The MRC vs. Brian Stelter vs. Fox News
Whenever CNN's Brian Stelter criticized Fox News, the Foxophiles at the Media Research Center were there to lash out at him for doing so.
By Terry Krepel
Now that CNN has fired Stelter and canceled his show "Reliable Sources," it's time for a little look back at how the MRC placed him at the top of its enemies list -- in no small part because he criticized Fox News.
Let's start with just a few examples from 2019 and 2020:
Book critical of Fox News
When Stelter wrote a 2020 book about Fox News, the MRC was ready to attack its mere existence as well as its author -- though it never rebutted anything that was actually in the book.
When the book was announced in June 2019 as looking "behind the scenes of a TV network and a White House merging in unprecedented fashion," Tim Graham erupted in a fit of whataboutism: "Really? Stelter couldn't have written a book about 'MSNBC in the age of Obama, and Obama in the age of MSNBC'? As usual, because an Obama has thousands of media people eagerly wanting to "merge" with his vision and strategy, it's just not the same. Democrats and the media strategizing together is the precedent. It can't be 'unprecedented.'" Graham provided no evidence there any link between MSNBC and Obama was anywhere near that of Fox News and Trump, even after Stelter's book came out.
Graham whined more about Stelter's book in a May 2020 post over a blurb in which some Fox News personalities were called "morally bankrupt," implying that moral bankruptcy is cool because it pays the bills and keeps the ratings up: "Unlike CNN, Fox is "morally bankrupt" as it "profits outrageously" -- translation, cleans CNN's clock daily."
As the book's publication neared in August 2020, Graham conspiratorially declared that Stelter promoting his book on the show of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow meant there was an anti-Fox "tag team of hate":
CNN and MSNBC will form a tag team to try and take down Fox News Channel. On Friday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow bizarrely claimed she wasn't into "cable news wars," and then devoted almost 17 minutes of her show to promoting Hoax, the new Fox-bashing book by CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter. She lovingly read long passages for more than nine minutes, and then after an ad break, interviewed Stelter for seven and a half minutes.
Rather than rebutting anything Stelter said, Graham complained that "Stelter's full-time job seems to be ripping into Trump and Fox as insane and dangerous to America."
Two days later, Scott Whitlock grumbled that "hack" Stelter "appeared on another liberal cable channel, MSNBC, on Monday night to plus his new book bashing Fox News" where he said that "One third of the country is disconnected from the normal news system" and into the "conspiratorial extreme place" Fox News has become. Like Graham, Whitlock didn't rebut any claim Stelter made, instead complaining about Stelter's use of anonymous sources.
In an Aug. 25 post, Alex Christy responded to Stelter's claim that "No president has had access to a megaphone like this" the way Trump uses Fox News by effectively "program[ming] the network himself" by regularly "choos[ing] to call in, take over for an hour, you know, rant and rave" by spouting lame whataboutism from the MRC's playbook: "A president like Obama had a plethora of liberal media options, not just one channel." Christy didn't mention that Obama never called up any media outlet to "rant and rave" for an hour the way Trump does on Fox News.
Curtis Houck pounded out a massive screed childishly gloating how Fox News' media show gets better ratings than Stelter's:
On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN charlatan, far-left hack, and Fox News-stalker Brian Stelter spent three segments hawking his now-released book Hoax, which appears to serve as an extension of his visceral hatred for Fox News Channel and painting it as an existential threat to not only the free press, but America itself.
Houck's unprofessionalism continued, cheering how Stelter is "the man Greg Gutfeld has dubbed America’s hairless hall monitor," with an added shot at "sidekick" Oliver Darcy as "conservative media’s Benedict Arnold." Houck spends an unseemly amount of time attacking Darcy for leaving the right-wing media bubble to work for CNN.
An Aug. 27 post summed up an episode of Graham's new podcast bashing Stelter's book:
It's selling like hotcakes in the feverish world of Trump haters. Stelter is selling it on his own network, as well as on MSNBC shows, and a 43-minute interview on National Public Radio. Tim takes on the notion that relies so heavily on anonymous sources inside Fox. Why should we trust sources like this in a book by a CNN host ripping into Fox?
