Saturday, April 25, 2015

Special Report: George Soros, Anti-Semitism & the Media Research Center

MRC Watch Dept. - On Thursday, the NBC Nightly News devoted a segment to detailing allegations found in an upcoming book (“Clinton Cash”) that, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton helped facilitate the sale of an American-owned uranium mine to Russian interests to the benefit of donors to the Clinton Foundation. The MRC’s Curtis Houck spotlighted the piece, but objected to the fact that the segment included an “expert” — Houck put the word in quotes — from the Sunlight Foundation, which, he wrote,
“has received funding from left-wing billionaire George Soros… To no one’s surprise, the expert parroted some pro-Clinton talking points: ‘There is no smoking gun. There’s no evidence that she changed a policy based on, you know, the donations to the foundation.'”
The next day, Kyle Drennen objected to how “NBC keeps trying to dismiss Clinton Foundation scandal with Soros-funded ‘expert,'” and relates how,
“After using an ‘ethics expert’ from the Sunlight Foundation – an organization funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros – to dismiss the Clinton Foundation scandal on Thursday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Andrea Mitchell appeared on Friday’s Today using the same so-called expert… to reject corruption allegations against Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
Founded by lawyer and businessman Michael Klein and Ellen Miller of the Center for Responsive Politics, the Sunlight Foundation is a D.C.-based public interest group dedicated to increasing government transparency. In short, just the sort of people a journalist would consult on a question like this. The Foundation’s mission is, of course, inherently liberal, but contrary to the crude implication in the MRC articles, Sunlight certainly isn’t any sort of Clinton or Obama apologist — it, in fact, regularly attacks both for the same shady practices deplored by the MRC. The Foundation is funded by a variety of sources, but the one funding source about which the MRC wanted its readers to know, the one both its writers took pains to say made the Sunlight expert an “expert” who can be regarded as discredited merely as a consequence of the connection, is the rich Jew George Soros.

The Puppet Master is, of course, a stock anti-Semitic trope, a dark, racist conspiracy fantasy about evil, wealthy Jews who pull the strings from the shadows, manipulating events in our world to their own sinister ends. In propaganda, the Puppet Master is often depicted as an octopus, its crafty tentacles creeping their way into everything. It’s proven depressingly long-lived, deployed over the years by everyone from the Russian Tsars to the Third Reich to the lunatic fringe here at home. And when, in recent decades, the American conservative elite began to mainstream elements of that lunatic fringe, the fringe brought the trope with them. For those unscrupulous enough to engage in this despicable breed of racist dog-whistling, Soros, a wealthy philanthropist who gives generously to various liberal causes, has proven a lightning rod. On Fox News, both Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly have prominently blown this tune,[1] but few have devoted as many words over as long a period to inflame and delight these particular low-dogs as the Media Research Center.

The MRC, in fact, maintains an entire subdivision dedicated to this project, dubbed, appropriately enough, “The Soros Project.” It grinds out rubbish like this “special report” entitled “George Soros: Godfather of the Left.” Written by Dan Gainor and Iris Somberg and principally concerned with putting Soros’s fingers in every conceivable pie while treating this as, in itself, sinister, the ponderous piece is astonishingly sloppy, even by MRC standards — little more than a compendium of anti-Soros allegations, wild assertions and data points reduced to a hopeless mess by the authors’ refusal to contextualize or demonstrate the relevance of the various items they outline, their constant delving into marginal tangents and asides, their failure to substantiate or even significantly evaluate most of what they relay and their complete lack of any focus beyond a caveman’s grunt of “Soros Bad.”

The claim in the article’s preface that Soros has helped “foment revolutions” is certainly eye-catching. And in the entire painfully lengthy article, this is the sole item Gainor and Somberg offer to substantiate it:
“In 2004, ‘two young me threw water and mayonnaise at him’ in Ukraine, accusing Soros of trying to push a ‘velvet revolution’ just like had happened in Georgia, reported the BBC.”
Soros is accused, at one point, of being “pro-government controlled media”; the authors offer nothing to support that one either (and, in fact, Soros projects have spent years battling state-controlled media apparatuses in repressive regimes around the world).

