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More Bogus MRC Media 'Studies'

The Media Research Center keeps imposing its right-wing ideology to create shoddy and dishonest "studies" that advance its political narratives -- yet it thinks it can attack studies that reach different conclusions.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/28/2024

The Media Research Center has a long history of cranking out studies designed to advance their right-wing political and anti-media narratives rather than stick to what an actual researcher would consider "media research" -- and that pattern has continued into 2023. A May 25 post by Luis Cornelio and Tim Kilcullen claimed to have a huge scoop:
MRC Free Speech America, as part of its new Freedom of Information Act investigations, has learned how the Biden administration is weaponizing a government-funded anti-terrorism grant program in an effort to destroy conservatives, Christians and the Republican Party.

Under the Trump administration, the “Targeted Violence & Terrorism Prevention Grant Program” (TVTP) was used to prevent terrorism, but it was revamped under the Biden administration and renamed to provide funding for localities to combat “all forms of terrorism and targeted violence.” Instead of focusing on preventing actual violence and terrorism, the program is now being used to target the entire spectrum of the political right and Christians through “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives” and other so-called training seminars as part of a coordinated effort to make America into a one-party system.

The University of Dayton, one of several grantees, targeted groups including The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, Christian Broadcasting Network, Turning Point USA, PragerU, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Breitbart News, the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Republican National Committee.

This program at the University of Dayton was the supposed key to this so-called investigation:

The University of Dayton PREVENTS-OH was among the most radical grantees within the TVTP “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives.” In Ohio, DHS awarded the University of Dayton $352,109 to establish the PREVENTS-OH program, which promised to “draw on the expertise of the University of Dayton faculty” to fight “domestic violence extremism and hate movements.” For example, a chart used by DHS and its grantee in a training program equates mainstream groups with militant neo-Nazis, including: The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Breitbart News, PragerU, Turning Point USA, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF) and the Republican National Committee, among others.

The seminar also compared former President Donald Trump to Pol Pot and suggested Florida Governor Ron DeSantis might wish to start a second Holocaust.

The PREVENTS-OH seminars (including one headlined by a DHS agent) feature lectures by University of Cincinnati Research Fellow Michael Loadenthal, a self-proclaimed member of Antifa whose Twitter feed is rife with posts celebrating acts of left-wing violence (often against police officers). Loadenthal used PREVENTS-OH to explain in detail how to create dummy accounts on free speech social media platforms like Telegram, Gab and Rumble in order to “destabilize” political movements. “A lot of things we’re doing are illegal,” he boasted in the lecture. “A lot of it involves breaking the law,” he continued.

Cornelio and Kilcullen also complained about an image that was used:

During the seminar, Loadenthal shared an outrageous “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization” that he claimed depicts the “modern far-right” and extremism in America:

Among the organizations and movements displayed on the pyramid were the Republican Party (RNC), The Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union, Fox News, Breitbart News, the National Rifle Association (NRA), PragerUniversity, Tea Party Patriots, the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement, the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Also on the pyramid, as if somehow comparable to the aforementioned reputable organizations and movements, were rabidly hateful groups like the militant neo-Nazi gang The Base and pro-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer.

Just one problem: the MRC's attack is bogus. Fox News, of all media outlets, surprisingly looked deeper into the MRC's claims and found them wanting (h/t Right Wing Watch). This presentation took place before the school received TVTP funding, despite the MRC's suggestion otherwise, though the grant application linked to video of the conference. Fox News, unlike Cornelio and Kilcullen, actually talked to Loadenthal, who pointed out that the MRC is demonizing the pyramid graphic:

According to Loadenthal, the MRC is "misinterpreting and misrepresenting" the diagram as well as his role with it. He sent Fox News Digital a full copy of the image, which included text underneath the pyramid describing the bottom tier with the GOP, the NRA, and the Heritage Foundation as "mainstream conservatism."

"The chart is meant to show that what is termed 'the right' is not monolithic and that some individuals travel to a path of radicalization, beginning with more mainstream sources," said Loadenthal. "This point is not controversial nor is it deterministic; it is NOT meant to imply that engaging with level 1 inherently leads to level 4. That would obviously be false."

