The MRC's Election of Failed Narratives
The Media Research Center pushed stories of an assaulted GOP campaign worker (who was a white supremacist), high crime (which wasn't actually happening) and a candidate's Muslim faith being ignored (which the MRC did too).
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center's coverage of the 2022 midterm elections was, in retrospect, all about failed narratives. It worked to float several narratives designed to boost narratives of right-wing victimhood and liberal evil, but the election results showed that voters didn't buy into to them -- or they were debunked in real time.
Let's look at a few of the narratives the MRC pushed, starting with one that fell into the latter category. Kevin Tober huffed in an Oct. 24 post:
A canvasser for Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was reportedly assaulted and seriously injured late Sunday night while going door-to-door for Rubio’s reelection campaign, according to a statement put out by Rubio’s campaign. On Monday, all three evening newscasts ignored the vicious politically motivated attack on an innocent Republican volunteer.
Tober noted that the victim was unidentified, and it turned out there was a good reason for the victim being unidentified at this point -- one that made Tober's manufactured outrage age very poorly very quickly. A few hours after Tober's post went live, it was revealed by the Miami New Times that the victim was identified as Christopher Monzon, who is well known in the area of Florida where he was canvassing as a white supremacist who was known as the "Cuban Confederate," and that he attended the 2017 far-right protest in Charlottesville, Va., that ended with a counterprotester being killed. (He has claimed to have expressed regret for some of his racist hate.) And contrary to Tober's parroting of Fox News types who portrayed Monzon's assault as politically motivated, no such motivation was mentioned in the police report on the incident. The New Times also reported that members of the far-right Proud Boys were guarding Monzon's hospital room.
This seems like something Tober would want to add to his post to avoid looking like he's defending a white supremacist. But, no, his post remains live, uncorrected, and non-updated.
And after these unsavory revelations about the victim, you'd think the MRC would steer clear of the story -- but you'd be wrong. Kathleen Krumhansl doubled down in a post the next day, asserting that reporting Monzon's white supremacist background amounted to victim-shaming (no, really):
A volunteer for Senator Marco Rubio (R) Fla., was in the hospital after being brutally attacked during a midterm campaign event, and just like Rubio predicted over a Univision interview following the incident, the very network ended up victim-shaming the Republican to the point of implying that perhaps he deserved to be beaten.
Krumhansl offered no evidence that Monzon wasn't a white supremacist -- perhaps because she knows that the public record is pretty clear on that, to the point that no "allegedly" is required. And we thought that one of the few things people across the political spectrum could agree on is that white supremacists deserved to be shamed; Krumhansl didn't explain why she thought Monzon shouldn't be. Then again, she's clearly not someone who's into facts, given that she went on to push the unsupported narrative that Monzon was the victim of a political attack:
Like Rubio noted, “The difference that exists here today is that when there is political violence from someone who they say is a supporter of the right, they devote hours and hours of coverage to it. When it comes from the left, either it is not covered, or the victim is blamed, or it is not talked about anymore.” Rubio has a point, given Univision’s non-coverage of the Congressional baseball practice shooting once it became known that the shooter was a deranged Sandernista.
The MRC was somehow so proud of Krumhansl giving a pass to white supremacism that her post was translated into Spanish.
Meanwhile, the Rubio narrative the MRC parroted continued to fall apart -- Florida Republicans had paid thousands to Monzon for get-out-the-vote efforts, and it turned out that Monzon started claiming the attack was politically motivated only after Rubio tweeted the claim, the alleged assailant has never voted, and the assailant's mom said the attack had nothing to do with politics.
Not only has the MRC not told its readers about this, it hasn't addressed the story since. Even it can see no benefit in pushing this story further -- though, apparently, also no benefit in correcting the record.
Narrative: "skyrocketing crime"
In early October, Washington Post writer Philip Bump documented how coverage of crime sharply increased on Fox News before the midterm elections, creating the perception of a rampant crime wave that didn't mesh with reality -- and, thus, helped to elevate crime as a issue with Fox News' conservative viewers. Unsurprisingly, the MRC bought into that narrative as well -- their goal is to help conservatives get elected, after all -- and they got huffy any time someone pointed out the flawed narrative and the manipulation behind it. An Oct. 31 post by Brad Wilmouth labored to spin away an uncomfortable crime-related truth, that crime rates are higher in red states than blue states:
On Tuesday, MSNBC hosts Nicolle Wallace and Chris Jansing both picked up on misleading statistics trying to link high crime levels to Republicans. Without informing viewers that even Republican-leaning states have crime-ridden cities run by Democrats, both anchors recited a list of the top 10 states by crime rate in which most of the states are run by Republicans statewide.
Wilmouth didn't disclose that both Sexton and Thiessen are right-wing commentators, which makes the argument more partisan than factual.
Kevin Tober used a Nov. 1 post to try and shout down CNN's Jake Tapper for telling the truth about crime:
On Tuesday's CNN Tonight host Jake Tapper gave an in-kind contribution to the Democrat Party [sic] by kicking off his low-rated program insisting that crime is not skyrocketing across the country. Despite all available reputable evidence crime is indeed up. Tapper can't admit that because that would upset his friends in the Democrat Party [sic].
The question, of course, is not whether crime has increased; it's whether that increase matches the hype Fox News and the MRC have been spouting. He also did not factually back up he claim of a rash of people's houses being broken into while the owners were at work.
Clay Waters got mad at the New York Times in a Nov. 4 post for pointing out the Fox News-GOP hype on crime with ... COVID whataboutism:
The front page of Friday’s New York Times admitted voters were worried about crime, which may bode well for Republicans in Tuesday’s elections but the reporters also did their best to chip away at that argument in “Fear of Crime Looms Large for Voters, to Republicans’ Advantage.”
