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Flip-Flopping To Fix A Failed Narrative

The Media Research Center fed right-wing claims that a story of a raped 10-year-old who had to go to another state for an abortion wasn't true -- but when the story was proven true after all, it simply changed the narrative and refused to apologize.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/7/2022

Tim Graham

When reports surfaced of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who had been raped but the extreme anti-abortion laws in the state proved to be so onerous that she was forced to go to neighboring Indiana to undergo the procedure, the Media Research Center -- particularly executive Tim Graham -- tried to throw shade at the claim.

In a July 4 post, Graham complained that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, where abortion is similarly effectively illegal, "was harassed to support an abortion for a raped 10-year-old girl in Ohio." He cheered that Noem clung to approved anti-abortion narratives, gushing that "Noem focused on the predator and then expressed the pro-life position that abortion after rape is adding a tragedy to a tragedy."

After President Biden referenced the story, Graham returned with a July 10 post that sought to portray it as a hoax and attacking Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler for not immediately calling Biden a liar after being unable to immediately substantiate the claim:

This story was "too good to check" for the liberal media -- a ten-year-old rape victim in Ohio having to travel to Indiana to get an abortion. On Saturday, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noticed it when Joe Biden used it. "This is the account of a one-source story that quickly went viral around the world — and into the talking points of the president."


Kessler underlined "There is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account. The story’s lead reporter, Shari Rudavsky, did not respond to a query asking whether additional sourcing was obtained." The Star put out a lame statement that "the facts and sources...are clear."

That's not transparency! That doesn't build confidence in newspapers! Kessler noted this one-source anecdote was treated as fact all over the globe, and he included CNN's Dana Bash.


If Donald Trump picked up a story like this, Kessler would assign Pinocchios. As usual, there were no Pinocchios for Biden, and his take on the "presidential imprimatur" on this possibly mythical event is so mild that you could interpret it as "Oh, it's a fact now."

ConWebWatch reminds Graham that he and his employer demanded that all media treat the Hunter Biden laptop story that surfaced before the 2020 presidential election as unimpeachable fact despite the fact that the laptop had not been independently verified by anyone outside of the pro-Trump activists who were pushing the story.

To the inconvenience of anti-abortion activists like Graham, the story proved to be true -- a 10-year-old girl was indeed raped. But because the alleged rapist is an undocumented immigrant, it suddenly became a story that could fit into the MRC's pile of stock right-wing narratives. So it shifted its narrative to focus on the perpetrator instead of the victim in a trio of posts on July 13 and 14:

In that second article, Curtis Houck complained that CBS reporter Eliaine Quijano wanted to talk about things other than the alleged perpetrator's legal status: "Quijano cited '[t]he Indiana doctor who said she performed the abortion,' but skipped over how both her name (Caitlin Bernard) when mentioning the fact that she could face legal trouble for failing to report the rape to law enforcement." Houck didn't explain how Bernard's name was relevant to that particular telling of the story. And his allegation that Bernard "could face legal trouble for failing to report the rape to law enforcement" because it was reported the same day that, in fact, she did.

When the mother of the girl went on TV to defend the alleged rapist, the MRC found that more interesting as well. Jorge Bonilla's eyes seemed to metaphorically light up at the prospect of more undocumented immigrants he could disparage: "Based on that experience, I assess that: the mother's distressed defense of the rapist suggests she is also here illegally and fears deportation, the defendant is the family's sole source of income, there is a likelihood of other children in the home, and Mom is exposed to removal of the children under dependency proceedings (failure to protect). Kevin Tober followed with the usual MRC "non-right-wing media aren't covering angles beneficial to right-wing narratives" item, and Bonilla served up another post on the development.

Tober wrote up a post complaining that the girl being forced to go to another state to get an abortion was being held up as an example of post-Roe America: "Of course, this ignores the fact that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost had previously stated the girl could’ve received an abortion under her unique circumstances." In fact, the Ohio law is so vaguely written that any doctor who performed that abortion could easily face criminal charges.

Graham spent his July 15 column whining that the story made the front page of USA Today; he didn't tell his readers he previously tried to portray it as a hoax. The next day, he was whining that conservatives were called out for pretending the story wasn't true, rehashing his previous complaints:

On Friday's PBS NewsHour, anchor William Brangham twisted around the horrible child rape in Ohio as something the Republicans tried to "make hay" of, somehow not a story that Democrats and the liberal media were the first to exploit.

This began as a single-source story in the Indianapolis Star, and CNN's Dana Bash threw it in the face of Gov. Kristi Noem and tried to intimidate her about allowing the murder of a baby after rape. When Washington Post "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler found the Star reporter and her abortionist source didn't want to talk, Republicans "made hay" of how the story might not be true. Then this controversy forced it to come out.

Graham did not apologize for doubting the story, nor did he admit he was one of the doubters.

Alex Christy similarly whined in another July 16 post:

MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle hypocritically weaponized the case of a 10-year old girl who traveled from Ohio to Indiana to seek an abortion by declaring that it was actually conservatives who were “weaponizing this story” by not initially believing its veracity.

