The MRC's Anniversary of Distraction
The Media Research Center's coverage of the first anniversary of the Capitol riot featured nothing about its role in helping to incite it and everything about trying to deflect attention away from it.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center played a role in setting up the Jan. 6, 2021, pro-Trump riot at the Capitol -- first by constructing its own Big Lie about how the election was stolen from Donald Trump as a companion to Trump's own, then by providing a platform for Trump's bogus claims and whining that he was being "censored" any time a fact-checker disproved him. After the riot, the MRC continued to not cover itself in glory, with leader Brent Bozell effectively justifying the violence while his underlings attempted to distance conservatives from the spectacle.
So when the first anniversary came around, the MRC made it clear its coverage was going to be less about dealing with what happened and its role in make it happen and much more about narrative development to deflect attention away from all that by complaining that only Democrats want to remind people of what happened.
That coverage of -- or, more accurately, whining about -- the anniversary of the riot began a few days earlier. A Jan. 4 post by P.J. Gladnick, for instance, complained about "Politico reveling that the Democrats are attempting to use the occasion to engage in flat out partisanship by federalizing the elections at the state level so as to favor that party." Tim Graham preemptively whined further in his Jan. 5 column:
On the cusp of an absolute glut of liberal-media anniversary coverage of the January 6 riot, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter was cranky. “We live in a world where Donald Trump's top supporters malign the media for being ‘obsessed’ with January 6.”
Graham was unable to unequivocally criticize the insurrection, choosing to play whataboutism instead: "The riot at the Capitol was a horrible event, and every thug and goon that beat a policeman should be prosecuted. But everyone knows that when thugs and goons tried to set a federal courthouse on fire in Portland with federal employees inside it last year, these self-appointed 'reality' definers didn't find an 'insurrection.' They have a double standard on violent revolts against the government...when the thugs are on the left."
Graham had originally disavowed whataboutism in the immediate wake of the riot, insisting that "this is not rioting at an Apple store. This is where our democracy lives." He appears to have gotten back in lockstep with his fellow MRC ideologues, and now apparently believes that destroying the Capitol is exactly the same as rioting in a Apple store.
The preemptive whining continued in a Jan. 5 post by Kyle Drennen:
In an effort to push the Democratic Party agenda on the federal takeover of elections and hype an anti-Republican campaign narrative ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, leftist media outlets have planned an avalanche of special coverage commemorating the one year anniversary of the January 6th Capitol Hill riot.
Bill D'Agostino kicked off the MRC's day-of coverage by constructing the right-wing talking point that any discussion of the riot is nothing more than a Democratic talking point:
After obsessing over the January 6 Capitol Hill riot for the past year, the media are now using its one-year anniversary to advocate for unprecedented, sweeping election reforms.
But don’t expect the press to stop haranguing about the Capitol riot once the fight over election laws is gone from the news cycle. January 6 has been the media’s favorite rhetorical cudgel for the past year, and they’re not likely to put it back on the shelf anytime soon.
And when the anniversary coverage they preemptively whined about actually happened, the MRC whined about that too. Curtis Houck huffed:
On Thursday, it was the liberal media’s Super Bowl and on the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol as, according to a NewsBusters analysis of the major broadcast network morning newscasts, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS Mornings, and NBC’s Today spent roughly 90 minutes dissecting, obsessing over, and painting the 75 million-plus Trump voters as enemies.
Houck didn't explain to readers why the anniversary wasn't newsworthy -- he simply whined that it was covered.
Clay Waters similarly complained: "The New York Times is making hay during the intense Democratic politicization of the one-year anniversary of the violent Capitol Hill riots of January 6, 2021, what an online headline called “the worst American attack in democracy in centuries.” (How many centuries are we talking about here?)" He also grumbled that the Times blew up the right-wing whataboutism narrative that Graham used, claiming without evidence that the reporter "tortured the data to downplay the summer 2020 riots over the police killing of George Floyd."
Targeting Biden's speech
The day-of coverage continued by lashing out at President Biden's speech on the anniversary and at anyone who happened to like the speech. Drennen ranted at NBC's Chuck Todd for liking it, then praised other network commentators for being somewhat less effusive:
During NBC News special coverage of President Biden’s divisive speech using the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol Hill riot to attack Republicans, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd absurdly claimed the screed was not partisan “if you’re pro-democracy and pro-America.” He also predictably hailed the address as Biden at his “best.”
