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The MRC's Trump Indictment Distraction Game, Round 2

The Media Research Center repeated its distract-and-whataboutism playbook from Donald Trump's first indictment in the service of downplaying his second one, with added Clinton Equivocation.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/11/2023

The Media Research Center labored hard to distract from Donald Trump's first indictment, and it did the same thing for his second one. Nicholas Fondacaro found a formerly hated TV host joining forces with a right-wing journalist to complain about it in a June 8 post:
Former President Trump dropped a bombshell on the race for president Thursday night, an announcement that he had been indicted for willfully holding onto classified documents. But while many of his detractors in the liberal media were doing their happy dance, Chris Cuomo was on his eponymous NewsNation show with independent journalist Matt Taibbi, where both men cast doubt on the charges and had some pretty intense criticisms, including a comparison to a third-world country.

Towards the end of the show, which was entirely dedicated to the Trump Indictment, Cuomo introduced his guest and had some critical words for investigators. He chided that he wasn’t sure if they were “intentionally or unintentionally helping” Trump “because every time there's a swing, it seems to expose the fact they go after him with what seems to be at or below a level of anything that would be impressive to people reviewing the documents.”

Taibbi agreed and reminded viewers that he was “not a fan” of Trump but he had a simple test that any charges directed at a person in Trump’s position needed to pass. Taibbi felt the charges against Trump failed:

Given that Taibbi was Elon Musk's lapdog for the early part of the "Twitter files" saga, calling him an "independent journalist" is highly inaccurate.

Mark Finkelstein whined about schadenfreude in a June 9 post:

On Friday's Morning Joe, they were wallowing in more proof of their constant foresight that the "walls are closing in on Trump." Joe Scarborough cried crocodile tears, breaking out a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger shtick. Scarborough proclaimed this to be a "bleak, dark day for America," and "something I feared for a long time." Riiight.

Scarborough was clearly aware that many wouldn't buy his crocodile tears, and he thus insisted that: "if anybody thinks I'm being glib or or not completely straightforward in saying that, they don't understand." Sure.

Scarborough quickly enough recovered from his sadness, and proceeded to speculate with Chuck Rosenberg, a former US Attorney and aide to FBI Director James Comey, about the long prison term Trump could be facing. Scarborough even imagined Trump spending "the rest of his life in jail." That prospect surely helped dry Joe's tears.

Alex Christy spent a post being mad that a historian claimed that Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon over his Watergate crimes set the stage for Trump's lawlessness (with a dose of Clinton Equivocation):

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley appeared on Friday’s CNN News Central to discuss former President Trump’s latest indictment and blamed it on a curious suspect: Gerald Ford. Brinkley and host Sara Sidner also acted as if nothing has happened between Watergate and present day when wondering why Republicans do not urge Trump to step aside like they did with Richard Nixon.

Sidner claimed that Watergate represents the best comparison to Trump’s current situation, “but there is a key difference which you just mentioned now, which is that back then Republicans turned on their president because of the enormity of all of the evidence that was coming out about Nixon. That is not happening today. What's the difference? Why?”

That CNN could ask that question in a history segment without going through the history of Clinton family, whether it be Bill’s impeachment for perjuring himself or obstructing justice or Hillary’s e-mail server, and the lack of criminal charges and of Democrats urging them to step aside is remarkable.

Curtis Houck was aghast that someone would complain that Republicans insisted on standing by a repeatedly criminally indicted presidential candidate:

CBS News chief political analyst and longtime liberal journalist John Dickerson surfaced on Friday’s CBS Mornings to opine on the second Trump indictment and, interestingly, it sounded like what he said after the first indictment as it consisted of a pious lecture trashing Republicans for denouncing the charges before documents are unsealed and preferring Trump (if he were to become the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee) over President Biden.

Dickerson also reveled in how Trump was “being charged with something that...Hillary Clinton, was — was accused of doing” and led to his 2016 victory. Co-host Tony Dokoupil also went aboard the wayback machine, reading an 2016 quote of Trump ironically promising to “enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information” and “[n]o one will be above the law.”

