It's Not Book Banning When The MRC Does It!
The Media Research Center embraced right-wing attacks on books that don't push preferred narratives -- but it's upset at being called censors for supporting the bans.
By Terry Krepel
There isn't a right-wing narrative that the Media Research Center won't try to echo, and its book-banning fetish over the past year or so was just one more of them.
Alex Christy complained in a January 2022 post that CNN was trying to "portray Republicans as a bunch of dictator-loving book burners." Unfortunately for Christy, he didn't really do much to dispel that image. Christy used his post to complain that "Trumper-turned-Never Trumper Joe Walsh" was calling out Republicans in Florida and elsewhere trying to censor school content purportedly in order to keep children from feeling "discomfort" about issues such as race and the Holocaust. He went on to grumble:
Walsh's reference to the Holocaust was the original premise of the segment. A Tennessee school board voted to remove Maus from its eighth-grade reading list for profanity and nudity, but it is a stretch to say that they even banned it and irresponsibly false to say they banned it because they do not want to educate students about the Holocaust.
Christy then linked to a statement from the school board that banned it -- if you're prohibiting a book from being taught, it's a ban; because it's apparently not a total ban doesn't make it less of a ban -- that complained about the book's purportedly "unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide."
Ironically, some years earlier, a 2014 MRC post touted the graphic novel edition of right-winger Amity Shlaes' revisionist, anti-FDR retelling of the New Deal years, "The Forgotten Man," as a classic on par with "Maus": "But graphic novels can be very sophisticated. Shlaes mentioned Maus: A Survivor’s Tale which is a critically acclaimed Holocaust narrative that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992."
Kevin Tober used a Feb. 1 post to wonder why students were allowed to read books he didn't like:
On Tuesday night, NBC Nightly News decided it was a good use of airtime to dedicate an entire segment complaining about how a school district in Katy, Texas has removed sexually inappropriate books from their library.
Tober didn't explain why the books must be censored.
Tober went on to huff that "Katy Texas isn't the first public school to have sexually inappropriate books on its shelves." But it's clear that his definition of "sexually inappropriate" involved anything that didn't promote heterosexuality.
Clay Waters tried to play whataboutism in a February 2022 post:
Monday’s front-page New York Times story -- headlined “Politics Fuels Surge in Calls For Book Bans” -- did liberal Democrats a favor, posing them in their flattering former costumes of fierce free-speech advocates. Meanwhile, today’s actual left-wing is a hive of free-speech squelchers and book banners, including the Times’ own reporters, who have an unseemly and anti-journalistic eagerness to “deplatform” voices they don’t like...when they're conservative "bigots."
But that's a false comparison. Public libraries being forbidden from making certain books available to a certain audience is not the same thing as a private business seeking to enforce standards and terms of service on its platform to battle lies and misinformation. Yet the whataboutism continued: "Besides the daily double standards of restrictions on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Amazon.com pulled a book on transgender issues from its online shelf, and Netflix tried to cancel comedian Dave Chappelle for offensive jokes about transgenders." (Yes, the MRC complained about that too.)
But whataboutism could be reflected back -- for instance, pointing out that the MRC has long raged against "censorship" of social media while tacitly endorsing it at school libraries. Wonder what Waters would say about that?
That enthusiasm for and defense of book bans and censorship, as well as effectively demanding the censorship of books it doesn't like -- ironic given how the MRC loves to rage about purported "censorship" by social media -- continued throughout the year.
An April 2022 post by Curtis Houck complained that musician Janelle Monae -- dismissed in the headline as a "lefty singer" -- criticized GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for signing "a law that bans us talking about the LGBTQIA+ communities in books, bans critical race theory," huffing in response: "Of course, the laws in states like Texas aim to and do nothing of the sort. This is unless Monáe meant teaching sex education to preschoolers and teaching white kindergartners that, by existing, they’re oppressors toward their black classmates." Houck offered no evidence that any of that was happening in Texas. A couple weeks later, Alex Christy huffed that a CNN correspondent, "with the help of an anonymous teenager, accused adults of throwing temper tantrums as they seek to attack 'non-binary' youth when they seek to remove books about left-wing gender ideology from schools." He didn't explain what "left-wing gender ideology" is, let alone why it must be censored.
Intern Wallace White screamed for censorship in a July 12 post by using the old tool of the wannabe censor, taking things out of context:
If there isn’t a surge in homeschooling in Oregon’s Salem Keizer School District, something is very wrong with the water in that part of the world. As reported by Libs of TikTok July 12, a school district committee has voted to keep Gender Queer available for children. It’s an extremely pornographic LGBT book.
White then got mad that people brought up pesky things like context in opposition to his plucking random images from the book out for shock value:
West desperately tried to justify her decision to lots of righteously angry parents in emails sent in reply to complaints. One reads, “The book will be necessary to keep in schools, to help be more inclusive and allow all students from the LGBTQ+ community to have a resource to refer to. In addition, the pages taken out of context do not represent the intention of the book and only served as an illustration to help provide understanding of what the author was trying to portray in their book.”
In fact, there is a thing called the Miller test, which is the Supreme Court's measurement of whether a work is obscene -- and one of those requirements is to judge the work as a whole. Indeed, a couple weeks after White's manufactured-outrage post, a court refused to ban "Gender Queer" as obscene. And author Maia Kobabe, who wrote the book based on personal growing-up experiences, implored readers to "please read the whole book and judge it based on the entire contents, not just a tiny snippet" -- something White clearly did not do.