A few hours later, Drennen lashed out at Todd again:
The cavalcade of leftist media idiocy regarding the one year anniversary of the January 6th Capitol Hill riot reached a new low on MSNBC Thursday afternoon as anchors Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell ridiculously wailed that current divisions in the country were worse than during the Civil War. Todd went so far as to utter the historically illiterate nonsense that “Lincoln’s election was more accepted in 1860,” than Joe Biden’s election in 2020.
Drennen didn't mention that his employer -- through its promotion of a version of Trump's Big Lie -- does not accept Biden's election.
Houck similarly lost it in bashing another speech-lover:
Continuing Thursday’s theme of news organizations allowing all nutty comparisons to fly on the anniversary of the January 6 riot, ABC News presidential historian Mark Updegrove proclaimed after President Biden’s “powerful” speech that it belonged alongside those from “FDR after Pearl Harbor,” “Lyndon Johnson after Selma,” “George W. Bush after 9/11,” and, most egregiously, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
Having sufficiently lashed out at Biden and anyone who likes him, it was Nicholas Fondacaro's turn to lash out anew at more coverage of the anniversary:
As NewsBusters documented Thursday morning, the anniversary of January 6 was their Super Bowl as the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) spent nearly 90-combined-minutes obsessing over the riot at the Capitol like their political careers depended on it. That infatuation cared over through half-time (to stick with the football nomenclature) to their evening newscasts where CBS and NBC each gave it over 80 percent of their total airtime.
Curiously, Fondacaro did not count up the amount of time Fox News devoted to the anniversary -- you know, for comparison purposes.
Kevin Tober, meanwhile, was upset that NBC's Lester Holt did an interview with Nancy Pelosi:
NBC News has always been in the tank for the Democratic Party, and Thursday was no different. On NBC Nightly News during an exclusive interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the topic of the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, Lester Holt gave her a fluffy softball interview that was a borderline therapy session.
Tober went on to pretend to be appalled that "Holt would try to portray partial-birth abortion-loving Pelosi as some kind of devout Catholic," going on to rant: "She has always been a bitter divisive partisan Democrat. The fact that Lester Holt would let her get away with this act shows how far in the tank he is for the liberal agenda."
Then again, Tober and the rest of the MRC crew are bitter, divisive, partisan Republicans, so maybe their media criticism isn't worth much.
Protecting Fox News (and failing)
The MRC's coverage then reached the stage where it tried to make Fox News look good by attacking CNN and MSNBC. Mark Finkelstein got mad that MSNBC highlighted Republican criticism of the riot:
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, per the ancient adage. And thus, as Democrats aggressively marked the anniversary of the January 6 riot to condemn Donald Trump, MSNBC took a moment to praise Liz and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove for taking a stand with the Democrats in condemning the riot. As if other Republicans didn't.
Fondacaro, meanwhile, had a meltdown over CNN's special on the riot because it called out Fox News' role in stoking it:
For years now, the liberal media have been telling us the country is in a “cold civil war” or a “neo-civil war” because people and policies they don’t like have popularity. But according to CNN’s Anderson Cooper during the network’s January 6 primetime special (Live From the Capitol: January 6th, One Year Later) it was the folks at “other networks” aka Fox News that were “relishing the idea” of sparking another civil war in America.
But rather than offer any defense of Fox News, Fondacaro bizarrely focused on CNN's failure to say the words "Fox News" in its criticism, even though we all know who they're referring to: "Speaking of bravery, why couldn’t either of these men speak up and name names? Who was calling for a civil war? Who was against the police? That’s because if they did, then they would need to prove their accusations."
Houck, meanwhile, grumbled about how much time CNN and MSNBC spend on anniversary coverage:
It was bound to be a nauseating day for anyone who turned on CNN or MSNBC Thursday during their voluminous coverage for the first anniversary of the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and, according to a NewsBusters tallying of their live programming (20 hours on CNN and 19 hours on MSNBC), they didn’t disappoint.
Houck also sneered at a riot victim, huffing that "retired Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone who’s cashing in on his service and anti-Trump rhetoric by becoming a CNN law enforcement analyst, proclaimed on New Day that the right’s 'still engaging in the same violent rhetoric' from a year ago, adding that Republicans are 'insurrectionist' 'jackasses.'" Houck didn't mention that rioters attacked Fanone with a stun gun, while another rioter yelled, "Kill him with his own gun!" Houck did not dispute any characterization of the rioters by Fanone, and for him to claim Fanone is "cashing in" on being severely beaten by a pro-Trump mob is sickening.
