The MRC Division Of The Trump Campaign, Part 2
As the presidential election neared, the Media Research Center became even more of a loyal Trump defender and Biden attacker.
By Terry Krepel
In the first installment of this series, we documented how the Media Research Center effectively served as the media arm of the Trump re-election campaign by repeatedly spinning bad Trump news and going on the attack against Joe Biden and any non-right-wing media outlet that refused to offer less than total fealty to the president.
As the election drew closer, the MRC ramped both the defenses and the attacks -- again, acting like it was in the direct employ of the Trump campaign. let's document the atrocities, shall we?
The MRC has long been an aggressive defender of Fox News -- not surprising since they're both media arms of the Trump campaign. But it seemed the two might be so close they're working together to manufacture right-wing media narratives.
After President Trump sat down for a Sept. 15 town hall with ABC that didn't go the way the MRC hoped -- that is, total sycophancy toward Trump -- Curtis Houck set the narrative: Trump was ambushed! Two entire posts were devoted to attacking ABC for asking Trump questions, under the headline "ABC Ambushes Trump With a Debate at Q&A, POTUS Brings the Heat." In the first, Nicholas Fondacaro complained: "What was pitched to viewers as a '20/20 Special Event' Tuesday, a town hall with President Trump, turned out to be the first 2020 presidential debate. But instead of Democratic nominee Joe Biden as Trump’s opponent, the President squared off against ABC’s chief anchor and Clinton lackey, George Stephanopoulos, who took every opportunity to battle his guest."
In the second, Curtis Houck echoed: "Billed as a presidential town hall with questions from undecided voters, ABC showed that they pulled a fast one on the American people as Tuesday’s The President and the People: A 20/20 Special Event ended up being debate prep for President Trump as, instead of Joe Biden, he faced 90 minutes of hostility from chief anchor and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos." He further whined that this was an "ambush by a liberal operative."
So did they collaborate on their narrative? Who knows -- Houck and Fondacaro certainly aren't going to be forthcoming about it since they're true-believer Bozell-bots who would never, ever be critical of Trump or Fox News.
Meanwhile, Houck liked this narrative so much he clung onto it a couple days later. When a similar town hall with Joe Biden on CNN was purported less ambush-y, he invoked it again: "Illustrating the liberal media’s purposeful and shameless carrying of water for Democratic ticket, CNN’s presidential town hall was a cakewalk on Thursday for Joe Biden, thanks to no fact-checking, no snarky rebuttals, or major hostility at PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania. That stood in stark contrast to the ambush President Trump faced on ABC Tuesday night in Philadelphia."
Hey, it's a Fox News-approved narrative. Why wouldn't the MRC run with it?
As the media arm of the Trump campaign, the MRC believed it was its duty to bash media outlets for not reporting stories the way President Trump wants them reported -- even the facts don't exactly back Trump up. Thus, we have Mark Finkelstein huffing in a Sept. 25 post:
It was another one of those liberal-media, "move along, nothing to see here" moments.
Camerota put a dismissive capper on it, calling the ballots in a dumpster just "hiccups." Hold your breath and they'll go away.
Later that day, Kyle Drennen went full-on Trump defense, accusing MSNBC's Chuck Todd of saying that Trump was making up a story related to the case because "when we asked the White House for information to back up this claim about Trump votes being thrown in the trash, they sent us a report that did not back up his claims one bit." Drennen insisted that "NBC's Today show reported that the story was not only completely true but being investigated by the Justice Department."
But Trump's wording about the case was misleading at best, suggesting that the ballots were thrown away because they were votes for Trump. There's no evidence then or now that this was the case. Nevertheless, Drennen ranted: "It’s interesting that any story that goes against the leftist media narrative is immediately disregarded and deemed irrelevant. Todd was so deep in the tank for Democrats that he preemptively called the President a liar, even as the anchor himself lied to his viewers."
But it turns out that CNN and NBC were right in their reporting that this was an isolated case. An actual news outlet reported that the ballots were incorrectly thrown away by a temporary contractor, who was removed when the incident was discovered.
Weirdly, neither Finkelstein nor Drennen thought it was odd that Department of Justice officials investigating the incident disclosed what candidate the unidentified -- after all, ballots aren't supposed to be counted until election night. One former DOJ official quoted by the actual news outlet found it "bizarre and disturbing."
MRC readers will never know the outcome of this case, however. Having performed its Trump-mandated duty of fearmongering about mail-in voting, it hasn't mentioned the story again.
