The MRC Plays Politics With A Tragedy
After a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Ohio, the Media Research Center blamed Pete Buttigieg for being gay, falsely accused the Biden administration of racism and even attacked ESG policies -- anything but calling out the railroad itself.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center didn't care about the derailment of a train in East Palestine, Ohio, carrying hazardous chemicals when it happened on Feb. 3. It was only when it decided it could be politically exploited to bash the Biden administration and advance its anti-media agenda that it started paying attention. Thus, on Feb. 14 -- 11 days after the derailment -- Curtis Houck and Bill D'Agostino penned the MRC's first post on the derailment, accusing the TV networks of ignoring the story and baselessly implying it was because the town's population is mostly white:
On February 3, East Palestine, Ohio was rocked by a train derailment carrying a host of toxic chemicals, leading to a five-day-long evacuation order for nearly 5,000 Ohio and Pennsylvania residents. Three days later, the rail operator triggered a controlled burn of the toxic chemicals to prevent an explosion and declared the operation a success.
Houck and D'Agostino didn't explain why they and the MRC had totally ignored the derailment until now. The next day, however, the networks resumed coverage of the derailment, and Houck was desperate to claim credit:
On Tuesday, NewsBusters reported that the broadcast networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC had abandoned the environmental fallout from the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on their flagship morning and evening shows with zero seconds on ABC and only a minute and 42 seconds on CBS and NBC after an evacuation order was lifted on February 8.
Houck offered no evidence that the MRC had anything whatsoever with the networks resuming coverage of the story. Nevertheless, Tim Graham also hyped the lack of coverage in his Feb. 15 podcast.
Alex Christy spent a Feb. 16 post being mad at a late-night TV host for noting how train safety rules were rolled back during the Trump administration:
NBC Late Night host Seth Meyers has a theory on Wednesday as to why the train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, derailed: Donald Trump. This theory was basically a retelling of the talking points being spouted off by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Christy then tried to give Trump a pass: "Rule or no rule, since 1990 there has been an average of 1,704 derailments per year." Which, of course, raises the question of why the MRC is so desperate to give this particular one coverage.
Indeed, Houck served up a Feb. 17 post complaining that the networks weren't giving sufficient coverage to the derailment, then going on to defend comparing coverage to that of Fox News:
Oftentimes, NewsBusters will point out a contrast between networks with the Fox News Channel on cable conveying the seriousness of a story either downplayed or ignored on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). In this case, take notice of how radically different two broadcast networks were in their framing compared to the third.
Houck is being dishonest. The actual reason the MRC does this is because Fox News is a leader is establishing right-wing narratives -- after all, it wouldn't cover a story if those narratives weren't served. The MRC can then use Fox News' coverage of that story as a cudgel to attack the "liberal media." That's how the right-wing media bubble works.
When the New York Times pointed out right-wingers' obsession with politicizing the derailment story for partisan purposes, Clay Waters complained in a Feb. 19 post:
Stuart Thompson, who patrols the “online information flows” beat for the New York Times, hit out at “right-wing” outlets for not trusting the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this month that spewed the carcinogen vinyl chloride and resulted in evacuations for miles around. Thompson dismissed concerns, at least those by conservatives on Friday: “‘Chernobyl 2.0’? Feverish Speculation After Derailment, Fire and Toxic Smoke.”
And the MRC is more concerned with exploiting a disaster for partisan gain than the disaster itself. Meanwhile, Christy lashed out at another late-night host while serving as an apologist for the rail company that caused the derailment:
CBS's The Late Show host Stephen Colbert admitted on Monday that he doesn’t know if deregulation and capitalism are to blame for the East Palestine train derailment, but that did not stop him from encouraging Sen. Bernie Sanders to use the situation to hype his book It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.
Houck spent a Feb. 21 post complaining that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was not being personally blamed for causing the derailment:
The East Palestine, Ohio train derailment entered a new phase this week as the liberal media blamed Donald Trump for the toxic dump of hazardous chemicals into the air and water supply, and painted the semi-present Biden administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as heroes for this working-class town who’ll crack down on the train operator, Norfolk Southern, for any mishandling of the clean-up.