Nicholas Fondacaro went on a tirade in a Nov. 5 post when NBC's Lester Holt pointed out the difference between GOP hype and reality:
With Election Day just four days away, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester “Fairness Is Overrated” Holt was desperate to keep Democrats afloat. So desperate that his last option on Friday was to tell Americans not to trust their lying eyes and ears and that the nationwide crime wave didn’t actually exist. He openly scoffed at Republican campaign messages and suggested fears of crime were not “fueled” by “reality” but rather “by videos,” as if they weren’t real. And he leans on a “civil rights attorney” he failed to disclose was a liberal activist.
Fondacaro made no effort to prove that Holt was, in fact, wrong outside of citing isolated anecdotes. Instead, he lashed out at an interviewee who said "Any candidate who tells you that bail reform is causing crime is lying to you," trying to smear her as "a far-left-wing group that advocates for destructive bail reform policies" without proving any of that to be true either. Then again, name-calling is what passes for "media research" at the MRC these days.
The Post's Bump recently pointed out how references to crime on Fox News dropped substantially after the midterms -- further proving that it was only a partisan narrative. The MRC hasn't said a thing about that.
Narrative: lower gas prices as an election ploy
ConWebWatch has documented how the Media Research Center repeatedly blamed President Biden for high gas prices but refuses to give him credit for gas prices dropping. That hypocritical narrative continued as the midterm elections neared. Curtis Houck spent an Oct. 19 post attacking Biden for trying to lower gas prices and dismissed it as an election ploy:
Hours before President Biden’s formal announcement that he’s releasing a puny 15 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), the major broadcast networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC heralded this nonsensical effort to take oil from a collection meant for serious emergencies and use it to try and rescue Biden and his party’s chances in the midterm elections.
Houck didn't mention how his post read like he was a staffer with the Republican National Committee.
Houck repeated his attack on Biden (and the media who wouldn't follow his right-wing talking points) in a post the next day:
For yet another day, the “big three” of ABC, CBS, and NBC used their Thursday morning news shows to fluff the White House up in their hapless attempt (which some argue is purposeful) to save their party’s midterm prospects and lower gas prices through a puny release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
You mean like Houck and the rest of the MRC was during the Trump presidency?
Alex Christy contradicted Houck's description of the SPR release as "puny" by calling it a "raid" in an Oct. 20 post:
During his opening monologue on Wednesday’s All In, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes defended President Biden’s decision to raid the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gas prices have to be lowered in order to save American democracy from Republicans and their allies in Saudi Arabia and the fossil fuel companies.
In typical MRC fashion, Christy refused to identify any Biden energy policy he could blame for a specific increase in oil and gas prices.
Houck returned for a Nov. 1 post whining that oil companies were being called out for their exorbitant profits this year:
ABC's Good Morning America did its best Tuesday to earn brownie points from its friends in the Biden White House as they touted their hapless attempt to trash oil companies and threaten them with new taxes if they don’t (artificially) lower prices and surrender their profit margins.
Houck didn't dispute that oil companies were making record profits, which would indicate that they do indeed have some say over pricing.
Bad-faith praise of (one) Muslim
The MRC doesn't like Muslims. It generally writes about them only in the context of attacking them -- i.e., Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib -- and whining about conservatives being (accurately) described as Islamophobic. So when the MRC suddenly wanted to talk about Muslims in a nice way -- for instance, touting the Muslim faith of its favored Pennsylvania Senate candidate, Mehmet Oz -- one must assume bad faith is part of the argument. And that's exactly what we got in a Nov. 4 post by Jason Cohen:
Dr. Oz is a Muslim and would be the first ever Muslim senator if elected. But based on media coverage, there is a good chance you didn't even know about this.
There's also another question missing from Cohen's post: If this achievement is so historic, why wasn't Oz himself touting it? Because he didn't want to. In contrast to Cohen's portrayal, the non-right-wing media has noted Oz's historic status -- and also noted how Oz is downplaying his faith. For example, on Oct. 14 -- three weeks before Cohen's post -- ABC News reported:
Dr. Mehmet Oz rarely talks about his faith on the campaign trail but, if he wins, the son of Turkish émigrés could make history as the first Muslim elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Clay Waters served up a similar argument -- this time attacking the New York Times -- in a Nov. 9 post:
On Sunday, New York Times religion correspondent Liam Stack became the latest Times reporter to devalue what would have been a historic achievement by a minority group politician, due to the politician in question being a conservative: “Oz Could Be the First Muslim U.S. Senator, but Some Muslim Americans Are Ambivalent.”
While Waters did include article excerpts pointing out that Oz has downplayed his Sufi Islam faith and refused to take part in events at mosques that would emphasize it, he went on to play whataboutism anyway:
Stack used Oz’s lack of firebrand religiosity to fault the Republican Party en masse and Trump especially, while blatantly fawning over a controversial Muslim Democratic figure.
Even after Oz lost the election, the MRC tried to push this narrative. In a Nov. 12 post, Alex Christy attacked history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat for noting that Republicans care mostly about helping white Christian men. Rather than offering a coherent argument, Christy chose instead to make personal attacks on Ben-Ghiat, sneering that she proves that "PhDs are too easy to obtain nowadays" (not that Christy would know, since all he has is a poli-sci degree). He went on to huff:
It's telling that Ben-Ghiat is just a hack with a fancy degree when she cites someone who was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, but that she and the rest of the media couldn’t be bothered to tout the potential Dr. Mehmet Oz had to be the first Muslim senator or, speaking of Georgia, their attacks on Herschel Walker.
Christy didn't mention that his own employer had suppressed the fact of Oz's faith until just a week before.
It appears right-wingers like Cohen, Waters and Christy care only about diversity when they can use it as a cudgel against liberals to push a political narrative.