During a panel discussion, Ruhle expressed to former colleague and current Washington Post Live anchor Leigh Ann Caldwell, “the truth matters but only if you hear it. We say it all the time and I want our audience to understand this week, many, many people heard this awful, awful story in Ohio, a ten year old girl was raped and she had to flee to another state to seek abortion services. Why did she do that? Well, we all know, because Roe v. Wade was overturned.


To help Ruhle and Caldwell, it was the left and the media that originally weaponized this story by asking Republicans to comment on the case even though they would still be called extremists even if they embraced rape and incest exceptions. It should also not be considered right-wing hackery to except journalists to do a better job confirming single-source stories before turning them into high-profile national narrative drivers, even if they ultimately end up being true.

Again: The MRC demanded that the Hunter Biden laptop story be promoted as stated from partisan right-wing campaign operatives without any independent verification.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Lord served up his own bizarre spin on the story in a July 16 column claiming that it proved Donald Trump right when he smeared Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists: "In the zeal of both President Biden and his liberal media allies to target the repeal of Roe with the story of the 10 year old girl being raped, they are suddenly confronted by the fact that they have accidentally confirmed Trump’s point about some illegals crossing the border and, their background un-vetted, committing rape. Which is exactly what appears to have happened to that 10 year old girl."

According to the quote Lord himself cited, Trump didn't say "some" immigrants were rapists; he portrayed most immigrants as criminals and rapists before adding that "some, I assume, are good people."

The whining continues

That denial of the MRC's role in trying to falsely deny the rape-and-abortion story continued in Graham's July 18 podcast, in which he whined that it was pointed out how Republicans "were trying to make hay of it" by pretending it wasn't true until they couldn't, then made the doctor who performed the abortion the bad guy. First, he repeated his grousing that a Republican governor, Noem, was questioned about not allowing rape exceptions in her state:

Excuse me? The Republicans were the ones to make hay out of it? This started with media jerks like Dana Bash on CNN throwing this in the face of Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, pushing and pushing and pushing and shaming -- without a rape exception for abortion, you're making this fourth-grader carry a pregnancy to term. Now, Noem did a decent job trying to sort of fending this off by turning it around and saying, well, why don't we focus our outrage on the abortion -- or on the rapist, why aren't you focused on the rapist and not on the child, and she was like oh, yes, of course, you know. But this is the game: A pro-abortion journalist like Dana Bash is all about shaming and shaming and shaming, and they have no shame about killing the baby. There's no shame for that! At any point or for any reason, there's no extreme. And yet the Republicans are the ones making hay?

Graham then switched his whining target to Fox News for not talking about abortion enough: "Fox News is squishy on abortion. Fox News has been eternally squishy on abortion." Finally, he got around to addressing how right-wingers desperately tried to discredit what was ultimately a true story, whining that "hack" Bill Carter called them out for not being interested in correcting the record:

Fact check false! Right-wing media never, ever wants to acknowledge they're wrong? Earth to Billy Carter: My work principle is, don't say "ever" or "never" unless you can back it up. To say the whole right-wing media do not ever want to acknowledge they're wrong ever -- Fox News corrects things, NewsBusters corrects things. I had one a few years ago where NPR and PBS had done a poll on the approval for Black Lives Matter, and the numbers were 50 percent and 33 percent, and I got it wrong. I said 33 percent approve of Black Lives Matter, 50 percent disapprove. I had it exactly wrong, so we corrected it and I put on Twitter I corrected it, OK? So that happens. I'm not proud of that. Nobody want to have to correct something when you get something that obviously factually wrong, but everybody should.

NewsBusters may correct some "obviously factually wrong" but certainly not all of them. Nicholas Fondacaro's falsehoods remain uncorrected, for example, and the MRC still has never told its readers that the 2016 Fox News story it heavily hyped about Hillary Clinton's purportedly imminent indicted was retracted. Earlier this year, MRC sports blogger and anti-vaxxer Jay Maxson wrote a falsehood-laden post spreading misinformation that athletes were dropping dead from the COVID vaccine that remains uncorrected as of this writing -- as does a September post filled with falsehoods and misinformation about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and illustrated with a fake photo purporting to show Sanger addressing a group of Ku Klux Klan members.

What Graham didn't do, however, is acknowledge that right-wing media got it wrong in trying to discredit the story, nor did he point to any corrections made by those who pushed that false narrative.

Graham then went to his old whataboutism warhorse: "Conservative media doesn't have a worse record on this than liberal media, OK? CNN's been pretty bad at corrections for decades." He then whined about being called out for advancing the hoax narrative, grudgingly offered a non-apology for advancing the narrative -- and, even worse, has to defend the hated Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler because his initial non-confirmation of the story fed the narrative:

One perpetual malcontent tweeted at me, 'Where's your correction and apology for falsely dismissing as a hoax the story of a 10-year-old girl was raped and had to get an abortion?" So clarify as I did on Twitter. I never said the story was a hoax, I never said the story was fake. I did say it seemed too good to check when President Biden pounced on this story. That caused Washington Post Glenn Kessler to do a fact-check. What he found was the Indianapolis Star reporter clammed up. The abortionist didn't want to talk. It looked suspect. So now it's confirmed, in part because of the pressure from Kessler and others. And so I'm sorry for the victim that this story is true.


