For Brent Bozell and his Media Research Center, 2012 has been a year of failures in right-wing activism.
First came Bozell's attempt to distract from Rush Limbaugh's three-day tirade of misogyny against Sandra Fluke -- inspired by MRC employee Craig Bannister -- by pointing the finger at controversial comments made by hosts on MSNBC. Not only could Bozell not express any meaningful criticism of Limbaugh, but his own MRC employees embraced Limbaugh's slurs with glee. The MRC also killed its "I Stand With Rush" website after a week when that petition apparently fizzled (perhaps because it looked more than a little unseemly to "stand with" someone who said such vile things about a woman).
Then, Bozell ratcheted up his attacks on MSNBC by trying to get his right-wing buddies in Congress to intimidate its parent company, Comcast, by demanding that Congress interfere in an unrelated deal involving the sale of wireless spectrum owned by Comcast until his demands were met. That went nowhere as well, and Bozell ultimately dropped it.
Bozell and the MRC have now returned to full hair-on-fire mode, trying to manufacture a controversy out of the TV broadcast networks not covering something that appeals to its right-wing readership and donors: the lawsuit filed by various Catholic entities against the federal government over its contraception coverage mandate.
A May 22 MRC press release declared this "the largest legal action in history to defend our Constitutionally-protected religious freedom," without providing any evidence to back up this claim. But never mind that -- Bozell's frothing at the mouth:
This is the worst bias by omission I have seen in the quarter century history of the Media Research Center. Every American knows about the Chinese communists withholding for 20 years the news that the US had landed on the moon, because it reflected poorly on the government. Our US media today are no different. They are now withholding news from the American people if it is harmful to the re-election of Barack Obama.
This is not a mistake, nor is it an editorial oversight by the broadcast networks. This is a deliberate and insidious withholding of national news to protect the "Chosen One" who ABC, CBS and NBC have worked so hard to elect and are now abusing their journalistic influence to reelect. And when a network like CBS mentions the suit ever-so-briefly, they deliberately distort the issue by framing it as a contraception lawsuit instead of what they know it to be: a religious freedom issue. It's bogus, dishonest -- a flat out lie.
The fact is that the Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising "we will not comply" with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty. If this isn't "news" then there's no such thing as news. This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports. Instead, these networks are sending a clear message to all Americans that the networks will go to any lengths -- even censoring from the public an event of this historic magnitude -- to prevent the release of any information that will hurt Obama's chances of re-election.
The MRC followed that up the next day with another press release proclaiming that "Nine prominent Catholic leaders have joined the Media Research Center to voice outrage over the broadcast networks deliberately withholding news of the momentous 43 Catholic entities suing the Obama administration for violating their religious freedoms."
Curiously buried among the groups is the Catholic League. It's not mentioned in the opening paragraph, and Bill Donohue's quotation is the final one in the release. Completely unmentioned, however, is the fact that Bozell is on the Catholic League's board of advisers.
A May 24 MRC press release gave its entire game away by making this statement: "For the third night in a row the broadcast networks have refused to cover this correctly."
The MRC's use of the word "correctly" tells us the real agenda here. If there is a "correct" way to report on this -- which, in the MRC's view, is to report it the way the MRC wants it, without any questioning about the political agenda involved -- there is also an "incorrect" way, which is anything that fails to adequately promote the MRC's right-wing agenda.
In short, it's about conservative correctness. We saw this in the right-wing media's war on Christmas, and we see it every time NewsBusters unleashes a round of Heathering on any conservative who falls short of total fealty to right-wing talking points.
The MRC is so taken with this pro-Catholic crusade that it will throw other religions under the bus to promote its pro-Catholic agenda.
In a May 24 NewsBusters post, MRC director of media analysis Tim Graham took offense to covering a Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Philadelphia instead of the lawsuit, adding, "While CBS highlights the Catholic sex-abuse allegations in Philadelphia, it's ignoring the Jewish sex-abuse story in its own hometown."
Huh? What does that have to do with anything? But Graham has decided that it has. After quoting from a New York Times story about a Brooklyn prosecutor facing "intense scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community," Graham adds, "Sex-abuse charges in the Catholic Church are deadly serious, but aren't they in all religions? Aren't they in public schools? But Pelley was singling out the Catholics, spreading across the nation the prosecutors comparing the Catholic Church in Philadelphia to the Nazis during World War II[.]"
But a national network news program is not supposed to cover "hometown" news; it's supposed to cover stories of national interest. And since Catholics are 23.9 percent of the American population, sexual abuse is a story that a large number of Americans are interested in. By comparison, only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population are Jews, and ultra-orthodox Judaism is, in turn, a small subset of that.
Graham's attempt to throw Jews under the bus to protect Catholics, interestingly, came on top of NewsBusters associate editor Noel Sheppard embedding an anti-Semitic image in a post the very same day. After Media Matters called Sheppard out on it, the offending image was removed, and Sheppard added an update apologizing for the image, insisting that "those familiar with my work know that's not something I would intentionally do."
The MRC doesn't care about media fairness, and it never has. It has only two purposes: to advance a political agenda, and to denigrate any media outlet that doesn't do so to the MRC's satisfaction. That's all that's happening here.
There is no spontaneous outcry over this issue; it has been completely manufactured by Bozell and the MRC, which have a vested interest in defeating Obama. Bozell is trying to pass off a partisan political issue as a journalistic one. A lot of people have sued the Obama administration over various aspects of health-care reform, so why is this lawsuit any more special? Aside from Bozell's unsupported claim that it's "the largest legal action in history," he never explains.
In other words: This is news because Bozell, a partisan political activist, has declared it to be. No other reason.
An expanded version of this article is posted at ConWebWatch.