The MRC's Parler Game
There's a big reason the Media Research Center has given a lot of attention to alt-right Twitter alternative Parler: key MRC funder and board member Rebekah Mercer also funds Parler. Not that it will tell you that, of course.
By Terry Krepel
While the MRC and its writers did not have the courage of their convictions by abandoning Twitter to join Gab, they are joining Parler (while hedging their bets by not quitting Twitter). The tipping point appears to be right-wing activist Dan Bongino buying a stake in Parler. Alexander Hall gave Bongino and Parler some free promotion in a June 16 MRC post:
Bongino declared on the June 16 episode of The Dan Bongino Show that this platform is “the social media alternative to the tech tyrants which have declared war against conservatism, liberty, and everything we stand for.” He heavily cited founder and President of the Media Research Center Brent Bozell’s opinion piece at Fox News, which declared that the “fate of democracy” will be decided by how conservatives fight for free speech online.
A few days later, MRC writer and NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck announced he had started a Parler account, declaring (on Twitter) that Bongino's "urging on his show finally convinced me, along with Twitter deciding law and order is offensive." Houck didn't mention that because Bongino now owns a piece of Parler, it's in his financial interest to promote its use by others. The next day, MRC executive Tim Graham announced he had joined Parler at Houck's urging.
Around the same time, the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, published an article touting how "conservatives are flocking to Parler, which considers itself an 'unbiased social media network,' after two conservative accounts were banned from Twitter earlier this week."
The MRC, however, won't tell you that Parler may not be the "free speech" bastion it's been made out to be.
The Huffington Post reported that Parler's user agreement and community guidelines not only bans numerous forms of speech, users forfeit their right to sue Parler over posts and indemifies Parler in case a user gets sued over a post and requires the user to pay Parler's legal fees. That's the opposite of free speech, in the monetary use of the word. Parler is now trying to frame itself as something of a "good censor" who only kicks out people for good reasons, unlike Twitter.
Parler also has the issue of imposters and trolls posting under the names of prominent people -- many of them Republican Party officials and politicians -- and it's turning into a right-wing echo chamber as liberals have declined to take part in the conservative migration.
Instead, the MRC served up more Parler puff pieces. A July 31 post by Joseph Vazquez touted how Parler CEO John Matze appeared on Fox Business (of course)to talk about how "his site is doing its part to defend freedom of speech. Vazquez let Matze lie about the state of censorship on Parler by redefining the word: "There is no censorship of any kind. We do have clear rules about violence, any illegal activity anything that you couldn’t do in public, you couldn’t do on Parler but there is no ideological censorship or ideological bias of any kind."
Vazquez didn't mention how much Parler users have to sign away in order to use the platform, nor did he note any of the other problems Parler has. Then again, this was little more than a commercial for Parler.
It was left to CNS to do a little damage control for Parler. An Aug. 5 CNS article featured an interview Rob Shimshock -- CNS' commentary editor, by the way, not an actual reporter -- conducted with Parler's CEO. It sure reads like damage control:
John Matze, CEO of social media company Parler, committed not to ban users for "hate speech," stated that his company would fix an "awkward" "fighting words" clause in its community guidelines, and called the decision by Big Tech companies to censor the America's Frontline Doctors video "ridiculous," in an exclusive interview with CNSNews.com.
Shimshock made sure to gloss over the fact that Parler is only now having a "real lawyer" review its policies doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the company, as does its walking back of certain policies that contradict its reputation in right-wing media as a "free speech" platform, like not allowing users to sue Parler and forcing users to pay Parler's legal fees.
Shimshock also pushed the false idea that the only reason the America's Frontline Doctors video was taken down by other social media sites was because "a doctor posited [hydroxychloroquine] as a cure for the coronavirus." In fact, the video included several other pieces of false or misleading information; as one actual doctor summarized, video participants claimed "that there is no need for masks, and that schools can open right away without any effect on viral spread. In addition, they continue promoting the false claim that this virus is less deadly than the flu, and that tracking its spread and numbers is unimportant."
It turns out there's a reason for all this MRC enthusiasm for Parler -- one it has yet to tell its readers.
