Politics

Ric Grenell’s war against the media

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer

If you’re a journalist, Ric Grenell is watching you.

He’s watching and evaluating you. And if he thinks you’re biased — which he probably does — you have a good shot of being scolded by him on Twitter.

There’s no use fighting back, because Grenell is relentless. He’ll bombard you. He’ll outlast you. That’s why the insider Washington press blog FishbowlDC named Grenell the number one journalist you don’t want to fight on Twitter, calling him the “Mike Tyson” of the social media network.

Whether Grenell, 46, is even a journalist is contestable — he may, perhaps, be considered an opinion journalist. But for most of his career, Grenell worked as a spokesperson for various politicians and campaigns. He started his career on the Bush-Quayle presidential campaign in 1992 working on coalitions, and later moved on to work on Capitol Hill as a spokesman for Republican Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. He also worked as a spokesman for New York Gov. George Pataki, the mayor of San Diego and John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

After President George W. Bush won election in 2000, Grenell was appointed spokesman for America’s ambassador to the UN — with the help, he says, of his friend and Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher. Grenell would stay at the UN for the entirety of President Bush’s two terms, serving as spokesman for each of America’s four UN ambassadors over that period.

“I had never served in the military, so this was my time to serve my country,” Grenell told The Daily Caller.

After Bush departed the White House for Crawford, Grenell departed for Los Angeles, where he started a communications firm, Capital Media Partners. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he served briefly as a national security spokesman on Mitt Romney’s campaign before resigning amid criticism from some social conservatives over the fact that he was gay. He also took some grief from the left for his past history of colorful tweeting, some of which he tried to delete after joining the campaign.

“The far right didn’t like the fact that I was gay and the far left didn’t like the fact that I was conservative,” Grenell said, explaining the controversy.

But Grenell — who describes himself as a “consistent conservative” who is “consistently for smaller government and personal responsibility” —  has perhaps become most prominent in his crusade against media bias. On Twitter and on Fox News, where he was recently named a contributor, Grenell hammers away at what he perceives as a liberal mainstream media.

“I feel like my fight is against reporters who are advocates but erroneously assume that they’re unbiased,” Grenell said in an extensive interview with TheDC. “The most dangerous reporter is the one that thinks that they’re unbiased. And that in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But I do think that editors have a responsibility and consumers have a responsibility to get multiple news sources. Editors have a responsibility to get a balanced news coverage.”

Grenell said there are a lot of reporters who “just love being on the front page and so they really will do what they have to do to get on the front page.”

“And we all know who those reporters are,” he continued. “In the newsroom, people are always rolling their eyes at somebody who makes a headline out of really nothing or makes an anonymous quote from some lower-level press aide a major policy shift. And so we all know those reporters who just wanna be on the front page and I think we put them in the category of just egocentric reporters.”

As an example , Grenell named New York Times foreign policy reporter David Sanger as the prototypical “egocentric reporter.” He also laid into Politico’s Dylan Byers for being an “advocacy reporter” who “only reports on Republicans and, you know, pro-liberal issues.”

In fact, Grenell isn’t big on Politico generally.

“Politico today is not even carrying the facts,” he said, speaking on Monday. “Here’s a news outlet that bills itself as being all things politics and the woman who was the supervisor for targeting IRS agents, for targeting conservatives with her IRS agents, gave $4,000 to the Obama campaign. And that’s not in the newspaper today. I mean, you know, it’s a little bit silly.”

Buzzfeed reporters have also been frequent objects of Grenell’s scorn, particularly on Twitter. Grenell says that while he likes Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith and thinks Smith is a “muckraker,” he’s not a big fan of his “left-leaning reporters.”

“[The] problem is that he has just hired too many left-leaning reporters and is too sunk into the social fabric of Washington and New York, that again you’re asking somebody like Ben Smith, if he was going to just do straight traditional journalism, to give up his business model and, you know, you got to take that into consideration, that somebody like Ben is a business guy just as much as he is a journalist,” said Grenell. “They are complicated issues when you think about what editors have to balance because they are looking now at pay-for-click rates because the guy above them is saying, you know, ‘it doesn’t matter how a great a story it is, if nobody’s looking at it, we’re not going to be able to keep the reporter.'”

