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The MRC's Trump Indictment Distraction Game, Round 4

The Media Research Center covered Donald Trump's fourth indictment with the usual strategies of defense and distraction, with an added dose of hypocrisy and a dash of conspiracy theory.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/26/2023

As with his first three indictments, the Media Research Center ran to Donald Trump's defense on his fourth indictment with its usual distraction-and-whataboutism strategy. The first mention of Indictment No. 4 came in an Aug. 15 post by Curtis Houck, who predictably whined that it was being covered and suggested a conspiracy theory that the indictments are some kind of scheme to hide right-wing narratives about alleged Biden scandals:
It’s like clockwork with the liberal media and their friends in government as, following more bad news and new allegations of bribery, corruption, and malfeasance from the Biden family, another Trump indictment dropped Monday night with this one emanating out of Fulton County, Georgia and far-left District Attorney Fani Willis. On Tuesday morning, the morning news shows of ABC, CBS, and NBC shoveled off 33 minutes and 17 seconds for the indictment.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of the indictment in the days leading up to it and the January 6 case gave the liberal networks all the excuses in the world to ignore the Bidens with zero seconds since Sunday morning on CBS and then Monday morning on ABC and NBC.


[ABC] Senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott was ebullient at the Trump frenzy (likely seeing as how she doesn’t have to talk about the Bidens, the economy, education, or any other issue that’d be a lefty pitfall), boasting Trump “very likely...could be spending more time in the courtroom than campaigning” in 2024.

Houck offered no reason for labeling Willis as "far-left."

Nicholas Fondacaro complained that MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell "took to her eponymous show on Tuesday to openly fret that former President Trump’s “opponents” might be suffering from “indictment fatigue” after the district attorney of Fulton County, GA indicted him for the fourth time. Of course, the crux of her concern was that the harm to Trump’s presidential campaign would be minimized." Kevin Tober bizarrely framed Trump's multiple indictments as "election interference" instead of justice:

On the day after former President Donald Trump was indicted for a fourth time by a partisan prosecutor, NBC Nightly News admitted that these indictments were having the effect of full-blown election interference that benefitted the Biden campaign and Democrats in the 2024 election.

“This fourth indictment puts Mr. Trump's legal troubles on even more of a collision course with his campaign. So far, it appears to have boosted the Republican front-runner,” anchor Lester Holt proclaimed.

Picking up where Holt left off, senior congressional correspondent Garrett Haake optimistically reported that “the historic fourth indictment of Donald Trump tonight shaking up the 2024 campaign.”


NBC, like the rest of the left-wing media, was clearly happy that a former President and current candidate was under a constant barrage of indictments.

They should be careful what they wish for. As Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning, “Whatever you think of the Trump indictments, one thing is for certain: the glass has now been broken over and over again. Political opponents can be targeted by legal enemies. Running for office now carries the legal risk of going to jail--on all sides.”

Tober offered no evidence that Biden or any other Democrat has committed offenses on a level to which Trump has been credibly accused.

Mark Finkelstein claimed that "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough "took a surprisingly more sober view" of the latest indictment:

In particular, he said that he was concerned that the indictment was brought in heavily Democratic Fulton County.

Scarborough wondered how people would react if, say, a prosecutor in Holmes County, in the Florida panhandle, which voted 87 percent for Trump in 2020, indicted a Democratic president. Joe pondered why the case couldn't have been brought in another county, and if perhaps prosecutors elsewhere declined to proceed.

And if Scarborough's concerns were valid when it comes to Fulton County, which went 72.65 percent for Biden in 2020, how much more so in Washington, D.C., where Jack Smith has brought his January 6th case against Trump? The District of Columbia went for Biden over Trump by the overwhelming margin of 92 percent-5 percent!

Greg Bluestein of the liberal Atlanta Journal-Constitution made the case for the indictment being brought in Fulton County, noting that many of the facts alleged in the indictment, including the infamous "perfect" phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, took place there.


Scarborough was careful to maintain his liberal street cred by saying no fewer than three times that he found Trump's activity in Georgia "abhorrent," adding, "and appears illegal."

