The MRC vs. White House Press Secretaries
The Media Research Center can't stand it when other media outlets won't hate Jen Psaki or Karine Jean-Pierre as much as it does -- but it sees no irony in its gushing over Peter Doocy or tossing softballs to Kayleigh McEnany.
By Terry Krepel
When the Washington Post did an article last summer on the clashes between then-press secretary Jen Psaki and the MRC's favorite right-wing reporter (and MRC writer Curtis Houck's man-crush), Fox News' Peter Doocy -- clashes that Psaki tends to win -- Tim Graham spent his Aug. 6, 2021, podcast raging about it. It was promoted this way, with a massive dose of whataboutism:
The Washington Post has "honored" Fox White House reporter Peter Doocy by highlighting his exchanges with Biden press secretary Jen Psaki in the briefing room. Doocy gets "fact checked" by media reporter Paul Farhi...but in 2018, Farhi and the Post didn't check on CNN's Jim Acosta as he told them he was all about the facts, not about damaging Trump.
Indeed, Graham pretended it was suddenly 2018 again and complained at length about Acosta, who has been a longtime MRC target, whining that the same Post reporter didn't spew hate at Acosta in an earlier profile. "Jim Acosta is so clueless that he showed up wherever Trump was working and metaphorically flipped him off. It was his job to yell and upset the president and embarrass him and just basically make a spectacle of himself. This is not what Steve [sic] Doocy does." That's not the impression we get from the MRC, which routinely runs headlines like "Doocy Smash" and "DOOCY DEMOLITION" to cheer his preening and alleged dominance over Psaki. Graham then huffed of Acosta that "A good reporter isn't measured by how loud he yells at Trump," then played a clip package of interactions with Acosta and a very testy Trump in which Acosta... did not yell.
Continuing to get Doocy's name wrong, Graham asserted that by contrast, "Steve Doocy is the one who you could say he's asking, he's holding the president accountable, he's asking factual questions or asking questions about facts he wants." Graham forgot that the MRC stealth-edited a post to hide the fact that Doocy tried to play gotcha with Psaki on a false story about Vice President Kamala Harris' book being given to undocumented immigrants. Graham ultimately huffed that "Acosta's a very one-sided asshat. That's what he does." (Is Graham sure he's not talking about himself?)
Graham then justifed the idea of violence against members of the media who refused to suck up to Trump the way the MRC did and does: "Jim Acosta has very clearly set himself out to be the enemy. That's his gig. That's what he does... Jim Acosta has never been slugged by anyone, and even if he was, you can't blame NewsBusters or Donald Trump. Blame Jim Acosta. Why don't you blame what you're doing? Why don't you look at your last name -- "accost"? Accost is what you do."
Reminder: Acosta stopped being a White House correspondent in January 2021, meaning he hadn't been there for around eight months at the time of Graham's rant. Also remember that Graham is supposed to be defending Doocy here (though he can't be bothered to get his name right). That's how much Graham and the rest of CNN are obsessed with trying to destroy CNN and its employees for the sin of not being Trump toadies.
Graham went on to whine that the Post didn't label Children's Health Defense, the anti-vaxx group that Robert Kennedy Jr. heads, as a "left-wing" group -- but that's because it's not. In fact, Kennedy's group has no constituency on the left. And Graham left out the fact that the organization for which he's an executive defended CHD's right to misinform people about vaccines.
He further whined that, while the Post reporter he's criticizing will actually contact the MRC from time to time for reaction on such stories, "Brian Stelter doesn't call me for media stories. But I guess we can all understand why." Because you're not a "media researcher" but, rather, a right-wing political activist who irrationally hates Stelter and likes to metaphorically (if not actually) flip him off at every opportunity?
Graham's whining continued in his Aug. 18 podcast, where the target was a interview Psaki did with Mediaite's Tommy Christopher he deemed too fawning (read: he didn't trash her the way the MRC would). He ranted that the media is "99 percent Biden voters," though he refused to speculate on whom Doocy voted for (as if it wasn't obvious). He then complained about attention about #PsakiBomb hashtags, apparently oblivious to the ridiculously Doocy-fawning headlines on the website of which he's the executive editor.
Later, Graham was joined by Houck to do what the MRC pays him to do. Sounding like the biased right-wing activists they are, Houck joined Graham in complaining that "the media" was trying to "drag Trump into" the story of the U.S. withdrawal of Afghanistan -- apparently forgetting that Trump was the person who set it in motion by signing a withdrawal deal with the Taliban.
The two then collaborated on what (biased) questions they would has Psaki if they had the chance. They chose to ask about an obscure 2013 "scandal" of the State Department (where Psaki worked at the time) editing out a question by then-Fox News reporter James Rosen from a briefing. Graham added that he wanted to ask why there is no page at PolitiFact for Psaki.
