An MRC Researcher's Reign of Error
Media Research Center writer Nicholas Fondacaro can't seem to stop making false claims and spreading dubious conspiracy theories.
By Terry Krepel
In August 2019, the MRC's Nicholas Fondacaro went on a tirade against CBS in an post written in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton massacres, attacking the CBS Evening News for featuring survivors of the Parkland massacre, then smearing the Parkland survivors as whiners for highlighting the lack of progress in "their efforts to push gun control." Fondacaro's attack then devolved into outright falsehoods (extraneous bolding in original):
Diaz began by introducing the audience to Delaney Tarr, who she noted was a “Parkland survivor-turned social activist.” After Diaz reported that Tarr “helped start March for Our Lives, the national movement against gun violence that grew out of last year’s school massacre,” she erroneously declared that “566 mass shootings” have occurred since the group was founded.
Actually, the absolute liar here is Fondacaro. The number is not a lie -- and it is a reliable and reasonable measure. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel detailed:
As lawmakers mulled over how to prevent more gun violence after 17 students and teachers were killed in Parkland early last year, 566 more mass shootings have devastated the country since.
Since Fondacaro lied about the number, the rest of his screed discredited itself. It didn't have to be "cooked up," and the purported agenda is irrelevant -- indeed, contrary to Fondacaro's rant, the Gun Violence Archive says it "is not, by design, an advocacy group" and only seeks to provide "independent, verified data." Why does Fondacaro have a problem with such data?
Fondacaro's assertion that CBS failed to do its job by not reporting on every single one of those 566 mass shootings is a disingenuous, bad-faith attack. He might want to check down the hall with with the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, which also failed to cover every single one of those shootings. Would he ever say out loud that CNS didn't do its job? Not if he wants to keep his.
Fondacaro is proving that the MRC has pretty much abandoned anything resembling "media research" and cares only about making partisan attacks and forwarding pro-Trump narratives.
In a Twitter exchange with ConWebWatch over his post, Fondacaro defended his false attack, citing a lower number from another source that used a different formulation and failing to understand that this does not render the existence of the 566 number to be an "absolute lie." He then demanded that ConWebWatch issue a correction, even though we proved him wrong.
As of this writing, Fondacaro's false claim remains uncorrected.
Conspiracy theory time
In October, Fondacaro used his MRC perch to spread a right-wing conspiracy theory. In an Oct. 1 post quibbling about whether the whistleblower who launched what became an impeachment inquiry of President Trump had firsthand information, Fondacaro wrote regarding a form change by the Intelligence Community's Inspector General office:
The Federalist was the first publication to expose how the ICIG recently and secretly edited their whistleblower form to eliminate the need for first-hand information. In a follow-up report out Tuesday, co-founder Sean Davis pointed out that in a recent statement (the same one Vega cited) the ICIG admitted to editing the document.
What Fondacaro didn't tell you: The form change is irrelevant. As an actual news outlet reported, the underlying rules regarding whistleblowers -- under which firsthand knowledge is not required -- never changed, the ICIG's office found that the whistleblower's statement was credible, and the whistleblower did indicate firsthand knowledge of some events in the case. The Federalist also suggested the form change was linked to the current whistleblower case, which there is no evidence to support.
Despite the fact that the bogus, conspiratorial nature of the Federalist article had been exposed, Fondacaro repeated the claim in an Oct. 3 item, asserting that an unrelated whistleblower complaint regarding the handling of President Trump's tax returns "came after the Intelligence Community Inspector General admitted to secretly editing their whistleblower guidelines to allow for second-hand and hearsay information," with a link to the Federalist article. Again, Fondacaro refused to tell his readers that the form change is irrelevant because the underlying rules never changed.
By hiding important facts, Fondacaro was effectively spreading a conspiracy theory. His maliciously sloppy and biased writing isn't helping the MRC act as a credible "media research" institution.
Fondacaro's fact-check failure
In a Jan. 8 post, Fondacaro issued the familiar MRC complaint that President Trump was once again fact-checked, this time regarding his claim that, in Fondacaro's telling, "the Obama administration handed over roughly $1.7 billion to Iran as a ransom for American hostages and said it helped Iran fund the attack" on a U.S. military base in Iraq after Trump directed the killing of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani:
In a fact-check, CNN dinged Trump for exaggerating the money amount by saying Obama’s nuclear deal freed up $150 billion in frozen, overseas Iranian assets. But even they admitted Obama once used the same figure and noted the real amount was reportedly between $50-60 billion. That’s a lot of money entering a cash-strapped country that’s known to fund terrorist organizations around the region.
Fondacaro offered nothing to back up his "fact" that Iran "much of its funding towards" military activities -- perhaps because that isn't actually true. As actual fact-checkers have pointed out, the money was Iran's in the first place, intended to buy military equipment from the U.S. in the 1970s but canceled after Iran's Islamic revolution; the U.S. held onto Iran's $400 million, which accrued interest over the next few decades.
Not only is there no way to know whether Iran used the money the U.S. returned to it to specifically pay for the missiles fired on the Iraqi bases, it's unlikely that those missiles were paid for by Iran deal money. Former national security adviser Susan Rice has pointed out that Iran had a ballistic missile program for several years before the nuclear deal was signed.
Instead, Fondacaro went on a tirade against Susan Rice over a separate TV appearance, calling her an "Obama-era liar" and ranting that she "lied to the American people about a YouTube video causing the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya." As usual, Fondacaro never proves Rice "lied"; in fact, she was simply repeating talking points supplied to her by the CIA.
