The MRC's War on Fact-Checking: Random Attacks
The Media Research Center has attacked fact-checkers for fact-checking its allies -- including an anti-abortion group and a Clint Eastwood movie.
By Terry Krepel
ConWebWatch has been documenting the Media Research Center's war on fact-checking, driven largely by the need to distract from Donald Trump's track record of pretty much lying about everything all the time. But Trump's not the only thing driving the war: The MRC has lashed out at fact-checkers who go after its political allies, even if (as is almost always the case with Trump) the fact-checkers are right.
Let's look at a few recent examples.
The anti-abortion activists with Live Action don't want their views to be challenged -- no matter how false they are -- and the MRC helped to advance this dubious cause. Alexander Hall did PR duty for an anti-abortion group in a June 2019 post:
Censorship of conservative and pro-life content isn’t limited to the main tech platforms. Even Pinterest, the online scrapbooking website, is banning conservative voices.
Live Action offered no proof that its ban was based on anything Project Veritas supposedly exposed, and Hall apparently asked for none from the group, since he appears to be going on nothing beyond what Live Action has claimed on its website. But it turns out it appears there is no link between the two: As an actual news operation reported, Live Action was banned not for conservative content but, rather, for using Pinterest to forward misinformation:
Pinterest decided that the organization violated its misinformation policies, the company told Motherboard in an email.
As far as Live Action being labeled among porn websites, Hall ignored that 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 Live Action was never labeled as pornography.
The MRC then moved to working with Live Action on a later effort to deflect from the misinformation it provides. A September 2019 post by Corinne Weaver repeated the Live Action narrative 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 repeated the unsupported talking point that "the message of the videos is based on the opinions of 2,500 pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists." Weaver also 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 few days later, Hall served up a post that 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 false 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."
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 publisher," conveniently ignoring the fact that Live Action is a far-right, politically motivated publisher who doesn't want its bogus attacks to be challenged.
On has to wonder if Live Action is paying the MRC for all this PR work.
More Graham grousing
In a February 2019 post, Tim Graham -- the MRC's leader in attacking fact-checkers, though his attacks tend to fall flat -- groused about how PolitiFact went after Rush Limbaugh for saying that "I know young people, Chris [Wallace], who really think that by the time they're 65, the country, the world is not going to be habitable because of climate change, which is another hoax! There's no evidence for it." Graham made sure to point out the, yes, context explaining that "Limbaugh's quoted remarks were preceded by talk about how millennials are mis-educated" and adding: "Earth to PolitiFact: this is NOT the kind of disastrous warming that moves the political needle, and it's not really what Limbaugh was talking about. He's talking about using climate panic to push dramatic government intervention like the 'Green New Deal.'"
Graham also took offense to PolitiFact responding to Limbaugh's portraying climate change as a hoax by citing a climate scientist stating that "The Earth is now hotter than it's ever been," huffing, "That's not technically true, since the record of measuring global temperatures goes back to 1880." Of course, humans have been recording the weather for hundreds of years before that, and earlier climate patterns can be determined through paleoclimatology, but Graham doesn't quite want to admit that.
Finally, Graham complained that PolitiFact has fact-checked too many things Limbaugh has gotten false, which "suggest an emotional investment in dragging down America's most popular radio host as a fact-mangler." Graham doesn't explain why that's not the case.
Graham devoted a February 2020 post to attacking comedian Sarah Silverman -- whom he made sure to also identify as a "Bernie Sanders-endorsing activist" -- for saying that people should be reading newspapers and that fact-checking operations like Snopes and PolitiFact are "helpful."
Graham huffed in response: "When the socialists are touting PolitiFact and Snopes as “helpful,” it underlines why conservatives are right to suspect these websites are deeply biased against them." Or, you know, that conservatives like Graham can't deal with the fact that his favorite president lies so often and so blatantly that it's all fact-checkers can do to keep up.
Graham, meanwhile, wasn't done whining, adding: "Sarah Silverman can recommend these 'fact-checking' sites because they've been kind to her. PolitiFact offered only two fact-checks on Silverman, a 'Half True' in 2014, and a 'True' in 2015." Graham seems to have overlooked the relevant fact that Silverman is a comedian, not a politician, and so maybe fact-checking her isn't exactly a high priority.
Graham closed with a bit of trademark MRC hypocrisy: After grousing that "It's fascinating that Snopes would wage war on the Babylon Bee and other satirical sites for slanting the truth," he complained that "No one will do a fact check on her genius tweets." Graham deliberately ignores the fact that the reason Snopes does fact-checks on the Babylon Bee is that too many people mistake its satire for real news, while nobody is doing that with the Silverman tweet he cites as an example of her "genius."
Mad that film's smear of journalist got fact-checked
The MRC loved the 2019 Clint Eastwood film about Richard Jewell, the security guard who was initially suspected -- wrongly, as it turned out -- of involvement in the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, in no small part because it fits the MRC's anti-media narrative.
Right-wing film critic Christian Toto was given space at the MRC to hype it: an October 2019 post a month and a half before the film's release hyped Eastwood's alleged courage it making a film that was "casting a critical eye on reporters, and a November post gushed at how the film "savages the mainstream press." Meanwhile, as the film's opening neared, P.J. Gladnick mocked a writer who pointed out that the film plays into Trump's (and the MRC's) anti-media talking points. Tim Graham and Brent Bozell also cheered the film and invoked it to push bogus "fake news" attacks on the media.
But Eastwood's film had fake news too: Without evidence, it pushed the inflammatory, evidence-free idea that a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kathy Scruggs, slept with an FBI agent in exchange for information. And the MRC defended the apparent lie.
Gladnick got mad at the Journal-Constitution for demanding that the movie carry a disclaimer pointing out that things in the film are not accurate, including the portrayal of Scruggs, giving a "dramatic license" pass the MRC wouldn't grant if the character in question had been a conservative:
Dramatic license? What a novelty. Has that ever been done before...except in just about every historical or biographical film of the past, or present? Like the composite character played by Margot Robbie in the anti-Fox News movie Bombshell?
Gladnick was also mad that the Journal-Constitution won the defamation lawsuit Jewell had filed against it.
Clay Waters also gave a dramatic-license pass to Eastwood by noting that a New York Times reporter "admits the movie “follows the standard practice for movies based on real-life events by taking liberties with certain facts....” Then he lets a source, Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, throw in ageist insults against Eastwood." Hew then huffed that "in 2016 the paper sneered at those who would fact-check films based on true stories."
Alexa Moutevelis touted how the film's attack on the media is "in favor of the right." She mentioned that the film told a "lie" about Scruggs -- then never discussed it again, instead crowing that Eastwood "justifiably knocks the media."
Apparently, the MRC is totally cool with false smears as long as it's people they despise -- in this case, any journalist who's not a right-wing sycophant -- being smeared. And it won't tolerate those smears getting fact-checked.