Dickerson then huffed the GOP “is largely rallying behind him” even though “we don’t know the facts of the case yet” and thus not only are speaking too soon, but not being proper “stewards of our system” of government.

Peter Kotara complained that one TV show promoted "a wild and baseless conspiracy theory that Trump tried to sell classified documents to Saudi Arabia." Christy returned to grouse that more folks pointed out that Republicans won't reject Trump despite his criminality:

New York Times columnist and the supposedly conservative half of PBS NewsHour’s weekly Friday Brooks and Capehart panel was dismayed that even “supposedly mature and moderate” Republicans were decrying President Trump’s latest indictment as “selective prosecution.” Washington Post columnist and pinch hitter Ruth Marcus went even further, labelling it “sickening.”

Host Geoff Bennett led Brooks with an unrelated question about the trial being held in Florida which would mean the jury pool will be far less liberal than in New York City, “it's harder for him to make a convincing argument that he's being railroaded when it's happening in — on his home turf, as I said?”

Brooks pleaded ignorant, citing is lack of law school experience and turned the conversation back to the political reaction, “If you're running against Donald Trump for president, your job is to take this day and say, ‘see, that guy's not qualified to be president.’ That's like, simple.”

Unfortunately for Brooks that has not happened, “Does Ron DeSantis do that? No. Does Tim Scott do that? No. They're all — they're all jumping on the, it's prosecutive — it's weaponizing the justice system. They're jumping on that, Mike Lee in the Senate. Glenn Youngkin, the supposedly mature and moderate governor of Virginia, he was like ‘selective prosecution.’

Kevin Tober cheered a Republican presidential candidate whose campaign the MRC helped to launch: "During the obsessive coverage of the recently unsealed indictment of President Donald Trump by Biden's Department of Justice over his alleged mishandling of classified documents, CNN's State of the Union host Dana Bash Sunday was schooled by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Bash walked right into a buzz saw when she, as usual, acted like a Democrat [sic] hack instead of a journalist." Tober later showed he's more interested in being a Republican hack than a "media researcher":

During the panel discussion on CBS’s Face the Nation, fill-in anchor John Dickerson said the quiet part out loud Sunday when discussing the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump when he expressed his concern that Trump and his allies in the Republican Party could frame the indictment in a way that makes there more of an appetite for Trump.

“Some people say, well the Republicans have rallied around Donald Trump, he's under threat,” Dickerson observed. “But what if the way this is being framed by Republicans, which is this is all partisan, this is all a manipulation of the system, creates an appetite for Donald Trump,” he worried.

“In other words if it's all rigged we want the best rigger in the game on our side,” he added.

CBS White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe put Dickerson’s nerves at ease by noting “if that's the case, then I think the polling continues to show us they can nominate him but he may be set up to lose again.”

Given that a solid majority of Republicans continue to support Trump as the nominee despite his criminality, Tober can't plausibly claim that the non-right-wing media is making that happen.

The complaining continued:

  • A June 13 post touted how "NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck hopped on Newsmax Monday night during Eric Bolling: The Balance alongside New York Post columnist and 2023 MRC Bulldog Award winner Karol Markowicz to sound off on the ebullient liberal media’s coverage of the second Trump indictment and their continued penchant for hurling venom at Trump supporters." It was not explained why the panel wasn't fair and balanced by adding a non-conservative to the discussion, or why people who support a politician who's been indicted multiple times shouldn't be criticized.
  • Fondacaro grumbled that a co-host of "The View" pointed out that Republicans have shown by their continued support of Trump that their "moral compasses" are broken, but he did not rebut the argument.
  • Finkelstein came back to whine that co-hosts on "Morning Joe" made an argument he decided to frame this way: "Are you a Republican congressman or senator who doesn't agree with the liberal media about the seriousness of the charges against Donald Trump regarding his handling of classified documents? Well then, your own security clearance should be stripped!"