Graham won't admit, of course, that by his same standard, nobody should trust the MRC's ripping into Stelter. In the podcast itself, Graham whined that his and Brent Bozell's pro-Trump, anti-media book didn't merit a 43-minute interview on NPR and that he didn't trust Stelter's anonymous sources (he didn't mention that he and the MRC do trust anonymous sources when it suits their purposes).
Graham served up more juvenile Stelter-hating antics in a Sept. 1 post, gloating that during a Stelter appearance on C-SPAN, "Callers were mostly hostile, including a guy who was cut off for calling Stelter "Humpty Dumpty" -- a favorite Hannity nickname," before further complaining that Stelter "lamented conservatives have been "radicalized" by "media-bashing." By NewsBusters! It makes us sound like al-Qaeda." He then added:
The LOL moment of the hour -- the time I probably scared our cats -- was when a Texas caller smartly challenged Stelter's multitudinous anonymous sources in his book, and then asked "How did CNN spiral down to the absolute level of Trump hate that they are?"
We doubt Graham will ever acknowledge the MRC's spiral down to the absolute level of Stelter-hate he's displaying here.
Graham spouted even more juvenile antics in a Sept. 6 post sneering at "Brian Stelter's Candy Land tour of puffball interviews promoting his Fox-trashing book Hoax" (as if he or any other MRC host appears anywhere other than right-wing media these days). When Stelter said he work at Fox News only if he were given a hour to fact-check things, Graham erupted:
That's hilarious. As if Stelter's Sunday hour of Trump-trashing, with guests who suggest Trump is going to kill more people than Hitler, Stalin, and Mao combined? That's the FACT show?
Kristine Marsh took a snide shot at Stelter and CNN in October 2020 after he appeared on a TV show to promote his book: "Does Stelter realize how toxic and demoralizing it is to sit and listen to his network all day? And here at NewsBusters, we actually sit and watch whole shows with the sound on!" She also insisted that Stelter "held a pity party for himself being the 'hate object' of Fox viewers," though she identified where, exactly, the "pity party" was; Stelter was merely repeating the insults Fox News personalities have hurled at him.
When Fox News marked its 25th anniversary in October 2021, the MRC was ready to lash out at the haters -- particularly Stelter. Fondacaro was dishing out the Stelter haterade in an Oct. 3 post:
Invoking a tone one would expect a parent to use to inform a child of something tragic, CNN’s Brian Stelter concluded Sunday’s so-called “Reliable Sources” by informing his meager viewers that Fox News would be celebrating its 25-year anniversary the coming week. Warning them that they could see commercials for it, Stelter lashed out at his ratings superior by equating them to the diseased heart of the Republican Party, ready to give out at any moment. He even suggested Fox had torn apart families.
Because attacking your target's physical appearance is always a sign your underlying intellectual argument is sound. When Stelter brought up Fox News' culture of sexual harassment as practiced and exemplified by founder Roger Ailes, Fondacaro went into paroxysm of whataboutism:
“But for all the fun, there's so much darkness in Fox's history,” he sneered as he brought up Roger Ailes:
That would be the same Zucker who the MRC loved to tar with the vaguely anti-Semitic "puppet master" tag (Zucker is Jewish). The teen being referred to there is Nick Sandmann, whose lawsuits against the media the MRC championed though it's not likely Sandmann received much more than token go-away money (and whose lawyer, L. Lin Wood, the MRC doesn't want to talk about anymore since he became the right-wing Michael Avenatti).
And Fondacaro wasn't done trashing Stelter:
And as he was wrapping up his vapid rant, Stelter equated Fox News to a tool of arsonists, declaring: “...the political science research is clear: Fox is not just a mirror, it's an accelerant.” He then touted the coming release of another anti-Fox News book “The Brainwashing of My Dad and it’s about exactly what you think.” “ For the families who feel they have been torn apart by Fox, this week is not a happy anniversary,” he squeaked.
Given that, again, the book had not yet been released, Fondacaro cannot possibly know its contents or that it's solely about intolerant "leftist kids."