Houck also rushed to the defense of his beloved Kayleigh McEnany, complaining that "she was seen as this kind of bimbo" along with others who worked in the Trump White House. Graham groused that "obviously, you know that Jen Psaki spends her year or her year and a half as the White House press secretary, I imagine she's going to land a very sweet gig in some PR group in DC, and then probably have the CNN gig again on the Jake Tapper show. So she could still be doing Biden's talking points, but just as a regular pundit on CNN."
In other words, exactly what you'd expect from these two -- with a complete lack of admission that Doocy or any other right-wing reporter in the briefing room is in any way biased.
Graham used an Aug. 29 post to complain that the Washington Post pointed out how Psaki makes good use of Doocy:
You can tell just how perfectly The Washington Post fits into the White House publicity apparatus when it posts articles proclaiming that they have Fox News reporter Peter Doocy exactly where they want him. He is a "useful foil," reports Philip Bump, and he's easily foiled.
Weirdly, Graham did not dispute anything in Bump's article, let alone the thesis that Doocy serves as a useful foil for Psaki -- he's merely complaining that it was said out loud in an apparent attempt to boost Doocy's "liberal media" victimhood. We also didn't recall him complaining about how well Fox News -- or even the MRC -- fit into the publicity apparatus of the Trump White House.
Next, Clay Waters did the Psaki-complaining in a Sept. 19 post:
New York Times media reporter Michael Grynbaum devoted 2,300 words to profiling President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki for Sunday’s edition, bragging in the online headline that normalcy (and a more compliant press corps?) had returned to the White House with Trump out: “Bully Pulpit No More: Jen Psaki’s Turn at the Lectern.”
Waters even whined that the article "also noted Breitbart White House reporter Charlie Spiering called her briefings "rehearsed, scripted, and boring." He seemed mad that the Times deviated from the MRC's narrative that Psaki is a sleazy mess and Doocy is America's hero.
Love for Doocy
Of course, if Waters and Graham actually want to see media pom-poms in action, they don't need to venture outside the building. They just have to look at Houck's slobbering Sept. 27 writeup of an interview Doocy did with the MRC's favorite right-wing radio host, Mark Levin:
Fox News’s Peter Doocy gave a rare interview on his job as White House correspondent to legendary conservative author and talk radio host Mark Levin on his Sunday night FNC show Life, Liberty, & Levin and shared what it’s like to question President Biden on his ever-changing views, what goes into his questions at press briefings, and even what reporters at other outlets think about him.
That's the very definition of a softball interview -- and a fawning recitation of said softballs. Since Levin is the MRC's close personal friend, they wouldn't dare call him out for peddling such embarrassing fluff.
Houck spent the rest of 2021 spreading his love of Doocy and his abject hatred of Psaki. He also did it in person, making an appearance on his boss Tim Graham's Dec. 3 podcast to join him in fawning over Doocy some more.
Houck began by regurgitating a question Doocy wrote, then complained that Psaki "insisted that Doocy needs to put it in full context, that he's somehow missing something. That's one of her tropes that she uses. She sometimes plays dumb, like she didn't hear what you asked her." He then cheered a Biden mask gotcha that right-wingers love to do, which Graham cheered as an "optics question." Graham then pretended Doocy's biased questioning wasn't biased: "These are good questions, and they're holding him accountable, and this is the kind of question you would want them all to ask him. And I don't think that they come off as -- they certainly come off as questions that are not intended to make Biden look good. I don't think they're necessarily seen as right-wing questions."
Houck went on to tout a Doocy attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, which he claimed started as "a technically benign question. You could argue he was setting a trap, we'll just roll with it."Graham sneered that the exchange showed "what we all know, and that is Dr. Fauci is a bureaucrat first and foremost," adding that he "was looking forward to" Doocy's attacks on Fauci. Houck then touted another biased gotcha question from Doocy to Psaki. He then bashed "liberal" reporters in the White House briefing room of pushing "narratives" -- a word he never uses in describing Doocy's questions, even though that's what Fox News pays him to do.
Disappointingly, Houck and Graham didn't do much more beyond rehashing right-wing talking points. But their love of Doocy and hatred for Psaki remains all too clear.
Attacking Jean-Pierre, gushing over McEnany
The MRC's hatred for Psaki was transferred and amplified when Karine Jean-Pierre replaced her as press secretary. Within a few weeks of her taking over the briefing podium in mid-May, the MRC was lashing out at her even harder than it did Psaki. Houck pushed the narrative that Jean-Pierre is an incompetent diversity hire in a June 7 post in which he hypocritically lashed out at ABC for not trashing Jean-Pierre like he would:
ABC’s Good Morning America has had a reputation of corporate whoring, liberal fluff, and superficial nonsense, so it made sense Tuesday as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre appeared for a nine-minute-plus softball session with co-host Robin Roberts over the economy, “gun violence, abortion rights,” “her trailblazing role,” and what “representation means” to her.