Kotara complained that a commentator argued that "Republicans were following a script and had stopped caring about national security," and he served up a Republican script in response:

Republican commentator Scott Jennings countered Jones and stopped him from painting all Republicans as irrational and insensitive. He explained Republicans’ distrust of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice, and how this affected their views of the indictment:


While many believed the verdict to be clear-cut, including several Republicans, many others did not and were waiting to hear Trump’s defense. The purpose of a trial was to sift through both sides and hopefully arrive at an objective verdict. However, CNN already reached its verdict and even wanted to ensure prosecutors could impanel a jury that would find Trump guilty.

Just because many Republicans disagreed with CNN’s predetermined conclusion does not imply an invasion of bodysnatchers or a deep-rooted indifference to national security.

We can assume that Kotara is not interested in giving this same benefit of the doubt to, say, Hunter Biden.

Appointee-related hypocrisy

After months of attacking Alvin Bragg, the district attorney who's behind Trump's first indictment, as a "Soros-backed prosecutor," the MRC was aghast that anyone who would point out that Aileen Cannon, who will oversee Trump's second indictment, was appointed to her position by Trump and might be biased toward him. Christy whined in a June 9 post:

Gone are the days when questioning whether a judge in a Trump indictment case can be truly impartial is said to be unacceptable because the cast of MSNBC's Friday special coverage on the matter sounded the alarm whether Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon can truly be fair and neutral given some of her previous rulings.

Diaz-Balart presented the news to NBC senior executive editor for national security David Rohde and asked for his thoughts, “And now NBC can confirm indeed that Judge Aileen Cannon will be presiding over this case. Just thought, your reaction to that?”

Not thrilled with the news, Rohde declared that “I'm concerned and if she, you know, handles it through the trial she made some very unusual rulings in the course of the litigation surrounding the search warrant.”

Rohde is alluding to Cannon’s decision to appoint a special master back in September.

Christy didn't mention that legal experts questioned Cannon's move for a special master, seen as a move designed to benefit Trump and which a federal appeals court later overruled. Christy pretended this wasn't evidence of bias: "Cannon was presented with an unprecedented and politically sensitive case involving a former president who is currently running again, she issued a ruling, it got reversed, that isn’t definitive proof of partiality.

P.J. Gladnick whined about the criticism in a June 11 post:

On Friday, MSNBC acted "concerned" over the news that Aileen Cannon was chosen as the judge to oversee the Trump documents case. However, the MSNBC reaction was mild compared to the sheer panic over Cannon in an article published by Slate magazine that same day. Mark Joseph Stern, Slate's senior writer on legal matters sounds like he will spend many sleepless nights over his extreme fear that "Judge Aileen Cannon Can Absolutely Sink the Federal Prosecution of Trump.

Finkelstein used a June 12 post to complain that Scarborough questioned the odds that Cannon would end up with this case, but cheered that "both of Scarborough's expert guests—neither being in any way a Trump fan—shot down Joe's fevered fantasy."

Cassandra DeVries huffed the same day, with added Sonia Sotomayor whataboutism repeated from the MRC's defenses of Clarence Thomas:

During Monday’s CNN This Morning, host Erica Hill and senior legal analyst Elie Honig attempted to stigmatize and discredit Judge Aileen Cannon, who will preside over former President Trump’s indictment in the classified documents scandal. They doubted her ability to be impartial since Trump appointed her to the federal bench and discussed possible reasons for the Department of Justice to pressure her to recuse herself from the case.


While Honig concluded that there was not enough substance to recuse Cannon, Hill and Honig repeatedly highlighted her appointment by Trump, clerkship for a conservative judge, age, and previous rulings to undermine her credibility. They openly discussed reasons she might not be fit to preside and implied she should recuse herself because of her conservative ties. However, CNN did not have a problem with liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refusing to recuse herself from a case directly involving the publisher of her book. Once again, CNN evaluated conservatives with hasher standards.