Now, we know a Fox News host did say the word "fake," that it was made up, some used the word "hoax" -- and that, of course, is a favorite Brian Stelter word, he called the entire Fox News Channel a hoax, that was the title of his book. Now, if one of us said this story might be fake, that's not the same. That's speculating, which is pretty much what cable news does 24/7. So Glenn Kessler should not be dissed for attempting to verify a story. That's what journalists do.

Graham then went on his old tirade about how fact-checkers purportedly only fact-check conservatives. But he didn't note where (or even if) that unnamed Fox News host corrected the record. Indeed, Graham spent much more time whining that his fellow right-wing media members were called out for pushing a false narrative (and that a "malcontent" on Twitter was criticizing him for his own role in perpetuating that false narrative) than demonstrating how they acted in any sort of responsible manner by correcting the record. That's a massive "media research" failure.

Attacking the doctor

Given this deceptive narrative, it should be no surprise that the MRC is complaining that the doctor who performed the abortion on the girl is being allowed to appear on TV to discuss abortion and related issues. Curtis Houck groused in a July 27 post, making sure to tag Dr. Caitlin Bernard with the pejorative right-wing tag of "abortionist":

Since the overturning of disinformation campaign seeking to terrify women into believing miscarriages will be criminalized and women will die from medical complications related to pregnancies. It’s been so sinister that it would make even the Russians jealous.

In turn, it made sense CBS would spend Tuesday and Wednesday worshipping Dr. Caitlyn Bernard, the Indiana abortionist who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

The interview first aired on Tuesday’s CBS Evening News with anchor Norah O’Donnell, who said Bernard’s interview came amid protests in Indiana over a debate among lawmakers for an abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother Of course, O’Donnell chose to deceive viewers by leaving out that last exception.

Houck censored the fact that many "life of the mother" exceptions are vaguely written and can keep a doctor from acting in the best interest of the mother out of fear of being criminally charged. Instead, he continued:

To close out, O’Donnell invited Bernard to “address concerns by conservatives or those with deeply held religious beliefs that abortion is immoral and wrong.”

Bernard insisted that “if you don't believe that you would have an abortion, then don't have one” and thus one shouldn’t “stop other people from accessing medical care that they need.”

Considering the Obama administration sued nuns and a Biden administration order would force religious hospitals (such as Catholic-backed institutions) to perform abortions, that’s also a lie.
Houck didn't explain why Catholic or religious hospitals should be allowed to refuse to perform an abortion in an emergency, which is what the Biden administration executive order would do. Also, Houck is being dishonest by claiming that "the Obama administration sued nuns." In fact, the opposite is true: the nuns sued the Obama administration in an effort to keep them from having to cover birth control in their health insurance.

A July 31 post by Jorge Bonilla complained that "corporate media" coverage of the rape story wasn't embracing the right-wing shift to obsessing over the immigration status of the perpetrator and that "coverage continues to center around abortionist Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who corporate media have decided to simultaneously cast as both the true hero and 'real victim' of this horrendous story." Bonilla censored mention of the right-wing media's failed attempt to frame the story as a hoax that created a victim narrative for Bernard.

When Bernard appeared on TV again, Aidan Moorehouse was there to complain about it -- and pretend there are no issues with such narrow exceptions -- in an Aug. 5 post:

Since she performed an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohioan rape victim, Indiana abortionist Dr. Caitlin Bernard has become something of an icon to the post-Roe pro-abortion movement. New Day co-host Brianna Keilar interviewed Bernard on Friday morning to voice her opposition to Indiana’s pending abortion bill, despite the bill containing exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother (the most commonly accepted exceptions).

After outlining the contents of the bill (which can be read here), Keilar played the interview, which had been taped prior to it being shown live. She began by asking Dr. Bernard, “You've treated many patients who would fall into these categories. What, to you, is the problem with relying on those exceptions?”


On the question of enforcing the exceptions, Bernard fretted the laws would cause doctors to second-guess themselves when the mother’s life is in danger, “The impact on the physicians means that they can't take care of patients the way that they need to be able to and patients will be hurt.”

This line has been repeated ad nauseam by abortion advocates and their allies in the media, but it doesn’t apply at all in this case because, again, the law in question makes an exception to save the life of the mother. To put it bluntly, any failure to act in such a situation would rest on the doctors who failed to understand the full implications of a law that so closely impacted their profession.

Moorehouse concluded by huffing:

When a pro-life bill imposes a total ban on abortion, the pro-abortion crowd laments the cruelty of leaving out exceptions for rare and traumatic circumstances. But when a pro-life bill carves out exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, it suddenly becomes a question of medical privacy. And the liberal media will eagerly promote both angles whenever they get the opportunity.

Moorehouse didn't mention that the MRC supports even more extreme restrictions on abortion, including creating an Orwellian surveillance state to monitor women who might cross state lines to have one.

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