It’s true, as the article says, that Soros was “convicted of insider dealing in France and fined $3 million.” It’s also true, though entirely unmentioned by the authors, that the French regulator declined to pursue Soros on the matter on the grounds that the anti-insider trading laws in question were, in the words of Bloomberg News, “too vague to determine whether he’d broken them.” Soros’s lawyer, citing this fact, asserted, “It is inconceivable to expect that the citizen has a better understanding of the law than the authority in charge.” The European Court of Human Rights, who heard Soros’s appeal and eventually upheld the conviction, decided Soros was an experienced businessman and should have known better, and that’s probably true. It’s also true — and also unmentioned by the authors — that no one in French history had ever been prosecuted under the law used to nab Soros.

Did you know that Soros’s grants to Bard College included some that went to “a Palestinian youth group and an initiative to educate prisoners across the country”? Gainor and Somberg certainly want you to know it. They first bring it up as support for their notion, expressed in a subheading, that “Soros Indoctrinates Students Around the World.” Then only four paragraphs down, they write, “Programs at Bard include a Palestinian youth group, an initiative to educate prisoners across the country…” Then, a little further down:
“The grants to Bard College show exactly what type of efforts Soros gives to in order to train student activists. Programs at Bard include a Palestinian youth group, an initiative to educate prisoners across the country, and various other groups for ‘community service and social action.'”
And they’re not done with it yet — further still, they bring up that youth group again and quote the youth groups “about us” page:
“Their about us section states that they want ‘civil engagement, cultural exchange, and education are the fundamental means to building a viable and sustainable Palestinian state.’ Below they describe the TLS as a program that ‘encourages and supports students to do challenging, even brazen acts of world change.'”
Real subversive stuff, eh? Equally so is the prison initiative, which then makes yet another appearance, described as “a degree program held in five New York correctional facilities. They provide degree programs for incarcerated men and women and created the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison to promote similar programs around the country.”

Another cited example of how Soros indoctrinates students: “One professor at CEU [Central European University, which Soros founded] praised the Occupy movement combining environmentalism, feminism, the labor movement, and social justice.” Goodness gracious alive! Four paragraphs down, we again hear about how that professor “proudly described how the [Occupy] movement combined feminism, environmentalism, social justice, and the labor movement all under one roof.” And yes, further along, it’s repeated again, nearly word-for-word, followed by, “Praise for the extreme views of the Occupy movement came from one program director.” Is this the same professor? It would appear to be so! Gainor and Somberg outline a video in which she was featured: “Earlier in the video, she praised the Occupy movement for combining the environmental, social justice, feminist, and labor movements to talk about issues that ‘really mattered.'”

The authors describe the dastardly mission of the Central European University:
“CEU [Central European University] is dedicated to promoting Soros’s idea of an open society and ‘that professors and students could be recruited internationally to build a new and unique institution, one that would train future generations of scholars, professionals, politicians and civil society leaders to contribute to building open societies and democracies throughout the region and beyond.'”
Other horrors: In 2011, one of the school’s intellectual themes was “the social responsibility of academia,” which the authors denounce as “this indoctrination,” without offering so much as a word to substantiate the charge. Unforgivably, the university hosted lectures by Soros himself — its founder. Its president John Shattuck “described the universities mission as one to promote open societies around the world, ‘CEU is committed to provide intellectual support for building and strengthening open and democratic societies that respect human rights.'” And so on.[2] Reasonable observers could be forgiven for failing to find much of anything terribly sinister in any of this, and if the dependence on constant repetition leaves one with the impression there exists a distinct sparsity of facts to support the authors’ premise, well, one is paying attention.[3]