Attacking debate moderators for Trump
Contrary to its usual debate ref-working, the Media Research Center largely declined to attack the moderators of this year's presidential and vice presidential debates -- perhaps because they didn't feel they needed to for a couple of them. The first moderator, Chris Wallace, is a Fox News employee and once gave Paul Ryan a birthday cake, so he's obviously right-wing-friendly and they loved his work as a 2016 debate moderator (occasional Heathering aside). When he was announced as the first moderator, the MRC's Kristine Marsh cheered that it would be "a Fox News journalist, and not a CNN hack." Further, the MRC highlighted criticism from media figures complaining that Wallace said he wouldn't try to fact-check the candidates in real time during the debate, and it bashed CNN's Brian Stelter for "poisoning the well against Wallace" by pointing out the indisputable fact he's a Fox News employee.
After the debate, though, the MRC didn't have many kind words for Wallace, since he failed to be a total shill for Trump. Nicholas Fondacaro devoted a post to bashing Wallace because he "blamed President Trump for the raucous nature of the debate, and complained that Trump 'put his foot' in the 'beautiful, delicious cake' Wallace and his researcher put together" -- apparently oblivious to the fact that this could be construed as an admission of pro-Trump bias that Trump stupidly failed to avail himself of.
Jeffrey Lord, meanwhile, embraced a completely opposite interpretation by laughably insisting that Wallace was pro-Biden: "Wallace somehow failed to grasp that Joe Biden's constant interruptions came from his 2012 bag of tricks, and that Donald Trump somehow how ruined his 'beautiful cake' by not letting Biden dominate the debate with his contempt for Trump."
Vice presidential debate moderator Susan Page similarly escaped an MRC pre-debate hit job. While she may work for the hated USA Today, she also hosted a party at her house for Trump's Medicaid and Medicare administrator, Seema Verma. But after the debate, Scott Whitlock trashed her for not tossing softballs to Vice President Mike Pence:
USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page failed on Wednesday night. On one of the most consequential questions of the age, whether Democrats in a Biden White House and in the Senate would change 150 years of precedent and pack the Supreme Court, the vice presidential debate moderator NEVER brought the topic up. MRC analysts reviewed every single question Page asked. We found she also never asked about Antifa riots, but instead wondered how a victorious Biden/Harris administration would forcibly evict Donald Trump from the White House.
Tim Graham followed up by devoting a column to attacking Page for not being harsh enough to Kamala Harris by giving her "little-league questioning," concluding by whining, "We need more balanced moderators. We’re not getting fair and equally accountable debates." And MRC chief Brent Bozell complained that Page "outrageously refused to force Kamala Harris to explain whether the Democrats would pack the Supreme Court."
Meanwhile, the second debate was canceled after Trump's coronavirus diagnosis. The would-be moderator, C-SPAN's Steve Scully, about whom the MRC had nothing bad to say, at least until he admitted to lying about his Twitter account being hacked. And when changes were made for the final debate in part because of Trump's repeated interruptions during the first debate, Nicholas Fondacaro was suddenly concerned about tradition:
Traditionally, the final presidential debate questions focused on foreign policy. But on Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates and moderator Kristen Welker of NBC spit in the eye of that precedent and decreed the final debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden be on a variety of topics (including climate change). And then on Monday, the commission upended things once more and announced that the microphones would be muted while candidates answered initial questions.
As if to make up for giving Wallace and Page a pre-debate pass, the MRC went after Welker by parroting the right-wing New York Post's attack on her parents because they donated to Democrats (despite finding no similar link with Welker herself). Curtis Houck huffed: "Predictably, the liberal media circled the wagons around Welker after the story dropped even though, if Welker’s parents were Trump donors, the same media hyenas would have been calling for Welker’s ouster (and not just from the debate, but her job at NBC as well)," further justifying the hit job and dragging her family into it:
When the four debate moderators were announced, Welker was always the one that conservatives, Trump supporters, and impartial observers had reason to be most concerned about.
That was followed by another hit piece from Scott Whitlock purporting to detail "Welker’s most biased moments over the years." Whitlock struck again by attacking a media person who called out Trump's MRC-esque pre-debate attack on Welker.
The MRC even attacked the head of NBC/Universal for having donated money to Democrats, though it offered no evidence that he ever had any involvement with editorial policy at NBC. And Bozell chimed in with questions he demanded Welker ask Biden; he didn't offer any questions that should have been asked of Trump.
Unsurprisingly, the MRC attacked Welker after the debate as well, with Whitlock whining that Welker delivered "embarrassing, pro-Biden talking points, assisting the Democrat on climate change and avoiding awkward topics like packing the Supreme Court and Antifa violence" and groused that she equivocated the manufactured Hunter Biden controversy with Trump's long history of conflicts of interest. He further whined: "You know what question NEVER came up? Packing the Supreme Court." Perhaps because it's only an obsession with conservatives and it would not be an issue at all if Trump hadn't rammed Amy Coney Barrett's nomination through Congress before the election.