It was revealed in November that conservative financier Rebekah Mercer is a key investor in Parler -- so much so that she's considered a co-founder. If that name sounds familiar, it should: As ConWebWatch has documented, not only is Mercer's family donated millions of dollars to the MRC over the years, making it one of its largest benefactors, Rebekah Mercer sits on the MRC's board of directors.
But the MRC has censored that connection, even as its promotion of Parler ramped up around election time:
This lack of disclosure further affects what little credibility the MRC has. Meanwhile, Parler was turning into more of a cesspool than it already was as pornography became prominent on the site; the normally porn-hating MRC was silent about that too.
Riots and demise
The fallout of the Jan. 6 right-wing riots at the Capitol revealed that it was planned in part on Parler and that Parler users made explicit threats of violence there beforehand. And when Parler was held accountable, the MRC rushed to defense mode once again. Hall huffed in a Jan. 8 post hyperbolically headlined "TRUMPED! Google PURGES Parler App; Apple Threatens to Remove It":
Big Tech’s crusade against conservatives continued furiously Friday night. Google removed the Parler app from its store and Apple threatened to do the same.
The next day, Hall whined that "The “Amazon Employees For Climate Justice” group published a shrill demand that the company’s leadership do whatever it can to get Parler wiped off the internet," rehashing his earlier lament: "Free market advocates repeatedly told conservatives the solution to Big Tech censorship was building their own platform. Now Google has removed the free speech platform Parler from its store, blocking millions from accessing the app. Amazon appears to be taking it a step further by undermining the ability of the website to even operate online."
Hall also touted how "Conservative stars Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Lou Dobbs left Twitter in disgust after it purged sitting President Donald Trump" and were moving to Parler. In all of these instances, Hall censored both the Mercer connection and the riot planning and incitement to violence that appeared on Parler.
Later that day, Hall ranted:
The tech tyrants came after Parler with a vengeance. Apple and Google have refused to carry the platform as a downloadable app, and Amazon has gone one step further by denying the fledgling platform access to its servers.
Again, Hall censored the Mercer connection and the riot planning and incitement to violence.
Meanwhile, P.J. Gladnick huffed: "One thing that could be said for Standard Oil's John D. Rockefeller. Although he was a monopolist, he never openly gloated nor mocked the competitors that he suppressed or destroyed. The same cannot be said of the twenty-first century blatant monopolist, Jack Dorsey of Twitter. Not content to act in tandem with other social media monopolists in order to attempt to destroy his competitor, Parler, he rubbed salt in the wound he helped create by gloating about it with a mocking tweet." Of course, Rockefeller was much worse to his competitors than Twitter's Dorsey ever has been.
On Jan. 11, Hall highlighted how "Free speech platform Gab said it archived a hoard of 'disgusting' tweets replying to President Donald Trump’s account before it was banned." Hall would only admit that Gab was "controversial," but was on censorship patrol here too: as ConWebWatch has documented, it's an even worse cesspool of far-right hate and conspiracy theories than Parler is. In addition to the usual information he was hiding, Hall omitted a couple other things: Gab and Parler were feuding before Parler got pulled off Amazon's web-hosting service, and Parler was so poorly built that people were able to download Parler messages that included geolocation data, meaning that it would be quite easy to identify Parler users who took place in the Capitol riot.
Kayla Sargent joined in with a post headlined "Fighting Back":
The left is trying hard to shut down free speech-oriented social media platforms like Parler and Rumble. Now, these companies are fighting back.
Sargent and the MRC have yet to tell its readers that the lawsuit was swiftly thrown out of court because Amazon can't be forced to host Parler's hate since that's a breach of Parler's hosting contract with Amazon.
Joseph Vazquez spent a Jan. 14 post complaining that "The Washington Post Editorial Board praised the shutdown of free-speech platform Parler by the company owned by the same 'world’s richest person' that owns The Washington Post." Vazquez couldn't complain that the Post editorial didn't disclose that Jeff Bezos owns the Post -- instead, he huffily acknowledged it by complaining that the editorial "even admitted that Bezos owns both the newspaper and the company it praised for shutting down a tech competitor" -- but he didn't disclose that his paycheck comes in part from Parler's major funder.
The same day, Alexander Hall complained:
The censorship frenzy that began with the suspension of President Donald Trump put the conservative movement on notice: Conform and comply or be destroyed.
