The Current Crisis

Litigious American Bishops

Why target opponents of bias in the media?

By 1.11.06

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WASHINGTON -- Well, I have just lost an argument with Brent Bozell, head of that indispensable media monitor, the Media Research Center. MRC has for many years reviewed the daily media for liberal bias -- an onerous task that. Some of his young staffers after a week of taking in the blah from the networks, the major daily newspapers, and the newsmagazines are in danger of having suffered irreparable damage to their health. The eyes become bloodshot, the ears ring. The unfortunate young monitors develop that blank look that one sees on the faces of TV anchors, especially on cable news, after a day of reading the same news stories over and over. Through their brains the stories keep running on an endless audio feed: "In Baghdad today a bomb went off....The fires in the California foothills today threatened....And now that story about a cat in Cape Girardeau, Missouri that has been found living happily at the bottom of a pond."

The poor souls have these stories running interminably through their embattled cocos. At MRC they suffer from monitoring the liberal bilge. At CNN they suffer from iterating the bilge...and apparently believing it. At any rate, Bozell runs the whole operation, trying all the time to keep us aware of the extent of the liberal bias, a bias that is so thick that it is ceaselessly in danger of presenting as fact utter fantasy and occasionally utter hysteria, for instance, the hysteria over the NSA, eavesdropping on "American citizens," who incidentally might be plotting terror with Islamofascists to blow up another choice piece of American real estate.

Bozell, lifting a figure of speech from H.L. Mencken, believes that the epitome of smugness is the smugness of an "archbishop" -- Mencken's term. I, being a devotee of America's art museums, believe that for smugness one can do no better than point to art curators. Listen to them purr of their achievements. Listen to the august tone they assume in pronouncing on a picture, a painter, Joseph R. McCarthy, Ronald W. Reagan, the glorious breakthrough Chris Ofili has made in his use of elephant manure on canvass. They are at their most insufferable when they are crooning on about their need for more government subsidies from the philistines on Capitol Hill or about "censorship in the arts." For my money, they really are a perfect replacement for Mencken's snooty bishops now that religion has been adjourned from the public square, notwithstanding the apprehensions of our worry-wart atheists.

Yet Bozell has found some snotty bishops who probably outdo any of Mencken's bishops (circa 1920) or any contemporary art curator, the American Roman Catholic bishops. From their battlements at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops they have been wagging a pettifoggers' war with MRC over a nonsense at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to both and for nothing. MRC has a news service on the Internet, Cybercast News Service. It uses the name CNSNEWS.com and has been since 1998. Two years after it started, the bishops through their lawyers ordered MRC to cease and desist from using CNS in its name because the bishops' Catholic News Service had earlier used the letters.

MRC refused, noting that several other news organizations used the same letters, for instance, a Protestant group, Charisma News Service, the Cox News Service, the China News Service. Pick on them was Bozell's implicit challenge. Also Bozell discovered that the Catholic News Service never had the letters trademarked and believes they probably could not because of all the other organizations using these three letters. MRC proceeded to acquire its own trademark, "Cybercast News Service-CNSNews.com," along with a distinctive logo to distinguish itself from all the others. That did it. The bishops' lawyers commenced a legal battle that has run up until this very month. So far, Bozell has beaten them twice. They tried to get revoked the CNSNEWS.com trademark. That case was subsequently dismissed. The bishops then sued in federal court. That suit has also been thrown out. What next?

The bishops have not sued the Chinese or Cox, only MRC. Some around MRC think this is politics. Petty bureaucrats in the Conference of Catholic Bishops do not approve of Bozell's politics so they are going to harass him. I say it is just another example of the smugness of a group of men who have demonstrated colossal smugness for years. Their reluctance to respond when told for decades that there were priests in their parishes abusing young people is the most infamous example of the bishops' insularity. This stupid legal battle with MRC is another example, a pettier example.

All I know for sure is that MRC's media monitors continue to ferret out the bias, and the bishops continue to complain that they are sorely pressed to pay off their sexual abuse penalties. One way out might be for the bishops to end their nuisance lawsuits and apply the savings to more pressing problems. It is fortunate for both MRC and the bishops that the owners of the China News Service have yet to get into the act.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.