Kotara spent a June 15 post whining that Scarborough criticized Cannon again, adding: "For someone who claimed to support the justice system in America and that Trump’s guilt was certain, Scarborough should stop crying that the dice didn’t roll his way and let the trial play out." We don't recall anyone from the MRC saying that about Bragg.

Christy returned to complain some more in a June 16 post:

MSNBC spent 93 percent of Tuesday discussing former President Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday and it appears some at the network think that number is too low. One of those voices belongs to contributor, professor, and former Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who joined Thursday’s edition of The 11th Hour with Stephanie Ruhle to demand that Judge Aileen Cannon work with Chief Justice John Roberts to televise the trial.

His remarks also come as the network tries its hardest to discredit Cannon by doubting her ability to be impartial, so not only is MSNBC demanding the judge rule certain ways, but also that she consider their programming demands, “To me, the most important order, Steph, that she should be issuing is a request to the Chief Justice of the United States to get this televised.”

Christy then demanded that the media not turn a Trump trial into a circus, even though Trump is the one who would likely be responsible for doing that:

Katyal isn’t wrong to say this case will be “one of the most important” in the nation’s history, which is why it must be taken seriously and not turned into a sports-like spectacle with networks mashing together montages of the most “dramatic” moments to recap the proceedings for viewers that don’t watch cable news all day, every day and that are more geared towards attracting viewers than legal education.

A post by Christy later that day cheered a Republican congressman complaining that Cannon's status as a Trump-appointed judge was called out:

Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett (R) joined CNN Primetime host Kailtan Collins on Thursday for a discussion that included a tense back and forth about whether CNN is creating “doubt in the mind of the public” by attacking Judge Aileen Cannon in the case of former President Trump’s second indictment with an exasperated Burchett telling Collins “I mean, come on, you're CNN, we know that, it’s just the game we all play.”

While lamenting that networks like CNN are attempting to try the case on air, Burchett also condemned the network for having “already started attacking the judge.”

Elaborating, Burchett claimed, “you’ve already started attacking the judge prior to this... if she'd have been a Biden appointee, you'd have been okay with it. So, I mean, you obviously, throwing doubt into the whole judicial system anyway.”

Collins pushed back, “I didn't attack the judge.” Burchett challenged her by pointing to segments earlier in the show and accusing her of throwing “doubt upon her by saying she was a Trump appointee. Why would you say that unless you had doubt about her and you’re creating the doubt in the mind of the public.”


Despite Collins’s claims to the contrary, Burchett is correct. By attacking the judge by bringing up rulings they don’t like, who appointed her, and her age, they are setting her up as a potential target for condemnation should Trump not be convicted.

Neither Christy nor any other MRC writer admitted that he did the exact same thing he accused CNN of doing when attacking Bragg. Nevertheless, Christy invoked this in crying hypocrisy in a June 22 post:

On June 15, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) accused CNN’s Kailtan Collins of referring to Judge Aileen Cannon as “Trump-appointed” in order to instill doubt in the Trump documents case and questioned whether she would do the same if the judge was appointed by Barack Obama. Collins defended herself by saying “We talk about who judges were appointed by all the time.” Now, less than one week later we have proof from two separate Wednesday stories: one involving a Republican-appointee and one involving a Democratic appointee that shows that isn’t true.

Judge James Moody Jr. is an Obama appointee and he recently issued the radical ruling that Arkansas’s ban on transitioning minors violated the Constitution, but any reference to Obama or the Democratic Party was missing from any CNN report on the matter.

If the president who appointed a judge is irrelevant -- as the MRC is arguing when it comes to Cannon -- why make a big deal of who appointed the Arkansas judge? Christy offered no evidence why it was the judge's ruling overturning the law, and not the law itself, that was "radical."

