The MRC's Dirty War on George Soros
The Media Research Center was, sadly, not afraid to invoke anti-Semitic tropes depicting the liberal billionaire as a "puppet master" who controlled the media and embrace the false smear that he was a Nazi collaborator.
By Terry Krepel
But the MRC also at times pushed dangerously close to anti-Semitism in its attacks on the Jewish-born Soros -- while, of course, denying it was doing any such thing. Let's look back at its Soros-bashing in recent years.
2013: 'Puppet master'
In 2013, the MRC launched a short-lived website called StopSorosNow.com -- designed to drum up donations to the MRC -- and the top of it featured a graphic with the headline "Help the MRC Stop the Media's Puppet Master":
The "puppet master" imagery is steeped in anti-Semitic stereotypes -- Soros was born a Jew -- but the MRC is too busy fearmongering for its money grab to worry about propriety. From the website:
An early version of the MRC's appeal was quite detailed, which promised many specific things it would do with the money (bolding and underlining in original):
There is nothing that can match the depth and intricacies of the George Soros media web.
A later version of the appeal shortened things considerably and eliminated the typographical doodads, but the "anti-American" smear -- the MRC thinks anyone who's not as right-wing as them is "anti-American" -- remained:
George Soros is on a crusade to destroy the freest nation on earth and transform it into a hard-left, socialist state. He funds more than 180 media outlets and leftist front groups to advance his anti-American propaganda.
The appeal omitted the specifics of how the money would be spent, and there was no mention of donations being doubled. The offensive "puppetmaster" imagery remained, though.
In late 2013, as part of a year-end fundraising drive, the Media Research Center has launched another short-lived website called "The Truth About Media." At first glance, it looked objective and informative, discussing how people consume news -- but it soon became clear that the site was all about pushing the MRC's anti-media tropes, complaining about the media's purported "liberal bias." Below that was a section headlined "The Leftist Media Have Access To Piles Of Money," which was basically a anti-Soros screed:
Since 2003, anti-American billionaire George Soros has spent more than $52 million funding media properties, and he has direct ties to more than 30 news outletsincluding The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, CNN, and ABC.
The art illustrating this section was less anti-Semitic this time, featuring clip art of a dollar bill above a sinister-looking black-and-white photo of Soros.
As ConWebWatch has documented, the money Soros has given to various journalistic efforts pales in comparison to the millions of dollars from right-wing billionaires and foundations that prop up much of the conservative media. In fact, many of those outlets would be out of business if they were subjected to the same free-market forces conservatives normally champion. And the MRC itself has its own deep-pocket right-wing donors giving it piles of money in the form of the Mercer family. But the MRC would never call them -- or Rupert Murdoch or the Unification Church -- right-wing "puppet masters."
The site went on to tout "our indisputable, scientific research proving that the liberal media are water carriers for the Left's agenda" -- a lie if there ever was one. The truth about the MRC is that it really doesn't care about the media -- only defeating its ideological enemies, of which Soros is at the top of the list.
2018: The Nazi smear
In a June 2018 post, the MRC's Julia Seymour lashed out at the Washington Post for interview with Soros that committed the sin of letting Soros speak for himself rather than follow the reflexive right-wing Soros-bashing agenda. Seymour huffed that "the article was flattering to Soros," adding:
The only Soros critics Kranish included were either promoting conspiracy theories about Soros, already controversial or downright reviled for example, he mentioned a recent anti-Soros tweet by Roseanne Barr, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s complaint that Soros is a “threat to the fundamentals of the constitutional system.”
But Barr's tweet was not merely "anti-Soros" -- it repeated the malicious lie that Soros collaborated with the Nazis during World War II when, in fact, he was a teenage Jew trying to avoid detection by the Nazis. The Post article specifically stated that about the Barr tweet, yet Seymour felt the need to whitewash it as merely "anti-Soros."
While ConWebWatch could find no instance of the MRC actively spreading this lie, it would have been the responsible thing for Seymour to point out that Barr's tweet was, in fact, a lie instead of whitewashing it. But then, that might have interfered with the MRC's demonization campaign against Soros. Still, the MRC has downplayed this false attack on Soros as its fellow right-wingers have pushed it.
A July 2018 post by Seymour similarly complained about a New York Times interview with Soros, grumbling that "Some extreme, and even inaccurate, claims about Soros were included just to be debunked (including erroneous claims of Nazi collaboration). But rational criticism of his agenda, and his desire to remake the world as he sees fit by spending billions of dollars around the world was minimal." Seymour refused to identify by name any of the people making those "erroneous claims of Nazi collaboration."
