An MRC Microaggression Goes Macro
The Media Research Center clings to the false narrative that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are somehow "anti-vaxxers" because they pointed out that an extremely untrustworthy Donald Trump was promising a COVID vaccine as a re-election ploy.
By Terry Krepel
Before the 2020 presidential election, ConWebWatch identified as one of the microaggressions the Media Research Center was using to rally right-wing anti-Biden sentiment was portraying Joe Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, as an "anti-vaxxer" because she raised concerns about a then-in-development vaccine because Trump was promising one as a re-election ploy -- burying the fact that Harris also said that she would trust it if credible medical officials were vouching for it.
In the months after Biden won the election, the MRC still insisted on pushing that bogus narrative and wrapping Biden himself into it.
After the vaccine was made available in December 2020, the MRC immediately tried to rewrite history. Scott Whitlock huffed in a Dec. 11 post:
Oh, NOW CBS is concerned with vaccine skepticism? This Morning hosts and reporters on Friday fretted that Americans, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, might be resistant to taking the newly-approved COVID vaccine. Yet nowhere in the segment did Gayle King or reporter Adriana Diaz remind viewers that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris indulged in anti-science, anti-vaccine propaganda during the campaign.
But Whitlock buried what Biden actually said -- "I trust vaccines, I trust the scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump" -- in the 11th paragraph of his article, and he completely censored what Harris said at the time: that she "would not trust Donald Trump" given his reputation for muzzling health officials who spoke publicly about inconvenient facts, and that she would require "a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability" of a vaccine.
Kristine Marsh complained the same day that "Democrats like [Rep. Katie] Porter and Kamala Harris led the media in putting politics about public safety in casting doubt about the safety of this vaccine before the election, and now they want to reverse course and avoid taking responsibility for their damaging actions." She too censored what Harris actually said. As proof of Porter allegedly "casting doubt about the safety of this vaccine before the election," she linked to an article in which she questioned that Trump put a former pharmaceutical executive in charge of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine initiative -- never mind that the MRC would likely have done the exact same thing if the president was a Democrat.
Marsh returned to rant on Dec. 15:
Now that there’s hope on the horizon with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine being distributed here in this country, the morning networks have been singing a different tune about how safe this vaccine is. After spreading anti-vaccine quackery on Good Morning America leading up to the November election, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos urged Americans to “trust” Dr. Fauci that this vaccine is safe to take, on Tuesday’s GMA.
Again, those "dangerous conspiracies" were ... just pointing out that Trump's word can't be trusted, which is just common sense. She again censored what Biden and Harris actually said.
Marsh continued her dishonest attack the next day: "As we’ve documented at NewsBusters, Harris told Americans in September not to trust President Trump on the coronavirus vaccine. ABC used Harris and Biden’s own words to spread mistrust about a COVID vaccine, and now they have the audacity to question why there’s mistrust, and ask Harris how to combat that mistrust, when they themselves were part of the problem?"
On Dec. 22, Marsh again falsely accused Harris of "spreading anti-vaccine misinformation before the election, only to flip the script after she and Biden won."
It's important to note that at no point in any of these posts did MRC writers offer evidence to back up their implicit claim that Trump's word on a vaccine -- or anything else, for that matter -- should be trusted without question.
In a Dec. 30 post, Duncan Schroeder complained that CNN and MSNBC "demonstrated their role as sycophants for the Biden-Harris administration by gushing over Kamala Harris receiving her COVID vaccine, the nurse who was selected to administer it, and where Harris went to get it while downplaying her anti-vaccine position during the campaign (simply because of who's occupied the White House)." He too ignored that Trump was promising a vaccine before the election as a ploy to get votes.
The false narrative continued well into 2021. In a March 16 post, Marsh ranted that "Kamala Harris and other Democrats spent months leading up to the November election spreading dangerous vaccine misinformation with the media’s help," adding:
In September, the big three networks touted Kamala Harris sowing doubt about the safety of a “Trump vaccine.” The journalists at ABC, NBC and CBS failed to hold the VP candidate accountable for trying to ruin public trust over the important vaccine effort.