Clinton Equivocation

The MRC also defended Trump against his (second) indictment by playing the ol' Clinton Equivocation. Kevin Tober set it up in a June 11 post:

Two days after the unsealing of the 37-count indictment against former President Donald Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home, ABC's This Week co-moderator George Stephanopoulos was full of partisan sanctimony. After a highly-partisan opening monologue and subsequent panel discussion of Trump's legal woes, the former Clinton administration official turned to Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. It did not go well for him.

"Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he did nothing wrong," Stephanopoulos noted. Do you believe that?"

The Senator didn't take the bait and instead turned it around on the Democrat [sic] activist. "Well, here’s what I believe. We live in an America where if you’re the Democratic candidate for President, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, you can set up a private server in your basement to conduct government business," Graham said before getting rudely cut off.

Graham angrily shot back: "No, let me finish!"

Shoving his leftist bias back in his face, Graham rebutted "I am trying to answer the question from a Republican point of view. That may not be acceptable on this show."

Tober went on to quote Graham saying that "Hillary Clinton did very similar things and nothing happened to her."
Tober won't tell you that Graham is wrong -- Clinton's case and Trump's case are not remotely the same. As Dean Obedallah explained at CNN, then-FBI Director James Comey when announcing in 2016 that he would not file charges against Clinton that investigations of mishandling of classified documents typically involved some combination of the following: “clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice," but “We do not see those things here,” although he criticized Clinton for being “extremely careless” in the handling of sensitive, classified information. By contrast, allegations of repeated intentional conduct are at the heart of the case against Trump.

The fact that the comparison has no basis in reality didn't keep the MRC from repeating it, of course. Fondacaro huffed in a June 12 post:

In a grade-A example of CNN not caring about its credibility as a news organization during Monday’s Inside Politics, the network trotted on disgraced former deputy director of the FBI turn CNN analyst, Andrew McCabe, who was fired for leaking to the press lying to investigators about it. He was tapped to defend two-time failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for keeping classified information on her personal e-mail server.


McCabe proceeded to downplay the fact that Clinton had classified material on her server, arguing that they weren’t hard copies of documents but rather communications of sensitive topics:
In addition to those, we found thousands more emails that she exchanged with people, the total classified materials seized from that review, were essentially 55 email conversations, strings of emails in which eight were classified top secret, 37 secret, and 10 confidential.

Now, it's important to remember those weren't classified documents that was simply the content of email exchanges that was later deemed to be classified. These weren't documents with classified stampings on the tops and bottoms and cover sheets and all that kind of stuff.
“Should it would have happened? No. But what we didn't have was evidence that Hillary Clinton had intentionally exchanged or withheld classified information. And that's just what we could and could not prove at the end of the day,” he asserted, omitting the fact that Clinton’s hard drive and cellphone were not properly disposed of.

Fondacaro did not mention that the charges against Trump center on his refusal to return classified documents and deceiving officials about having them. Meanwhile, Christy attacked those trying to set the record straight:

MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle used Monday’s edition of The 11th Hour to deliver a solemn monologue “for fact’s sake” to attempt to discredit the “misinformation” being spread by Republicans that seeks to compare President Trump’s classified documents indictment to classified documents-related scandals that did not result in indictments. However, Ruhle left out several bits of information and rewrote the law in question when seeking to defend the decision not to charge Hillary Clinton for her e-mails server.

Beginning her pretentious fact-check, such as it was, Ruhle addressed the audience, “Okay, so, let's give you some facts. President Biden is currently under investigation for storing classified documents in his Wilmington, Delaware, garage. McCarthy and other Republicans are just deflecting here, and they're asking, why Hillary Clinton, why Mike Pence? And Biden, why aren't any of them charged?”

As for Pence and Biden, “Well, for fact's sake, here is why that argument is flat out wrong. In the cases of Joe Biden and Mike Pence, aides from both men found classified documents, immediately contacted authorities, turned them over, and allowed the searches of their properties. The Justice Department closed the Pence case without an indictment. The Biden investigation is still ongoing.”