Houck tried for an sad little pro-Fox own in another post:
CNN and MSNBC spent over 1,600 minutes Thursday obsessing over the first anniversary of the January 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol, but it failed to translate into any success in the ratings department.
Houck made sure not to mention the fact that CNN and MSNBC's coverage together beat Fox News, which demonstrated there was a bigger audience for that content. And, again, Houck didn't elaborate on the contents of Fox News' coverage (aside from mentioning a supposedly "challenging and substantive interview" with Liz Cheney on Fox) or how much time it spent on the anniversary.
Odds and ends
Gladnick tried to invent a conspiracy theory in a Jan. 7 post:
On January 6, the media was chock full of stories about the events at Capitol Hill on the day of the riot. One potentially big event that could have overshadowed what happened at the Capitol building was a couple of pipe bombs planted near the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee buildings. Fortunately neither bomb went off, but the mystery remains of who was the pipe bomber that still remains at large.
Of course, Gladnick doesn't know that the FBI hasn't done this -- he's just baselessly suggesting that it has something to hide by not having arrested anyone yet. Curiously, Gladnick offered no evidence that anyone in the right-wing media has done what he demands "the media" do, "pick up a phone and call the FBI or the January 6 Committee to ask them about this."
(We would also remind Gladnick that the MRC used to not care about the pipe bomb at the DNC, fretting only about the one at the RNC.)
Brad Wilmouth used a Jan. 8 post to maliciously reframe remarks by reporter Yamiche Alcindor. She pointed out the inescapable fact that most of the Capitol insurrectionists were white and that a similarly violent crowd of people of color would have been treated much more harshly by law enforcement; Wilmouth twisted this to claim that Alcindor was "possibly disappointed that more of the 1/6 Capitol Hill rioters were not shot by Capitol Police."
Meanwhile, Graham was the designated MRC whiner about Vice President Kamala Harris' 1/6 speech. First, he complained that Harris' likening of the riot to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor was not fact-checked, whining that Snopes dinged right-winger Todd Starnes for falsely claiming she said the riot was "worse than" 9/11. "They didn't fact-check the leftist. They fact-checked the conservative," Graham huffed; note his description of Harris as a "leftist" but not Starnes as merely a "conservative" even though he holds very extreme views.
(Also, we don't recall Graham demanding a fact-check when a Fox News contributor likened the burning of the channel's Christmas tree to Pearl Harbor.)
Then, he complained that PBS interviewer Judy Woodruff didn't trash Harris like a Fox News employee would:
On January 6, Vice President Kamala Harris shamelessly attempted to compare the Capitol riot to Pearl Harbor and 9-11. Later that day, she was interviewed by Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, who asked absolutely nothing about that rhetoric. Instead, Woodward complained to Harris about election lies and poor attitudes and "deep polarization" -- as if the media have no role in all this. She began with a series of 1/6 softballs:
Graham didn't explain why Pence should not be held to account for what his running mate said.
Graham also spent his Jan. 7 podcast summing up all the whining the MRC has done about the anniversary coverage, the description of which was summed up in the NewsBusters post promoting it: "What makes the 1/6 coverage so inauthentic is that the liberal media does not object to all rioting. They object to Trump backers rioting. When leftists riot for 'racial justice,' they are fine with it, and dress it up in terms like 'rebellion' or a 'racial reckoning.' If the media were actually interested in building "shared facts" then they might share the fact that all rioting is horrible."
In the podcast, Graham went into a whataboutism rant: "We are not going to be be lectured on Jan. 6 about rioting and rebellions from people who want to defund police, who want to defund ICE, who want to abolish the prisons. You don't get to talk to us about insurrections!" He then went on to deny that Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was killed by law enforcement inside the Capitol, was a martyr -- then complained that the Associated Press published a "snotty piece... attacking her character."
There was more: He whined that the anniversary got more coverage than the Benghazi attack, then falsely asserted that the person who shot Republican congressman Steve Scalise was "inspired by Rachel Maddow and Bernie Sanders." And he served up an old-school rant about Barack Obama's connections to Bill Ayers.
The MRC was STILL whining about the Jan. 6 coverage five days later, when Geoffrey Dickens did a Jan. 11 roundup piece grumbling that "STILL to this day the media are exploiting the Capitol Hill riots as a way to push the Democrat’s agenda on everything, especially their desire to federalize elections." Apparently, Fox News isn't part of "the media."