Needless to say, Fondacaro's boss and fellow Stelter-hater, Tim Graham, wanted in on this action too, so he dedicated his Oct. 4 podcast to similarly dumping on Stelter for committing the grievous offense of criticizing Fox News. He began by perpetuating the fiction that Fox News is "fair and balanced" -- to Graham, it means uncritically repeating right-wing talking points -- and continued to refuse to admit it has any sort of bias, instead speaking in code that "we like Fox News precisely because it breaks the monopoly and monotony of the liberal media. ... They don't get to constantly put conservatives on defense and then have no idea what it feels like to have to go on defense."
Then it was Stelter-trashing and whataboutism time, starting with echoing Fondacaro's insult about Stelter's appearance, which Graham claimed to want to avoid but we doubt he ever disciplined Fondacaro for making it:
Now, I'm not going to go exactly where Nick Fondacaro went by mocking Brian Stelter's dieting habits and whether he has clogged arteries -- no fat-shaming here, I'm a little too fat -- but mocking the opposition channel that kicks your keister down ratings street on and daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis is a really interesting analogy coming from CNN.When Stelter brought up Fox News founder Ailes' history of sexual harassment, Graham retorted with more whataboutism: "You can lament the way Roger Ailes treated women. But it's a little odd to find all the darkness over there, Brian, where there at your own CNN you have Jeffrey Toobin unpunished for spanking the monkey on a Zoom call in front of the females, you have Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon both accused of sexual harassment as well. Where's the darkness in CNN's history?" Note that Graham doesn't actually "lament" Ailes' harassment history, let alone criticize it. He then added to the whataboutism by blaming the media industry as a whole for patterns of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, the MRC-approved, conservatively correct take on Fox News' anniversary came in Jeffrey Lord's gushy Oct. 9 column, in which he praised Ailes for having "combined an instinctive understanding of both television and American politics that proved to be an invaluable asset in the creating of Fox News" but being careful not to mention his history of sexual harassment. He too attacked Stelter for his book about Fox News that purportedly had "no self-awareness that it was CNN that spent the Trump era falsely purveying the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, a classic conspiracy theory endlessly pursued not just by CNN but the rest of the liberal media." Lord clearly didn't read the Mueller report.
He concluded with this glurgy tribute: "So on the 25th anniversary of Fox News, let it be said that the term visionary, exactly as Jonathan Swift defined it as 'the art of seeing things invisible' is exactly what describes Rupert Murdoch and his vision of the once invisible dream of Fox News."
That's what the MRC wants the entire media to sound like.
Even more Stelter attacks over Fox
The MRC archive is stuffed with attacks on Stelter for daring to criticize Fox News. Graham melted down in a February 2021 post after Stelter accurately called out Fox News' complicity in helping Trump incite the Capitol riot and for falsely crying "censorship" after Trump was barred from social media sites for inciting it:
CNN’s Brian Stelter declared Fox News was an information polluter in his show-starting “Murrow” editorial on Sunday’s Reliable Sources. Fox needs to have its “freedom of reach” reduced, in the interests of “harm reduction.” Yet somehow it’s “dishonest” to complain that’s an attempt at censorship, silencing, or suppression.
Graham complained in an April 2021 podcast that Stelter called out Fox News host Tucker Carlson's right-wing extremism, citing "the whole first half-hour" of one show as being "an attack on Fox News, as if these attacks are going to help CNN in the ratings." He went on to complain that "Many people isolated the part of the show when Stelter and Matt Gertz of Media Matters fussing about how Fox stars hadn't made 'vaccine selfies' for social media, and how Fox News has a 'special responsibility' to sell the vaccine, since its viewers are kinda backwards and only believe Fox."
Graham used a June 2021 post to play whataboutism by laughably insisting that Stelter's complaints about Fox News hosts' authoritarian rants are exactly the same as the authoritarian rants themselves:
On Sunday's Reliable Sources, CNN host Brian Stelter began with a poisonous rant on how Sean Hannity goes on poisonous rants. In other words, Stelter argued Hannity is too angry for television, while being every bit as angry. As usual, Stelter insisted Hannity attacking reporters as "stalkers" is authoritarian, in a rant in which he denounced Fox News as poison.
At no point did Graham even bother to try and disprove anything Stelter said about Fox News. Instead, he served up even more whataoutism: "Stelter can't address the syrupy softness toward Biden, the blatantly obvious media double standard. So he denounces the fighting words. He's "reliable" in avoiding any debate about why conservatives see the liberal media as toxic -- starting with how toxic they are toward conservatives."