Tim Graham spent his Aug. 16 column trying to portray Trump as a victim of partisan prosecutors:

Here we go again. The Democrats have unfurled a fourth indictment of former President Donald Trump, this time in Fulton County, Georgia. The number one media-bias complaint on this trend – other than how these indictments “flood the zone” and devolve the Republican presidential primary into a hyperbolic courtroom drama – is that reporters typically fail to identify the prosecutors as Democrats.

The big Associated Press dispatch on this indictment by reporters Kate Brumback and Eric Tucker doesn’t identify District Attorney Fani Willis as a Democrat. They just quote her overzealous copy about how “the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result.”

In the penultimate paragraph, the AP duo noted Trump “is campaigning and fundraising around these themes, portraying himself as the victim of Democratic prosecutors out to get him.” But that’s general and not specific.


This has happened over and over again. New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg isn’t described in media accounts as an elected Democrat who ran on getting Trump. New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who sued Trump over business fraud, isn’t described as an elected Democrat who ran on getting Trump. They don’t talk about Jack Smith’s wife, the filmmaker who made a Netflix gushfest for Michelle Obama.

In this case, Fani Willis ran for D.A in 2020, and almost immediately began an investigation of Trump. All of these Democrat politicians are drawing adulation from Democrats – at the same time as reporters present them as nonpartisans.

Graham didn't explain why it's a bad idea for a prosecutor to vow to bring criminals to justice, or why Trump should be exempt from facing justice even if he committed crimes. He also fails to acknowledge the flip side of his argument: A Republican prosecutor who refused to prosecute Trump for his crimes should, by his definition, also be accused to acting in a partisan manner.

P.J. Gladnick whined that John Dean appeared on TV to liken Trump's indictments to Watergate:

It's all too predictable. A scandal or merely an apparent scandal involving Republicans happens and one of the Watergate people, usually John Dean or Carl Bernstein, is brought aboard by the media to perform their "Worse than Watergate!" or "Bigger than Watergate!" shtick.

There's nothing at all unusual about Dean invoking Watergate for the umpteenth time as part of his media circus act. Why bring on this 84-year-old pundit, if that's not the point? Dean wrote a book in 2006 that mild-mannered George W. Bush was Worse Than Watergate. Last summer, Dean was the star of a four-part CNN special titled Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal.

In the case of the indictment of Donald Trump in Fulton County, Georgia (after it was prematurely announced before the grand jury even finished deliberating) CNN's Kaitlan Collins inducted John Dean to perform his "Bigger than Watergate!" act.

Gladnick made no effort to disprove Dean, though.

Nicholas Fondacaro served up another time-count post, complete with conspiratorial suggestion that the indictment "gave the liberal media another excuse to move past and ignore the bribery and corruption allegations swirling around President Biden and his family," though as with Houck, he didn't explain why the Trump indictment shouldn't be covered.

Graham rehashed all of this in his Aug. 16 podcast:

It didn't take long for ABC, CBS, and NBC to devote an hour of stories to obsessing over the fourth Trump indictment -- from Fulton Country, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis. Reporters typically avoid mentioning Willis is an elected Democrat who's made it her primary mission to put Trump in jail. She had help with her indictment from a grand jury selected in Fulton County, which voted Biden over Trump by a margin of 73 to 26 percent.

CNN and MSNBC obsess over this hour after hour. On networks like NPR, the only person aired criticizing Willis as a partisan is Donald Trump, a man they consider self-discrediting. Congressional Republicans somehow don't have a newsworthy opinion.

NewsBusters Associate Editor Nick Fondacaro joins the show to share the climbing numbers of indictment stories, and MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell worrying out loud about "indictment fatigue" and how voters just hear "white noise" in all the endless cable chatter about Trump. Bill Clinton used to suggest anyone obsessing over scandal wasn't doing the people's business. That spin is nowhere to be found today.

Graham didn't explain in the writeup why anyone should consider Trump as anything but "self-discrediting."

Added hypocrisy

A number of other Trump advisers and hangers-on were also indicted with in this Georgia-based indictment as well, and Finkelstein spent an Aug. 17 post huffing that schadenfreude was exhibited regarding one of them:

On Thursday, it was [Joe] Scarborough's turn to indulge in unseemly gloating, with the target this time being Rudy Giuliani.

