When Debunkers Need Debunking (3): Media Research Center


Back in 1955,  the godfather of (neo)conservatism William F. Buckley launched the National Reviewwhich he intended as an antidote to what he proclaimed was a “liberal bias” in the mainstream media. The belief in such a bias resonated richly (no pun intended) with his fellow wingers, and even began to take root among the gullible masses.  Thirty-two years later, Buckley’s nephew Brent Bozell III shifted that narrative into hyperdrive by inaugurating Media Research Center, which is designed to be not just an alternative to the “liberal bias”, but a persistent watchdog to make the liberal media heel. Offering what has become a popular source of citation for right-wing pundits and politicians, MRC presumes to police liberals by calling out their liberalness whenever it appears in the media. Thing is, it ends up indicting itself more than the media or them librulz.

According to the gospel of Bozell and MRC, mainstream media is a lost cause. (Except for Fox “News”, of course.) Not only does it relentlessly push a liberal agenda, but that’s the reason it exists in the first place. The curious thing, however, is that Bozell has tooted from his stump on videos for PragerU, which emphatically distinguishes between liberals and leftists; it is the latter, insists Prager, who are the enemies of all that is holy, while liberals have more in common with conservatives — a clever ploy, you must admit, to incite further polarization. (Note: technically there is indeed a distinction between liberal and leftist; but Dennis Prager evidently doesn’t have a clue what it is.) According to the Prager Gospel, mainstream media (except for Fox “News”, of course) relentlessly pushes a leftist agenda; and indeed that’s the reason it exists in the first place. So which is it, guys? Liberal bias, or leftist bias? It might help both of you plead your case a little better if you would put your heads together and figure out just what your case is, and whom you’re supposed to be demonizing. (For his part, Bozell has no problem with just using the labels interchangeably.)

Whatever Media Research Center’s narrative is supposed to be, whoever The Enemy Of Civilization is supposed to be, you can get a good idea of how much stock to put in it by looking more closely at Brent Bozell. For all practical purposes, Bozell is Media Research Center. He founded it, he’s been the guy behind the curtain throughout its history, and he writes its columns — or does he? Actually, former employees have alleged that his columns are ghostwritten and he just takes the credit. (It also appears that he’s not above plagiarism.) Be that as it may, to know Brent Bozell is to know Media Research Center; and both of them have quite a few strikes against them.

For starters, he and his organization are cheerleaders for the forty-fifth White House Occupant — even though during the 2016 campaign he called the man “the greatest charlatan of them all” and said “God help this country if this man were president”. But apparently power and polarization matter more than values, because once “this man” became president, Bozell completely changed his tune and began attacking the people in the media who are critical of the White House Occupant, just as Bozell had been. Hey, who needs consistency and integrity when you have an agenda? According to MRC, any negative coverage at all of that vile man is proof positive of an overwhelming liberal bias in the media — because heaven knows, there’d never be any legitimate reason to criticize him, would there? When you’re trying to sell yourself as a media watchdog, it doesn’t help your cause any if you defend a perennial con man who lies 22 times a day.

Another strike against Bozell is that he previously was director of and otherwise engaged with the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual moon-howl for spittle-flecked right-wing cultists to rant about how them librulz are plotting to destroy America and outlaw religion and establish Sharia law and confiscate your guns and give your job to illegals and steal your precious fluids.

In addition to Media Research Center, Bozell has also launched several spinoffs, including Media Reality Check, NewsBusters, CNSNews, and MRCTV. Should each of these count as a separate strike, or should they all be reckoned as just part of one big strike? In evaluating Media Research Center and its subordinate organizations that do the grunt work,  MediaBiasFactCheck concludes:

Overall, we rate Media Research Center strongly right biased based on advocacy for a conservative agenda and Mixed for factual reporting due to promotion of propaganda, pseudoscience as well as a poor fact check record by their primary sources. 

They’re being extremely generous. In an interview for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1998, Brent Bozell complained that the media were displaying liberal bias by not bombarding the public enough with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Meanwhile, according to the LexisNexis database, on the very day the interview ran there were 529 stories about Lewinsky nationwide.

Another strike is that Bozell is a certified (and certifiable) climate science denier. Like virtually every other climate science denier, he has a grand total of zero training and experience in the field — which in his eyes makes him more of an expert than scientists who have studied the climate for years. Accordingly, MRC has frequently spread pseudoscience and misinformation, and tried to undermine legitimate science. Coincidentally, MRC is heavily funded by the petroleum industry.

