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The MRC's DeSantis Defense Brigade: Before (And During) The Fall

The Media Research Center continued to defend everything about Ron DeSantis, including that dubious debate with Gavin Newsom -- and it provided an in-kind contribution to his campaign in the form of a gushy softball interview with him.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/23/2024

Ron DeSantis

The Media Research Center's DeSantis Defense Brigade stayed on sentinel duty to defend its favorite Republican presidential candidate (who isn't named Donald Trump) as September rolled around. You didn't hear about his campaign harassing a 15-year-old boy for asking substantive questions of the candidate, or that this campaign is kind of a mess financially, or that Florida law enforcement officials dispute a talking point about reduced crime in a statistic the DeSantis has been spouting on the campaign trail. Instead, Clay Waters complained in a Sept. 11 post:
The New York Times ran its latest anti-DeSantis political hit job Saturday, “As His State Reels, DeSantis Shrugs Off Climate Threat,” by Nicholas Nehamas and Patricia Mazzei. Both have strong anti-DeSantis credentials borne out by their previous reporting. One could ask "News story or Democrat advertisement?" 

The Times tried to discredit DeSantis from another angle, this time his handling of environmental issues, accusing him of shedding a green mantle that he never really put on in the first place:


This newspaper always paints its own ideological opinion as Science -- "decades of scientific research" and "what climate scientists say" vs. the Republicans.

Waters didn't prove how DeSantis or any other Republican has the correct "ideological opinion" on climate change.

Kevin Tober spent a Sept. 13 post defending an interview DeSantis did with a non-right-wing outlet:

On Wednesday night, CBS Evening News aired part two of anchor Norah O’Donnell’s sit-down interview with Florida Republican governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. The interview went so poorly for O’Donnell that she was forced to leave most of it on the cutting room floor and hide it on CBS’s website where most people would never see it. 

The part of the interview that did make it to air was O’Donnell pestering and nagging DeSantis about his state’s 15-week abortion law. “There is new data out that the number of abortions in Florida has actually increased, and increased since Dobbs,” O’Donnell touted. “For those who oppose abortion rights, is it time to enact a national ban on abortion?”

DeSantis explained that “the issue with Florida is that the southeastern states have very, very strong pro-life laws. Florida is litigating under a 15-week, and so we have become, against our wishes, a destination.”


Before the governor could finish answering her question, O’Donnell rudely interrupted like a petulant child. 

“Why won't you answer that question? She asked. 

DeSantis responded: “What do you mean?” 
“About why you would support a federal ban,” O’Donnell shot back. 

DeSantis responded: “I support pro-life policies. I will be a pro-life President. But at the same time, I got to chart the course and be honest with people about, okay, how do you advance the ball like we did in Florida. And the way you do that is really bottom-up.”

When DeSantis felt the need to set up a debate with Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the MRC defended that too, with Alex Christy doing his duty in a Sept. 26 post:

CNN Primetime host Abby Phillip assembled a group of nominal and former Republicans on Monday’s show to discuss the state of the Republican primary and the news that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom have agreed to debate each other on November 30. That the nation’s foremost conservative and liberal governors will debate each other is hilarious to CNN and speaks badly of DeSantis.

Phillip simply asked, “Ron DeSantis is going to debate Gavin Newsom. Why?”

Amid laughter from the panel, Sophia Nelson, formerly of the Lincoln Project, could be heard exclaiming, “Yeah, ew.”

The DeSantis-Newsom debate isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Sens. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders once debated each other on CNN.

Christy went on to insist that DeSantis' floundering presidential campaign has no effect on his record in Florida:

[Commentator Shermichael] Singleton then went on to claim DeSantis has a tough time connecting with voters, but before he could talk about DeSantis’s actual policies, Navarro interrupted to add, “Mickey Mouse and my drag queen friends persevered and his candidacy is dead on arrival.”

Whether DeSantis's presidential campaign ends with success or not, the fact is he won re-election by almost 20 points by taking on various liberal culture war issues from gender ideology to sexual orientation lessons for elementary students.