Morning Joe opened with clips of Rudy, back in the day as a federal prosecutor, talking about his extensive use of RICO statutes. The show then rolled a current clip of Rudy criticizing the use of RICO statutes in his Georgia election case. Said Scarborough:
"It's sort of fascinating, the perfect circle. This is, of course, what Elton John would sing about in The Lion King: this is the circle of life. "Live by the sword, die by the sword, another way to say it."
If anything is going to stir the Trump base, and even begin to make some non-Trumpists consider whether the liberal establishment is seeking vengeance and not justice toward Trump and his associates, it could be this kind of distasteful reveling.

As if the MRC doesn't engage in distasteful reveling every time something salacious is reported about Hunter Biden. Clay Waters served up more hypocrisy in another Aug. 17 post:

So just what was then-president Trump thinking when he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early January 2021, and asked him to “find 11,780 votes” in Georgia, which if really there, would have put Trump over Biden in the close Georgia race?

NewsHour congressional reporter Lisa Desjardins seemed confident she knew just what Trump was thinking in her Tuesday evening report -- that he knew “he was short of votes,” but still asked Raffensperger to change the outcome.
Desjardins: [Fulton County District Attorney Fani] Willis launched the investigation in February 2021, a few weeks after audiotape revealed Trump knew he was short of votes in the state, but asked Georgia's secretary of state to change the outcome anyway.

Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.
Compare that blunt declaration of Trump’s guilt with a segment on Tuesday’s edition of Amanpour & Co., which airs on PBS and CNN International. Fill-in host Bianna Golodryga certainly isn’t a Trump fan, but she at least applied a shred of journalistic skepticism, leaving the question of Trump’s mindset open -- a potentially vital part of his legal defense -- while speaking with Darryl Cohen, a former Fulton County (GA) Assistant District Attorney.

We don't recall Waters chastising his co-workers for assuming that every tiny shred of alleged evidence that makes Joe or Hunter Biden look bad is incontrovertible evidence of guilt even though they, unlike Trump, have never been charged with a crime.

Graham spent his Aug. 18 podcast complaining that CNN's Jake Tapper rebutting Fox News' Laura Ingraham whining that the non-right-wing media allegedly took too much joy in Trump's indictment by reminding her of how Fox News was exposed as lying to its viewers and had to pay $787 million to Dominion for those lies:

Fox News host Laura Ingraham led off her Ingraham Angle show Wednesday night suggesting CNN and MSNBC were so excited -- and they just can't hide it -- that Trump faces serious legal peril in four indictments. They're aglow, because they're expecting.

CNN's Jake Tapper sent a savage tweet over Laura Ingraham's video tweet on the leftist media "humiliating themselves" and reveling in Trump indictments and mug shots. Jake was miffed! Fox was wildly unfair to CNN!


But the worst part was Tapper touting the "*facts*" of CNN. When it comes to defamation, Jake Tapper sat back when a Parkland High School kid compared Marco Rubio to the mass shooter at Parkland. Tapper sat back when Julia Ioffe said Trump "radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did." Tapper sat back when Nancy Pelosi denounced new Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in her CNN town-hall meeting: "If you breathe air, drink water, eat food, take medicine, or in any other way interact with the courts, this is a very bad decision."

In other words, Tapper doesn't really believe in "fact checking in real time." Not with these smear campaigns.

Graham didn't discuss that Tapper reference to Fox News' defamation settlement either in his podcast writeup or his podcast -- remember, he gave a pass to Fox News' lies because it does such a great job of pushing right-wing narratives that facts don't matter.

Finkelstein returned to an earlier indictment in an Aug. 20 post when Scarborough argued that Trump's constant attempts to delay his various trials makes him look guilty:

On Friday's Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough argued that Donald Trump's attempt to push his federal trial related to January 6th back to 2026 is evidence of his consciousness of guilt. It's "not how an innocent person acts,"


Really, Joe? Defendants don't get to rule on whether they're innocent or not. Juries do. On MSNBC, Trump is presumed guilty as soon as he's indicted (well, it didn't take an indictment).

Would he have advised Hillary Clinton to rush to court in 2016 if she'd been indicted on her email scandal? If Scarborough were Trump's lawyer, even if he firmly believed in his innocence, would he really be advising him to "get to court as quickly as possible?"