Yet another strike is that Bozell has appeared frequently on Fox “News”. Moreover, he has been a frequent guest on the program of White House adviser Sean Hannity, who has become too delusional and toxic even for many on the right. We previously mentioned one particular instance when Bozell appeared on Hannity (who has every bit as much expertise in climate science as he has) lamenting that one year after the faux scandal of “Climategate” erupted and then fizzled, major news outlets were no longer beating the non-story to death.

It’s a segment of just under two minutes, including a CBS video clip of approximately 30 seconds. In the remaining minute and a half, Bozell and Hannity tell 11 lies between the two of them — an utterly astounding achievement. They say (and repeat) among other things, that scientists fabricated data, that the media ignored the phony “Climategate” story, and that the latter “blew the entire environmental movement to shreds” — whatever the hell that means. When you lie this much, Brent, don’t be surprised if people don’t take you seriously.

Bozell has many other strikes against him, some of them racist and homophobic. He’s championed reactionary actor James Woods, a fervent conveyor of silly Internet rumors, as “one of the leading conservatives”. He’s declared that Hollywood (except for James Woods, presumably) is trying to destroy America’s moral values. And he’s venomously campaigned against the Smithsonian Institution for having the audacity to display gay-related art. You can read more about his sins at Media Matters For America, which is the progressive (“liberal”) counterpart to Media Research Center.

But while it may be just as biased as MRC (remember, bias is not entirely avoidable and is not in itself  objectionable), it’s also far more honest and accurate. Indeed, while Media Research Center is obsessed with tracking down the chimera of liberal bias, Media Matters is focused on exposing “conservative misinformation”. It’s a very major distinction, and we’ll look at it more closely in a future discussion about the whole “liberal bias” myth.  MRC generally can’t be bothered with such pesky factors as truthfulness or accuracy in assessing media bias; its sole determinant is whether a story strictly parrots right-wing extremist talking points.

Media Matters has examined some of MRC’s “studies” that purport to show “liberal bias” and shown how easily they disintegrate under any kind of lens at all.  Using cherry-picked data, secretive methodologies and self-fulfilling definitions and standards, MRC claimed, among other things, that merely mentioning the word “conservative” more than the word “liberal” in a given period constitutes such bias! (It’s a good bet, however, that if the word “liberal” were uttered more, MRC then would howl about that  being bias because “conservatives” were being marginalized.) For this claim to have even a modicum of validity, you would have to presume that conservative necessarily has negative connotations. Is this what MRC means to suggest? Does Bozell secretly realize how deluded and toxic he is? The Media Matters report sums up MRC’s modus operandi and attitude quite nicely:

The MRC is certainly free to cry “liberal bias” at every news report it sees. But when it labels something a “study,” it is presenting its analysis as more objective, and should thus be held to a higher standard. Using coding rules that people who disagree with the MRC would accept as objective, and publicly releasing the data on which it bases its conclusions, would be two good places to start. But again and again, the MRC comes back to the same point: Any fact, observation, or argument that does not precisely coincide with the Republican viewpoint constitutes “liberal bias.”

That last statement hits the nail on the head not only about MRC, but about all hawkers of the “liberal bias” myth.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, MRC occasionally mentions Media Matters too; mostly very fleetingly to label it an “angry site on the left”, or to note with horror that it favors reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, or some other such bombshell.)

You can view more examples of MRC’s “studies” on its page Media Bias 101. It has a whole slew of false equivalences, cherry-picked figures (some of them legitimate) purporting to confirm media bias. But they actually cover mostly such tangential topics as the fact that the public perceives a “liberal bias” (not hard to understand, since that’s being constantly hammered into their heads by the mainstream “liberal media” itself), and some journalists deny the existence of such a bias, and others admit the existence of such a bias (individual mileage always varies according to one’s own experiences), and more journalists vote Democratic than Republican.

The latter is a favorite stat touted by peddlers of the myth, who usually neglect to mention that more than half of journalists identify themselves as independents; and more important, political affiliation of a genuine journalist does not automatically translate into biased reporting. (Note that we specify genuine journalists; there are certainly plenty of partisan hacks masquerading as journalists, but they’re not at all difficult to single out by anyone being the least bit objective.)

Given that Media Research Center has been in operation for more than three decades and in the course of that time have cranked out an innumerable number of assaults against reason and decency, it would be a daunting task to do a comprehensive study of its output. But sometimes all that is needed is one very revealing cross-section. And as it happens, MRC handed us on a silver platter, via its Newsbusters arm, just such a cross-section on 7/12/19, titled Liberal News Outlets panic Over ‘Extremists’ at [White House} Social Media Summit.

