The Clarence Thomas (And Sam Alito) Defense Center
The Media Research Center continued to defend Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as ethical concerns about him continued to mount -- and it also had to defend fellow right-wing justice Samuel Alito from similar allegations.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center, it seems, can't stop defending Clarence Thomas against his growing financial disclosure scandals. Alex Christy -- who has been the MRC's most vociferous defender of Thomas -- Christy spent a May 6 post whining that a commentator insisted that criticism of Thomas isn't politically motivated:
Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart spent Friday’s PBS NewHour laughing at GOP allegations that Democrats are going after Justice Clarence Thomas simply because they do not like the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, implausible arguing this is just about transparency. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist David Brooks tried to find a centrist middle ground on the controversies surrounding the Court, but ultimately just twisted himself into a pretzel.
The specific controversy regarding a "liberal justice" Christy is referring to is his Sotomayor whataboutism. And Christy is not about to admit that his intent in bringing up Sotomayor is nothing but political motivation.
Jeffrey Lord's May 6 column lashed out at the "liberal media" for hyping Thomas' ethics issues, then repeated stories from the New York Post -- which he didn't identify as a right-wing publication -- referencing Sotomayor and Republican narratives about President Biden. He huffed that "the attacks on Justice Thomas by The Washington Post, columnist Marcus and others are nothing more than the latest attempt at a 'high-tech lynching' of a powerful and persuasive conservative black man." But he didn't identify the New York Post's attacks on Sotomayor and Biden as similarly partisan attacks from a biased publication.
The defensive hits kept coming:
Christy ranted against more criticism of Thomas in a May 12 post, adding a different liberal justice to play whataboutism over:
NYU law professor and former Sonia Sotomayor clerk Melissa Murray joined MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday’s The 11th Hour claimed that Clarence Thomas is a hypocrite for wanting to overturn affirmative action while he takes vacations with Harlan Crow. At the same time, both Ruhle and Murray praised Elena Kagan for refusing a bagel platter.
Christy had to go all the way back to 2011 to find this bit of whataboutism. And as with Sotomayor, Kagan's recusal issue is not on the same level as Thomas' lucrative relationship with Crow.
The MRC's aggressive defense of Thomas continued throughout the summer as ethical concerns continued to pile up. Christy complained those ethical lapses were discussed in a June 7 post:
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell suggested on Tuesday’s edition of The Last Word that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should be impeached for “selling too much of himself” to billionaire friend Harlan Crow. Later, during an interview with President and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice, Michael Waldman, it was essentially admitted that their biggest problem with Thomas and the rest of the Court is that it rules in ways they do not like.
Actually, Christy's claim that Crow "never had business before the Court" is not quite true.
Conservatives certainly remember the awful treatment Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas faced at his 1991 confirmation hearings, including the endless media coverage granted to utterly unproved charges of sexual harassment by a former employee, Anita Hill. At the time, Thomas referred to the televised hearings as a “high tech lynching” perpetrated by those who would torpedo the conservative jurist’s nomination.
Another July 1 post by Christy complained that someone said something mean about Thomas:
Joy Reid, the eponymous host of MSNBC's The ReidOut, welcomed The Nation’s justice correspondent Elie Mystal onto her Friday show to recap the week’s Supreme Court decisions and naturally, incendiary hot takes soon followed including that Justice Clarence Thomas is a “mutilated version of a black justice” who is his wife’s puppet.
Kevin Tober attempted yet another round of Sotomayor whataboutism in a July 11 post:
The Associated Press committed a random act of journalism Tuesday when they ran a story exposing how left-wing radical Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff pushed public institutions where she went to visit to purchase her memoirs or other books. Given the heavy interest given by the “big three” news networks on so-called conflicts of interest surrounding constitutionalist justices like Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas, the fact that the networks refused to report on this during their evening newscasts shows they were hypocrites.
Tober didn't explain how Sotomayor is a "left-wing radical" or how this claim (which, appearances aside, is legal) eclipses Thomas' ethical lapses, or even how it makes those calling for the Supreme Court to follow an ethics code look "hypocritical."
