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The MRC's Lingering Case of Stelter Derangement Syndrome

Months after Brian Stelter left CNN, the Media Research Center was still attacking him anytime he showed up in the (non-right-wing) media.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/26/2024

Brian Stelter

Brian Stelter left CNN months ago, but the Media Research Center -- which gleefully danced on the grave of his CNN career and his "Reliable Sources" show, which it hated because he committed the unforgivable sin of criticizing Fox News -- just can't stop obsessing over the guy.

Tim Graham huffed in a November 2022 post, a few months after Stelter departed CNN:

For a definition of what "far left" is, you could suggest that someone who sounds extreme sitting next to former CNN media reporter Brian Stelter. Check out left-wing extremist Nandini Jammi, whose "Check My Ads" racket seeks to separate all advertiser money from Fox News, Breitbart, and other conservative media outlets.

Graham didn't mention that his employer has a very similar operation of attacking advertisers on shows and channels it has deemed to be its ideological enemies, under the name of "Conservatives Fight Back." It's highly unlikely he considers that project to be a "racket." Despite calling Jammi "far left" and a "left-wing extremist," he never explained how doing exactly what the MRC does earned her those labels. Graham even touched on this again in his podcast the next day.

So continually obsessed is the MRC with Stelter that it named one of its 2022 year-end awards "The Brian Stelter Memorial Award for Worst Quote of the Year." No explanation was given or a Stelter quote provided to justify the award's name. It also took another victory lap over Stelter's departure from CNN in another year-end post, and it even complained that one critic lamented Stelter's firing.

When Stelter showed up at the World Economic Forum in January 2023 to moderate a panel on media disinformation, the MRC really went nuts. Catherine Salgado complained in one post:

A World Economic Forum panel at Davos 2023 endorsed censorship and enforced online narratives to fight supposed “disinformation.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) hosted a panel as part of its ongoing Davos 2023 conference titled, “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation.” Ironically, the panel moderator was Brian Stelter, a former anchor for CNN, a network renowned for its constant lies and partisan half-truths.

Graham devoted his podcast that day to Stelter's appearance:

Brian Stelter sighting! The former CNN host resurfaced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to moderate a panel on crushing "disinformation." He made it sound like a European version of his old show Reliable Sources, asking his fellow leftists how they manage a world in which Donald Trump is still proving that "lying works."

Naturally, those assembled -- including New York Times owner Arthur Gregg Sulzberger -- were encouraged by Stelter to discuss how "trustworthy" media sources (like the Times, apparently) should be highlighted and "hate speech" (conservative speech?) should be energetically suppressed by private companies and governing elites.

Neither Graham nor Salgado explained why disinformation should never be corrected or called out.

In yet another post that day, Kevin Tober gushed at how Fox News' Tucker Carlson "used the opening segment of the show to mock former CNN janitor and current Harvard University fellow Brian Stelter and all the other 'self-confident dumb people' who flocked to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to thumb their nose at non-elites all over the world and America in particular. In classic Tucker fashion, he humorously ridiculed Stelter while also driving a point home." That point largely being about mocking Stelter.

That's right -- the MRC cranked out three separate posts attacking Stelter over this single appearance. On top of that, Joseph Vazquez had a Stelter-bashing aside in a post the next day: "Also, what was CNN has-been Brian Stelter doing hosting a WEF panel complaining how people need to start trusting 'established' information sources instead of so-called online 'disinformation' spreaders?"

The MRC was even annoyed with Stelter for entertaining questions from (non-bad-faith) critics. Curtis Houck wrote in a Feb. 24 post:

Former CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter made a rare return to a microphone Friday as he interviewed Megyn Kelly Show executive producer and Fourth Watch Podcast host Steve Krakauer about his new book, Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles, and Lost the People. In just under an hour, the pair had a engaging and fascinating discussion about the media, CNN, Fox News, January 6, and& his post-CNN life.

But for readers here, the newsiest topic came when Krakauer cited the New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop as an answer to this question from Stelter: “What are the ones that stand out most to you? What — what — what did me and my colleagues at CNN screw up the most, in your view?”

When Krakauer brought up the selectively released "Twitter files," Houck seemed to complain that Stelter responded by pointing out that the Hunter Biden laptop story really was quite shaky when introduced and that Republicans whined about it wasn't immediately accepted at face value:

Stelter began his defense by saying this was “Twitter’s problem” and “separate from the press,” so “[i]f Twitter screwed up, we should go after Twitter.”

In the case of news organizations, he argued they “looked around and said, we don’t have the laptop. We don’t have evidence. We don’t have evidence it’s real and we know that are reasons to wonder if it’s disinformation.”

He then bemoaned the criticisms, saying they can be boiled down to, “all these assholes...called it disinformation” when the (supposed) truth is “[a] lot of us just wondered” if it was from Russia.