The attack treatment also extended to the moderators of the dueling town halls done by Trump and Biden in lieu of the second debate. The MRC's biased agenda was laid out in an Oct. 15 post by Houck and Rich Noyes: "If fairness still counts for anything in 2020 (which we know is asking a lot), those networks will treat each candidate similarly to how they treated their rivals in previous town hall sessions."Of course, since neither Houck nor Noyes would know fairness if they met it in a dark alley, they demanded the moderators be as biased as Fox News, with bullet points like "Most of the questions should challenge Biden from the right" and that ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who moderated the Biden town hall, "should paint Biden as a failure."
The MRC skipped the usual pre-debate ref-working against Stephanopoulos, but after the debate Houck went on a two-post tirade. In the first, he huffed that "ABC News cowardly [sic] refused to engage in even the most basic, adversarial journalism, refusing to ask former Vice President Joe Biden during their 90-minute town hall about his son Hunter Biden’s latest reported acts of corruption" and declared the event to be an "in-kind donation to the Biden campaign" -- ironic, since Houck and the rest of the MRC are in-kind donations to the Trump campaign. Houck ranted in the second:
Thursday’s dueling town halls between Joe Biden and President Trump couldn’t have yielded a greater contrast with Biden receiving a rhetorical warm blanket for 90 minutes from ABC. Seeing as how they refused to bring up recent bombshell reporting on Hunter Biden, it was an abject failure. Making matters worse, ABC greased the skids with eight audience questions from the left, one neutral, and two from the right for a total of 11.
Meanwhile, a prebuttal post by Geoffrey Dickens lashed out at NBC's Savannah Guthrie, moderator of the Trump town hall, huffing:"Savannah Guthrie is NO fan of Donald Trump, and if her recent attacks on him are any indicator look for the NBC Today show co-host to pepper the President with nasty questions at tonight’s Trump townhall event," then claiming to list what he called her "most liberal outbursts."
After the townhall, MRC ragebot Nicholas Fondacaro screeched under the headline "We Called It!":
On Thursday morning, NewsBusters deputy research director Geoffrey Dickens predicted that NBC's Today co-host Savannah Guthrie would “go nuts on [President] Trump” in the town hall later that evening. And he was spot on with his prediction as she directed 25 liberal questions, comments, and other such biased interactions at the President.
Bill D'Agostino complained that "Guthrie was several orders of magnitude harder on Trump than Lester Holt was on Biden last week" and that she "was combative right out of the gate."
This episode concluded with a post by Scott Whitlock criticizing CBS for pointing out how badly Trump wanted to be on TV after the debate got canceled:
CBS This Morning journalist Major Garrett on Friday could not resist an arrogant tone as he recapped Thursday’s presidential town hall events. He mocked Donald Trump as “desperate” and returning “on bended knee” to get on NBC.
At no point did Whitlock dispute the accuracy of Garrett's perspective.
When Trump couldn't quite denounce white supremacy and the thuggish right-wingers in the Proud Boys during the first presidential debate, the MRC -- as you'd expect from the media arm of the Trump campaign -- launched into the usual defense-and-deflection mode it has had to do so many times.
Gabriel Hays kicked off the defense by complaining that Joe Biden "called Trump a 'racist' and repeated the thoroughly-debunked lie that Trump praised white supremacists in Charlottesville." (Yeah, not so much.) Hays then tried to explain away "lefties in Hollywood" pointing out that Trump told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by": For the hyenas of Hollywood Twitter, the only interpretation of this moment was that Trump was sidestepping the condemnation of white supremacists and telling a group of racist militiamen to hold their villainous action until he gives the order. Though Trump has specifically condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis at least twice now." Then he played whataboutism: "But, again, as Trump pointed out in the debate, where’s the condemnation of ANTIFA and the Black Lives Matter left which has inspired most of the violence on city streets since May?"
Curtis Houck whined that one commentator criticized Trump "for having supposedly failed to denounce hate groups." Nicholas Fondacaro insisted that Trump actually did denounce white supremacists and militia groups when all he he actually did was agree to do so without actually specifically doing it:
But the full context, the transcript showed that Trump had mentioned the Proud Boys after demanding moderator Chris Wallace to give him a name of a group to condemn, and Joe Biden chimed in with the name. And the main take away was Trump saying “sure” after Wallace had asked: “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups?”
Kristine Marsh linked to Fondacaro's post in claiming that Trump's failure to condemn white supremacists was "another lie from the media." Joseph Morris asserted that Trump merely "inartfully answer[ed] a question about a white supremacist group," adding, "While Trump's response was not the best wording, it was not a call to violence." He too played whataboutism, huffing that "Joe Biden refused to even acknowledge the existence of far-left violent extremists, falsely proclaiming: 'Antifa is an idea not an organization.'"