A July 21 post by Graham repeated an attack from another right-wing outlet on ProPublica, which exposed Thomas' ethical conflicts:
The investigative reporting group "ProPublica" boasts it is an “independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest," but the tilt of its targeting is hard to miss. Its most recent crusade has focused on the allegedly shabby ethics of conservative Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Graham failed to disclose that the Daily Caller is a biased right-wing website -- ironic given how they attack the alleged bias and nondisclosure by ProPublica. The next day, Graham complained that the right-wing obsession with turning Thomas into a hero and martyr was noticed (with lots of whataboutism, natch):
Friday's Washington Post included no story on the House Weaponization Subcommittee's hearing with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Breitbart's Emma-Jo Morris on Big Tech censorship. But the front page had an obligatory front-page story on a grand jury investigating Donald Trump and this amazing scandal piece: "Federalist Society figure uses his sway before and after naming of justices."
Note that Graham made no effort to defend the right-wing lionization of Thomas -- he simply tried to distract from it. He did, however, make a rare disclosure of a conflict of interest in acknowledging that the MRC shares a PR firm with the Thomas promoters.
Nicholas Schau used a July 26 post to uncritically quote a Republican senator complaining that ProPublica reported things about Thomas that right-wingers didn't want people to know:
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) went scorched earth on the massive George Soros-affiliated machine that went after Justice Clarence Thomas.
Neither Schau nor Lee identified anything false or misleading in ProPublica's "hit pieces" on Thomas. Schau also failed to explain why it's so "outrageous" to make Supreme Court justices follow a code of ethics.
A July 31 column by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. repeated Graham's earlier criticism of the Washington Post for pointing out how he and his fellow right-wingers, like Leonard Leo, are spending lots of money trying to turn Thomas into a conservative hero/martyr: "Leo gives money to his friends. They break no laws by spending money. There is nothing devious about what they do with the money. ... Nor is Thomas the only member of the court to be endowed by rich Americans."
Thomas isn't the only right-wing Supreme Court justice the MRC has had to defend from ethical questions about them. When it was revealed that Justice Samuel Alito took a luxury fishing trip with a conservative billionaire who later had cases before the court (from which Alito did not recuse), the MRC rushed to distract from it -- which is why there was a lot of whining that the media covered it and not the congressional testimony of MRC darling (despite his record of failure) John Durham the same day. Kevin Tober was first up in a June 21 post:
Credit where it’s due, but NBC Nightly News was the only one of the “big three” evening news broadcasts to cover the congressional hearing where former Special Counsel John Durham testified that evidence he uncovered during his probe into the origins of the Trump/Russia collusion hoax did not warrant the FBI opening up its investigation called “Crossfire Hurricane.” Despite this and many other newsworthy moments from Durham’s five-hour testimony, ABC’s World News Tonight and CBS Evening News looked the other way.
Tober followed up a few hours later more fully whining about the Alito coverage:
ABC’s World News Tonight and CBS Evening News each ran stories hyping the dishonest story in ProPublica which accuses Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito of being unethical in not reporting a trip he went on in 2008 that was paid for by a Republican donor. Meanwhile, ABC & CBS ignored former Special Counsel John Durham’s five hour long testimony before Congress in which he testified that evidence he uncovered during his probe into the origins of the Trump/Russia collusion hoax did not warrant the FBI opening up its investigation.
It's quite funny to hear a guy who played the Clinton Equivocation to distract from Donald Trump's (second) indictment complain about old news being reported (and besides, it isn't old news to the rest of the country).
The MRC was oddly silent on the fact that, rather than respond to a ProPublica request for comment before its article was published, Alito ran to the Wall Street Journal, where he was allowed to publish a preemptive attack on it. ProPublica pointed out that Alito effectively lied to it by having a spokesperson say he would comment on the story, which led to an attack on ProPublica by the Journal itself, which then led to a ProPublica article detailing how the prebuttal came to be. Strange that an organization purportedly dedicated to "media research" wouldn't have an opinion on something like that.