Christy returned for a  Sept. 30 post on an interview DeSantis did with Bill Maher, which he pretended wasn't as friendly as it actually was:

With the writers’ strike over, the late night comedy shows are back and first out of the gate on Friday was HBO Real Time host Bill Maher, who chose Florida Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis to be his first guest. The interview was typical Maher as the two teamed up to mock the New York Times, but Maher’s liberal atheism still came through as the two also battled on election integrity laws and abortion.

Maher recalled how “I saw the New York Times did such a despicable hit piece on you, that I saw, because I forget what the lead headline was but it was basically, ‘Ron DeSantis fucked up the pandemic.’ And then, like, at the very end it says 'Florida's death rate, overall, was better than the national average.' Now, if you're going to do an article-- if you're going to do an article about Florida and the pandemic, shouldn't that be the lead? Shouldn’t that be the-- talk about burying the lead.”

Of course, it should be the lead. As for DeSantis, he took the opportunity to tout his record:


Shortly after, Maher changed topics to some of DeSantis’s election reforms and was not sure the amount of effort put into passing the laws line up with the scale of the problem which make it look “like you’re just trying to stop black people from voting.”

After DeSantis called such framing “nonsense,” Maher continued, “I don't think it's nonsense. Black folks don't vote for the Republican Party and very big numbers.”


DeSantis would explain that politics is also about the art of the possible, “Well, no, I mean, it’s a legislative issue, so they have to figure out what they think, and so the legislature identified the moment where there's a detectable heartbeat as the time where there's legal protections. Now, they did provide exceptions for all of the difficult cases that you hear about, but basically once there is a heartbeat, it shouldn't be used as a form of birth control.”

Maher was correct about the New York Times’ depiction of DeSantis’s COVID record. Now, if only he could stop relying on their depictions of other aspects of the Republican agenda.

We've already noted how the MRC cheered a statement DeSantis made at the second Republican presidential debate, as well as defended him from a fact-checker.

When it wasn't working the debates for his benefit, the Media Research Center's DeSantis Defense League continued to promote and defend its favorite Republican presidential candidate. Clay Waters was angered in an Oct. 3 post by the New York Times pointing out that DeSantis' anti-immigration platform is unrealistic:

The New York Times continued to paint Republicans as the extremists on the immigration issue, even when it’s the Democratic Party who seems eager to welcome a surge of migrants and perhaps even give them the vote.

The online headline over the story by Nicholas Nehamas and Eileen Sullivan didn’t even nod toward objectivity: “With Unrealistic Immigration Proposals, DeSantis and Trump Try to Outdo Each Other.”

Campaign reporter Nehamas is notoriously hostile to DeSantis, and Sullivan's previous misleading reporting captures her siding with illegal immigrants, so this anti-DeSantis screed comes as no surprise.


The Times piled on details to make it seem an impossible mission to enforce U.S. law, making the unbearable status quo, which is causing protests in even liberal New York City, seem inevitable.

Waters is notoriously hostile to the Times -- bashing it was once his sole job at the MRC -- so perhaps he should be disregarded the way he thinks we should ignore Sullivan. Also, Waters is too busy bashing the Times to even bother to explain why DeSantis' eagerness to deport all undocumented immigrants has any basis in reality.

Luis Cornelio served up DeSantis stenography in an Oct. 9 post, cheering how he adhered to the MRC's talking points:

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) did not mince his words against the leftist Silicon Valley giants and the onslaught of free speech in response to the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case involving a 2021 Florida anti-censorship law.

DeSantis blasted Big Tech platforms' role in blocking information from the American public during an interview with Shannon Bream on Fox News Sunday on Oct. 8. “We have to grapple with the fact that these Big Tech companies colluded with the federal government to stifle dissent on COVID,” DeSantis said. “If you put up an article in COVID in March of 2020 saying COVID came from the Wuhan Lab, they would take it down and censor it. If you criticized lockdowns, they would take it down. They censored the Hunter Biden laptop story at the behest of the federal government.”