Moving on to Clinton, Ruhle recalled, “Former FBI Director James Comey never brought a case about her emails because he said no reasonable prosecutor would. That is partially because they couldn't determine if there was any intent. As for Donald Trump, the federal government had to subpoena him because they suspected he had not turned over all of his classified documents.”

Ruhle omitted four things in that explanation. First, the law does not only mention intent, but also “gross negligence”. Second, she deliberately deleted all her e-mails under the justification that they were not work-related, but the FBI eventually recovered some e-mails that were work-related, including some that were related to the 2012 Benghazi attack. Third, e-mails are not tangible objects like boxes full of paper. Fourth, the Clinton camp used hammers and BleachBit on the server.

Christy concluded by huffing, "As the fact-checkers might say, this claim is 'missing context.'" But he omitted important context himself -- namely, that very few of the emails in Clinton's server that contained classified information were actually marked as classified, unlike with Trump.

A June 14 'flashback" post by Bill D'Agostino refreshing admitted he didn't know what he was talking about as he nevertheless tried to play the Clinton Equivocation:

This piece was not written by a lawyer, and it will contain no Venn diagram-style analysis comparing the mishandling of classified information by former President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At issue here is the media’s stubborn refusal even to try to frame either case fairly.

For Trump, the allegations in the indictment are themselves proof of his guilt. In fact, his guilt was assumed long before the indictment was even a twinkle in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s eye. For the media, the prosecutorial process is a spectacle to be enjoyed in the aftermath of the Justice Department finally “getting” the bad orange man.

Not so for Mrs. Clinton. It’s not just that viewers weren’t bombarded with long lists of Clinton’s many malfeasances — though, of course, they weren’t. But the media were so resistant to discussing Clinton’s emails that many refused even to admit that there was a scandal.

If you were watching TV news back at the height of the email saga in 2015 and 2016, you were subjected to daily lectures about why nobody actually cared about Hillary’s emails, and why you shouldn’t either.

Clay Waters whined the same day:

Tuesday’s edition of the tax-funded PBS NewsHour aired a segment on Trump’s latest indictment, over classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate, that was devoted to neutralizing Republican accusations of a double standard between the political parties over document-related prosecutions, using an unlabeled Democratic lawyer and operative as cover.

Republicans have counterattacked the Biden Justice Department by bringing up the case of Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state and the thousands of emails, dozens of which were classified, that she irresponsibly hosted on her private home server. She deleted thousands of e-mails using the justification that they weren’t work-related, but the FBI eventually recovered many that were. A hammer was used to destroy government phones that showed evidence of the private email service, and her server was wiped with a file cleaning program called BleachBit.


Then came the source to explain it all: A Democratic national security attorney! Mark Zaid is a familiar face on the, previously explaining why the mishandling of classified documents by former President Trump and current president Joe Biden (while serving as Barack Obama’s vice-president) were “incredibly different.” Now that the case against Trump has been elevated to felony stature, Zaid’s humming the same Democratic tune.

The guy singing the Republican tune stuck to the songbook by complaining about Zaid but not countering him -- not even the part where he pointed out that much the classified information on Hillary's server was deemed so after the fact.

Tober was back to spread the misleading talking point again in a June 18 post hyping Mike Pence's appearance on "Meet the Press":

Pence complained that Trump being indicted while Hillary Clinton is allowed to roam free is “one more example of a two-tier justice system that we've been living through for seven years.”

“I mean I have to tell you after seeing Hillary Clinton given a pass,” Pence noted before getting cut off by an irritated Todd.

“By your Justice Department. It was by a Republican,” Todd said frazzled. “Jeff Sessions had another U.S. Attorney look into everything with the Clinton Foundation and didn't bring charges.”

Pence correctly responded that “Hillary Clinton was given a pass and then, we went two and a half years through a Russia investigation, that we now know from the Durham Report should’ve never been begun.”

Tober was not about to admit that Todd is right, nor would he concede that Hillary's case is much different from Trump's -- he's paid to spread right-wing narratives, not tell the truth.

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