Ana Schau served up a larger defense against criticism of Alito on the first anniversary of the Alito-written Dobbs opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade in a June 28 post:
Joy Reid, host of MSNBC’s The ReidOut, spent a segment of Tuesday evening’s show angrily denouncing Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who she condemned for being “bitter, vindictive, and aggrieved.” She also took this opportunity to complain about Alito’s alleged conservative activism in the Supreme Court, especially with the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which he had written, and to once again point how he “really loves favors.”
Schau complained that Reid "disgustedly described Alito’s activities as being nothing more than how 'he seems to revel in, like, trolling the libs'" -- but then undermined her own criticism by adding:"This may be one of the truest things she’s ever said before. Trolling the libs is quite fun." If it's "quite fun," it can't be disgusting, right?
More Thomas defense
When ProPublica published more reporting on Thomas -- this time, highlighting all the other right-wing billionaires with whom he has vacationed -- the MRC again flew into a rage ... at ProPublica. Nicholas Fondacaro ranted in an Aug. 10 post that ProPublica was perpetrating a "high-tech lynching" of Thomas:
The day after the House Oversight Committee released detailed financial documents that exposed how much foreign money was being funneled to the Biden family, leftist ProPublica dropped another hit piece to continue their high-tech lynching of Justice Clarence Thomas. The report was parroted by CNN News Central on Thursday. And despite giving the smear job oxygen, they reluctantly had to admit there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
Of course, Fondacaro played whataboutism:
Former advisor to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Guest took to Twitter to call out how former liberal justices like the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg had taken “157 trips, 28 international trips,” and Stephen Breyer accepted “233 trips, 63 international trips.” That’s in contrast to the “109 reported trips, 5 international trips” taken by Thomas in a similar amount of time.
Fondacaro cited nothing inaccurate in ProPublica's reporting, which means that all of this rage is because it reported the truth about Thomas.
Curtis Houck complained the same day that "both CNN and MSNBC have been all over the latest smear campaign from far-left ProPublic targeting Justice Clarence Thomas for having wealthy friends as the latest piece aimed at having the conservative jurist removed from the court." He too failed to identify anything inaccurate in the article. That was followed by Tober whining:
Continuing their egregious behavior of ignoring the newly released records by House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer (R-KY), detailing payments that the Biden family received from corrupt business associates in foreign countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, ABC's World News Tonight decided to instead hype a non-story about United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas allegedly accepting gifts from donors. This is just one more glaring example of the liberal news networks deliberately ignoring scandals involving Democrats while going all in on every little perceived instance of a conservative controversy.
In yet another Aug. 10 post, Peter Kotara complained that another TV show noted how Thomas benefited from right-wing billionaires:
On Thursday’s Morning Joe on MSNBC, co-host Mika Brzezinski, Politico White House editor Sam Stein, and former Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) desperately peddled crazed claims about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. They claimed a new ProPublica report on Justice Thomas’s gifts received while in office was evidence he was being bribed in order to rule in favor of certain individuals, despite the fact that report noted the donors did not have cases before the Court.
Clay Waters concluded the MRC's Aug. 10 blitz by grumbling that PBS' "NewsHour" "offered seven minutes and 20 seconds to the liberal sites ProPublica and Slate finding scandal in vacations offered to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Oh sure, some of the liberal justices had more vacations provided, but...they put those on their disclosure forms, so the liberal sites can explain that away."
Waters returned for an Aug. 14 post huffing that Thomas' predilection for hanging around right-wing billionaires was pointed out, further complaining: "The segment reached beyond Thomas’s undisclosed vacations into psychoanalysis. Thomas has been long loathed by the left for failing to knuckle under after the Anita Hill accusations during his confirmation hearings." It wouldn't be the MRC if it couldn't sneak in a little sniping at Hill.
Jeffrey Lord's Sept. 2 column was a lame echo of Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto lashing out at ProPublica for writing about Thomas:
Again, James Taranto gets it exactly right when he says that “politically biased reporters routinely adulterate the news with tendentious language and prepackaged opinions.”
Lord and Taranto did not opine about how their rabid defense of Thomas shows that political reporting by right-wing media is even more adulterated by "tendentious language and prepackaged opinions."