Gainor and Somberg tell us that “while Soros has even been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, many governments have viewed him as the enemy.” And what governments are those? Astonishingly, the authors proceed to offer up a laundry-list of charges against Soros made by authoritarian regimes. The witnesses for the prosecution include Belarus, Croatia, Albania, Serbia (under war criminal Slobodan Milošević), Malaysia and Russia. The politically-motivated, often outlandish charges they’ve flung at Soros over the years are repeated largely without any critical evaluation[4] and without giving readers any indication of the corrupt, repressive nature of these governments. Elsewhere, the authors assert that “there’s been lots of negatives in Soros’s past as he’s spread his influence around the world” and snipe at Soros because he “wears criticism like a badge of honor,” but that Soros’s work on behalf of free and open societies has earned the enmity of these regimes is highly commendable. Gainor and Somberg treat them as a stain on his character — an item on his rap-sheet.

In outlining some of Soros’s philanthropy, the authors engage in an orgy of numbers porn. Soros spent millions-of-dollars here, Soros spent billions there. The numbers are both overlapping (a fact the authors obscure) and are, like so much else, repeated and repeated — huge figures filling their pages. That makes it particularly amusing when they turn to electoral politics and try to tie their target to that black guy in the White House:
“When you like a product, you give it your stamp of approval – whether it’s the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or the USDA imprint on food. But if you love a product, then you pony up the cash… There’s no product the Soros family likes better than Obama. The Democratic president has received more money from Soros and his kin than any other political candidate in the last 11 years – $16,000 and counting. They gave an additional $250,000 to the inauguration fund, with five members of the family each giving the maximum contribution of $50,000.”
That Soros sure does love Obama, doesn't he? I’m sure Obama, who raised more than $1.7 billion in his presidential races, was touched by that $16,000. The authors dismiss Soros’s assertion that he doesn't involve himself very heavily in electoral politics while still telling us that whopping figure, combined with the inauguration fund donations — the cumulative amount given to Obama by not only Soros but Soros’s entire family — marks Obama as the candidate who has received more Soros money than any other. Soros the Puppet Master is deceitful and operates from the shadows; while he “has claimed he tried to stay out of domestic political turmoil, his political donations show otherwise… Soros just wanted to give the appearance of distance.”

Much larger than the Obama contributions is $550 million Soros is said to have given to liberal causes from 2001 to 2009. One suspects a rather broad definition of “liberal causes” in that accounting but that’s of little importance here. Some basic facts about the nature of the recipients of this largesse in comparison with the MRC’s treatment of same help underscore that the MRC’s invocation of Soros is merely anti-Semitic dog-whistling. Most of the groups that make up this seeming infinity of orgs are, broadly, liberal but each has its own individual mission, its own staff, its own goals.[5] Sometimes those goals are similar, sometimes they’re in conflict.[6] For some, Soros money pays most of the bills; for others, the Soros contribution to their budget is relatively insignificant. Soros doesn’t direct their affairs. He exercises no control whatsoever over the overwhelming majority of them. They are independent entities — that’s reality. But they’re diligently treated by the MRC as one entity: George Soros. The MRC’s persistent implication is that they’re under the direction of George Soros, serving the evil agenda of George Soros and entirely discredited by the association with George Soros, no matter how tenuous that association may be. When Gainor and Somberg write about Soros’s contributions to media outlets, they describe it as “his extensive network of liberal media outlets” — he is the Puppet Master and “his hold over the American political left is especially strong.” The MRC’s stomping-ground is the U.S. — furthering that same imagery is the only reason Gainor and Somberg spend so much time and space on some Hungarian university. The MRC regularly indulges in a basic fallacy of suggesting any source that is liberal — typically defined as anything not of the MRC’s particular breed of far-right-ness — is inherently without credibility or merit. Yet when discussing orgs that have received funding from Soros, its writers never fail to wave the Soros voodoo fetish, displaying it prominently in their headlines.

To overtly state the screamingly obvious, the MRC’s treatment of Soros is not rational. Nothing about it can be defended as such. And that’s precisely the point — it isn’t meant to be.
This week’s invocation of Soros by Houck and Drennen is a case-study.