Kevin Tober reached back more than a decade -- to the 2012 presidential campaign -- to find a whataboutism card to play when NBC's Chuck Todd fretted that no candidates are calling out Trump for his mounting indictments:

NBC's Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd opened his program on Sunday with a mini temper tantrum due to the majority of the 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls and even President Joe Biden steering away from attacking former President Donald Trump in the manner Todd demands. Of course, the icing on the cake was Todd's insistence that Republicans staying "silent has left a massive moral vacuum in our fraying democracy."

"It used to be that extramarital affairs, campaign trail tears, forgetting a cabinet agency, even a weird scream could end a presidential campaign," Todd bemoaned. "Now Donald Trump has been criminally indicted four times in as many months, faces 91 felony counts, and he still leads the Republican field nationally by nearly forty points."

Todd should look in the mirror. It's ironic that he's fretting over 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry "forgetting a cabinet agency" was considered a scandal, when his own network urged Perry to drop out of the race due to his brief brain freeze.

Of course, Tober was also silent on the moral peril of Trump.

Graham was on the anti-schadenfreude beat in another Aug. 20 post:

When Jake Tapper tried to claim it was wildly wrong for Fox host Laura Ingraham to suggest liberal networks were reveling in the Trump indictments, he should have imagined MSNBC regulars sounding giddy at Trump being arraigned in Georgia in "a really dirty, dangerous scary place," where he could end up "really freaked out."
Graham did not explain why Trump should be treated differently from any other accused criminal. Meanwhile, Graham's Aug. 21 podcast noted how "A new MRC evening-news study by Rich Noyes found that Trump's share of Republican media coverage is twice as big a share of the overall percentage as the last time the primary was open eight years ago," and that "Coverage of the Republicans was dominated by Trump's four indictments and the E. Jean Carroll charge of department-store rape." Graham didn't explain why Trump's legal troubles should not be covered.

Graham rehashed the study again in his Aug. 23 column to complain once more that Trump's legal troubles are being covered:

Then reporters say Trump is “stealing the spotlight” from his rivals, as if they aren’t among the ones who manage the spotlight. Voicing over a screen that read “Trump To Surrender After Skipping Debate,” NBC’s Garrett Haake touted Trump as “poised once again to steal the spotlight this week from the party he seeks to lead.”

After eight years of this onslaught, it seems amazing that Republicans are so supportive of Trump in the early polls. Wildly negative coverage of Trump has never hurt him much with Republicans, and in some quarters it drives a sympathy vote. But the pro-Biden media clearly hope independents and Cheney-Kinzinger Republicans will accept their messaging and turn out in droves for Biden.

Network newscasts paired their Trump’s Impending Arrest stories with gushy chronicles of Biden touring Maui displaying his “signature empathy.” Their “news judgment” can be defined as “whatever makes the Republicans look terrible and the Democrats look wonderful is news.”

Graham made no mention of how his favorite right-wing channel, Fox News, covered all of this. Apparently, Noyes never examined it in his study -- even though Fox News's right-wing bias is presumably the MRC's benchmark for how political things ought to be covered -- and no explanation was provided for why the channel was excluded.

Arraignment time

The MRC's aggressive defense of Trump over his (fourth) indictment continued when he traveled to Georgia to be arraigned and have his mugshot taken. Bill D'Agostino whined in an Aug. 24 post that non-right-wing networks covered the story while purportedly obsessing over mugshots:

Over the past 24 hours, CNN and MSNBC have gleefully brandished the mugshots of Donald Trump’s co-defendants like grim trophies for their audiences to gawk at.

MRC analysts examined all coverage on CNN and MSNBC from 6:00 p.m. on August 23 to that same time the following day. During that 24-hour span, the two cable networks displayed mugshots of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, former Trump administration Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and the other defendants a whopping 188 times, amounting to a combined 83 minutes of airtime.

MSNBC led the pair in both total on-screen displays and screen time; they showed the mugshots 122 times, for a total of 56 minutes and 23 seconds. CNN showed the images 66 times, which amounted to 27 minutes and 12 seconds of screen time.


If these journalists want to get offended when they’re accused of publicly enjoying this latest Trump indictment, then they should probably stop publicly enjoying it. For a start, they could quit waving around the latest mugshots like excited baseball card collectors.

