- Self-described “progressive” media “monitor” that tracks “conservative misinformation”
- A creation of Democratic Party funders and ofperatives, and of former conservative writer David Brock
- Dictates the content of many mainstream media reports
- Smears conservatives as liars and racists
- Contends that conservatives dominate the mainstream media
- Is funded and supported by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros
- Has regular contact and strategy sessions with political operatives inside the Obama White House
- Has collaborated with Attorney General Eric Holder's office in an effort to discredit and suppress news stories about scandals plaguing the Justice Department
Established in May 2004, Media Matters for America describes itself as a “web-based, not-for-profit … progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation” in print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets across the United States. Such “misinformation” includes “news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda.” Moreover, Media Matters is a constituent member of the Shadow Party, which is a network of non-profit activist groups organized by George Soros and others to mobilize resources — money, get-out-the-vote drives, campaign advertising, and policy initatives — to advance Democratic Party agendas.
Using its website, MediaMatters.org, as its principal vehicle for disseminating information, Media Matters posts rapid-response items as well as longer research and analytical reports “documenting conservative misinformation throughout the media.” In its earlier years, Media Matters highlighted such “misinformation” directly alongside what it depicted as examples of wild, angry rhetoric by conservatives. By so doing, it blurred the distinction between research and opinion. Eventually the organization recognized this error and began to list factual challenges in a designated Research section, while attacks on conservative rhetoric were relegated to the Media Matters Blog.
Influence on the Mainstream and Left-wing Media
In addition to its website postings, Media Matters “works daily to notify activists, journalists, pundits, and the general public about instances of misinformation, providing them with the resources to rebut false claims and to take direct action against offending media institutions.” As the Capital Research Center reports, Media Matters “works in conjunction with liberal blogs, using sympathetic reporters and pundits to promote far-left messages to the mainstream media and to attempt to force right-leaning media figures out of the public debate.”
In February 2012 Media Matters was the subject of a damning exposé by Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller, which revealed the extent to which the organization had become successful in dictating the content of left-liberal media reports. As documented by the Caller, newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times all took their editorial cues from Media Matters’ talking points.
The Caller further reported that by 2008, “Media Matters staff had the direct line of [cable television station] MSNBC president Phil Griffin, and used it. Griffin took their calls.” According to one Media Matters source: “If we published something about Fox in the morning, they’d [MSNBC] have it on the air that night verbatim.” “We were pretty much writing their [MSNBC’s] prime time,” added a former Media Matters employee. “But then, virtually all the mainstream media was using our stuff.”
Left-wing bloggers were likewise eager to serve as mouthpieces for Media Matters. “The entire progressive blogosphere picked up our stuff,” said a source for the organization, “from Daily Kos to Salon.” Media Matters considered Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent a particularly reliable dump for its content. As one source told the Daily Caller, “If you can’t get it [printed] anywhere else, Greg Sargent’s always game.” Along the same lines, a former Media Matters staffer recalls:
“The HuffPo guys were good, Sam Stein and Nico [Pitney]. The people at Huffington Post were always eager to cooperate, which is no surprise given David’s [a reference to Media Matters founder David Brock] long history with Arianna [Huffington]. Jim Rainey at the LA Times took a lot of our stuff. So did Joe Garofoli at the San Francisco Chronicle. We’ve pushed stories to Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne [at the Washington Post]. Brian Stelter at the New York Times was helpful…. Ben Smith [formerly of Politico] will take stories and write what you want him to write.”
Modus Operandi: Characterize Conservatives as Liars and Racists
Media Matters has cultivated a well-earned reputation for portraying honest differences of opinion by conservatives as lies, smears, and even evidence of “racism.” According to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, “They are vicious. They only understand one thing: attack, attack, attack.” David Folkenflik, media reporter for National Public Radio, said: “They’re looking at every dangling participle, every dependent clause, every semicolon, every quotation to see if there’s some way it unfairly frames a cause, a party, a candidate that they may have some feelings for.” And a Capital Research Center analysis states that Media Matters, in its effort to “stigmatize and marginalize conservative ideas,” “will typically isolate a small facet of a media story that can be twisted in such a way that suggests that the reporter or commentator is a liar or hypocrite. That tidbit is then used to suggest that everything the original source says must be false and deserving of censure.”