Indeed, MRC Free Speech America exclusively unveiled over 800 instances of COVID-19-related censorship in 2022.

Kevin Tober groused in an Oct. 10 post that "Correspondent Lisa Ling’s first assignment for CBS Mornings Tuesday after leaving CNN was to smear the AP education standards and accuse conservatives like Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of not teaching the full history of the United States, especially when it comes to slavery." Tim Graham followed with an Oct. 16 post complaining that "60 Minutes" pointed out the negative effects of DeSantis' policies in Florida:

Two years ago, CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi unloaded a 60 Minutes hit piece on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his COVID-vaccine rollout. She said it sounded like....The Hunger Games. Alfonsi went to a DeSantis press conference and fought with him, and then edited out his rebuttal in their hit piece. On Sunday, CBS and Alfonsi uncorked another one. 

Remember DeSantis flying migrants to Martha's Vineyard? CBS promoted a Democrat sheriff in Texas who says DeSantis committed a crime.


First, she turned to local lefties, like tavern owners Larkin and Jackie Stallings. Jackie speaks Spanish, so she claimed all the migrants were touting what work they could do. Alfonsi wouldn't tell viewers Jackie Stallings tweeted that DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott should be in prison! 

Graham went on to complain that the show quoted a Texas sheriff who said "it was wrong for the Florida governor to fly illegal immigrants from Texas to Massachusetts," but Graham never explain what was right about it. Graham continued to rage about the "vicious attack piece" on DeSantis in his Oct. 16 podcast.

A Nov. 3 post by Mark Finkelstein touted that MSNBC's Joe Scarborough "conducted a lengthy interview with Ron DeSantis. A wide range of issues, foreign and domestic, were discussed, with DeSantis displaying an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge." He expressed surprise that "the overall tone was respectful, with Scarborough even praising DeSantis for being forthright about his views."

The MRC, meanwhile, did not want to discuss DeSantis' apparent preference for wearing lifts in his shoes to make himself look taller.

The MRC's softball interview

The Defense Brigade hasn't exactly helped DeSantis' presidential campaign -- as was the presumed intent -- given that he was still mired in the lower end of polling as the fall rolled around. So the MRC tried one last-ditch effort to boost DeSantis: a softball interview. Curtis Houck detailed the agenda-promoting softness in the nearly 16-minute interview in a Nov. 3 post:

This week, Media Research Center Founder and President L. Brent Bozell spoke with 2024 Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis about a whole host of issues and, naturally, it included exchanges about the repeated, years-long barrages of attacks from the liberal media.

Bozell began by noting the MRC has “monitored how they’ve treated you and how they’ve treated all the Republican candidates” and, while “all the focus is always on — on how awful they are to Donald Trump,” “[t]hey’re just about just as awful with you.”

Bozell cited an August NewsBusters study by our Rich Noyes on 2024 coverage from the network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC that “78 percent of the coverage of you has been negative” before asking how that’s “not election interference when the networks are deliberately trying to derail Republicans.”

DeSantis didn’t hesitate in emphasizing that “there’s no question that they have...a partisan agenda...trying to advance a victory for the Democratic Party” that “you guys have pointed this out...for a number of years.”

He added why the liberal media have “been so negative on me is because they do see all the success that we’ve had in Florida” and fear the possibility that, if elected president, his “model from Florida” could be “implemented nationally” and deal a huge blow “to their friends on the political left.”


Bozell reacted with effusive praise:“Of all the candidates out there and perhaps even all public figures out there today when it comes to dealing with vicious attacks from the media and doing it on the spot, I really don’t think there’s anyone who’s better than you are...It’s extraordinary.”

