Accountability Makes The MRC Mad
The Media Research Center spent the summer raging against the House committee hearings on the events leading up to the Capitol riot and parroting right-wing talking points, attacks and distractions.
By Terry Krepel
Before the start of the House committee hearings into the Capitol riot in June, Axios reported that Republican officials were planning "counterprogramming" to distract from them, and the Republican national Committee issued talking points for like-minded followers, which included "Attack Nancy Pelosi's committee and its members, portraying them as partisan, illegitimate, and a distraction for real issues," "Brand these as rigged hearings" and "Define Democrats being the real election deniers."
The Media Research Center is nothing if not a loyal follower of marching orders from the RNC or whatever dark-money right-wingers run the show there, so its coverage of the hearings largely followed that dictate. The MRC clearly had its talking points to enforce: Pretend that the public hearings being put on by House committee looking into the Capitol riot are meaningless and biased, and that conservatives should spend more time being fed right-wing propaganda instead of watching them. The flagship piece for this narrative was a June 6 item by Curtis Houck lashing out at non-right-wing outlets for covering the first hearing, which carried the desperate-sounding headline "No One Cares":
Amid a decaying culture, rampant crime, record-high inflation, struggling wages, and surging gas prices (among other things), Monday’s CBS Mornings and NBC’s Today want Americans to focus this week on a different issue: primetime hearings from the House Select Committee on January 6. On Monday’s shows, the two combined for five minutes and 37 seconds of coverage doing the bidding of their loyal source, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA).
A post the same day from Tim Graham complained that the committee made use of a former ABC News executive to help polish their presentation:
Now imagine if the Republicans stacked an investigative committee and then hired a Fox News president as an "unannounced adviser" for prime-time hearings. The liberal outlets would all scream that there's no difference whatsoever between the GOP and Fox. So, in this case, there's no difference whatsoever between Pelosi's hand-picked committee and ABC, and CBS, and CNN, and so on. ABC News apparently has no concern that Goldston's advising will hurt the image of ABC News.
Actually, the Trump administration did hire former Fox News executive Bill Shine as an adviser. Graham was mad that people pointed out that this revolving door showed just how tight Trump and Fox were.
Three days later, Alex Christy dismissed the hearings as a "made-for-TV spectacle" because of the ex-ABC executive's hiring. He didn't mention that Trump also hired a TV executive to help turn his administration into a made-for-TV spectacle.
A post by Kevin Tober groused that CNN's Brian Stelter pointed out that right-wing outlets Fox News and Newsmax would not be airing the first hearing live despite the word "news" in their channels' names:
CNN and particularly Stelter always want to dictate what the rest of the media should or should not be covering. Why would Fox News cover a hearing where Republican congressional leadership’s appointments to the committee were rejected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
Um, isn't the MRC's main job demanding that non-right-wing media outlets cover things that advance right-wing agendas? Graham similarly played dumb in a June 6 podcast echoing Tober's Stelter-bashing.
The MRC did a lot of other whining about the hearings both before and after the first hearing:
And as usual, the MRC also tossed around agenda-driven ratings numbers. A June 10 post by Bill D'Agoistino cherry-picked numbers to portray the first hearing as a failure:
The preliminary broadcast network ratings are in for last night’s January 6 committee hearings, and they paint a disappointing picture for Democrats and their media pals.
Graham pushed the same talking point in his podcast that same day, sneering: "Democrats talked all the networks (except Fox News) into a breathless hearing (or retelling) of January 6. But it felt like a summer rerun."
Meanwhile, back in reality, the first hearing drew more than 19 million viewers across all channels that aired it, dwarfing Fox News' non-coverage. And Fox News was so afraid that viewers might be distracted enough to change channels to the hearing -- and, thus, learn that Fox News has been lying to them about the riot and the events (and bogus claims of election fraud) that led up to it -- that it didn't run any commercials during the regularly programming that it ran instead of the hearing, costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions in revenue.
The meltdowns continue
Mark Finkelstein tried a weird, desperate bit of whataboutism on the hearing's ratings in a June 13 post (needless bolding and italics in original):
There are some ratings that Morning Joe likes to trumpet -- and others they prefer to bury.
As the hearings went on, the MRC continued to whine that legitimate media outlets were covering them. In a June 17 post, Aidan Moorehouse complained that Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein "made the outrageous claim on CNN’s Friday morning New Day that Donald Trump’s actions in the leadup to and during January 6 were worse than Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy" and called it "worse than Watergate." Moorehouse tried to write it off this way:
Just think about this comparison for a minute. Bernstein is seriously comparing Donald Trump’s admittedly legally dubious efforts to prevent the electoral college results from being certified and to be sent back to the states for recertification with the aim of remaining in office, to the unilateral secession of eleven states with the primary aim of preserving the institution of slavery.
Of course, Trump isn't just acting in a "legally dubious" manner -- he incited people to try and overthrow the government because he can't accept that he lost an election. Moorehouse didn't mention that his employer helped Trump perpetuate that "legally dubious" fiction.
The same day, a post by Tober ranted about "the ongoing partisan January 6 committee hearings" and "the two Democrat-appointed turncoat 'Republicans' who are on the January 6 committee." in fact, those Republicans remain Republicans.
Graham chortled in a June 19 post that "NBC News went to the voters voting in primary elections in Nevada to see how those 'bombshell' January 6 committee hearings with all the live network coverage are being received. The answer is: they're going nowhere, or in the 'opposite direction,'" highlighting a claim by one voter that it's "all political and designed to try to prevent Donald Trump from running for president again":
You can believe Biden won the election and that Trump really should have conceded by Christmas in 2020, and still agree with these statements. They are factually true. The Democrats and Cheney are clearly seeking to "get Trump off the ballot," if not indicted on criminal charges. There is no Republican on the committee that is allowed to question what Speaker Pelosi might have done to prevent the rioters from penetrating the Capitol.
