The MRC Division Of The Trump Campaign, Part 1
The Media Research Center was such a devoted Trump apologist and promoter, it may as well have been on the payroll.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center worked so diligently to get President Trump re-elected -- so diligently, in fact, that there was basically no difference between it and the messages coming out of the campaign itself. (Never mind, of course, that such blatant political activism runs up against -- and, it can be argued, beyond -- what is permitted under the MRC's nonprofit tax status.) Its promotion of Tara Reade's accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump while mocking or ignoring completely similar accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump, and trying to manufacture right-wing microaggressions against his opponents, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, were just the start.
That biased tone was clear in a July 7 video the the MRC -- and its "news" division, CNSNews.com -- posted that was for all intents and purposes a pro-Trump election ad, titled "We Hold These Truths: Conservative Leaders Answer The Mob." The CNS version declared: "A group of conservative leaders worked with the Media Research Center to record a message defending the greatness of America and its founders and condemning the protesters and mobs that have attacked our nation’s founding principles and commitment to individual liberty." The version posted at NewsBusters railed: "Conservative leaders from all over the country are fighting back and answering the violence and chaos of the angry, lawless mob marching in America’s streets."
It begins with various conservative reciting the opening of the Declaration of Independence; Mark Levin got the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" line, so he got in a stealth promotion for his Fox News show, "Life, Liberty and Levin." It even threw in Charlie Daniels in what was apparently his final media appearance before his death, for no other apparent reason than that he was an MRC favorite.
Of course, the MRC will never admit it's a pro-Trump video, since it's careful not to mention the word "Trump" anywhere in it -- after all, explicit electioneering would violate the MRC's nonprofit status. But after the recitation ended and the philosophical waxing was over with, it was on to reinforcing the Trump agenda, with stirring orchestral music swelling in the background.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton huffed regarding statue-toppling: "Those who deface or destroy these statues or other remembrances of these men are criminals." David Bozell, son of MRC chief Brent Bozell and head of activist group For America, chimed in: "They're also an ignorant mob, period. Full stop." Neither Fitton nor Bozell specifically excluded Confederate statues from their defense.
Republican Rep. Mike Lee defended the police as "necessary to protect the vulnerable and to keep dangerous communities from descending into chaos." Right-wing activist Jenny Beth Martin added: "Are there bad players? Of course. But don't lie about the police. Don't smear them as racist. Don't dismiss that they have to put their lives on the line every single day with lowlifes who harass and threaten them and, yes, kill them."
MRC senior fellow Allen West ranted: "Kneeling for the national anthem disrespects the flag and all those who served them."
Former National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Lowest -- who's best known for putting Plan hoods on "Thomas the Tank Engine" characters to declare her opposition to diversity in children's television -- huffed: "Free speech is a pillar of a free society and the best way to collectively seek and defend the truth. Firing or canceling those who offend woke sensibilities is grotesque, illiberal and un-American." She didn't mention her Kalanchoe incident as a prime example of forcing cancel culture.
This was concluded by an end-of-video finale from much of the cast:
BRENT BOZELL: So a word directly to the protesters, the rioters and the hoodlums out in force these last several weeks.
Bozell and his buddies have decided that the death of George Floyd and other examples of police brutality that sparked all the unrest in the first place -- and which the MRC also tried to twist into a pro-Trump narrative -- must be flushed down the memory hole.
Mount Rushmore speech
Bill D'Agostino and Curtis Houck provided the only interpretation of Trump's pre-July 4 speech at Mount Rushmore that the MRC would deem acceptable: "On Friday night, President Trump began the Fourth of July weekend with a 42-minute speech celebrating American history, our Founding documents, and patriotism at Mount Rushmore." If you're a media outlet that didn't interpret Trump's speech the way D'Agostino and Houck demanded, the MRC smeared you has an America-hater.
This is not an exaggeration. Houck lashed out this way at MSNBC -- in a post literally calling the network "America-hating" in the headline -- for failing to treat Trump's speech with pro-Trump rah-rah:
MSNBC debased itself Friday night with a vile display of hatred for America, the Constitution (except the freedom of the press), the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers, and positive celebrations of both where the country has been and where we hope to go."