Marsh is censoring the fact that Trump was cynically using the promise of a vaccine as a re-election ploy, and given Trump indisputable record of telling lies, there was ample reason to doubt him, as well as censoring what Harris actually said at the time. In other words, Marsh is lying when she claimed Harris and other Democrats spread "dangerous vaccine misinformation"; they pointed out that Fauci and other actual medical experts were the ones to be trusted on a vaccine, not Trump.
Further: If Harris and Democrats really did spread "dangerous vaccine misinformation," why is the group most likely to reject getting a vaccine white Republicans? Were they listening to Harris? Unlikely.
Harris was telling the truth; Marsh is not. That makes the MRC look like partisan hacks who are desperate to deflect from the fact that anti-vaxxer is largely driven by right-wingers in general and Trump supporters in particular, despite the fact that the vaccines were developed under Trump's presidency.
In his July 24 column, Jeffrey Lord repeated the bogus Harris attack in defending Fox News host Sean Hannity from "The View" co-host Sunny Hostin:
Remember, as above, that Hannity was saying this on getting vaccinated in September of 2020: “If doctors and scientists say it’s safe my personal inclination is to take it.”
In other words, Harris was saying the same thing Hannity did. And given that Trump was hyping a then-nonexistent vaccine as a ploy to get re-elected and his history of being an inveterate liar, there's ample reason for nobody to trust anything he said.
In a July 26 item, Tim Graham served another one of his complaints that fact-checkers committed the offense of putting Harris' words in their proper context to debunk a right-wing narrative:
PolitiFact’s aggressive defense of Biden and Harris popped up again on Friday. They tagged it as “False” for a Tik-Tok video that “Says Joe Biden and Kamala Harris distrusted COVID-19 vaccines.”
Graham grudgingly conceded the statements were taken out of context, then laughably insisted the "aren't wildly out of context."Remember that Graham doesn't believe that Trump tells falsehoods, he just has "a casual relationship with the truth."
Marsh used an Aug. 13 post to bash CNN for a report suggesting that "blamed conservative media for vaccine hesitancy," huffing: "What [CNN host Don] Lemon won’t acknowledge is that the media’s bias has been evident throughout their reporting on the pandemic, from squashing the lab leak theory, to calling blaming China for the virus, racist, and excusing anti-vaccine comments from Democrats before the election." As evidence, she linked to an earlier MRC post that took Harris and Biden out of context, which didn't exactly help her case.
An alternative take
Meanwhile, the MRC's designated New York Times blogger, Clay Waters, created his own little spin on the argument, deflecting from the right-wing anti-vaxxer narrative by blaming the Biden administration for vaccine hesitancy because one of the three available COVID vaccines was temporarily suspended over health concerns. He wrote in a July 14 post:
Speaking of “amplifying vaccine hesitancy,” it wasn’t Fox News but the Biden Administration that actually cancelled vaccinations, when the Centers for Disease Control recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in mid-April over rare occurrences of blood clots, which marked the start of the decline in America’s daily vaccination rate.
He made the same argument in a July 27 post:
Once again, in the paper’s rush to blame Republicans, it skips how President Biden’s own Centers for Disease Control literally caused vaccination appointments to be canceled in mid-April because of excessive precaution about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, based on extremely rare cases of blood clots among women. The daily vaccination rate has never recovered.
Waters didn't mention that the other two vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, continued to be available during J&J vaccine pause, and he provided no evidence to support his politically motivated thesis.
Waters served up a more general deflection of blame on right-wingers for vaccine hesitancy in a July 21 post bashing another Times article by declaring that "nowhere in the paper’s constant criticism of conservative vaccine rhetoric is mentioned how left-wing anti-vaccination conspiracies were given aid and comfort by the news networks less than a decade ago." Waters linked to a 2014 MRC report attacking the TV networks for "giving time to prominent anti-vaccine celebrities and families who blamed autism on vaccines." One of those misinformers, however, is Sharyl Attkisson, then of CBS' "60 Minutes" and now a conservative darling whom the MRC has praised for her right-wing advocacy while obscuring her embrace of false anti-vaxxer narratives.