The Clarence (And Ginni) Thomas Defense Center
The Media Research Center works hard to protect the right-wing Supreme Court justice and his activist wife -- even when their actions raise clear ethical questions.
By Terry Krepel
After the New Yorker profiled Ginni's activism in early 2022, Kyle Drennen went into attack mode in a January 2022 item:
In the latest nasty, partisan media effort to undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, on Friday, MSNBC welcomed on The New Yorker’s left-wing hack Jane Mayer to trash conservative leader Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, as a “threat to the Supreme Court.” Mayer used her vile hit piece against Ginni Thomas to demand that Justice Thomas recuse himself from numerous cases before the high court.
It's not "undermining the legitimacy of the Supreme Court" to point out Thomas' conflicts of interest regarding his wife -- if anything, it's Thomas whose legitimacy is being questioned. Rather than rebutting anything Mayer wrote, Drennen bashed the messenger for allegedly exposing her "true partisan intent, a lame attempt to sideline one of the members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ahead of a series of potentially landmark cases."
A few days later, a post by Alex Christy repeated an attack on Mayer from the right-wing website the Federalist, claiming her "smears" of Thomas in her "nasty hit piece" were "false" without citing any major examples and insisting that Mayer "made her true left-wing political motivation clear" by noting the objective fact that Thomas would have to recuse from cases due to his wife's activism if he sat on any other court.
In February 2022, when the New York Times Magazine reported that Ginni Thomas sits on the board of an organization that heavily agitated to overturn the election, Nicholas Fondacaro used a post to lash out at co-hosts of "The View" -- at whom he again hurled the misogynist "cackling coven" smear -- for talking about it:
In late January, when the cackling coven of The View were attacking podcaster Joe Rogan with accusations of “misinformation,” co-host Sunny Hostin proclaimed they were better than him because they were held to “ the ABC News standard.” Well, on Tuesday, Hostin and the panel showed how low that standard was when they spewed debunked lies against Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, suggesting she was “part of the insurrection” on January 6.
But neither Fondacaro nor the PolitiFact article he cited addressed the claim about Ginni Thomas in the NYT Magazine article, so he had no factual basis upon which to call the claim a "debunked lie." Like his MRC co-workers, Fondacaro also smelled a conspiracy: "The real double standard was how they wanted Clarence to recuse himself because of the activist work of his wife when they were fine with liberal justices like the late Ruth Badge Ginsburg being activist justices from the bench."
But Fondacaro and the rest of the MRC were soon to be exposed as the ones who are lying about just how deep Ginni Thomas was involved in insurrectionist-adjacent activities. The right-wing Washington Free Beacon revealed the following month that she admitted attending the notorious "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the even more notorious Capitol riot but claimed she left before the riot started. Others have reported, however, that Thomas went from the rally to the nearby Willard Hotel, where the Trump campaign was running a "command center" aiming to overturn the election.
Then, a week or so later, the Washington Post reported that Ginni Thomas sent texts to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows calling the election "the greatest Heist of our History" and urging Trump not to concede. Thomas also sent similar texts to other Republican members of Congress.
The MRC did not immediately rush to the defense of the Thomases after either revelation, perhaps a tacit admission that even they know this behavior was not defensible (or at least the situation required more time to invent a defense). The MRC alluded to the claims obliquely when they did so at all:
All these attacks were lackluster, shifting from defending the Thomases to trying to shoot the messenger. It seems even the MRC understood that defending Ginni Thomas at this point is a losing proposition. Indeed, the MRC stayed silent about subsequent revelations about Ginni Thomas: that she corresponded with Trump lawyer John Eastman in an attempt to help pressure Trump administration officials into overturning the election, and that she also tried to pressure 29 lawmakers in Arizona into overturning Trump's loss in that state. All this looks bad for Clarence Thomas and raises questions about whether he has a conflict of interest in ruling on cases related to the election. Instead, the MRC merely complained in a May 2022 post about speculation that Ginni Thomas might have been the person who leaked the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, the MRC is always happy to parrot Clarence Thomas' political attacks. Nicholas Fondacaro spent a May 2022 post gushing over a biased gotcha he served up:
On Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at an event in Dallas held by the Old Parkland Conference, a group that looks to tackle issues in the black community. During his time on stage (which included a Q&A), Thomas spoke about the liberal media and how they do their jobs poorly along with the “white liberal elites” who try to keep him down and isolated from the rest of the black community, lest they hear the truth.