Houck's selective quoting -- which he strangely chose to emphasize with his random bolding -- tells us that he's probably not telling the truth but, rather, applying his own right-wing distortions to what was said. For instance: Houck's rant that somebody said that "not only was America never 'great,' but its ideals of equality and freedom have always been 'a myth'" appears to have come from a statement from analyst Yamiche Alcindor that "there’s really a myth of America that this idea that America treated people well, that they treated men and women equally, that --- that we founded this country just by our own wits, that that is actually a lie and we're seeing a celebration of America's independence on land that was stolen from Native Americans."
Houck never disputed the accuracy of what was said on MSNBC; he merely flew into a rage that it was said.
D'Agostino and Houck similarly ranted that "CNN and MSNBC chose to declare [the speech] 'a culture war bonfire,' 'a love letter to white supremacy,' 'divisive,' and laden with 'racist dog whistles.'" Again, they never disproved those interpretations; they just descend into name-calling, describing the coverage as "farcical and yet hateful" as well as "drivel."
The closest they came was complaining: "As usual, talking heads were quick to suggest that Trump was defending Confederate monuments specifically -- despite his making no mention of either the former Confederacy or any of its members." The duo pretend there's no such thing as context, omitting the fact that Trump did, in fact, defend Confederate statues a few days before the speech. They also gloss over the fact that Trump "making no mention of either the former Confederacy or any of its members" also means they were not specifically excluded from his statue defense.
Houck even thinks you hate America if you don't give Trump an uninterrupted propaganda opportunity in an election year by choosing not to air a Friday night speech. He ranted that "CNN and MSNBC put on display their hatred for America by either completely ignoring or barely covering," specifically attacking MSNBC "host Ari Melber and his panel of America-trashing, far-left journalistic hacks." Rich Noyes served up a companion "flashback" post mining old claims that purport to describe "buckets of leftist media contempt for America’s Founders and ideals."
Tim Graham also pretended there was no context to interpreting Trump's speech in a July 5 post ranting against the Washington Post pointing out Trump's "racial animus": "If you read the actual speech, it’s not a racist speech. Trump quoted Martin Luther King and credited Lincoln for 'extinguishing the evil of slavery.'"
Houck gushed even further over Trump's speech in a July 6 post, giddy that the president parroted the MRC's narrative by attacking the media:
A day after a stirring speech at Mount Rushmore, the liberal media reacted to by spewing hate, lies, and venom. President Donald Trump spoke Saturday night from the White House and called out them out for “falsely and consistently label[ing] their opponents as racists” and declared that their attacks on America as racist “slander” those who’ve fought and died for the country.
As if Houck and the MRC aren't engaged in pro-Trump re-education.
Adam Burnett served up a like-minded post on July 6: "In an ongoing debate over America and our history, MSNBC has clearly picked a side. And they are not on the side of the American people." He further ranted that Alcindor is "a radical activist disguised as PBS NewsHour's White House correspondent."
The MRC served up further attacks on anyone who failed to served as servile Trump stenographers:
Graham capped things off with a July 8 column rehashing this narrative:
The Grand Canyon is a fitting metaphor for the difference between the uncensored version of President Trump’s Independence Day speeches gleaned from live television and the feverishly distorted versions of the “reality-based press,” as the leftist journo-braggarts call themselves.
Stated like a good pro-Trump, anti-media propagandist.
The MRC's Scott Whitlock found something he thought he could turn into a right-wing talking point in a July 31 post:
This isn’t something you see often on network television. CBS on Sunday did an experiment to determine just how safe mail-in ballots will be in November. CBS Weekend News journalist Tony Dokoupil set up a campaign “headquarters” and mailed 100 “ballots” to himself through the U.S. Post Office. The results were not encouraging. They also refute the dismissive tone of other journalists when covering Donald Trump’s concerns about mail-in voting.
The MRC repeatedly invoked this CBS story, largely to defend President Trump's attacks on mail-in voting:
But as Media Matters pointed out, the CBS segment omitted one important fact: the high rate of delay ballots in the experiment were driven by changes to the U.S. Postal Service that have taken place during Trump's presidency. And the MRC wasn't the only right-wing media operation to exploit it; others seized on the report as an excuse to attack the Postal Service and discourage mail-in voting, both of which are agenda items for Trump's re-election campaign.
Payroll tax cut idea
For a good example of how the MRC serves as a propagandist for President Trump and his administration -- while also reinforcing the anti-media agenda it shares with Trump -- it's hard to beat this Aug. 12 post by Joseph Vazquez.