Strangely, D'Agostino and his "MRC analysts" didn't offer a count for how many times the mugshots appeared on Fox News, even though its right-wing bias is the gold standard by which it measures all media coverage.

Serving up the completely opposite view, Tober complained that some argued (correctly) that Trump would use his mugshot a a political tool:

During CNN’s live coverage of Trump’s motorcade to the Fulton County, Georgia jail for the former President’s booking on Erin Burnett OutFront, fill-in anchor Kaitlan Collins and correspondent Sara Murray fretted that Trump would use his new mugshot “to his political advantage” and fundraise off the photo to help his presidential campaign.

“Trump himself has been not downplaying this. I mean, he is certainly seeing how he uses these exact moments to his political advantage,” Collins kvetched.

Murray then jumped in to agree that Trump “uses these for fundraising, he uses these to rally his base.” Due to this, she openly regretted the plan to release Trump’s mugshot.

Tober then insisted that refusal of some channels not to air Trump's post-arraignment remarks was "election interference":

In a case of blatant election interference, both CNN & MSNBC refused to air Trump’s remarks live on the tarmac after his arrest in Fulton County, Georgia. In stark contrast, Fox News did air Trump’s comments live where he lashed out at being arrested for a fourth time in as many months.

Just like earlier in the evening, both CNN & MSNBC aired wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s every move to and from the Fulton County, Georgia jail where he was fingerprinted and got his mug shot taken, both networks had cameras rolling while Trump got out of his limousine and walked to the cameras. Despite this, they kept Trump’s volume down and continued with their panel discussions.

By contrast, Tober gave Fox News a cookie for helping the Trump campaign: "Fox News Channel’s Jesse Watters Primetime did broadcast the former President’s remarks in its entirety."

Fondacaro spent an Aug. 25 post being mad that Trump's overly self-aggrandizing height at weight self-presented at his arraignment was justifiably mocked:

Never let anyone in the liberal media claim they’re not gleeful that former President Trump was booked and had his mugshot taken at a Fulton County jail. Nearly 40 minutes after concluding their opening segment about Trump surrendering to authorities in Georgia, the cast of CBS Mornings revisited the topic in their “What to Watch” segment so they could make fun of Trump’s “self-reported” height and weight, and say he’s fatter than he claimed. They even compared his build to NFL players.

Coming back from the commercial break, CBS led into the segment by broadcasting their intentions with the song Body by Megan Thee Stallion, which has these enlightened lyrics:
Body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody/Ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody (mwah)/Body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody (ah, ah, ah ah)/Ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody
“Body body body!” co-host Tony Dokoupil sang along. “Perfect song!” co-host Gayle King proclaimed, with Dokoupil agreeing it was a “Very perfect song!”

They immediately went to correspondent Omar Villafranca to mock Trump for claiming he was 6'3" and 215 pounds. They wanted to really have fun with it so they matched the former President up against young and muscular NFL players:


Was Trump exaggerating how light he was? More than likely. Did it require an entire segment with special graphics to mock it? Definitely not. Were there better things they could have used the time for? Yes, like the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into Biden family corruption.

We don't recall Fondacaro passing up the opportunity to mock a liberal he thought deserved it because there were "better things" that should be covered.

Fondacaro joined Graham's podcast the same day to whine about this (and the mugshots) further:

The media's Trump-indictment obsessives engaged in all kinds of glee out of Fulton County mug shots of Donald Trump's "co-conspirators" in the Georgia election aftermath, and the glee only grew once Trump's mug shot was released...except CNN lamented Trump would use the image for his "political advantage."

Associate Editor Nick Fondacaro joins the show to talk mug shots and debates.


Nick also reported CBS Mornings mocked Trump for reporting he was 6-foot-3 and weighed 215 pounds, which does not seem accurate. They compared him to professional NFL footballers at that height and weight. It's probably not a wise idea for Gayle King to mock someone else's size, but when you're the queen of CBS in the morning, no one tells you what you shouldn't say.

Graham didn't explain why he tried to insinuate a fat joke about King. See what we mean about the MRC never missing an opportunity to mock someone, no matter how mean or petty?

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