Tierin-Rose Mandelburg cheered official censorship in a July 21 post, which, again, was based on cherry-picked out-of-context images and not the entire work:
Well this is shocking! A school board just rejected wokeism ... for now.
Mandelburg got petulant when a parent pointed out the censorship stuff:
A different parent, Marika Lynch claimed that the vote against the books “is an attack by right-wing extremists,” who are “trying to censor books all across the country.”
Kevin Tober played the "indoctrination" card in an Aug. 18 post:
On Wednesday night’s The 11th Hour on MSNBC, host Stephanie Ruhle proved that she hates conservatives who want to prevent the ideological and sexual indoctrination of children so much that she allowed one of her guests to compare their efforts to that of book burnings in Nazi Germany.
Of course, neither Mandelburg nor Tober are actually opposed to indoctrinating children in schools -- they simply want their favored right-wing indoctrination to be imposed.
Mandelburg was back to demanding censorship of inconvenient things in an Aug. 31 post, raging against a high school health book that "listed the following for types of gender identities: agender, androgynous, bigender, cisgender, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, nonbinary and transgender," going on to huff:
Kids, high school students included, are easy targets. They are in developing years and are extremely impressionable and easily influenced. Targeting them at this stage is a perfect way to groom and, as the mother said, exploit them and their innocence.
Teaching young adults about gender identity isn't "grooming," no matter how mad Mandelburg gets over it.
Tim Graham complained about right-wingers being (accurately) called censors in his Sept. 21 column with the usual out-of-context content:
The cultural left never stops trying to drag America into their supposedly glorious “tolerant” future where we have an ever-expanding array of gender identities and grade-school children know as much about masturbation as they do about multiplication.
Graham concluded by whining:
The “anti-censorship” groups promoted by the liberal media have the same ideological sensibilities as their friends in the “news” business and the Big Tech sector. They all claim they’re saviors of “democracy,” but they don’t act like it. Their “free expression” credentials are just as easily questioned. They all tend to “censor” the specifics of what makes books objectionable. They aren’t good at debate. They’re good at squelching debate.
Actually, Graham and his MRC subordinates are are the ones who are trying to squelch debate by pulling allegedly offensive snippets of books out of context -- in defiance of the Miller test -- and demanding they be censored because they're "protecting" children from "indoctrination," while labeling anyone who opposes this approach as "groomers."
The MRC is so in favor of book bans that its gets upset when efforts to fight them even appear in fiction. An Oct. 31 post by Dawn Slusher complaining that ABC's "The Connors" "dedicated 30 minutes to denigrating" the efforts of (right-wing) parents "to have a say in what books their children are exposed to at school" with a book-ban plotline. Slusher cheered that the father character noted that "some parents just want to have a say in what their kids are reading," then whined:
But they still proceeded to make it a “book banning” issue when no parents are out fighting to have books banned completely. I’ve also yet to see anyone fighting to ban “the classics.” However, these days if “The Scarlet Letter” or any other classic mentioned were in a kindergarten library, that would be a problem.
Slusher further complained when one particular hot-button book hated by right-wingers was referenced:
Did you happen to notice a very non-classic book placed in front with all the real classics? How is Gender Queer a classic when it was published in 2019?
Tierin-Rose Mandelburg prudishly cherry-picked all the naughty stuff from one book in an Oct. 21 post:
If you’d like to learn how to eat pussy, head on over to a middle school in Oklahoma.
Mandelburg went on to cheer a right-wing anti-book stunt in a Nov. 3 post:
Warning: This blog contains rated R, sexually explicit content.
Mandelburg curiously didn't name the titles of the books whose cherry-picked contents were gleefully reproduced by her for maximum shock value. She has clearly never heard of the Miller test, Mandelburg has clearly never heard of the Miller test.
Alex Christy complained in a Dec. 13 post that right-wing book bans were called out:
MSNBC host of The 11th Hour Stephanie Ruhle wondered if conservative attempts to “ban books” was the reason the FBI recently reported a raise in hate crimes. Instead of simply answering no, that’s ridiculous, former assistant director for counter intelligence Frank Figliuzzi says it is too soon to tell, but they certainly don’t help.
Tim Graham complained that false information about a targeted book was fact-checked in a Jan. 3 post:
On the front page of Tuesday’s Washington Post is a very passionate, very through defense of a novel with passages of two ten-year-old boys who “meet in the bushes after a church youth-group gathering, touch each other’s penis, and progress to oral sex.” That’s the description by Post education reporter Hannah Natanson.
Graham is clearly OK with misinformation if it forwards right-wing narratives. He went on to complain that "A positive book review in 2018 never found the sex stuff." Perhaps because that's not the focus of the book?
Graham churned out another attack on "Gender Queer," as well as its author, in a Jan. 5 post:
On Wednesday, NPR returned to the ongoing media party for Maia Kobabe, author of the comic-book memoir Gender Queer, celebrated throughout Liberal Land for having the “Most Challenged” book of 2021. Not only was there a seven-minute interview on Morning Edition with anchor Rachel Martin. There was also a Kobabe essay on NPR.org. claiming "Struggling kids told me my book helped them talk to parents."
Graham then sneered at the author's preferred pronouns: "Unlike other supportive media, NPR completely avoided that Kobabe prefers the pronouns 'e/em/eir,' and Martin never used a personal pronoun, just the 'you.'" As if Graham actually cares what other people want to call themselves if it deviates from heteronormative tradition.
Graham didn't say a thing about how the obsessive efforts of himself and his fellow MRC subordinates -- as well as that of their fellow right-wingers -- to censor books like "Gender Queer" may be creating a Stralsund effect.