Fondacaro even summarized the CNN fact-check wrong. Trump didn't say the Iran deal "freed up $150 billion in frozen, overseas Iranian assets" as Fondacaro claimed; he said that Iran was "given $150 billion." And that figure (which was indeed somewhere around $60 billion) was for unfrozen assets around the globe, not U.S. money given to Iran.
Fondacaro wasn't the only MRC writer to fall into derangement mode over Rice's reappearance. The same day, Tim Graham huffed that Rice "lied on five different network talk shows in 2012," then repeated Trump's falsehood in complaining that she was allowed to fact-check "the 150 billion dollars Obama gave to Iraq, declaring that "There is no doubt that Obama gave that money. Liberals are merely claiming we were giving the Iranians back their own seized assets from 1979."
Graham and Fondacaro are clearly never going to admit that the "liberals" are being factually accurate.
Fondacaro was in full rant mode in an April 14 post:
CNN couldn’t stand the heat so they bailed out of Monday’s Coronavirus Task Force press conference and dove right into some unhinged hot takes. While they insisted President Trump was the one who was raging, the OutFront panel was clearly irate as they threw out a flurry of insults and unsupported accusations all in an effort to blame the over 23,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. on the President. And according to Jim Acosta, “conservative media” also had blood on their hands.
First: Given that the video in question was tweeted out by right-wing activist Bongino, that makes it very much a "propaganda video."
Second: By declaring something he doesn't like to be a "LIE," Fondacaro is lying again. Not that he never actually disproved that statement wrong, of course; he just threw out some whataboutism to cloud the issue.
Fondacaro seemed unaware that there's an actual news organization documenting -- on video! -- how many times Trump downplayed the coronavirus threat. Further, Fondacaro didn't even have to venture out of the MRC offices to find conservative media downplaying coronavirus -- ConWebWatch documented how the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, did exactly that, largely by parroting what Trump said.
Fondacaro surely knows all this, that Trump and conservative media did, in fact, contribute to the current crisis. But he's not getting paid to tell the truth -- he's getting paid to defend Trump and attack the media, and as a member of that very conservative media, he can't (or isn't permitted to, if he wants to remain employed at the MRC) admit any flaws. And such deliberately false bad-faith criticism is another reason why the MRC is losing credibility.
Fake-news "fake news" attack
In the eyes of the MRC, President Trump can do no wrong and anyone who accuses him of wrongdoing is obviously lying. The case of Rick Bright, who says he was demoted as head of a federal agency because he refused to promote Trump's pet drug hydroxychloroquine, is one example.
Fondacaro complained in an April 22 post that "the liberal media lit up with the new anti-Trump narrative about Dr. Rick Bright, who claimed without evidence that he was fired from his HHS position for opposing the use of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug President Trump had touted as a possible treatment for the Chinese coronavirus," further grousing that the media did "no apparent vetting of what he claimed." Fondacaro then tried to play gotcha with a Politico article that he claimed "debunked the allegations" Bright made.
But that article claimed that "Three people with knowledge of HHS' recent acquisition of tens of millions of doses of those drugs said that Bright had supported those acquisitions in internal communications," and that "five current and former HHS officials" claimed that Bright's demotion "was more than a year in the making."Notice that none of those people are on the record -- they're anonymous sources of the kind that the MRC despises when they make claims against the MRC's favorite conservatives ... like Trump.
Nevertheless, Fondacaro insisted again the next day that Bright's allegations were "debunked." He made an even more false claim in another post the same day, declaring that "Bright’s accusations were discredited almost as fast as he made them." And on May 5, Fondacaro asserted that "Bright’s initial allegations were proven bogus within hours by Politico’s Dan Diamond."
Randy Hall took his own shot at boosting that anonymously sourced Politico article, claiming that a New York Times article "crumbled quickly" because of the Politico piece. Clay Waters dialed it back a bit in an April 29 post, linking to Hall's item to claim that "Politico made a compelling case that the Times' front-page scoop on Bright was bogus."
When Bright testified before Congress to make his claims, the MRC was ready to pounce again. Kristine Marsh linked to an earlier Fondacaro piece as proof of "evidence contradicting Bright's story," while Fondacaro returned to assert that Bright's claims "have already been disproven," even though he knows that's not true.
Fondacaro did it again right in the headline of a June 25 post that screamed: "Nets Conceal Biden’s LIE: 'Over 120 Million' Americans Are 'Dead from COVID'." In the post itself, he whined:
At a campaign event Thursday, former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden mislead [sic] the public about how many Americans had died from the coronavirus, claiming “over 120 million dead from COVID.” In reality, there have been over 120 thousand Americans killed by the virus, which meant Biden’s claim was 1,000 times larger. That gross miscalculation went completely unreported by ABC, CBS, and NBC’s evening newscasts, which all boasted about Biden calling Trump a “child.”
At no point in his post did Fondacaro back up his headline claim that Biden's statement, while false, was a "lie." The dictionary defines a lie as "a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; Fondacaro offers no evidence that Biden misstated the number of COVID victims deliberately.
Fondacaro also censored the fact that Biden immediately corrected himself to accurately state that there were 120,000 deaths. That's why the networks didn't report on this -- it's a non-story. But then, if Fondacaro had told the whole truth, he wouldn't have an item.
Still, Fondacaro spent most of his item complaining that the networks didn't report a right-wing attack claiming that a cancer research initiative spent much of its money on salaries. That's a reminder that Fondacaro is a pro-Trump partisan and not an impartial "media researcher" whose work can be trusted.