When Debunkers Need Debunking (5): Accuracy In Media

There are several organizations/ websites out there that purport to monitor the media for the avowed purpose of combating the (mythical) “liberal bias” in the mainstream media. We’ve already examined one of the most prominent, Media Research Center. But no survey of these groups would be complete without taking a look at Accuracy In Media (AIM), which is even older, and indeed one of the oldest right-wing dog-whistle watchdogs around.

Just as Media Research Center could be considered the reactionary counterpart of Media Matters For America, AIM could be called the reactionary counterpart of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting). And both acronyms are quite appropriate; while FAIR really does generally promote fairness, AIM has an ideological aim. (And speaking of interesting and appropriate coincidences, notice how its logo looks like a sideways Q.) In typical right-wing Orwellian fashion, “accuracy” doesn’t really mean accuracy at all — AIM has been known to continue pushing narratives even after they’ve been conclusively shown to be false. AIM’s aim is not only to “expose” those who do not follow the narrative, but to harass them and encourage others to do so.

And this kind of venom is directed toward other non-reactionary people outside the media as well. Indeed, the launch of AIM in 1969 was prompted largely by founder Reed Irvine’s disdain for left-wing voices of dissent, especially protesters against the Vietnam imbroglio. He also advocated for charges of sedition against the Black Panthers, the Progressive Labor Party, and Students For A Democratic Society.

AIM has branched out into other undertakings like Accuracy in Academia, which addresses the “leftist indoctrination” on college campuses, and tries to do for higher education what it has been doing for journalism.

The talking points AIM has advanced over the decades are a perfect fit with the most extreme and delusional of rabidly right-wing positions. It supported the Reagan administration’s shady financing of drug-running terrorists in Central America. It has attacked climate science and promoted “intelligent design”. It has spread anti-LGBTQ bigotry and promoted fundamentalist theocracy. It supported the invasion of Iraq, and considers the UN an evil cabal bent on world domination. Its personages have insisted that “waterboarding is not torture”, and Guantanamo Bay detainees “are enjoying hotel living conditions”.

And conspiracy theories. Lordy lordy, do they have the conspiracy theories to serve up. The UN is pushing for a “socialist world government”. Vince Foster was murdered. The Clintons have assassinated a whole string of people. The AIDS virus was manufactured and deliberately spread. Gays are trying to recruit other people to be gay. Birtherism. And of course, George Soros is always behind the curtain pulling the levers.

The conspiracy connections they draw up can get hilariously complex at times. Below is an actual chart that appeared on AIM’s website showing the supposed network of sinister connections around Casa De Maryland, an organization that commits the unpardonable sin of advocating for immigrants.

Meanwhile, AIM’s own “radical associations” are much more direct and demonstrable. The website has been funded by oil companies, and very heavily by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and his branches and twigs. Scaife was an ardent supporter of Richard Nixon who invested a great deal of money in trying to dig up dirt on the Clintons, even helping to spread arrant nonsense like the “Clinton body count”.

One recent (and all too typical) edition of AIM’s “news” page has two items about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of which address her efforts to bring a modicum of accountability to One America News [sic] Network — referring to her campaign as a “Ministry Of Truth”. And on the same page AIM touts its own campaign to harass actor George Takei for a single tweet that the AIMsters feel is being mean to Marco Rubio.

In the same edition, there is another little article that’s worth examining a bit because it’s an especially vivid and succinct illustration of what parameters the right-wing punditocracy uses to assess “liberal bias”. The piece is titled “Media sets up softball welcome for Biden in preview of what’s to come”. And it includes the following:

The media called [Jen Psaki] a “breath of fresh air” during the first week of briefings and even gave her a pass when she said Biden had “bigger issues to worry about” than his own mask mandate. 

When compared to the first press conference held in 2017, the questions were a little different. From arguing over inauguration sizes, to alleged Russian interference in the election and combing through various allegations from the campaign trail, the stage was set for Trump’s press secretary from day one. 

With this breathless display of muckraking, which consists of five paragraphs like these, AIM exhibits in many ways the grotesque false equivalence that is the coin of the realm in right-wing propaganda. There is simply no comparison between President Joe Biden and his predecessor. At the very least, Biden is a decent human being and an adult. Yet the wingers expect you to treat DJT with at least as much respect, even though he’s never done anything to earn it in his entire life. And if the media fail to do this, they are “biased” and showing a “double standard”.

Now why on earth would anyone call Psaki a “breath of fresh air”? Could it be because she committed herself to frequent media briefings? Because she was congenial, civil and adult? Because she did her best to be honest and above-board rather than spewing an endless string of lies? Or maybe it was because she actually answered journalists’ questions rather than constantly insult, belittle and lecture them for doing their jobs?

As for softballs, bear in mind that Psaki’s first meeting with the media was held only a few hours after Biden became president; and that in contrast to any of her predecessors in the previous administration, she was personable and gracious. Nonetheless, the press did try to nail her down about Biden’s stance on abortion.

The Forty-Fifth White House Occupant, on the other hand, not only fielded more than his share of softballs, he meticulously arranged for them. His interviews were nearly all conducted on the worshipful turf of Fox “News” — and he gave them and the even more subservient OAN very strong preference in the scant press briefings he held. They, in return, not only lobbed him softballs, but fawningly pandered to his megalomaniac delusions. At one point, OAN “reporter” Chanel Rion actually asked him if he intended to pardon Obama for “spying” on him.