The Sunlight Foundation, being all about transparency, helpfully lists its funding sources online. Looking over its last two full years, these sources are many and varied. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — there are over 100 named in only a two-year period. Soros foundations are there, but they make up a relatively small portion of it. In 2013, Soros’s Open Society Foundations and Foundation to Promote Open Society offered $175,000; in 2014, Soros foundations contributed far less, a little over $40,000. By contrast, Omidyar Network (established by Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar) ponied up over $4.5 million in that same two-year period, the Knight Foundation over $2.2 million and Sunlight founder Michael Klein himself contributed more than $1.3 million.

Yet Houck and Drennen focus on one rich Jew as the source of Sunlight’s funding, describing the org as “Soros-funded” (in both headlines), “an organization funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros”, an org “which has received funding from left-wing billionaire George Soros.” Sunlight’s Bill Allison is described as “Soros-backed,” his views discredited by the association — he’s ridiculed as an “expert” (the word placed in quotes) and a “so-called expert.”

Sunlight has been very critical of both Hillary Clinton and Obama for many of the practices the MRC itself decries. A recent Sunlight blog entry salutes Republican presidential candidate (and MRC darling) Ted Cruz for becoming “the first major presidential candidate from either party to start playing by the presidential rules” while condemning both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton for declining to officially announce their candidacies in order to continue shady campaign practices. The Clinton Foundation’s fundraising, the very burr up the MRC’s butt in the Houck and Drennen articles, is singled out for attention:
"By contrast, all but declared candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can, and do, raise money in huge chunks. Because Bush has not uttered, tweeted or otherwise expressed the magic words, he’s able to ask donors for contributions of $25,000, $100,000 or more for his Right to Rise super PAC (Sunlight’s Party Time shows quite a few examples). Part of Bush’s strategy for winning the nomination is a campaign of shock and awe fundraising; should he declare his candidacy, he’d have to leave the six- and seven-figure solicitations to others.
"A trio of super PACs — Priorities USA ActionAmerican Bridgeand Ready for Hillary — are promoting Hillary Clinton. One of them, Ready for Hillary, successfully fended off a complaint to the FEC last month over its purchase of the mailing list compiled by Clinton’s last presidential campaign. The FEC concluded that the sale by Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which comprised names of her donors and supporters, to a super PAC promoting her 2016 campaign did not require Clinton to register as a federal candidate.
"That decision has allowed Clinton — and the two floors’ worth of close associates she brought with her from the State Department — to continue her work with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation undisturbed, an organization that takes funds, sometimes in multi-million dollar chunks, from foreign governments, foreign corporations and foreign individuals, among others."
Another blog notes that, while the Obama administration “has made some strides in making government records more accessible,” it “has picked up where its predecessor left off in stonewalling the media, avoiding disclosure and thwarting accountability”:
“Take its treatment of email. In addition to Hillary Clinton’sprivate server, there is former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, who used the nom de pixel Richard Windsor for her email correspondenceto evade FOIA requests. (In what must be some kind of record for government ineptitude, the EPA gave Richard Windsor anethics award.) The Internal Revenue Service’s series ofclaims as to the disposition of Tea Party targeter Lois Lerner’s emails turned out to be no longer operative, while the president himself invoked executive privilege to shield from disclosure emails sent by Attorney General Eric Holder relevant to the Fast and Furious scandal.”
Regular readers of the MRC will recognize many of these as longrunning causes célèbres of the org. And the article continues to list even more Sunlight grievances against the administration.

But, as mentioned earlier, Houck, in discussing Sunlight’s Bill Allison, threw in the Soros association then wrote, “To no one’s surprise, the [Sunlight] expert parroted some pro-Clinton talking points” — Allison, you see, is just a mouthpiece for the Puppet Master.

Allison, by the way, authored both of the blog posts just quoted.

This same irrationality permeates all of the MRC’s anti-Soros commentary.