Cornelio and Kilcullen apparently never took a college psychology class that involved pyramid graphics, such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, that explains how they work; if they had, they would understand that this particular pyramid is obviously not equating Fox News with Nazis.

Despite this, Cornelio and Kilcullen promised more misinformation would be forthcoming; "This report only scratches the surface of the Biden DHS’s nefarious TVTP grant program. MRC Free Speech America has obtained more documents from other DHS grantees and other organizations through our concentrated FOIA initiative and will be presenting further evidence of the Biden administration’s efforts to target conservatives, Christians and the Republican Party going forward."

Despite this report being rife with misinformation, the MRC promoted the heck out of it anyway, its release seemingly designed to take advantage of a relatively slow news week before Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, within two hours after the bogus report was published, MRC chief Brent Bozell appeared on Fox Business to hype it, where he also misrepresented the pyramid. It's as if Fox Business coordinated with the MRC to manufacture coverage. The MRC flooded the zone with its misinformation over the next couple days:

None of these articles made any effort to correct the record. And the misinformation continued after Memorial Day weekend: A May 30 post by intern Peter Kotara falsely touted how "MRC discovered that the Biden DHS was using taxpayer-funded antiterrorism programs not to fight ISIS or gangs or foreign actors, but to try to classify all right-leaning citizens and organizations as Nazis and domestic terrorists." Cornelio returned for a May 31 post touting how the right-wing noise machine had an effect:

The DHS-funded anti-terror program at the University of Dayton targeting Christians, conservatives and Republicans worked overnight to scrub its website.

The University of Dayton’s PREVENTS-OH removed the controversial videos of seminars that featured a self-proclaimed Antifa member recklessly associating the conservative movement, Christians and Republicans with neo-Nazis and other hate groups in an infamous “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization.”

The seminar, first exposed by MRC Free Speech America, included a presentation from Nicole Widdersheim, a deputy Washington director for the Human Rights Watch, and Alexander Hinton, a member of the Rutgers University faculty, who compared former President Donald Trump with genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of planning a second Holocaust.

Cornelio again falsely claimed the presentation was "DHS-funded," and he again misrepresented the pyramid. The MRC added more manufactured outrage into early June:

When a Republican-controlled House committee axed funding for the DHS program based on the MRC's dishonest report, a June 21 post by Michael Morris was quick to declare "VICTORY!":

The House Appropriations Committee took an important step to restoring free speech in America, but today’s efforts are just the beginning.

Today, the House Appropriations Committee voted to zero out the funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s nefarious “Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention” (TVTP) grant program from the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill 2024.

“Talk is cheap. Hearings without action are meaningless. But today's action shows that the House is more serious than ever before to restore freedom and take back our country from the radicals who hate what America stands for,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “Defunding DHS's censorship scheme is the start of a broader effort to respect the First Amendment again.”

Like the rest of his MRC colleagues, Morris refused to correct the record regarding the misinformation in Cornelio and Kilcullen's original report. The MRC must be proud of misinforming its readers in the service of pushing right-wing narratives.

Months later, the MRC continued to be proud of its shoddy, biased work. Most people would be a bit ashamed to discover that their shoddy work has been featured in a film made by a known fabricator and convicted felon, but the MRC folks are not most people. Thus, we have an Oct. 27 post by Catherine Salgado:

Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie “Police State” highlighted a federal program to target Republicans, conservatives and Christians that was exposed by the Media Research Center.

In his new movie “Police State,” which premiered in theaters Oct. 23, D’Souza and the experts he interviewed particularly emphasized how much the federal government has violated First Amendment rights with their mass censorship efforts. Author Peter Schweizer highlighted the “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization,” revealed by MRC Free Speech America as part of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-funded program, the “Targeted Violence & Terrorism Prevention Grant Program” (TVTP), targeting Republicans, conservatives and Christians.

Schweizer showed D’Souza the Pyramid during the film, pointing out how groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), The Heritage Foundation, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Breitbart News and the Republican National Committee (RNC) were included on a chart with neo-Nazi groups.