Fondacaro -- who is very much a Fox News bootlicker -- unironically called Stelter a "media bootlicker" in a Jan. 4 post attacking Stelter for questioning just how close Sean Hannity is to the events that led up to the Capitol riot after texts were released showing him communicating with Trump White House officials:
CNN media bootlicker Brian Stelter understood his assignment Tuesday after the Democrat-led House January 6 Committee said they wanted to speak to Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity about his messages to former Trump administration officials before, during, and after the riot. Mocking the serious First Amendment questions, Stelter was giddy as he baselessly speculated that Hannity was somehow involved with plotting the riot at the Capitol.
Fondacaro did not dispute that the texts showed Hannity's closeness to the White House -- which would arguably make him a Trump bootlicker, something that Fondacaro would never call him in public -- instead noting that "Hannity’s lawyer raised questions about the First Amendment and his role as a media figure."
When Stelter called out Fox News' obsession with crime as part of its anti-Biden editorial agenda, Kevin Tober felt offended in a Jan. 23 post:
On Sunday's episode of CNN's Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter in his typical smug patronizing fashion ridiculed Fox News for their in-depth coverage of the rising crime in American cities.
As usual, Tober didn't dispute anything Stelter said about Fox News' crime coverage.
Tober insisted in a March 13 post that Stelter was peddling a "conspiracy theory" by pointing out that "Fox News is only reporting on skyrocketing gas prices to prevent Americans from rallying around President Biden while he deals with the crisis in Ukraine" further grousing that a guest "accused Fox News of trying to undermine President Biden’s standing with the American people as he tries to unite the country against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine." Tober offered no facts to contradict Stelter.
Tober spent an April 3 post complaining that "Stelter and CNN media analyst David Zurawik discussed a new book that's set to be released by two New York Times reporters that details behind the scenes drama in the Biden White House." Instead of providing any sort of fact-based pushback, he played whataboutism: "It should be noted that Stelter and his colleagues at CNN lost their minds on a daily basis when former President Trump called their network "Fake News", yet Stelter apparently has no problem with Biden and Zurawik calling Fox News and their CEO dangerous."
Graham used his April 4 podcast to whine about Stelter focusing on the channel's owner, Rupert Murdoch, and what his channel has wrought. He retorted Stelter's claim that Murdoch is "the most dangerous man in the world" by sneering in the post promoting it, "The last we checked, Murdoch hadn't mowed down any civilians." Like Tober, Graham made no effort to disprove the claim; instead, he mocked it then attacked "the left" as the real haters: "This is just the funniest thing about the left. They hate free speech, they hate dissent, they hate disagreement, they hate resistance to what they believe. And yet they think they are the titans of democracy. Come on, guys."
Again, the MRC had no problem smearing the Jewish Zucker with the anti-Semitic "puppetmaster" slur.
Tober returned for a May 23 post cheering Carlson for having "once again proved why he has the number one show on cable news when he did a brutal takedown of CNN’s Brian Stelter for his sadness over the demise of Biden’s Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) also known as the Ministry of Truth," likening him to a censorious bureaucrat in the book "1984" and serving up a little fangirl squealing: "Ouch! Tucker Carlson does not miss." That's the level of hate the MRC had for Stelter for the alleged offense of holding Fox News accountable.
When Stelter and guest Bill Carter called out Fox News for not apologizing when the story of a 10-year-old rape victim it tried to discredit turned out to be true and instead shifting the narrative to the alleged perpetrator being an undocumented immigrant -- something the MRC also did -- Tober responded in a July 17 post with nothing but lazy whataboutism:
On Sunday morning’s Reliable Sources on CNN, host Brian Stelter opened his show like he always does by whining about conservative media coverage of whatever issue or controversy he’s particularly exercised about. Such was the case this Sunday when he brought on CNN media analyst Bill Carter to complain about how conservative media was initially skeptical about the rape of a ten-year-old girl from Ohio who wanted an abortion.
Tober clearly hasn't read the Muller report, which detailed dozens of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. Indeed, enough of the allegations turned out to be true to more than justify the investigation. Tober is simply being another Trump bootlicker.