This isn't quite the gotcha Fondacaro thinks it is, since Thomas' anti-media rant that parroted right-wing narratives exposes him as a highly biased justice who puts ideology before facts (kind of like the MRC itself). And Fondacaro's post was silent on the elephant in the room regarding Thomas: the right-wing political activism of his wife.
When ProPublica revealed in April that Clarence Thomas had accepted decades of luxury vacations from right-wing billionaire Harlan Crow and failed to note them in his required financial disclosures, the MRC's first instinct was to lay low. Its first reaction to it was not a regular post but, rather, a column by Jeffrey Lord on April 8 -- two days after the story broke -- trying to play whataboutism by suggesting that scrutiny of Thomas was worse than the threats that Trump fanboys unleashed on Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing Donald Trump's criminal indictment, as well as the judge's family:
Now the liberal investigative journalists at ProPublica are painting Justice Thomas as unethical for going on trips with conservative billionaire Harlan Crow. This has been a big issue for liberal Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Conn.), and the federal judiciary is now requiring more disclosure.
Lord seems not to understand that buying a judge is not the same as funding journalism (the facts of which even Lord didn't dispute), and criticizing a judge for accepting (and hiding) luxury vacations is not the same thing as threatening a judge and his family for doing his job.
Tim Graham whined about the story in his April 10 podcast:
Meanwhile, the liberal journalists at ProPublica prepared a report that allowed the Left to cry for the impeachment of Justice Clarence Thomas. On the April 7 NBC Nightly News, anchorman Lester Holt tipped at the top: "Clarence Thomas speaking out, saying he did nothing wrong by accepting and not disclosing luxury trips over two decades paid for by a Republican megadonor." Legal reporter Laura Jarrett worked in all the adjectives -- lavish, swanky, luxury, superyacht. Maximum embarrassment was the goal.
It wasn't until April 11 -- five days after the ProPublica story appeared -- that kneejerk reflex finally kicked in and the MRC started defending Thomas in earnest. Clay Waters complained that the story was the "news hook" for a commentator to discuss "alleged conservative judicial activism" while ignoring "decades of actual liberal judicial activism." A post by Alex Christy later that day groused that Crow's penchant for collecting Nazi memorabilia got attention from Stephen Colbert, insisting it wasn't a big deal because it's old news and, besides, he has non-Nazi stuff too:
Reacting to Thomas’s defense that there is nothing corrupt or improper with his relationship with Crow because the two are friends, Colbert shot back “He's your close personal friend that you know everything about, so I guess it would be really embarrassing to learn that Harlan Crow has a collection of Adolf Hitler artifacts and Nazi memorabilia, including two paintings by Hitler.”
Joseph Vazquez tried to insist that a guy who takes luxury vacations with a right-wing billionaire is somehow not "some kind of elitist," but that anyone who criticized him while committing the offense of being worth more than Thomas somehow is one:
Insufferable New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman apparently didn’t think his strategy through before he tried to caricature Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as some kind of elitist.
Vazquez seems a little jealous that Krugman is doing better than he is.
Christy returned to complain in an April 18 post that people were still talking about Crow's Nazi stash, this time during an interview "Daily Show" guest host Jordan Klepper did with frequent MRC target Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which also featured Christy trying to play whataboutism with AOC on ethics issues:
While AOC has her own disclosure problems to worry about, Klepper was not about to ask about those, “Can you empathize, though? Beyoncé came through here, wanted to take you on a sweet vacation? Wouldn’t you say yes and let her show you her Nazi memorabilia?”
Jorge Bonilla also played the AOC whataboutism card in an April 19 post:
The nation’s Spanish-language media appear to have made some (D)istinctions as to which ethics stories they choose to cover. Allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were covered extensively, but an actual ethics scandal surrounding Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew nary a mention.
That "actual ethics scandal" regarding AOC, by the way, involves whether or not a dress she wore to the Met Gala was considered a gift -- hardly on the same level as decades of luxury vacations lavished on Thomas by a right-wing billionaire.
That round of defense culminated with an April 22 post by Tim Graham repeating a Wall Street Journal writer accusing ProPublica of "comically incompetent reporting," though Graham didn't cite any specific instances of it.