Needless to say, Houck offered no comparison with the greased skids Trump White House press secretaries like his beloved Kayleigh McEnany were given when they appeared on Fox News. And his attacks on ABC's alleged "corporate whoring" ring hollow as well given how the MRC whores out its "news" division to promote corporate initiatives. Houck continued to whine:
Roberts began with platitudes, gushing she had “been looking forward to having this opportunity especially today because with gun violence rising to the top of the agenda,” adding that ABC was doing its part for the administration by having all its news shows focus on guns.
Houck has never criticized McEnany's binder of prepared notes, so he's being hypocritical yet again for bashing Jean-Pierre over it.
Houck concluded by attacking Roberts for asking about Jean-Pierre's historical status and, again, for not hating her enough:
Roberts wrapped with fawning praise for Jean-Pierre as “[t]he first black, the first immigrant, the first openly gay person” with her job and an open ended question about “what does representation mean to you”[.]
If Houck really wants to criticize softball interviews, he should start with his own gooiness toward McEnany. He and Graham double-teamed to toss softballs at McEnany in on Graham's April 26 podcast.
Graham was tossing those slow softballs right out of the gate, as his first question teed up McEnany to comment on then-current White House press secretary Psaki seeking a new job at MSNBC while still working at her old one. Surprisingly, McEnany didn't bite, noting that she followed the proper ethical steps. Houck then stepped up to gush over the "outstanding pieces of media analysis" in McEnany's book and simply asked her to "expand" on what she wrote. McEnany took offense at ABC reporter Jonathan Karl calling his memoir of the Trump years "Front Row at the Trump Show" -- "it's not a show, it's not in the front row of a Trump show, you're asking questions for the American people" -- apparently oblivious to the fact that Houck dismissively labeled Psaki's hearings as "the Psaki Show" (and Houck was certainly not going to remind her of that inconvenient fact). McEnany later returned the favor by gushing about how she follows Psaki's briefings though the selective video clips Houck posts to his Twitter account and touted how she reads NewsBusters "every day," adding that "you guys are the experts."
There was a lot of commiseration between Graham, Houck and McEnany about how terrible the "liberal media" is and how it purportedly pushed false stories during the Trump administration, as well as lots of whining about anonymous sources (never mind that the MRC cites them too when it's politically advantageous). Graham cued McEnany up to rant regarding the claim that Trump ordered Lafayette Square to be cleared of protesters so he could do a photo op with a Bible in front of a church that "the inspector general said that wasn't true ... so not true, debunked" (actually, the Park Police inspector general's investigation was incomplete and did not definitively clear Trump) and that "COVID lab leak theories" were dismissed (they still haven't been proven to be fact).
Graham and Houck also teed up McEnany to chat about her daily "smackdown at the end of the briefing" and her briefing book, and they gently asked for advice on how Republican press officials should handle the media. They certainly weren't going to ask McEnany about how she infamously abandoned her job after the Capitol riot, reading a short prepared statement the next day, fleeing the podium without taking questions, then refusing to hold any more briefings for the remainder of Trump's presidency. Houck concluded by with even more McEnany gushing, dubiously claiming that conservatives never melt down like liberals do because conservatives "can rest knowing in our identity in Christ" while liberals "who haven't accepted Jesus" think "politics and winning on the battlefield is how they determine what a good life looks like."
There wasn't a tough question in the bunch. Graham and Houck should keep their fluffy, sycophantic treatment of McEnany in mind the next time they accuse the "liberal media" of conducting softball interviews.
On Wednesday, a deranged pro-abortion leftist went to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house to attempt to assassinate him, thankfully he got cold feet and called the police on himself. Regardless it is a huge news story that many in the leftist media refused to cover.
Again, the complaint over Jean-Pierre being given a "softball" interview rings hollow given the softballs his co-workers lobbed at McEnany.
Emma Schultz repeated much of the same whining about a separate interview in a June 15 post, with added leaning into the MRC's narrative that Jean-Pierre is an incompetent diversity hire:
“[We’re] in a place where we can actually put us in a place where the American people feel -- can actually -- we can take on inflation,” stated White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a train wreck interview on Monday’s CNN Don Lemon Tonight. Welcomed by Lemon Jean-Pierre struggled to defend President Biden in his work for the country, placing blame for the economy on other outside factors and even explicitly stating that the country needs to be “in a good historic economic place, which is where we are right now.”
We don't recall the MRC ever snarking about whether McEnany's mindless defenses of Trump were "convincing."