Even CNN’s Jake Tapper, who has been widely praised by conservatives for being a rare voice of fairness in a sea Obama administration bootlicking, doesn’t pass muster for Grenell.

“I’m not in the camp where I think that Jake is one hundred percent balanced all the time,” Grenell said.

“I will say this about Jake: when I dealt with him in the Bush administration, I felt like he was really hard on us, during the Bush administration, and while I see him be tough on the Obama administration, I can’t say that he’s as consistently tough on the Obama administration as like he was on the Bush administration.”

Neither Politico’s Dylan Byers nor the publication’s editor-in-chief, John Harris, returned TheDC’s request for comment about Grenell and his criticism of Politico. Tapper declined to comment through a CNN spokesman as well.

The New York Times’ Sanger told TheDC that he is “happy to let the readers of the Times and nytimes.com judge the quality of my reporting.”

As for Buzzfeed’s Smith, he said he rejects Grenell’s criticism of him and his organization, but said he admires Grenell and takes his opinions seriously.

“Ric is usually wrong about me and about BuzzFeed — we don’t, for instance, work on a ‘pay per click’ (aka CPM) model — but I’m always interested in what he has to say about pretty much everything else,” Smith told TheDC in an email. “I admire in particular his willingness to poke at Washington’s sacred cows. He’s also got a depth of knowledge he picked up from his years in the State Department and in Washington that you underestimate at your peril.”

Grenell isn’t all sticks and stones. He says National Public Radio’s Deborah Amos is “amazing” and “a true journalist.” He speaks highly of veteran Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer. He calls CNN’s Erin Burnett “fearless.” And perhaps most surprisingly, considering the criticism from conservatives she received for the way she moderated the second presidential debate in 2012, he thinks CNN’s Candy Crowley “is pretty good.”

“I know that’s not always the sentiment, especially from the Romney campaign and the folks up there,” he said, speaking of Crowley. “I definitely think Candy slipped up during the debate, but I’ve always felt like Candy was, somebody who was, a tough journalist.”

Recently — he won’t say exactly when — Grenell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. While he says his prognosis is good since it was caught early, he faces several more “rough rounds of chemo.”

But neither his illness nor the chemo has deterred him from his media bias crusade. On Saturday he appeared on Fox News Watch, Fox’s media evaluation show where he is a regular, to spew hellfire against those who failed to live up to his standard of journalistic professionalism in the previous week. And he did it with no hair, a consequence of his chemotherapy.

His Twitter output has also not diminished. On Monday he attacked via Twitter the Los Angeles Times (twice), the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, Politico’s Alexander Burns (four times), Politico’s Maggie Haberman (three times), MSNBC (twice), Politico generally once and the New York Times.

On Tuesday, he went after CBS, NBC, the New York Times, PBS’s Charlie Rose, CBS’s Major Garett, CBS’s Elizabeth Palmer, CBS’s Scott Pelley (four times), NBC’s Mark Murray and the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein.

In other words, he’s not letting up. His fight against the “left-leaning social circuit between New York and Washington” that he believes journalism has largely become goes on.

Once you get the advocacy journalists in a room I think then you have the problem of, since they all know each other and many of them are married to each other and they socialize in Washington, then you really have this problem of peeling away their social standings in order to do good journalism,” he explained. “[T]o really be truthful about another colleague’s story, you’re asking them to go up against their social standing in Washington.”

“They’re not going to get invited to parties and it’s really a domino effect of their reputation,” he continued. “And so many of these reporters just like the game and are very comfortable in where media has gone to at this point, which is kind of a left-leaning social circuit between New York and Washington.”

It is the American people, Grenell says, who ultimately get screwed.

“Meanwhile the American public is left to look at the news stories that are coming out, the faux news stories, and they’re left to think, ‘Are these true?’ And many Americans think, because they’re too busy, they assume the stories are true,” he lamented.

With that, you get a greater insight into Grenell’s relentless war. He’s fighting what he perceives as media bias not for himself, but on behalf of the American people, who he believes often know not what they read.

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