After Tuesday’s exhausting presidential debate and Wednesday’s 20-minute cage match between Chris Cuomo and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Thursday’s White House press briefing was an unmitigated disaster thanks to meltdowns from reporters demanding President Trump and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denounce white supremacist groups on what must be a near-constant basis, regardless of what Trump has said in the past.
Norris returned to rant: "Appearing on CNN's New Day on Thursday, unhinged left-wing commentator Errol Louis was given free reign to fabricate wild claims that President Trump was sending a clear signal to violent extremists, militia-type organizations” and telling them 'That he does want them, in fact, to go out and help disrupt the elections.' Not only was there no challenge of the false smear, the cable network has actually been actively pushing such hysteria." He also served up another reframing of Trump's remarks, claiming he was being criticized for "not denouncing white supremacy the way they demanded him to."
Jorge Bonilla got in on the action, claiming that Univision anchor Jorge Ramos -- a longtime MRC target -- "twice pushed the lie that President Donald Trump has not denounced white nationalism generally, or the proud boys specifically."
This was capped by an anonymously written piece with video headlined "19 Times Donald Trump Has Denounced White Supremacy" -- which included the debate clip in which Trump didn't actually denounce white supremacy. The unnamed author added whataboutism: "Oddly these same journalists don’t demand that Joe Biden repeatedly denounce Antifa."
It's almost as if the Trump campaign paid the MRC to crank out that last piece. And all the other defenses and deflections.
It's a sign of how desperate it is to get President Trump re-elected -- and of how seriously it takes its role as the media arm of the Trump campaign -- that the Media Research Center referenced Hunter Biden in at least 150 NewsBusters posts between Oct. 14, when the New York Post published its dubious story about the contents of his alleged laptops, and Election Day. The MRC really needed this story to be true to advance its agenda -- not unlike the Tara Reade story -- so it's been doing what it can to advance the story by all means necessary. Let's look at a few samples.
Tim Graham tried to play down the obvious political hit-job angle with the story coming from the pro-Trump New York Post and Rudy Giuliani by playing whataboutism: "When the [Washington] Post owned by leftist media tycoon Jeff Bezos reports against Trump, it often fails to acknowledge its sources might have an axe to grind. They all have an axe-grinding party."
When Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe -- who has previously released Russian disinformation to help Trump -- declared without evidence that the Hunter Biden story wasn't Russian disinformation, the MRC treated this as if it came directly from God. Fondacaro proclaimed that Ratcliffe "shot down" the media's "fictitious claims," then did so again under the headline "DOJ, FBI Destroy Media’s Lie Hunter Scandal Is Russian Disinformation," citing reporting from ... Fox News, which Murdoch owns alongside the New York Post. Bill D'Agostino loved this storyline so much he made a video attempting to advance it:
For almost a week, liberal cable and broadcast networks have ignored the FBI saying it has “nothing to add” to DNI Ratcliffe’s assessment that the alleged Hunter Biden laptop is not part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Despite these statements from both Ratcliffe and the FBI, TV journalists continued to warn viewers that the entire story looks like a Russian intelligence op.
Like the others, D'Agostino gave us no reason why anyone should trust at face value a clearly politicized DNI and FBI.
And just a couple weeks after the MRC lectured the media for questioning Trump's mental health, Tim Graham bashed NPR for caring about Hunter Biden's mental health by noting that he has a history of drug issues and the right-wing media's vicious attacks on him could cause him "shame and isolation." Graham whined "So Hunter Biden's behavior is not a 'character defect,' but attacking him is," adding, "So the Trumps are so cruel, they make the fathers of dead addicts cry." Graham then tried to sic his readers on NPR reporter Brian Mann: "Perhaps the taxpayers who fund this emotional propaganda should contact NPR public editor Kelly McBride about the potential conflict of putting a reporter who's lost family members to addiction on a politically sensitive story like this right before an election -- especially if he leaves out all of the other elements of the Hunter Biden story." Graham made no mention of the conflict of interest at the New York Post and Giuliani supporting Trump while trying to personally destroy the son of Trump's opponent.
The MRC, of course, also did its usual so-called studies complaining that the non-Fox News media wasn't covering the story enough. It conveniently ignored how much coverage Fox News did devote to it, which was a lot.
It's as if the MRC was being paid by the Trump campaign to do this.
Keep in mind that the MRC is, for all intents and purposes, an arm of the Trump campaign -- which should be the lens through which everyone views what it published during the campaign -- and all of this deliberate dishonesty and spin makes sense.