But Graham really doesn't believe Biden won the election or that Trump should have conceded, given that he has not retracted the MRC's embrace of Trump's Big Lie. He's also leaning into the bogus right-wing conspiracy theory that Pelosi somehow stopped additional law enforcement from deploying that day.
Attacking a hearing witness
How devastating was former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony at the June 28 hearing of the House committee looking into the Capitol riot, particularly her account of Donald Trump lunging at the steering wheel of a presidential vehicle driven by a Secret Service officer when told he was being taken back to the White House instead of to the Capitol to egg on rioters? The MRC saw fit to deviate from its agenda of ignoring the content of the hearings to attack Hutchinson. Kevin Tober led the attack:
On Tuesday, it was revealed that former President Trump had allegedly lunged at his Secret Service limo driver and attempted to grab the steering wheel on the morning of January 6, 2021, when he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to go to the Capitol after his speech at the White House Ellipse.
Tober's post did not age well. The Secret Service agents who declared they would testify to the committee that Hutchinson was lying have yet to do so; instead, they have lawyered up and refused to testify and they have been identified as Trump loyalists and yes men. Meanwhile, other witnesses have corroborated key parts of Hutchinson's testimony.
A June 29 post by interns Wallace White and Michael Ippolito compiled right-wing tweets attacking Hutchinson, none of which prove her wrong. Curtis Houck did a time-count follow-up later in the day:
With the liberal media all-in on Tuesday’s January 6 Committee hearing featuring former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, it wasn’t a surprise Wednesday morning to see the “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC downplay the strong pushback from the Secret Service regarding Hutchinson’s tall tale that President Trump assaulted a Secret Service agent and tried to seize the steering wheel of his presidential SUV on January 6.
Yeah, that one's not aging well either.
Mark Finkelstein served up some serious whining in a July 2 post:
Never pass up an opportunity to plug your bookeven when discussing what you consider to have been a grave national crisis! That would appear to be Mika Brzezinski's credo. On Wednesday's Morning Joe, Brzezinski managed to work the title of her book into her praise of Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump White House aide who testified before the House January 6 committee hearing on Tuesday.
Aside from a couple passing references, the MRC hasn't touched Hutchinson's testimony since. And it has offered nothing so far beyond passing references to new revelations that the Secret Service deleted text messages from its agents that day. Remember, the MRC's mission is to protect Trump and Republicans, not to do "media research," so don't expect them to correct the record.
SIDEBAR: Defending GOP congressman's tour
After all this time, the MRC is continuing to fend off criticism of Republicans surrounding the riot -- such as an effort to defend a Republican congressman accused to leading a tour of the Capitol complex in which suspicious behavior occurred. In a June 15 post, Kevin Tober clung to a Capitol Police investigation that allegedly cleared Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk of wrongdoing while downplaying additional evidence the committee released:
On Wednesday’s CBS Evening News, anchor Norah O’Donnell and congressional correspondent Seth MacFarlane erroneously linked Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk (GA) to an alleged advanced reconnaissance inside the Capitol building prior to the January 6 riots at the Capitol. This despite Capitol Police stating that nothing suspicious or out of the ordinary was spotted on surveillance cameras.
Nicholas Fondacaro did the same thing in a post the next day:
With the Democrat-led January 6 Committee dredging up the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Republicans Congressman Barry Loudermilk (GA) was involved in helping the Capitol rioters plan the attack, ABC’s The View had all they needed to gaslight their viewers with lies and disinformation designed to smear Republicans. They even lashed out at the Capitol Police who exonerated Loudermilk after their own investigation found that neither he nor anyone in the tour group did anything wrong.
Neither Tober nor Fondacaro commented on the fact that newly released evidence like this -- that the tour participants took photos of non-touristy things and one of them was part of the Capitol riot the next day -- tends to raise questions about previous denials and the Capitol Police's clearing of Loudermilk, which presumably did not have access to this video. As the Washington Post noted, Loudermilk long -- and falsely -- denied there was any tour at all and has made statements about the tour that seem to contradict the new evidence.
Despite the discrepancies, the MRC's defense of Loudermilk continued. Mark Finkelstein complained in a June 16 post:
Such a tough hombre, that Joe Scarborough! On Thursday's Morning Joe, Ragin' Bull Scarborough twice fantasy-bragged about what he would do if he saw someone taking photos of security areas in the Capitol, claiming he'd threaten them with feeding them the camera.
And in his hyping of staffers from "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" being arrested in the Capitol complex allegedly without authorization, Tim Graham used a June 18 post to quote a writer from the right-wing RedState claiming it was "incredibly ironic that Democrats went after Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) for just having guests at the complex taking pictures of the artwork." As ConWebWatch documented, the MRC portrayed the staffers' arrest while filming comedy skits as the next Capitol riot but censored the fact that charges against them were dropped because they had, in fact, been properly let into the Capitol but not accompanied by an aide as apparently required.
After the summer wave of hearings ended, the MRC continued to whine about them. A July 22 post by Graham whined that they were discussed on a late-night talk show:
On CBS, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert went live on Thursday, so Colbert could do a live review of the hearings -- like a Talking Dead aftershow -- and express his fascination with the show.
And Waters used a July 26 post to complain that the New York Times examined how right-wing media attacked the hearings on Trump's behalf and described them as his "Praetorian Guard of friendly media."Waters mostly played whataboutism rather than engaging in actual criticism, writing things like "While the liberal media march in Trump-loathing lockstep, Peters complained of the 'uniformity' of the pro-Trump press." Of course, Waters and the rest of the MRC demand press uniformity on their own side -- and it's their self-appointed job to enforce that uniformity.