We thought right-wingers like Houck opposed government intervention in local matters. From there, it was more whining from Kevin Tober that Trump administration policies were called out as possible contributors to the disaster, followed by a gleeful post from Joseph Vazquez that PolitiFact (which the MRC normally despises for committing the offense of fact-checking conservatives) found that the Trump-era regulation rollback did not factor in the cause of the derailment, which "flies in the face of liberal media outlets infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome trying to use the deregulated 2015 Obama rule as a cudgel to wantonly blame Trump for the derailed train." Vazquez didn't explain why he found PolitiFact so trustworthy all of a sudden.
Mark Finkelstein, meanwhile, was annoyed that MSNBC's "Morning Joe" highlighted how Fox News defending President Biden for not immediately rushing to the scene of the derailment -- which is to day, it did what his co-worker Vazquez had done regarding PolitiFact:
Fox News is the network that Morning Joe loves to hate. Similar to the way the show will often refuse to even mention Donald Trump by name, referring to him only as "the former president," Morning Joe will often make a sneering reference to "certain networks," while obviously targeting Fox.
"Morning Joe" is, of course, the show that Finkelstein loves (and gets paid) to hate.
The exploitation extended to the MRC's ongoing misogynistic war against "The View." Nicholas Fondacaro used a Feb. 23 post to falsely frame a co-host's statement as claiming the town's residents deserved the disaster because they supported Donald Trump:
After 20 days, the vile coven of ABC’s The View finally decided that the train derailment and ecological disaster in East Palestine, Ohio was finally worth mentioning during their Thursday Hot Topics segment. Of course, this was only after Pete Buttigieg, the absent-at-the-wheel Transportation secretary finally arrived in the town. But the joyless Joy Behar took things to a disturbing place when she proclaimed that the residents got what was coming to them because they supported former President Trump.
But as a more honest observer reported, Behar simply pointed out that the town's residents should be taken in by optics and pay attention to Trump's actual record. Being the highly dishonest "media researcher" he is, Fondacaro never bothered to correct the record. (And, yes, he's still smearing Hostin as a "racist" because he doesn't understand metaphors.)
Fondacaro, joined by Houck, spread this lie anew in their Feb. 24 podcast, which featured Fondacaro ranting that it "grinds my gears ... to weaponize politics in that way" -- never mind, of course, that the only reason the MRC is interested in the derailment in the first place is to weaponize it -- and denouncing people who tried to correct his dishonesty by insisting that what he claimed she said is "implied."
Houck then appeared on Fox News three days later to parrot Fondacaro's lie about Behar:
Shifting to Behar, she said Thursday on The View that East Palestine residents got what they deserved with potentially long-term health problems via the train derailment because they voted for Trump.
Because at the MRC, narrative is more important than facts -- an odd stance for an organization that claims to be all about "media research."
But the MRC was far from done with exploiting this tragedy to score political points. A Feb. 24 post by Jorge Bonilla complained that one Spanish-language newscast "suggested that “the power of suggestion” is to blame for any symptoms that people might be feeling, rather than the effects of huge chemical fire after a catastrophic derailment" -- odd, since the MRC believes that the power of suggestion turns people gay or transgender. The same day, Tober declared that "ABC's World News Tonight anchor committed a random act of journalism and challenged Biden on a number of controversies from his administration's abysmal handling of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio to Biden's irresponsible handling of classified documents in his multiple homes and offices." At the MRC, it's only "journalism" if it advances right-wing narratives.
Tober returned to complain in a Feb. 26 post:
Three weeks after the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio created an environmental disaster for the working-class residents in town, the leftists on ABC's This Week are finally getting around to second-guessing whether their ally President Joe Biden made a mistake in not visiting and touring the damage and comforting the people who are suffering with the aftermath of the disaster. Of course, the focus of the debate is not on the well-being of the people in East Palestine who are overwhelmingly white working-class Trump supporters. Instead, their only concern is Biden's reputation.
Tober didn't mention that no Trump official visited the site of a train derailment during his administration.
