions to the press. Like his boss Graham, Fondacaro didn't address the issue of Fox News' political bias.
Graham returned to whine that CNN's Brian Stelter "only talked about how Biden fans were delighted with the finger-pointing at the Fox journalist. After all the raging about reporters being insulted by powerful leaders, this reporter getting yelled at is a magic moment?" Again, Graham failed to acknowledge Fox News' bias, though he was quick to portray Stelter as biased by serving up "the Liberal Twitter take."
In yet another post, Graham tried for whataboutism when another commentator likened the alleged Biden scandal to birtherism: "Somehow this B-word does not apply to the Russian collusion conspiracies that Adam Schiff pushed, but Robert Mueller never found." Remember, the MRC couldn't be bothered to get worked up about Obama birtherism, not definitively denouncing it until it was used against Ted Cruz.
Mark Finkelstein groused that the Biden thing had still not become a full-blown scandal despite all the MRC's parroting of Trump talking points:
Okay, so Hunter Biden was peddling influence to a Ukrainian company at the rate of $50,000 a month. And the only influence he could possibly have been peddling was that of his father, who at the time was the sitting Vice-President of the United States. But hey, why should that be a problem for Joe Biden?
Perhaps that's because Donald Jr. was more intimately involved with his father's political campaign than Hunter ever was with his father's political career.
Houck returned to huff that NBC's Chuck Todd "emotionally lashed out at Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) as a gaslighter doing harm to American politics for daring to ask questions about the Bidens," putting "SHILLS" in all-caps in the headline and going on to rant: "So for Chuck Todd, the children of Democrats can do important, noble work in countries while their parents set foreign policy, but the First Family could be corrupt. So journalists asking questions during the summer was fine, but now it's not okay. Got it." With all that sneering bile, it appears the Houck was the one who was getting emotional.
Anti-Schiff talking points
The MRC continued to follow the Trump script by playing the distraction card away from Trump's alleged offenses and attacking Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff for relatively minor missteps.
When Schiff read what he described as "the essence of what the president communicates" during his infamous phone call with the president of Ukraine seeking dirt on Joe Biden in apparent exchange for U.S. aid, Nicholas Fondacaro ranted in a post that screamed "FABRICATED" in all-caps in the headline:
As part of his opening remarks during the highly anticipated House Intelligence Committee hearing with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire Thursday, chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) read from a transcript of President Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine. The only problem was; he was making it up with the goal of dramatizing it into a mafia-style shakedown. And, while the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) were busy pushing the narrative of a White House cover-up, they ignored Schiff’s wild tale.
Fondacaro failed to mention that Schiff described it as the "essence" of what Trump said, not a verbatim transcript, or that he said afterward his reading was "meant to be at least part in parody" -- let alone the fact that the released transcript itself is not verbatim but, rather, a rough version of what was said. He also didn't mention that Fox News, like his employer, is an agent for Trump rather than a fair and balanced source.
Graham touted how "Rush Limbaugh and conservative Twitter made a big deal on Thursday out of Rep. Adam Schiff with the president of Ukraine" and complained that NPR "never brought it up" in an interview with Schiff, whining: "Is it appropriate to make up stuff the president says? NPR doesn't seem to care." Like Fondacaro, Graham failed to tell his readers that Schiff didn't intend to do a verbatim reading.
Kristine Marsh huffed that Schiff "lied, fabricating quotations from President Trump and then claimed it was a 'parody' when called out for it," failing to note that Schiff described it beforehand as the "essence" of what was said, not a verbatim transcript.
Scott Whitlock declared that Schiff's reading was "fake," fabricated" and an attempt at "deception" -- again, ignoring the "essence" part -- and cheered Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow's attempt at MRC-esque deflection by attacking Schiff instead of answering questions he was asked during an interview.
Graham returned to whine that Schiff's "completely phony summary of Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine" was a "false 'parody.'" Clay Waters groused that Schiff "grossly mischaracterized President Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine, making up quid pro quos where none actually happened" (as if Trump had to explicitly verbalize the quid pro quo instead of merely implying it).
When Schiff claimed that he had no contact with the whistleblower on Trump's Ukraine phone call when it turned out his staff did have contact with him -- again, a minor concern given that the whistleblower's complaints about Trump have been largely corroborated by others -- the MRC was quick to go into a Trump-approved distraction rage.
Mark Finkelstein bashed one commentator for noting an inconvenient truth for conservatives: that "the substance of the whistleblower complaint is more important than the process by which it was made public."
Fondacaro declared that ABC and CBS evening newscasts "suppress[ed]" the "bombshell" news about Schiff, going on to heap praise on his favorite biased "news" outlet: "Meanwhile, on the Fox News Channel’s Special Report, anchor Bret Baier recognized the seriousness of the report and led the program with it." Fondacaro also declared that "This seems to be another win for The Federalist, who noted yesterday that there were serious discrepancies in the timeline of events being put forward by though itching for impeachment," even though 1) the Times first reported this story, not the Federalist, and 2) Fondacaro's linked example of a previous Federalist "win" was the conspiracy theory he promoted about changes in a whistleblower reporting form.
Drennen followed up by complaining that network morning shows "worked to downplay the bombshell revelation." Then came a mini-lecture from Alex Christy:
If Schiff did in fact do nothing wrong, then at the very least he should be asked why he felt the need to lie about it to a friendly audience and whether this damages the credibility of his investigation, because it is just one more piece of evidence than he is just another run-of-the-mill political hack, not the great defender of national security his media defenders portray him as.
Finally, Graham clucked that the Washington Post fact-checkers gave Schiff four Pinnochios for his claim, but was less happy the Post also pointed out that "Trump's earned a gazillion Pinnochios."
Cutting out the middleman
Rather than laundering those talking points in its house style, the MRC's Graham just went straight to pushing them directly in a Nov. 3 post:
Democrat presidential front-runner Joe Biden granted an interview to PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff for Friday night's program. The Trump campaign sent around an e-mail decrying "Two Big Lies" in the interview.
Graham did try to frame thing as a fact-check he claims other fact-checking orgs don't do, but at no point does Graham closely examine the Trump propaganda he's repeating.
One of the things Graham said the Trump campaign apparently claimed was a "big lie" (Graham doesn't supply the email in question, so it's unclear what the exact claim is) was when Biden said he "didn't know" his son Hunter was on the board of the Ukranian company Burisma:
Biden confirmed on CBS's 60 Minutes that he told his son Hunter "I sure hope to hell you know what you’re doing" after learning he'd joined Burisma, and said "What I meant by that is, I hope you've thought this through." Biden claiming that he never discussed business with family members is very hard to believe, especially because foreign companies would hire Biden's relatives as a way of gaining influence with Biden.
So Graham is simply speculating that Joe Biden is lying when he said he "never discussed business with family members," saying only that it's "very hard to believe" without providing any evidence it's true.
Graham used to complain about "stenographers" in the media -- now he has become one.
Remember all of this the next time the MRC claims it's only about "media research."