Note how AIM attempts to flick off the “alleged Russian interference” like a gnat, as if it were indeed merely alleged and no big deal worthy of any media attention. As for “arguing over inauguration sizes”, the writer neglects to mention that it was 45 and his spokes-liar who instigated this “fight” and even insisted on having it. In fact, from all evidence they called a special presser specifically for that purpose.

The media weren’t trying to “fight”; they were just trying to get the facts straight. So when the White House Occupant repeatedly lied about the size of his inauguration crowd, they called him on it — and you’d think the good folks at AIM would be able to figure this out, since the article in question links to a CNN fact check of Sean Spicer’s many lies during that conference, including the one about the magnitude of the multitude. Instead, they stick to the bizarre and dangerous narrative that faithfully reporting inconvenient facts constitutes unfair bias.

Nowhere is this exhibited more concisely than in an article called “Journalists freak out over Politico publishing Ben Shapiro column”, which includes the following:

Vox’s Aaron Rupar tweeted: “I understand the desire to have balance, but lying about stuff like Ben Shapiro does in this column (comparing Bernie Sanders to Trump, equivocating Trump’s voter fraud lies with Stacey Abrams) isn’t really a “side” that needs to be platformed.” Evidently, Rupar is all good with balance, as long the opinions being promoted are in line with his own. 

That about sums it up. If you call out right-wing lies, AIM et al automatically conclude that you’re trying to “censor conservative voices” and squelch any viewpoint diverging from your own.

Oh, and there’s the obligatory chest beating over supposed “big tech censorship” of “conservatives”. One such typical piece is called “Media promotes study claiming big tech has no bias against conservatives”. Never mind that this study and others are quite accurate in revealing such a truth. The mere fact that it deflates the big flashy narrative of oppression and marginalization that these people love to tout is supposedly an illustration of left-wing bias.

In order to try to discredit the study, AIM falls back on the time-honored tactic of cherry picking, selecting a couple of incidents that purportedly show “censorship” of “conservatives”. But such isolated cases, even if perfectly valid examples, do nothing to establish an overall pattern, the way the studies do. Furthermore, it dodges the central question at stake. The important thing is not whether social media platforms ever restrict right-wing content; there’s no doubt they do on occasion. As they do left-leaning content. The real question is whether there is a general bias against right-wingers. And the comprehensive data do not indicate any such thing; if anything, they indicate that right-wingers are given overwhelmingly preferential treatment. But it’s never, ever enough for people like the AIMsters.

But as damning as AIM’s inept and mendacious efforts at fact-checking are, what is perhaps even more incriminating is the company it keeps. For example, it periodically issues an Accuracy In Media Award to select individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in administering its brand of “accuracy”. Recipients have included — whaddaya know — its own Tucker Carlson, as well as a leading climate science denier and the culprit who operates the rabidly right-wing conspiracy theory website Gateway Pundit. And Dana Loesch. And Andrew Breitbart. And so on.

And perhaps most tellingly of all, there’s the story of Wayne Simmons. He was a component of AIM’s Citizens’ Committee On Benghazi, formed for the purpose of perpetuating the lie that Hillary Clinton and/or President Obama were guilty of some kind of malfeasance in the terror attack. AIM cited Simmons’ “expertise”, based on 27 years of serving in the CIA, numerous times on its website. He also was a frequent guest of Fox “News”, vociferously pontificating about the non-issue.

But there was a bit of a problem with Simmons. It turns out that he had zero experience in the CIA. He was a total sham and apparently a rather mentally unstable poser. After he was arrested for fraud, AIM quietly scrubbed all references to him from its website, then posted the following statement:

We were stunned and saddened to hear the news about Wayne Simmons. He has been a colleague of ours on the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi since we were established in 2013. We have removed Wayne’s name from the list of members on the website of the CCB, pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. As with everyone charged with a crime or crimes in this country, he is innocent until proven guilty. We wish him the best.

True to form, it sounds as if they were doing their best to make him, and themselves, appear as innocent victims. They certainly were trying to cast doubt on his guilt, which was really unquestionable — if you worked for the CIA, they’re going to have a record of your employment; if they don’t, it’s safe bet that you didn’t. Not even the most masterful intelligence agent in the world can conceal his employment from the entity that employs him. (Simmons was convicted on fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms violation, and was sentenced to 33 months.)

But even if AIM had come completely clean about Simmons and admitted that they screwed up royally, it would not change the fact that they screwed up royally. They still, like Fox, allowed themselves to be conned by a wacko criminal, and put total stock in his supposed expertise, without properly vetting him. Just because he said the kinds of things they wanted to hear. That’s not a good look for any organization, and especially one that presents itself as a champion of accuracy. But it’s simply AIM’s general modus operandi.

2 comments

  1. “AIM has branched out into other undertakings like Accuracy in Academia, which addresses the ‘leftist indoctrination’ on college campuses, and tries to do for higher education what it has been doing for journalism.”

    Any student at a Liberal Arts college knows that professors have various political views and do not force students to attend classes which are controversial.

    I love the way you point out that much of the criticism aimed at AIM has to do with claims that conservatives are being unjustly censored by the left (when it comes to the approval of lecturers by the student bodies at such Universities). A particular institution and its students, have certain justifiable legal rights to express their views, and bar certain speakers. It’s absurd that any educational institution must provide every right wing speaker with a chance to speak to their students–no matter how non-factual those speakers may be! My advice to the GOP–quit having hissy fits, and just get used to it!

  2. In my statement above, (Any student at a Liberal Arts college knows that professors have various political views and do not force students to attend classes which are controversial). I should have said, …(force students to (enroll) in classes which are too controversial).

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