Joseph Vazquez complained in a November 2019 post: "Accuse liberal billionaire George Soros of impropriety and you could be accused of anti-Semitism and be de-platformed. At least that’s what the Open Society Foundations is allegedly saying should happen to lawyer and Fox News guest Joe diGenova." DiGenova had ranted without evidence that Soros somehow "controls a very large part of the career foreign service of the United States State Department." Vazquez gave diGenova a pass on that, complaining instead about the call to remove diGenova from Fox News (which seems to have happened, though that's more likely because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal that led to Donald Trump's first impeachment).
The next month, Brad Wilmouth groused that a CNN anchor had accused Rudy Giuliani of "anti-Semitism and hatred" through his bizarre insistence that he is more Jewish than Soros. Wilmouth responded by insisting that Soros' tale of survival in Nazi-controlled Hungary is a "source of great controversy":
Philip Bump of The Washington Post argued "that bizarre comment that he's more Jewish than Soros. He makes that after having said that the former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, was under the control of Soros. So it is not only that he is, you know, assuming that he isn't enough Jewish, and not only that he's supporting these conspiracy theories broadly about Soros -- but he is spreading conspiracy theories very specifically about the person at the center of the impeachment without any evidence."
Actually, it's only a "source of great controversy" for unhinged Soros-haters like the MRC. Even the National Review article to which Wilmouth linked to prove this is somehow a "controversy" doesn't explain what's controversial about a teenager doing what he needed to do to survive the Nazi regime (in this case, posing as a Christian and helping a relative inventory Jewish property that had already been seized by the Nazis).
Wilmouth then went on to invoke right-winger (and Jew, he's quick to point out) Dennis Prager insisting that "Criticism of Soros is rarely a lie, and its intent is rarely to create anti-Semitism."
So how did the MRC go from the claim being "anti-Soros" to a legitimate "source of great controversy"? Wilmouth didn't explain. But then, explaining the facts would also get in the way of the MRC's anti-Soros agenda.
Vazquez returned with a January 2020 post freaking out that "Godfather of the left" Soros (which, of course, sounds a bit anti-Semitic too; the MRC did an entire report attacking Soros' philanthropy with that as the title) being named philanthropist of the year by an organization, ranting that Soros is "bankrolling leftist causes" and "currently supporting Big Government causes in the U.S. such as gun-control and a wealth-tax." Vazquez then went on an evidence-free attack of the Soros-founded Central European University as having a "radical left-wing history" dedicated to teaching "Soros’ own personal, bizarre leftist philosophy on “open society.”
Vazquez concluded with one final slam of Soros as having an "egotistical vision." But are the Mercers who fund the MRC any less egotistical? Vazquez didn't say.
2019: The Jew you're allowed to hate
The MRC hates Soros so much, in fact, that it has even absolved anyone who criticizes him of being anti-Semitic, despite Soros' Jewish heritage -- in other words, Soros is the one Jew you're allowed to hate.
After Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar got into trouble in 2019 with a remark about conservative politicians being controlled by Jewish money that many considered anti-Semitic, others pointed out that conservatives like to attack Soros and other liberal Jews for funding their preferred causes. That did not go down well at the MRC.
Curtis Houck complained that "numerous analysts and hosts have tried to assist Omar by muddying the waters, suggesting House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is also anti-Semitic for a tweet last year criticizing the left-wing views of Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, and Tom Steyer." Houck added: "So criticizing the policies of specific individuals as radical is on par with suggesting money from Jewish people controls politicians? Yeah, no. Not the same."
Kyle Drennen huffed that some were taking "what was supposed to be a story about the anti-Semitism scandal swirling around Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar" and bring up McCarthy's comments, insisting that "In reality, McCarthy’s tweet simply criticized Soros for his left-wing influence over Democratic politics, in the exact same way that Democrats routinely attack the Koch brothers for donating to Republicans."
Alex Christy similarly got mad about the McCarthy parallel, sarcastically griping, "When Republicans warn about wealthy billionaires' influence on elections it is anti-Semitism, when Democrats do it, it is showing appropriate concern about money and lobbying in politics." Christy also complained that one cable news guest said that "Trump and Republicans have been peddling anti-Semitism through criticism of George Soros and 'globalists,' even seeming to imply that Trump's rhetoric had inspired the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, despite the fact that the shooter hated Trump." Actually, the shooter supported parts of Trump's political agenda, though he allegedly didn't vote for Trump.