Vazquez started off by unironically accusing MSNBC's Ali Velshi of having "inundated viewers with propaganda" by pointing out that "the GOP was 'deceiving Americans' and conforming to a 'conservative fetish about poor people getting freebies and running up the national debt.'" He then retorted: "Saying conservatives have a 'fetish' about 'running up the national debt' is like saying liberals have a 'fetish' about tax cuts."
Vazquez is rather deliberately missing Velshi's point: that conservatives cry poor when it might go to people and causes they disapprove of, i.e., coronavirus relief for poor people, but make sure their supporters get the money they want, and that it makes no logical sense for conservatives to insist there's no more money for coronavirus relief when trillions have already been approved by a Republican Senate and signed by a Republican president.
Vazquez then laboriously explained that a video of Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell was edited to say that there is "essentially ... no" limit to what the Fed will put into the economy to keep it afloat when he actually said there wasn't a "blank check," which "completely undermines Velshi's 'magical money tree' argument." But Vazquez is distorting what Velshi said -- he pointed out that there is a "money tree" for banks and the stock market, but not those who "are unemployed through no fault of their own."
This was followed by Vazquez getting mad at Velshi for noting that conservatives didn't care about the debt when they supported a tax cut in 2017. In rebuttal, he cited the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- hardly an objective source -- blaming the debt on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
Finally, Vazquez served as an apologist for Trump:
He lambasted Trump’s order to suspend the payroll tax, which he claimed would “hurt Americans more than anything, because it takes money away from Social Security and Medicare.”
Vazquez is being deliberately obtuse here. If it was so easy for Congress to designate another funding mechanism for Social Security outside the payroll tax, it would have done so already. Because it hasn't, and because the payroll tax funds nearly all of the program, cutting the payroll tax will, in fact, take money away from it and Medicare.
Vazquez is attacking a "half truth" with his own half-truth. By the Yiddish proverb he invokes, that makes him a liar.
Biden as 'moderate'
Another way the MRC worked as a division of the Trump campaign was by attacking anyone who declared Joe Biden to be a moderate -- because from its right-wing pro-Trump perspective, there are no moderates, and anyone even slightly more liberal than them is without question a far-left extremist of some kind. Mark Finkelstein, for instance, complained in a July 17 post:
If the Democrats nominated Karl Marx, they'd describe him as a "moderate Marxist" . . .
Finkelstein went on to present as evidence of Biden's purported extremism the ratings of him from various political interest groups, which gave him either 100% or 90% depending on their political persuasion. But such ratings are dubious as an objective method for evaluating politicians, since they're usually based on roll call votes on selected issues, not a politician's entire record.
A July 21 post by Duncan Schroeder huffed: "The idea of Biden being a moderate is a joke. Biden just created his policy platform with the help of far-left, communism-loving Bernie Sanders. Sanders even said that Biden might be the 'most progressive president since FDR.' Among many radical proposals, Biden plans to spend $2 trillion on fighting climate change, transition all Americans to electric cars by 2035, and to raise taxes by $4 trillion. Biden also said that the police have 'become the enemy.'" Schroeder repeated his attack in an Aug. 6 post, smearing media people making the claim as "propagandists" (as if Schroeder isn't one himself).
Bill D'Agostino devoted an entire Aug. 10 post to ranting against the idea:
TV journalists have insisted throughout the 2020 election cycle that Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden represents the “moderate,” “centrist” wing of his party, with some even worrying that his agenda might be too far to the right for his party’s progressive base to stomach. Yet not even Biden himself agrees with that lame spin, having promised his administration would be among the “most progressive” in “American history.”
An Aug. 11 post by Scott Whitlock spread the attack to Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, citing a dubious interest group score, "Kamala Harris is the most liberal vice presidential nominee to ever be nominated. Her lifetime American Conservative Union Score (meaning the number of times she voted with conservatives as a Senator) is 3.03. In 2019 it was 0." Nicholas Fondacaro joined in the same day, ranting that "the liberal media will flood the zone with lies about who Harris was and what she has supported in the past in order to protect their 2020 presidential ticket," though "her radical policy positions were exposed" during CNN town halls.