That “social media summit” was yet another effort by the White House Occupant to silence dissent and control the flow of information. More specifically, it’s part of an effort to establish right-wing social media as a substitute for real journalism. Facebook and Google were not invited to the event. But the invitees did include a long roster of trolls, conspiracy theorists and con artists who promote paranoid delusions, racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, homophobia and bigotry and hate of just about every other stripe imaginable — sometimes including subtle and not so subtle exhortations to violence. The guests all tended to have three things in common: they were rabidly right-wing; they subscribe passionately to the absurd claim that big tech is “censoring conservatives”; and most important of all, they’re perfectly willing to kiss the posterior of the W.H.O.

Perhaps the most sane and civil delegate was the aforementioned Dennis Prager. And just how sane and civil is he? Well, among other things he’s a serial revisionist who frequently claims the GOP’s southern strategy is a “leftist myth”; he’s a devoted climate science denier, and a hate monger who constantly, constantly stokes misinformed hysteria about transgenders and “the left”, pushes the “war on Christmas” lunacy, smears Muslims and Islam, and has been known to question his fans about whether maybe it’s time for “another civil war”.  He’s circulated a video flatly and falsely denying that the W.H.O. called Nazis “very fine people”. When the W.H.O. made a juvenile attack against Baltimore, Prager dutifully attacked Baltimore too. And he, mind you, was among the more rational and adult voices at the summit.

The other invitees were virtually a full dishonor roll for the padded-cell rightwing cyberworld. They included Charlie Kirk, Ryan Fournier, James O’Keefe, Congressman Matt Gaetz, Tim Pool, The Gateway Pundit, Carpe Donktum, and the Heritage Foundation. In case you’re unfamiliar with them, think along the lines of birtherism, death panels, “infanticide”, “millions voting illegally”. Vince Foster murder theory, Clinton “body count”, Pizzagate, Climategate, Spygate, Benghazi-gate, “deep state” and QAnon. Some of the figures attending had connections with far-right fake news site Breitbart. Others had ties to Alex Jones, who not only has relentlessly pushed conspiracy theories like those mentioned, but also has promoted the beliefs that mass shootings are hoaxes, that the government is trying to turn people gay through chemical warfare, that Hitler is alive, that Democrats are plotting to install Robert Mueller as king, and that the world is being controlled by a race of interplanetary lizard people.

Yet to Media Research Center, this was a benign gathering of “free speech defenders” who (as their beloved president himself claims to be) are being treated unfairly by the librulmedia — which of course includes favorite right-wing whipping boy CNN. In reference to an NBC article, MRC declares:

The article claimed that “several of the social media personalities who attended Thursday’s event are known for spreading false information or trafficking in harassment.” It didn’t include how many times major media, and NBC, had been wildly wrong during the [present] administration.

Yes, you read that right. MRC wants you to believe that the inevitable mistakes made by even the most conscientious and impartial journalists are on a par with vicious and dishonest hucksters who deliberately spread disinformation and venomous rumors and accusations. In another article published on the same day specifically attacking MSNBC’s take on the event, MRC says:

Many of the guests at the summit have experienced this censorship firsthand. Twitter blocked an ad by [Senator Marsha] Blackburn highlighting her work on behalf of the pro-life movement that referred to her work stopping “the sale of body parts,” describing the content as “inflammatory.”

Never mind that the “sale of body parts” is a false and malicious accusation. MRC feels that it’s a narrative that really, really needs to get out there in the blogosphere, and anybody who calls it out for being inflammatory is practicing blatant censorship of conservatives. More strikes against them.

Oh yes, and Brent Bozell himself was one of the guests at the summit. Just how many strikes are you supposed to be able to accrue before you get called out, anyway?


  1. I am hoping that all this fictitious fodder will eventually lose its appeal to voters after they can no longer accept it–but that is a pretty impossilbe thing to expect from those who spread stories about the Newtown shooting being a staged event put on by liberal activists in order to discredit the NRA. What the right forgets or fails to admit, is that reputable journalists often agree with liberals not because they are biased, but because liberal reporting is more rational and provable to anyone who eventually learns to think critically and independently. I can only imagine how bizarre, crude and outrageous and underhanded conservative TV ads will be in the 2020 elections. We better make sure we are fully stocked with antacids and barf bags–something tells me we will need them.

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