Stelter continued, saying they referred to said “former U.S. officials” because they “think it might be,” so news outlets were “cushioned and cautious...because of Hillary e-mails, but because of the Russian attempt in 2016”.

Houck shockingly concluded by saying something nice about Stelter: "To his credit, Stelter made his case at the end for the necessity of journalists to do more of 'show[ing] that we’ve walked all the way around the block before we’ve started to write about the block and, you know, that’s my way of saying let’s be fair to everybody...because if you’re only writing about the story from the back yard, then you’re missing a big part of the story.'"

Don't worry, that wouldn't last -- Stelter is too significant a target for the MRC to actually embrace.

Rogan vs. Stelter

The MRC renewed its attention on Stelter's appearance in a panel at the WEF -- a regular target of right-wing conspiracy theories -- in a Feb. 18 post by right-wing movie critic Christian Toto, which began with the usual partisan attacks on Stelter:

Podcaster Joe Rogan hasn’t forgotten Brian Stelter’s reign of error at CNN.

Stelter, former host of the far-Left channel’s “Reliable Sources” program, got fired last year after new CNN CEO Chris Licht allegedly vowed to bring balance to the news network.

Conservatives routinely skewered Stelter for his cartoonishly biased approach to the news. The analyst focused much of his ire against Fox News, for example, while all but ignoring the Left’s ideological network, MSNBC.

The Free Press’s Bari Weiss skewered Stelter, and his inability to call out the media, to his face during a 2021 appearance on “Reliable Sources.”

Toto eventually got to the point of his derangement -- complaining that Stelter didn't go away after leaving CNN and repeating Rogan's attacks on Stelter for taking part in that WEF panel:

Now, he’s landed a gig at Harvard University as the school’s Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow. He also snagged a high-profile moderating gig at last month’s World Economic Forum.

The subject? Battling misinformation in the modern age, a subject Stelter knows all too well. Except he’s incapable of calling out his sins, or those committed by his former employer or a media landscape that buried the biggest news story of the 2020 presidential election.

The Hunter Biden laptop scandal.

Instead, Stelter tag-teamed with other WEF officials to demand more censorship, not less. And that’s why Rogan and journalist Matt Taibbi let him have it.

The two pounded Stelter on the latest episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience,” heard exclusively on Spotify.

“[Stelter] looked very comfortable there, didn’t he?” said Taibbi, a left-leaning journalist aghast at mainstream media corruption.

“Of course he does. He’s with evil lizard people that are trying to control the world. That’s his bosses... I’ve been around the evil lizard people,” Rogan said.

“He looked as happy as maybe he’s ever been,” Taibbi said.

“He’s supposed to be a journalist, but he’s not even good at that. So what he’s doing now is, he’s holding water for the evil leaders of the world who want to institute hate speech policies nationwide and centralized digital currencies, and they want everybody to eat bugs, and you will own nothing, and you will be happy,” Rogan said. “This is the f***ing people he’s working for now. He’s basically a prostitute.”

Toto is apparently cool with Rogan promoting the fringe and bizarre "lizard people" conspiracy theory and maliciously smearing Stelter as "basically a prostitute." He didn't explain why misinformation shouldn't be countered, and he certainly didn't mention that Rogan has a history of spreading misinformation (which, of course, the MRC has vociferously defended).

And because Toto and the rest of the MRC are Stelter-haters and Rogan-defenders, they censored the fact that Stelter shot down Rogan's attack on him. Mediaite reported:

Former CNN host Brian Stelter shot back at podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan after being accused of working for the “lizard” people behind the World Economic Forum.

Rogan discussed the global summit in Davos, Switzerland held last month with journalist Matt Taibbi when Stelter’s name came up, both men mocking Stelter’s appearance on a panel, which came just shortly after his Reliable Sources was canceled at CNN.

According to Stelter, he had no “bosses” at the panel like Rogan’s mocking suggested. Stelter went to Davos at his own expense.

“Joe Rogan got it all wrong, again. The World Economic Forum did not ‘hire’ me to ‘work’ in Davos. I went there on my own dime to write about the conference,” Stelter tweeted in response to a Mediaite article covering the Rogan and Taibbi interview.

Stelter also responded to a story from the New York Post about Rogan’s comments, telling Rogan to “call” him if Rogan “wants to tell his listeners the truth.”

“I normally ignore Rogan’s rants. But the @nypost wrote a story and asked for comment, so I said, if Rogan wants to tell his listeners the truth, he can call me,” he tweeted.

But telling the truth doesn't advance MRC narratives, so Toto doesn't want his readers to know about it.

The derangement continues

Tim Graham referenced Krakauer's interview with Stelter during his March 24 podcast in which he interviewed Krakauer:

Krakauer kicked off his book tour by bringing Brian Stelter to interview him on his own podcast. Typically, Stelter said to Krakauer that the press wasn't the problem with democracy, it was the "press bashers." But he told Krakauer he liked how he was a "constructive" media critic, where apparently most of us are "destructive" media critics. Destructive to democracy? Or just destructive to the reputations or brands of CNN, or PBS, or The New York Times?