Michael Dellano declared that the Biden-Harris ticket "is, in fact, a radical-left ticket. ... The leftist media wants Americans to think that Harris is a moderate, because her actual policy perspectives are not very palatable." He ranted the next day: "Every major media outlet have pushed this lie that Harris is some sort of moderate, when it has been widely known that she has supported far left policies. Some metrics stated that Harris is more radical than self-proclaimed socialist Senator Bernie Sanders." Kyle Drennen harrumphed that one commentator "kept pushing the lie that the leftist presidential ticket was just a couple of moderates."
Kristine Marsh grumbled on Aug. 19: "Despite ample evidence from the candidate’s own mouth that he has embraced the radical-left wing of the Democrat party [sic], CNN’s New Day tried to make the case Wednesday that Biden was someone who 'crosses the aisle.'"
A month later, Alex Christy was still pushing this same narrative: "Considering Biden's allies have also hyped the possibility of him being the most progressive president since Franklin Roosevelt, maybe the idea that he's 'more of a moderate' is badly sliced baloney."
As is the MRC's determination to do anti-Biden messaging on behalf of Trump. It's "media research" is a sham, in no small part because it has put advancing political narratives ahead of reporting facts, and it devises metrics designed to do exactly that (witness its bogus "evaluative statements" metric to measure "bias," an entirely subjective concept, and its refusal to make its raw data public). The MRC's depiction of Biden's political views as "extreme" or "radical" are not based on objective fact -- they're opinions based on, again, it being so far right that anything that is not also far right must be attacked as "far left" or extreme.
Disparaging the troops
The MRC acted like an extension of the White House press secretary's office in trying to stamp out an Atlantic story citing numerous people claiming that President Trump privately dismissed fallen U.S. soldiers as "losers" and "suckers" -- going heavy on attack-the-messenger mode.
Houck complained that the Atlantic piece was anonymously sourced and that its editor is a "liberal," attacking media outlets for reporting it: "And because conducting journalism isn’t what they do, they also couldn’t be bothered to mention both the excerpt of John Bolton’s book on the day in question that made no mention of these comments and a White House e-mail also debunking them."
Graham dismissed the Atlantic as "the exquisitely partisan source of today's anonymously-sourced anti-Trump hit piece" on Trump.
Houck returned to gush that "White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany continued the full court press from the Trump administration and campaign to debunk, deny, and dispose of Thursday’s Atlantic hit piece against President Trump from liberal hack editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, calling it 'conspiracy-laden propaganda' and 'fake news' that abandoned 'all journalistic integrity.' And in a true mic drop moment, McEnany read the roughly four-minute statement and left the podium without taking questions." Houck doesn't seem to understand that a denial from the White House is not the same as a "debunking."
Graham joined the whining about the Atlantic's anonymous sources, then went on to whine about "Brian Stelter's anonymous sources for his Fox-bashing book Hoax. If they've left Fox News for greener pastures, why don't they show some guts and go on the record?" (The MRC is only selectively concerned about anonymous media sources.)
Graham later grumbled that "the traveling/groveling Biden press corps" wasn't asking if "The Atlantic article trashing the president for allegedly trashing our war dead was coordinated with the Biden campaign."
P.J. Gladnick complained that "CNN's Chris Cillizza hyped the Atlantic magazine smear upon President Donald Trump" but "never even mentioned the one very prominent non-anonymous source that came forward to upend that story, namely John Bolton." Actually, Bolton has said, "I’m not saying he didn’t say [the remarks] later in the day or another time."
Kristine Marsh huffed that ABC's George Stephanopoulos "badgering" Sarah Huckabee Sanders over the Atlantic story and "spent the majority of the interview arguing with her over whether or not President Trump hates the military." In another post, Marsh touted how "several named witnesses have shot down the story told in the Atlantic as false." In fact, few of the "named witnesses" can credibly deny the story in full.
Houck came back to whine:
Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg must have thought early Tuesday evening that he was making matters better when he appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room to discuss his hit piece against President Trump, but despite host Wolf Blitzer’s gushing praise for his “amazing” “bombshell” we all should be “grateful” for, he continued to undermine the central claims of his tale.
Jeffrey Lord devoted an entire column to hyping a claim from a right-wing blog post written by onetime NewsBusters blogger Rusty Weiss claiming that Goldberg admitted the story was "shoddy." Weiss has since softened and recast his original claim.
It's almost as if the Trump campaign paid the MRC to crank out that piece. And all the other defenses and deflections.