Ryan Foley groused that CNN's Don Lemon "couldn't resist the urge to call House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a hypocrite for knocking Omar despite the fact that he had accused 'Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg,' three wealthy liberal Jews and Democratic donors, of trying to 'BUY this election.'" Foley also served up another defense of McCarthy, proclaiming that he "offered a common sense explanation: it was election season and he was talking about Democrats and their big donors."
Houck went on another "whataboutism" tirade:
In what was a poorly mangled attempt to be the liberal and unfunny Seth Meyers, CNN’s The Lead host Jake Tapper went on a rant Wednesday in which he pretended to throw fits at his control staff for not showing clips and tweets of anti-Semitic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), but instead ones that painted the Trump administration and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as not only hypocrites but anti-Semites.
Of course, Houck would never be so gauche as to call out such whataboutism on Fox News for what it is in the way he's attacking Tapper.
Houck even went so far as to give Trump the benefit of the doubt in tweeting an anti-Semitic meme, baselessly ascribing ignorance to him:
Alas, Tapper continued on, asking producers to fetch more footage of Omar, but instead was given “a deleted Donald Trump retweet from 2016 as conservative Erick Erickson tweeted at the time: ‘A Star of David, a pile of cash, and suggestions of corruption. Donald Trump again plays to the white supremacists.’”
Even the MRC's semi-pro New York Times-hater, Clay Waters, got in on the action by complaining that a Times article "strained to turn the tables on Republicans" by bringing up McCarthy's statement.
Other personal attacks
Other MRC attacks on Soros may not stray into anti-Semitism, but they do smack a bit of desperation. ConWebWatch has previously detailed a few launched by executive Dan Gainor.
A 2011 MRC fund-raising campaign was built around using "left-wing billionaire" George Soros as a bogeyman, claiming that he "has undertaken a war on conservative media to make it easier to spread his anti-American views, and the liberal media are his willing accomplices."
Prominently featured in the literature is this Soros quote: "The main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States." This presumably is meant to portray Soros as someone who wants to destroy America -- indeed, a related MRC anti-Soros petition claims Soros has "anti-American plans in bringing our nation down."
In fact, the quote -- from Soros' 2006 book "The Age of Fallibility" -- specifically referred to criticism of the George W. Bush administration, not to a desire to destroy the country. But then, using the Soros quote in its proper context wouldn't scare as many potential donors out of their money, would it?
In 2013, Mike Ciandella was the MRC's designated Soros-hater. In one post, he complained that Soros "has given more than $20 million to groups partnered with Earth Day 2013." But counted in that $20 million (which, by the way, is money donated since 2000, not last year as the article started off suggesting) is $4.4 million given to the NAACP.
But Ciandella offered no evidence that any of the Soros-donated money went toward Earth Day activities. Indeed, at least $1 million of that went to the NAACP's Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Soros gave another $950,000 to that fund in 2011.
An August 2013 "special report" by Ciandella used Soros to attack the Columbia University journalism school. But as with many MRC "special reports," this one falls into the not-so-special category, sloppily written to suggest more sinister connections than the facts bear out.
Ciandella's big claim is that "Columbia has received $9.7 million from left-wing billionaire George Soros, more support than he has given to all but three other schools." But if you go to the section of the report detailing that, Ciandella says that the donations are since 2000, and his lack of further detail tells us that the amount is for all Soros donations to Columbia, not just to the j-school as he suggests.
(By contrast, the the Koch Family Charitable Foundations, operated by conservative billionaire Koch brothers, have given more than $46 million to George Mason University since 1985, and Ciandella didn't seem too concerned about that.)
Still, that amount over 13 years is still one-fourth of what the Unification Church had been doling out every single year to keep the conservative Washington Times alive.
Ciandella also asserted that "Of the 40 full-time members of the faculty, 27 work at explicitly left-wing outlets including The Huffington Post, Slate, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, Salon, The Nation and Greenpeace." But "work for" typically means being paid, and Ciandella provided no evidence that the professors who "work for" these "left-wing" outlets receive money for their contributions. For instance, the Huffington Post does not pay its bloggers.