Graham and the rest of the MRC repeatedly lashed out at Stelter anytime he was critical of Fox News; was Graham afraid Stelter was destructive to Fox News' brand?

Graham served another attack on Stelter in an April 18 post:

Michael Luciano at Mediaite promoted Brian Stelter's interview with Dan Abrams on NewsNation Tuesday evening. Stelter claimed he didn't know why he was fired (well, when other red-hot Trump haters stayed).


Abrams wondered: “Do you think you represented the kind of opinion – particularly from the left – that Chris Licht wanted to distance himself from? Because I think that's why he ended up letting you go."

“Well, I’m just gonna let you say it then,” he replied. “I think we were doing fantastic journalism at CNN for the nine years that I was there. And I also think Fox News really enjoyed making me a target and using horrible names about me and all that sort of stuff that happens in the cable news wars.”

He told Abrams: "I appreciate that shows like yours rise above that. But Fox, they often take the low road. They enjoyed making into a target and I think they enjoyed seeing me leave CNN."

It's a little funny for Stelter to talk about "taking the low road" when he's most infamous for bringing on a guy claiming Trump would kill more people that Stalin, Hitler, and Mao combined. That's a little lower than Greg Gutfeld mocking Stelter about his weight.

Graham seems to think fat jokes about Stelter are justified solely because he once brought on a guest who criticized Fox News. (There's Graham protecting Fox News' brand again!) He didn't explain how he justified this, though.

Kevin Tober spent a May 9 post complaining that Stelter criticized the MRC-beloved Tucker Carlson after his firing from Fox as well as Elon Musk's management of Twitter:

Shortly after former Fox News host Tucker Carlson announced on Twitter that he would be bringing his popular show to the social media platform, Tom Costello while guest hosting NBC News NOW’s Hallie Jackson NOW, brought on ousted former CNN host and media janitor Brian Stelter to assist in smearing Carlson, Twitter, and CEO Elon Musk.

“Twitter was already under fire for misinformation, disinformation, all-out lies, anti-semitism, racism before Elon Musk took over and now it’s gotten kind of crazy, right? Seemingly unmoored, if you will,” Costello sneered to Stelter.

“Will anybody be able to police what Carlson says? Or is this the point? It's just a free-for-all?” Costello asked.

Stelter, of course, agreed claiming “It is a free-for-all” because “it’s what Elon Musk wants to provide.” He then proclaimed that “This move by Tucker may cement the idea of Twitter as a right-wing website, and we see some users trying to go off to other sites instead.”


It’s fitting that NBC would drag Stelter back onto television to throw barbs at Carlson. When Stelter still had his Sunday morning media analysis program on CNN, Carlson was always a frequent target of Stelter. And of course, Carlson found him amusing and frequently mocked him.

Despite alluding to insults, Tober failed to dispute anything Stelter said.

Following the firing of CNN Chris Licht -- who had fired Stelter from the channel -- Stelter made a TV appearance to talk about it, which drew the ire of Alex Christy in a June 7 post:

Former CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter journeyed over to CNBC’s The Exchange on Wednesday to react to Chris Licht stepping down as CEO of CNN and to claim that he and others opposed to Licht’s vision were simply “advocating for the truth.” Meanwhile, in other humorous developments, media reporter Alex Sherman condemned Licht for killing off CNN’s “north star”: CNN+.


One of those who was not onboard with that vision was Stelter, which is why he was sacked by Licht and was now appearing on CNBC. He explained that “A lot of us when we were at CNN in the Trump years felt we were advocating for the truth, advocating for reality. Others felt that was left-leaning.

Others felt that way because it was and Stelter was one of the biggest voices for that activist approach. Unwittingly confirming his critics correct, Stelter argued that it is almost impossible for CNN to follow a “just the facts” sort of journalism, "I think it is right to have this desire to have a much more calm, less controversial political environment that CNN can then cover, but we don't live in that world. In fact, if anything it’s only going to get more chaotic with Donald Trump as the leading contender for the GOP nomination."

Stelter followed up by claiming that CNN cannot be “all things to all people” because that means “you’re not anything to anybody and that’s the CNN challenge, it always has been, for 40 years, to just try to be the plain vanilla news, well, in an environment where people don't just want plain, vanilla news.”

While it was nice of Stelter to admit that when forced to choose between its hysterically anti-Trump audience and “vanilla news,” CNN chose the former, Sherman would later bring in some comedy.

He argued that “there needs to be more of a vision than just ‘you got to take down the breaking news, we got to turn down the knob here.’”

Of course, as ConWebWatch noted in documenting the MRC's disappointment that Licht lost his job, the MRC would never demand that Fox News abandon its "activist approach" and become "vanilla news."

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