A few hours later, a post by Luis Cornelio detailed more softballs for DeSantis:

FIRST ON MRC: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) joined MRC Founder and President Brent Bozell to speak about how Google is interfering in elections by manipulating its search results to highlight Democratic candidates ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, did not mince words in response to the MRC Free Speech America study revealing that Google buried the websites of GOP candidates. “So, of course, it’s something that is being done to change elections,” DeSantis said, before pledging to take “principled” measures, if elected president, against the potentially illegal censorship to ensure “everybody is treated equally.”

DeSantis appeared to agree with Bozell’s reasoning that Google’s censorship likely constituted illegal campaign contributions. “Is this something that a President DeSantis would be looking at?” Bozell asked DeSantis, to which the governor answered, “Yes, we could. I mean, I think that, you know, you have FEC. You have all this stuff, and those have been ineffective bureaucracies.” He added, “But I think that these guys have gotten a pass. I do think they're using corporate resources to be able to influence elections, and that is just not something that you can do without reporting under our system.”

Over at the right-wing blog that used to be the MRC's "news" division, Craig Bannister was given his own interview segment to tout in a Nov. 6 post:

In an exclusive on-camera interview, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) discussed with Media Research Center (MRC) President Brent Bozell the dangers of media bias, especially when it comes to U.S. elections and Israel’s war on Hamas terrorism.

Gov. DeSantis, who is seeking the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination, was asked about how bias liberal media are interfering with U.S. elections. DeSantis said there’s no doubt the media have a partisan agenda and are “trying to advance a victory for the Democrat Party,” as MRC has documented “for a number of years.”

That was joined the same day by one more bit of softball stenography from Bannister:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should ignore the anti-Israel media attacks and demands for a cease-fire to Israel’s effort to wipe out Hamas terrorists, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Media Research Center (MRC) President Brent Bozell this week.

In an exclusive interview, the GOP presidential hopeful said that, as soon as he heard Hamas had attacked a music festival in Israel on October 7 – killing 1,400 people – he knew the media would start attacking Israel.

If Bozell asked a question of DeSantis that was even remotely challenging, it doesn't appear in any of these articles.

Because all this looked very much like an in-kind campaign contribution -- not unlike the DeSantis Defense Brigade -- the MRC felt compelled to add an editor's note to each piece: "All major 2024 candidates polling above one percent nationally across the spectrum — Republicans, independents, and Democrats — have been invited to participate in similar sit-downs. Our offers remain on the table." To date, no other candidate has -- even with the implied promise of a cushy, fawning interview by Bozell, which suggests the less-than-lofty status the MRC apparently has in the right-wing media bubble. That, and the fact that no other candidate has felt the need as of yet to take the MRC up on its softball-interview offer, leaves the unmistakable impression that this was created to be an in-kind contribution to DeSantis.

The interview landed with such a thud, in fact, that the MRC didn't publish another post centered on DeSantis for the rest of November.

DeSantis-Newsom debate

The Brigade didn't come alive again until after DeSantis' Nov. 30 Fox News debate with Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom. A Dec. 1 post by Curtis Houck served up the usual complaint that non-right-wing networks didn't sound like Fox News when talking about DeSantis:

Friday’s CBS Mornings did its best to all but ignore Thursday night’s fiery debate on the Fox News Channel between Governors Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Gavin Newsom (D-CA) by stashing it in the Eye Opener (which we at NewsBusters don’t formally account as most of it’s teases for segments), but the others stepped up to the plate with full stories on ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today.

They took different approaches, however, as ABC used three-time bestselling Trump author Jonathan Karl to trash Trump’s lead 2024 GOP primary opponent while NBC’s Meet the Press moderator Kristen Welker largely treated it like a substantive debate.

Karl began with the platitudes, boasting “it was billed as the red state versus blue state debate” and “preview[ing] perhaps of some of the issues, if not the candidates, we could see debated in next year's general election campaign.”

The professionalism ended there as Karl quickly dismissed the entire event and channeled both Newsom and DeSantis’s opponents, which made sense given how financially lucrative Trump has been for him in terms of book sales.