Intimidating Journalists Whose Reporting Is Unacceptable to Media Matters
One Media Matters source explains that when that organization focuses critical attention to certain journalists, they are intimidated into silence: “If you hit a reporter, say a beat reporter at a regional newspaper, all of a sudden they’d get a thousand hostile emails [in response to the criticism from Media Matters]. Sometimes they’d melt down. It had a real effect on reporters who weren’t used to that kind of scrutiny.”
Founder David Brock and Other Early Notables
In launching its aggressive attacks against conservatives, Media Matters takes its cues from its founder and CEO, the self-described former “right-wing hit man” turned leftist, David Brock. A reporter for the conservative magazine The American Spectator in the 1990s, Brock subsequently underwent a political epiphany, renouncing his past writings, which were critical of liberal figures such as Anita Hill and President Bill Clinton, as a confection of lies and slanders.
In Brock’s present judgment, the mainstream media have fallen under the sway of conservative ideology, thus explaining, in Brock’s view, the many discussions about “liberal bias” in prominent media outlets. “The right wing in this country has dominated the debate over liberal bias,” Brock says. “By dominating that debate, my belief is they’ve moved the media itself to the right and therefore they’ve moved American politics to the right.” Hence the supposed need for Media Matters: “I wanted to create an institution to combat what they’re doing.” The sense of urgency with which Brock approaches this task is amplified by the low regard he has for conservatives, whom he describes as people who “are simply willing to lie.”
In his 2004 book, The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy, Brock claimed that the “most important sectors of the political media—most of cable TV news, the majority of popular op-ed columns, almost all of talk radio, a substantial chunk of the book market, and many of the most highly trafficked Web sites”—provided a “structural advantage for the GOP and conservatism.” During a February 2005 talk at the Center for American Progress, Brock articulated a similar theme: “We have seen the mainstream media increasingly accommodating conservatism and this is not an accident. This is the result of coordinated and financed effort by the right wing to pressure, push and bully the media to do that. The media today is a political issue. I believe it is conservatives that have politicized it.”
When Brock applied for tax-exempt status for Media Matters, he told the IRS, in writing, precisely whom the targets of his organization would be:
“Media Matters for America (MMA) believes that news reporting and analysis by the American media, with its eye on profit margin and preservation of the status quo, has become biased. It is common for news and commentary by the press to present viewpoints that tend to overly promote corporate interests, the rights of the wealthy, and a conservative, Christian-influenced ideology.”
Prior to founding Media Matters, Brock consulted with a number of leading Democratic Party figures, including Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator Tom Daschle and former Vice President Al Gore. He also pitched his idea to potential liberal-left funders, a number of whom promptly lined up to bankroll his cause. The fledgling Media Matters received more than $2 million in seed donations from a roster of affluent donors including Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of the fashion company Esprit and a close ally of Senator Hillary Clinton; New York psychologist and philanthropist Gail Furman; Leo Hindery Jr., a former cable magnate; James Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist who nearly served as ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration; Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Corporation and a longtime consort of billionaire financier George Soros; and Bren Simon, a Democratic activist and the wife of shopping-mall developer Mel Simon. “It [Brock’s presentation] just made so much sense to me,” Buell would later recall. “All this garbage that’s coming out of the Right is like the worst contamination of this country…. He brought so much understanding of what goes on over there. He’s very articulate, and very, very bright.”
Also standing behind Brock was John Podesta, a former chief of staff in the Clinton administration and the head of the progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress. In 2004 Podesta provided Brock with office space for his new enterprise. Hillary Clinton played a key supporting role as well; she would later (in 2007) tell a YearlyKos convention of left-wing bloggers that she had “helped to start and support” Media Matters.