The Biden administration revamped the DHS TVTP to provide funding for localities to combat “all forms of terrorism and targeted violence,” as MRC revealed in May. That meant targeting not real terrorists, but the entire spectrum of the political right and Christians through “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives” and other so-called training seminars as part of a coordinated effort to make America into a one-party system. One of the grantees, the University of Dayton, featured a “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization.”

But as we documented, the MRC's report fundamentally misunderstood the pyramid graphic and was so filled with misinformation that even its ideological fellow travelers at Fox News felt compelled to debunk it.

But D'Souza's history of shoddy and discredited work -- which, of course, Salgado hid from her readers -- doesn't matter to Salgado, because his film is promoting the correct right-wing narratives:

D’Souza covered Big Tech’s aggressive censorship of COVID-19 content under government pressure. He also examined how censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, done after government priming, rigged the 2020 election against former President Trump, as Patel put it. The federal government is overseeing the “slow death” of our rights, including free speech, Bongino told D’Souza in the film.

A Media Research Center poll found that Big Tech and liberal media censorship of the Hunter Biden scandal altered the outcome of the 2020 election, favoring Joe Biden, as 9.4% of Biden’s voters would not have voted for him had they known the truth.

Salgado failed to disclose that this poll was manufactured for the MRC by a polling firm founded by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, raising reasonable doubts about bias.

Anti-LGBT "study"

So many of the MRC's so-called "studies" involve attacking non-right-wing media for not promoting right-wing narratives and for supposedly spending too much time not hating certain populations disfavored by the right. In that vein is an Oct. 4 "study" by Clay Waters that is much more of an anti-LGBT screed than any sort of legitimate "media research":

One of the most ignored passages in legislative history is this phrase in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967: Taxpayer-funded media outlets should observe "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature."

Yet a new Media Research Center study finds PBS’s flagship NewsHour program aired nine times more coverage in favor of the left-wing "woke" position on so-called "LGBTQ" issues compared to more traditional positions. Over the seven-month period of March 1 through September 30, 2023, supportive coverage almost wholly dominated the "debate," if you could call it that: 172 minutes for the left vs. 19 minutes for the right. That's 90.2% supportive coverage for the side pushing “identity” issues.

It was even worse for in-studio guests: 19 to one -- and the one utterance that opposed the left-wing position came from gay tennis star Billie Jean King, who dared to suggest that men shouldn't compete in women's sports once it came to advanced competitions like the Olympics.

The findings prove that the PBS NewsHour has been wholly captured by left-wing “woke” ideology on a major cutting-edge social issue: sex-and-race related “identity” issues that come under the heading of “LGBTQ,” which stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.”

Extreme “gender identity” positions shun the facts of male and female biological differences in favor of how an individual person identifies, a delusion that sometimes results in irreversible surgeries performed on teenagers, to match their self-diagnosed gender identity.

Dissent was instead limited to isolated soundbites, such as a clip from a legislator on a statehouse floor. Those statements were typically cued up for an in-studio journalist or trans-activist (sometimes it was hard to tell the difference) to either neutralize as somehow false or to condemn as a threat to trans children.

Note Waters' framing here -- merely showing basic respect to LGBT people is portrayed as "left-wing" and "woke" and "radical" and "extreme," while no such epithets are attached to right-wing anti-LGBT viewpoints aside from a single reference to those views being on the "right." Waters went on to rage that PBS wasn't sufficiently hateful toward a transgender legislator:

On April 26, PBS leaped upon the cause of Montana legislator and transgender Democrat Zooey Zephyr, barred from the Montana House floor for violating rules of decorum during a debate on a bill that would have banned so-called “gender-affirming care” for minors wishing to surgically or chemically “transition.”

Medical institutions in Europe and now America are backing away from such “care,” which also includes puberty blockers and hormone therapy. But such concerns haven’t registered a blip in the brave new world of PBS’s wholly supportive news coverage.

(Ironically, the September 24 edition of PBS News Weekend did consider European health and safety regulations when it came ink. Host John Yang asked a doctor: “Then talk about the ink, because as I say, it’s not regulated in the United States, the EU, the European Union, has banned some ingredients.”)