Ciandella goes on to huff that "Many of these professors not only write for these liberal outlets, but actually work full-time for them as well," citing as one example "Thomas B. Edsall with the Huffington Post." In fact, Edsall hasn't worked for the Huffington Post since 2010 -- three years before Ciandella's report came out.
Further, Ciandella is using "left-wing" and "liberal" interchangeably, which further indicates the level of intellectual sloppiness in his report. Ciandella even took the respected Columbia Journalism Review for allegedly being "left of center":
On February 19, 2013, CJR published a fairly ironic report bashing the conservative-leaning Donor’s Trust, while referring to (and agreeing with) a report which claimed that Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the liberal Tides Foundation were “markedly more transparent about where money comes from and where it goes.”
Speaking of ironic, Ciandella didn't disclose whether his employer, the MRC, has received any Donors Trust money. That lack of disclosure is typical here: Ciandella's report is bereft of endnotes that would detail where he got his information from, which a real researcher would do. That's how bad and biased this report is.
In another 2013 item, Ciandella attacked nonprofit news website ProPublica, huffing that "ProPublica is a liberal investigative journalism outfit that has received $300,000 from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations since 2000." Later on, however, Ciandella writes that "ProPublica began operations in 2008 with funding from the liberal Sandler Foundation."
How could ProPublica have been receiving money from Soros "since 2000" when it didn't exist until 2008? Ciandella didn't explain. Perhaps he's so desperate to attack Soros that the truth doesn't matter to him.
Needless to say, Ciandella makes no mention of the fact that Soros' contributions to ProPublica pale in comparison to the millions of dollars each year that prop up such right-wing media outlets like the Washington Times and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
A leaked Google report showing its struggles to balance free speech protections and fights against harmful and hateful speech got a lot of play in the usual right-wing circles when Breitbart published the report in October 2018 -- and the MRC even got to engage in a bit of gratuitous Soros-bashing in relation to the report. An item by Corinne Weaver groused:
Google wants to cite only the best experts in their fields in order to justify its position. Who better than liberal billionaire George Soros?
Weaver found nothing wrong with Soros' statement -- she was just angry that Soros was quoted, period. That's the very definition of Soros Derangement Syndrome.
Even more attacks
A December 2018 post by Seymour complained that Financial Times named Soros its "Person of the Year," suggesting he didn't deserve it becuase he's a liberal. Seymour conceded that Soros aids causes that make him "heroic and non-controversial, yet he has also underwritten major liberal efforts promoting abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, drug legalization, unions and government-funded media through his foundation’s donations to hundreds of liberal groups with hundreds of millions of dollars." Seymour didn't explain why not being conservative should be an automatic disqualifer for the award.
The MRC played whataboutism to distract from a Republican's implied anti-Semitism. A February 2019 post by Alex Christy complained that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was criticized for sending out a tweet accusing Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg -- all Jews -- of trying to "BUY this election!" while tweets by Democratic Reps. (and frequent right-wing targets) Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib critical of Israel, which he conflated to be "anti-Semitic," were allegedly being ignored. "When Republicans warn about wealthy billionaires' influence on elections it is anti-Semitism, when Democrats do it, it is showing appropriate concern about money and lobbying in politics," he huffed.
The next day, Christy complained again when MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called out McCarthy, insisting that Scarborough "bypassed the idea that Republicans might not agree with the politics of George Soros, Tom Steyer, or Michael Bloomberg and falsely claimed that what McCarthy actually said was, 'Don't let three Jews buy the election.'"
The MRC kept up the Soros attacks throughout 2019, invoking his name and funding in an attempt to discredit any message it opposes. Here's a sampling:
In an October 2019 post about an interview with Soros in the New York Times, Clay Waters feigned outrage that Soros wants to use his money to bend "the arc of history":
Liberal megadonor George Soros believes the arc of history doesn’t bend on its own, so he’s actively engaged in working to bend it.
As if Waters isn't engaging in anti-Soros propaganda and the MRC isn't funded by rich conservatives who are also trying to bend "the arc of history."
The MRC is even willing to throw right-wing donors under the bus for the offense of associating with him. When the Koch brothers teamed with Soros to create an institute for "responsible statecraft," Vazquez objected in a July 2019 post, hyping that "A Washington Times column criticized the partnership as mismatched as 'The pope asking for the Church of Satan to host upcoming Catholic Church Christmas services.'" It's unlikely that Vazquez thinks Soros is playing the role of the pope in that metaphor.
(Update 9/18/2022: Added more examples of attacks on Soros during 2018 and 2019.)