“At the start of the debate, California Governor Gavin Newsom, who isn’t running for president, taunted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running, but trailing badly with a reminder that neither of them would likely be on the ballot next fall,”“neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”

Karl briefly touched on the fact that each candidate represented their party’s message on the economy, but went back to trashing DeSantis, who took on his employer’s parent company, Disney.

Despite his insinuations, Houck offered no proof that Karl is a Disney lackey, nor did provide evidence that anything in Karl's Trump-related books is false.

Tim Graham used his Dec. 1 podcast to nitpick a fact-check of the debate:

The Sean Hannity-moderated debate between Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis drew a predictable outcome from PolitiFact. They tried to ignore the raw numbers on Californians leaving Florida (and the reverse) and proclaim Newsom was accurate by using a "per capita" measurement for America's most populous state. That's playing with "alternative facts."

In all of PolitiFact's checking since they started in 2007, Newsom has 29 fact checks, and DeSantis has 54. But Newsom has 13 of 29 (almost half) that are True or Mostly True. DeSantis has 12 of his 54 (22 percent) True or Mostly True. Newsom has only 6 of his 29 as Mostly False/False/Pants on Fire, DeSantis has 32 of 45 (or almost 6o percent). This is what PolitiFact does, writ large. Republicans are 60 percent wrong, Democrats are 20 percent wrong. That’s why Newsom is excited to see the report!

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Lord ranted in his Dec. 2 column:

The event of this past week that drew a great deal of attention was Fox’s Sean Hannity hosting a debate between the Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and California’s Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom.

One of the striking features of this face-off was the regularity with which the two governors accused each other of lying. Which raises an obvious couple of questions.  Where is the media? And will the media do their job in 2024?

It surely can’t be that difficult for journalists to dig into the obvious question. That would be: Was DeSantis really lying about this or that? Or was Newsom? As President John Adams famously said in the long ago, facts are stubborn things. And that they are. But if journalists are going to ignore and not report on facts because they are uncomfortable or make Democrat X (can you say Joe Biden?) look bad then suffice to say the 2024 campaign will not be a good one, with each party held accountable for the facts of their record.
Alex Christy spent a Dec. 14 post complaining that Newsom went on late-night TV to talk about the debate and DeSantis, complaining that he said that DeSantis is "out there talking about anti-woke, and I mean this, for me it's not anti-woke, what he really means is anti-black he's out there censoring historic facts, he's rewriting history. He was out there, you know, he eliminated AP African American Studies. He said slavery was somehow a workforce development program and he doubled down on that." Christy huffed in defense that "Florida’s standards say that slaves learned skills that were later useful in life, not that slavery was some sort of benign job training program." As ConWebWatch has noted, most examples served up by Florida education officials in defense of DeSantis' claim about this were either people who were never enslaved or who never actually used skills learned in slavery later in life.

The fact that the MRC didn't talk much about the contents of the debate itself is a likely indicator of how it knows how badly it went for DeSantis -- indeed, Newsom shredded DeSantis in discussing how their respective states responded to the COVID pandemic.

The final non-debate-related brigade action for 2023 was a Dec. 4 post by Curtis Houck complaining that other people were noticing the floundering state of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign:

On Monday’s editions of ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today, the two gleefully ripped Governor and 2024 GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis (R-FL) despite his completion of the “Full Grassley” (visiting Iowa’s 99 counties) over the weekend by mocking his “losing” bid and “problems...mounting” with “tensions” at fever pitch as former President Trump continues to “stomp” him.

Good Morning America (GMA) was, of course, the most gleeful given its place as chief corporate shill for parent company Disney and prostituting itself for all things Disney theme parks (such as here). In other words, why wouldn’t Disney sic its top AM news show on a man who’s waged a successful war embarrassing Disney?

Better yet, this came at the same time a scathing state audit came out about Disney and the special governance and tax district created to oversee DisneyWorld, Reedy Creek.

Houck offered no evidence to back up his claim that ABC is following corporate orders in criticizing DeSantis.

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