The Montana vote came after a nasty speech by Zephyr, a biological male, accusing colleagues who oppose such care of encouraging youth suicide: “If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” Zephyr also claimed that failing to provide such care was “tantamount to torture.” But those inflammatory quotes, delivered on the Montana House floor, didn’t make PBS’s hagiography.

Host Amna Nawaz revealed how passionately she and her PBS colleagues work in defense of transgender ideology, marshalling dubious activist-provided statistics as plain truth: “You know, we looked up some statistics. This is something you have spoken about before, the link between some of the political rhetoric and real-world violence in particular...”
Waters did not explain why he is of the opinion that being transgender is an "ideology," nor did he offer evidence that right-wing anti-LGBT rhetoric doesn't inspire threats and violence -- indeed, it's been shown that harassment and threats of violence typically follow when an LGBT individual or institution is featured on the virulently anti-LGBT Libs of TikTok Twitter feed. Waters also failed to disclose that his employer has repeatedly hurled invective at Zephyr for standing up for LGBT rights.

Waters also complained that "When potential Republican presidential candidates dared appear on the NewsHour, there was a good chance they’d get hit with hostile questions on gender identity." But the examples he cited are not "hostile" at all, consisting of asking candidates or summarizing their anti-LGBT agenda, the accuracy of which Waters did not dispute. He also complained that the alleged transgender status of the Nashville school shooter wasn't emphasized more, and he offered no evidence that Hale's transgender status was of any relevance to the crime. Remember that the MRC obsessed over Hale's sexuality as a distraction from the gun aspect of a gun massacre.

Waters praised one segment "for actually achieving a rough balance of views, treating the gender debate as actually debatable, not a one-sided matter of tolerance versus hate." He didn't explain why someone's gender must be debatable, or why "tolerance versus hate" isn't an accurate description of the sides involved. He further praised the segment for giving a voice to "opponents of pornographic books in school libraries," which falsely frames those opposed to library censorship as endorsing "pornographic books."

Despite putting out a wildly biased and slanted "study" like this, the MRC still thinks it should be treated as credible. It shouldn't.

Lashing out at other studies

Despite its own history of shoddy studies, the MRC has no problem attacking studies that don't reflect its ideological narratives. Bill D’Agostino grumbled in a July 31 post:

According to NBC News, a “landmark study” by 27 “academic researchers” has concluded that conservatives in America are far more likely than their left-wing counterparts to consume news from untrustworthy sources. We’re all supposed to take this immensely seriously, but even a cursory look at the study reveals a host of embarrassing problems with the methodology.

The fact that the first thing D’Agostino did is attack the NBC article for a small error miscounting the number of researchers involved tells you that he will be doing a lot of partisan ranting and not much serious questioning of the study, which he called “garbage” in his headline. Indeed, his attack on the study’s definition of untrustworthy sources is all about partisan narratives:

According to the “overview” section, untrustworthy news sources were defined as those which published two or more articles rated “false” by Meta’s Third-Party Fact-Checking Program (3PFC) before February 16, 2021:


In other words, if Meta’s fact-checkers disagreed with two articles published on any given news site between January 1, 2020 and February 15, 2021, then the researchers condemned that entire site to the “untrustworthy” bin. So strong was their faith in the 3PFC partners’ judgement that they let the validity of their entire dataset hinge upon it.

Meta lists the following organizations as members of its 3PFC program for the U.S.: AFP, Check Your Fact,, Lead Stories, PolitiFact, Science Feedback, Reuters Fact Check, Televisa Univision, The Associated Press, The Dispatch, and USA TODAY. Of these eleven, only Check Your Fact could be considered reliably right-of-center. One could also make an argument for The Dispatch, though honestly not a very strong one.

It should be obvious just how flimsy this categorization method is. Because only two articles needed to be flagged by any of these organizations in order for an entire news source to be “untrustworthy,” even a couple of biased or misinformed fact checkers had the potential to dramatically skew the data. That’s a bad sign, considering how preposterous the slant is at some of these fact checking organizations. As NewsBusters has documented extensively, PolitiFact alone is more than stilted enough to wreck the dataset.