When the Washington Post called out right-wing exploitation of the derailment to score political points (as well as homophobic attacks on Buttigieg), P.J. Gladnick complained in a March 2 post while adding more partisan attacks to the mix:
Despite even some Democrats criticizing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's response to the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, the Washington Post chose to ignore that and focus in on Republicans who are "seizing" (formerly "pouncing") on the accident to attack poor Buttigieg. Reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb, Ian Duncan, and Justine McDaniel acted more as a Buttiegieg defense team than as journalists on Wednesday in "Republicans seize on train derailment to go after Buttigieg."
The MRC hates it whenever the bad-faith partisan nature of their attacks are exposed.
The MRC has almost completely ignored the derailment story since then -- apparently, its value as a partisan attack line has been exhausted, so it no longer cares about those affected by the disaster.
Vazquez's conspiracy theories
Another part of the MRC's exploitation strategy was to send writer Joseph Vazquez out to say wacky things. A Feb. 16 post by Vazquez tried to manufacture a conspiracy theory by dragging in right-wing-mandated anti-ESG talking points currently popular on the right:
ABC’s, CBS’s and NBC’s premature abandonment of coverage of the environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio may have been a gambit to protect the leftist pro-environmental, social, governance (ESG) standard giants tied to the incident.
But doesn't the fact that these funds invest in Norfolk Southern actually prove that they are, in fact, not "ESG-obsessed"? Despite all of the right-wing ferarmongering on the issue, nobody's actually being forced to invest in ESG against their will -- it's simply an option being made available for those who care about it.
In a Feb. 17 post, Vazquez showed the MRC's political agenda again and manufactured another conspiracy theory:
The Big Three networks ignored news that the Biden administration denied disaster assistance to Ohio’s pro-Trump Columbiana County following the toxic train derailment in East Palestine.
Vazquez went on to rehash his bogus ESG conspiracy and concluded by huffing: "By ignoring Ohio being denied disaster aid by a partisan, racially-charged Biden administration, now the media look even more asinine." That's right -- a guy who spreads asinine conspiracy theories thinks everyone but him looks "asinine."
When the Associated Press reported that Russian-linked Twitter accounts spread conspiracy theories about the derailment that echoed conservatives' own talking points, Vazquez had another freakout in a March 20 post:
The Associated Press attempted to blame Twitter owner Elon Musk and “pro-Russian” Twitter accounts for Americans’ distrust of Big Daddy Government and liberal media gaslighting about the toxic Ohio train disaster. Talk about a ridiculous attempt at a stretch.
Actually, Vazquez is the one trying to protect talking points -- in this case, right-wing and anti-Biden talking points that have been opportunistically used to exploit the derailment. Indeed, he dragged out other faulty talking points to attack the AP:
AP said London, U.K.-based group Reset identified the “pro-Russian” accounts. Ben Scott, the group's executive director, was “the technology policy advisory group” lead for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign the same campaign that served as the genesis of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, which AP itself mindlessly promoted.
Vazquez offered no evidence that Reset was involved in the "the Trump-Russia collusion hoax" (which, by the way, wasn't a hoax). And it appears that Vazquez is suffering from Stelter Derangement Syndrome like his fellow MRC employees.
Vazquez then invoked the MRC's own alleged "media research":
AP was content to throw spaghetti at the wall and see if something would stick. Some of the so-called “verifiably false” “pro-Russian” claims that AP tried debunking included the “suggestion that the news media had covered up the disaster.”
Insisting that the MRC study was "non-Russian affiliated" is something someone affiliated with Russians would say (and he offers no evidence or reason to trust his word). But, again, the very first article the MRC published about the derailment promoted that study -- 11 days after the derailment occurred. Why? Who did the MRC strategize with to determine that this tragedy needed to be exploited for political purposes? Did they have Russian accents? And why is the MRC so comfortable pushing the same narratives that Russian bots are?
Vazquez's post actually raises more questions than it answers -- questions he clearly doesn't want to answer. He seems to be protesting a bit too much about the Russian stuff.