Also on Jan. 14, Sargent cheered how Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has demanded answers from several Big Tech companies about the suppression of the free speech-oriented platform Parler." Not only did Marsh and Hall fail to disclose their financial ties to the funder of Parler, Marsh failed to tell her readers that Paxton is under federal investigation for corruption.
Alex Christy grumbled in a Jan. 15 post that folks on CNN argued that Parler can't be fixed to get rid of the hate. He worked in some good old-fashioned Soros fearmongering as well: "CNN was roughing up Facebook on Friday, using a report from the Tech Transparency Project -- which is described as 'nonpartisan' but is transparently funded by leftist George Soros."
Vazquez returned on Jan. 21 to help then-Parler CEO John Matze play the victim:
Parler CEO John Matze flipped the script on Amazon, which had accused his platform of inciting violence and removed it from its web services as a result.
More victimization came from Alex Schemmel in a Feb. 2 post complaining that Bezos' successor as Amazon CEO is the man who runs Amazon Web Services, "the division of Amazon that canceled services to the free-speech site Parler following the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol building," disingenuously adding, "Parler is the free-speech alternative to Twitter that conservatives began flocking to after social media firms started aggressively censoring conservative content." Schemmel certainly knows that "conservative content" is not the reason AWS deplatformed Parler -- unless he's telling is that hate and violence is now considered "conservative." He too failed to disclose the Mercer conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, other things were happening with Parler: In a bid to get back online, it signed a deal with with a Russian cybersecurity firm that has ties to the Russian government, and Matze was fired as Parler CEO reportedly after tangling with Rebekah Mercer. The MRC devoted no posts to those developments; a Feb. 8 post by Hall noted that Matze was Parler's "ex-CEO" but didn't explain why he was fired.
Parler's return -- and more Mercer-censoring
Hall sounded a lot like a paid hype man-slash-PR representative for Parler in a Feb. 15 post:
The wildly popular free speech platform Parler has made a sudden return after being nuked from the internet by Amazon Web Services back in January.
The mention of Meckler (Hall linked to Meckler's, um, Twitter account) as interim CEO might come as a surprise to MRC readers who were barely told that Matze had been fired. But Hall was eager to throw Matze under the bus:
Meckler has been tapped to temporarily lead the company as it overhauls its leadership after its previous CEO left amid controversy.
Hall linked to a Fox News article on the controversy that included a fuller quote from Matze stating that "the Parler board controlled by Rebekah Mercer decided to immediately terminate my position as CEO." Yep, that's the same Rebekah Mercer whose family has donated millions of dollars to Hall's employer and sits on the MRC board.
Weird how Hall didn't mention that detail; indeed, Hall made no mention of Mercer at all, even though she's reported to have played a major role in firing Matze. As NPR reported:
In an interview with NPR, Matze claimed that there was a dispute with Mercer over just how far Parler would take its openness to free speech. He said that if the company wanted to succeed, Parler would have crack down on domestic terrorists and any groups that incite violence, including the Trump-supporting conspiracy theory QAnon.
It has since been claimed that, according to other Parker officials, the Parler board stripped Matze of his entire ownership stake, despite his being a co-founder. Further, seemingly contrary to its right-wing reputation of allowing all speech no matter how offensive, Parler has not only reportedly banned far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, it also allegedly suspended Matze's account for a time. Meanwhile, despite having an interim CEO, Mercer appears to be the one running the show these days at Parler.
But fully reporting the happenings around Parler was not Hall's concern. It was time for him to go back into hype-man mode:
Conservatives and free speech commentators are abuzz over the fact that Parler has come back online.
Hall conveniently didn't mention those pesky posts filled with hate and threats of violence that were the actual reason Parler was "kneecapped." But the truth isn't really his concern.
CNS similarly touted Parler's return in a Feb. 15 article by Craig Bannister, who was also in PR mode by describing Parler as a "free speech social media platform" and censoring all mention of Mercer. Bannister also spun a fanciful tale of why Parler got deplatformed: "Parler was taken offline after Big Tech companies cancelled services that enabled it to have an online presence. Big Tech had demanded Parler join social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, in censoring conservative content." Like Hall, Bannister also apparently believes hate and violence are acceptable "conservative content."
Again: For the MRC, the victimization narrative means everything. The truth means nothing -- and neither does full disclosure of a obvious conflict.