D’Agostino is effectively whining that fact-checkers fact-check conservatives, a longtime MRC complaint. He also clearly believes in the right-wing canard that any news source or fact-checker that is not explicitly right-wing is “liberal” or “left-wing” because they do not unquestioningly parrot right-wing narratives the way the MRC does. Also, the Dispatch is indisputably a conservative publication, but D’Agostino is basically insisting that it’s not right-wing enough because it criticizes Donald Trump.

D’Agostino then moved to whataboutism:

But the issues run deeper than that. Unfortunately for the authors of this study, fact checkers and the corporate media in 2020 were wedded to quite a few narratives that have since proven to be utterly false.

For example, if you’d asked anyone working at a 3PFC member organization in December of 2020, they’d have told you that lab-originated COVID-19 was a conspiracy theory, cloth masks were effective at preventing coronavirus transmission, and Hunter Biden’s laptop was unauthenticated Russian disinformation. A few of them might even suspect that then-President Trump was a puppet of Vladimir Putin.

How many articles discussing these topics did the fact checkers incorrectly flag as false in 2020? And how many of those erroneous flaggings caused researchers to improperly banish entire news sites to the naughty corner? The study did not address these issues, and in fact there is no indication that the researchers even considered them.

As ConWebWatch has noted, the New York Post — the right-wing, pro-Trump propaganda outlet that broke the Hunter laptop story — failed to offer at the time its story was published independent verification of the laptop that would have countered reasonable questions about it being “unauthenticated Russian disinformation” and it being sourced to a such a partisan publication. There also continues to be a lack of direct evidence that the COVID virus was “lab-originated” as D’Agostino insists, and masks do, in fact, slow COVID transmission.

Having effectively proven the study correct by spreading right-wing misinformation, D’Agostino moved on to building a conspiracy theory:

Furthermore, it’s impossible to check which news sources were incorrectly labeled, because the study did not name any of the news sites researchers examined. Instead the authors provided a link to a satellite website run by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) containing replication code, along with a note which stated: “ICPSR will receive and vet all applications for data access.

A jaded cynic might suspect that this secret list of “untrustworthy” news sources was little more than a directory of every right-leaning website with a Facebook account. Such a jaded cynic might further suspect the authors were afraid to make their secret list public because doing so would give the game away.

D’Agostino concluded by ranting that there’s no objective definition of truth and that anyone who studies media misinformation is automatically on “the left”:

This study represents the left’s latest childish attempt to prove with data that the American right is misinformed, and that therefore some authority must police what information they can access. But the researchers’ efforts are undone in an instant by the same fundamental question which every proponent of censoring misinformation inevitably fails to answer: who gets to decide what’s true and what’s not?

Many academics on the left who claim to study so-called misinformation do it in the hopes of convincing the rest of us that they deserve that power. The reality is that fact checkers funded by the Poynter Institute are no more qualified to be arbiters of the truth than anyone else is, and no amount of politically-motivated research will change that.

So yes, 27 activists are pretending they’ve proven once and for all that the people who disagree with them politically are a bunch of dupes who read fake news. That tells us next to nothing about America’s “news ecosystem,” but it does speak volumes about how thoroughly the social sciences have been infested by overt political actors.

A jaded cynic may also suspect that D’Agostino is attacking this study so fiercely because he knows that right-wing media is, in fact, unreliable and must try to smear anyone who points out that inconvenient fact as untrustworthy and partisan (like him). The MRC has used this same tactic in its repeated attacks on website-ratings service NewsGuard. And it’s quite rich for D’Agostino to accuse researchers of being “overt political actors” when he gets paid quite well by the MRC to be an overt political actor parroting a defined narrative. Meanwhile, D’Agostino and the MRC never discuss the one thing that would keep right-wing media from being dismissed as low-quality: improving the quality of right-wing media. Remember, the MRC killed its “news” division rather than try to improve it, slapping the nameplate on a right-wing blog that follows even fewer journalistic standards than CNS did.

Despite his history of partisanship, D’Agostino wants you to believe he’s no less qualified to be an “arbiter of the truth” than someone who has academic training in research, and that anyone who does have such training is presumed to be an “activist” on “the left” and an “overt political actor.” Who’s pushing embarrassing garbage now?

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