The scandals continue
Meanwhile, the Thomas scandals continued to pile up: ProPublica went on to reveal not only that Crow bought property from Thomas that included the house where Thomas' mother lives, which received major renovations, but also that Crow paid the pricey private-school tuition for Thomas' grandnephew, whom Thomas was raising. Both of these benefits, like the luxury vacations, were never listed on Thomas' financial disclosure forms. So the MRC launched a new round of defense. Christy grumbled in a May 4 post:
As the cast of Thursday’s Morning Joe discussed the latest non-scandal involving Justice Clarence Thomas, co-host Joe Scarborough condemned what he saw as conservative hypocrisy, declaring that if Thomas were Justice Sonia Sotomayor the reaction would be very different. He said this as Sotomayor faces ethical questions of her own.
Christy then played whataboutism by bringing up how "Sotomayor declined to recuse herself from a case involving Penguin Random House after receiving $3.6 million from the publisher despite fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer did recusing himself in the same case for also taking money from the company" -- even though that's not in the same league as hiding massive support from a right-wing billionaire.
Christy tried to minimize Crow's funding of Thomas' relative in another post that day:
Former CNN legal analyst and infamous Zoom masturbator Jeffrey Toobin returned to the network on Thursday to promote his new book on Timothy McVeigh, but also to pile on Justice Clarence Thomas for being unethical and the rest of the Supreme Court for allegedly putting themselves “above the law.”
Christy went on to insist that "Harlan Crow does not have business before the Court," which is not quite true.
Fondacaro played the Sotomayor whataboutism card in his own May 4 post:
Continuing with the high-tech lynching of conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas first launched during his confirmation hearings in 1991, ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today show picked at the red meat thrown by left-wing ProPublica at the liberal media on supposed ethics violations on Thursday. Meanwhile, they showed no interest in a new bombshell report that liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor presided over cases that involved her book publisher who paid her $3.6 million.
Again, failure to recuse over alleged conflict of interest and failure to report a massive amount of financial support from a partisan billionaire are two very different things.
Christy returned for yet another May 4 post while denying a more apt comparison to Thomas:
MSNBC legal analyst Barbara McQuade joined Ana Cabrera Reports on Thursday to discuss the latest ginned up controversy surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas where she demanded that he either resign or be impeached despite admitting there “does not appear that there is any evidence that” Thomas’s friend Harlan Crow has influenced any of his decisions.
After hopefully getting some sleep, Christy pounded out a May 5 post whining that it was pointed out that conservatives would not be defending Sotomayor the way they are Thomas if she had committed the same offense (then again played Sotomayor whataboutism):
It was impossible to tell the difference between NBC’s allegedly straight newsman Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Joy Reid as they both wondered what the GOP’s reaction would be if Justice Clarence Thomas was Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Harlan Crow were George Soros. Ignoring questions around Sotomayor was a theme for MSNBC on Thursday.
Of course, by using Sotomayor as his whataboutism go-to to distract from Thomas, Christy is effectively doing exactly that.
Fondacaro then branded all criticism of Thomas as "racist":
With left-wing ProPublica launching a coordinated attack on conservative Justice Clarence Thomas via faux ethics scandals, the liberal ladies of ABC’s The View pounced, on Friday. Particularly, staunchly racist co-host Sunny Hostin was irritated that Republicans would dare call out the racist nature of the attacks Thomas had been subjected to since his nomination to the position in 1991.
Fondacaro didn't explain why Thomas' lucrative financial relationship with Crow wouldn't look bad if Thomas was a different race. Nor did he explain with whom ProPublica had made this "coordinated attack" on Thomas. (And remember, Fondacaro thinks Hostin is "racist" because he doesn't understand how metaphors work.)
Christy hammered that Sotomayor whataboutism narrative yet again in a time-count post:
The cable networks of CNN and MSNBC spent a good portion of Thursday obsessing over a ProPublica report that Justice Clarence Thomas did not disclose friend Harlan Crow paying for his-great nephew's tuition while simultaneously downplayingand in MSNBC's case, completely ignoring reports that Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not recuse herself from a case involving the publishing company Random House despite it paying her $3.6 million.
Christy, however, didn't take the time to figure out how much time Fox News spent on each of those stories, which would be more illuminating and relevant from a research standpoint.