When rolling out Soros as a magnet for its own fundraising, the MRC’s rhetoric is savage, unambiguously referring to him as “The Master Puppeteer”:
“George Soros has spent an astounding $52 million building the ‘Soros Web’ — a vast array of organizations and associations dedicated to wiping freedom and democracy off the face of the earth. “These Soros legions are riddled with hundreds of America’s most well-known media personalities, including CNN’s David Gergen and Christiane Amanpour and the New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. They represent only a tiny percentage of elite media leftists who are associated in one way or another with a Soros-funded entity. He is the puppet master of the liberal media.”
The assertion about Soros’s goal is, of course, laughable,[7] but insofar as the ugly anti-Semitic appeal, it can at least be said that the MRC knows its audience.



[1] Beck, in an example that became notorious, took to his incredibly popular Fox News show in 2010 to launch an extended attack on Soros, not only portraying him as a Puppet Master but openly calling him a “puppet master.” Never one for subtlety, Beck fired off this first of what would become several volleys at Soros on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi kickoff to the Holocaust. Only last month, Bill O’Reilly–the host of the top-rated show on Fox News–was plumbing the same dismal depths:
“Soros has now taken his ill-gotten gains and is financing the most radical left-wing organizations in America. He is the shadow puppet master behind corrupt far-left groups like Media Matters. Soros has his tentacles into political organizations like the Center for American Progress, which has provided operatives for the Obama administration, some of whom are now going over to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Few Americans even know who Soros is, but the 84-year old uber-leftist is behind much of the political strife in this country.”
[2] For all the time Gainor and Somberg devote to it, Central European University — as the name itself informs us — isn’t even an American institution. It’s based in Soros’s native Hungary. Soros himself founded it and it’s the primary recipient of his donations to higher education. The authors quote Soros as saying that, “as a general rule I do not support higher education in the United States,” then write that “this is inherently false seeing as  Soros gave more than $100 million to U.S. universities.” But by their own figures, 3/4 of that total went to only one institution, his ex-wife’s home base at Bard College. Elsewhere, they write that, “together, CEU and Bard received roughly 75 percent of Soros’s total [education] contributions.” In their frequent tangents and asides, the authors try to compare the global educational spending of Soros to educational spending in the U.S. by the oil billionaire Koch brothers, inevitably managing, in the process, to distort and misrepresent the criticism leveled at the latter.

[3] The authors will throw in just about any anti-Soros story they can find, no matter how minor:
“He ran into trouble in Thailand in 1997, as well. ‘The financier George Soros canceled a speech in Bangkok in February when protesters, including some respected local businesspeople, threatened to pelt him with rotten eggs and fruit.'”
And two paragraphs later:
“The next day he had to cancel a trip to Thailand ‘after protestors threatened to pelt him with rotten eggs and excrement.'”
[4] The authors’ only real stab at a critical evaluation of these charges comes when they relate Soros’s public battle with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. The authors relate that the attacks against Soros in that case “also were laced with anti-Semitism and easily discredited.” No irony at all there, eh? If these attacks were so “easily discredited,” why bring them up at all? And that this is the only listed item in this section of the “special report” that the authors challenge suggests, of course, that the other listed items from equally disreputable sources are credible.

[5] And while they advocate for their particular causes, they don’t, as a rule, engage in electoral politics. They have their own separate and distinct missions — the Center for Responsive Politics tracks money in politics, MapLight correlates donations to politicians with how those politicians vote, the Drug Policy Alliance works toward ending the War On Drugs — but they’re not out pimping some candidate or politician.

[6] Several of the prominent Soros-funded orgs, for example, strongly oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and seek to overturn it; the ACLU, which last year received the largest single grand in its history from Soros’s Open Society Foundations, is one of the most prominent supporters of that ruling in the U.S.

[7] The notion that Soros is out to wipe out freedom is interesting, given that one of the MRC’s big gripes, as expressed by Gainor and Somberg, is that “the Soros network is laughably left-wing: pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-gay marriage, pro-drug legalization, pro-union,” etc. — in a phrase, pro-freedom. Something that makes the MRC laugh. Soros has a curious way of going about eradicating democracy as well–he spends several times more on democracy-promotion than the U.S. government’s own National Endowment for Democracy.

[Note: This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog dedicated to a critique of the Media Research Center]

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