More than a few of the fledgling organization’s staffers were Democratic operatives. Among these were Katie Barge, Media Matters’ director of research, who had formerly presided over opposition research for Senator John Edwards‘ unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign; Brock’s personal assistant, Mandy Vlasz, a Democratic pollster and a veteran consultant to Democratic campaigns, including the 2000 Gore/Lieberman presidential ticket; and Media Matters’ chief communications strategist Dennis Yedwab, who was also director of strategic resources at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Another notable figure at Media Matters was senior fellow Eric Boehlert, who remains with the organization to this day. Boehlert was among the most passionate defenders of University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian when the latter was accused of having been a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist operative. In a January 2002 article titled “The Prime-time Smearing of Sami Al-Arian,” Boehlert charged that: “In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all four media giants, eagerly tapping into the country’s mood of vengeance and fear, latched onto the Al-Arian story, fudging the facts and ignoring the most rudimentary tenets of journalism in their haste to better tell a sinister story about lurking Middle Eastern dangers here at home.”
Continued Emphasis on Conservative Domination of the Media
The theme of conservative supremacy in the media remained a major focus of Media Matters as the organization continued to burnish its credentials as a critical watchdog of the political right. In September 2006, Media Matters became the sponsor of Altercation—the media, politics, and culture blog of Eric Alterman—who likewise contends that the American media skew heavily toward conservatism. Media Matters’ senior advisor Jamison Foser wrote on May 26, 2006: “The defining issue of our time is the media…. The dominant political force of our time is the media. Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways—and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives.”
On February 14, 2006, Media Matters released a study of more than 7,000 guest appearances on the major Sunday television news programs—ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press—from 1997 through 2005. “The conclusion is clear,” said Media Matters. “Republicans and conservatives have been offered more opportunities to appear on the Sunday shows—in some cases, dramatifcally so.” To read the full report, click here.
Seven weeks later, Media Matters released another report, this time examining the roster of guests who had appeared on those same news programs more recently, from January through March of 2006. “Republican and conservative dominance continued unabated,” said the report, “as those from the right outnumbered Democrats and their progressive compatriots. Overall, there were 75 appearances by Republicans/conservatives during this time period, but only 50 by Democrats/progressives.” Moreover: “[T]he Sunday shows feature panel discussions comprising conservative journalists and opinion writers ‘balanced’ by reporters for mainstream news outlets—with no progressive journalist.”
On September 12, 2007, Media Matters released a study of 201 syndicated political columnists whose writings were carried regularly by 1,377 U.S. newspapers. According to Media Matters, “in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts.” John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, responded to that claim as follows:
“The Media Matters study … found that the top 10 conservative columnists exceed the top 10 liberals by 20 million readers. In this case, however, numbers can be highly deceptive. A column in a major newspaper—especially one read widely by political leaders and other media—can have far more impact than one published in 100 small-town papers. The study clearly showed that the conservative imbalance was most pronounced in the tiniest newspapers…. Also, the study’s pigeonholing of columnists as ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’ or ‘centrist’ misses the essence of the craft…. Anyone who has read Patrick Buchanan’s searing critiques of the war in Iraq would know the peril of lumping all of his columns in the “conservative” category.”
A June 2007 Media Matters report, titled The Progressive Majority: Why A Conservative America Is a Myth, asserted that the “conventional wisdom” which “says that the American public is fundamentally conservative,” is “fundamentally false.” “Americans are progressive across a wide range of controversial issues, and they’re growing more progressive all the time,” the researchers stated.
Targets of Media Matters
From its earliest days, Media Matters aggressively targeted individuals and groups that did not share its left-wing political orientation. For instance, in 2004 the organization tried to persuade chain book retailers to ban sales of Unfit for Command—a book critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Toward that end, Media Matters launched a month-long assault against Unfit for Command and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group responsible for the book. The Media Matters website featured a host of denunciatory articles that attempted to discredit the Swift Boaters as Republican shills and liars.
Driving Media Matters’ fusillades against the Swift Boat Veterans was its partisan support for Senator Kerry. Even as it stressed that “honest scrutiny of [Kerry’s] record might be ‘fair game,’” Media Matters spent the months leading up to the 2004 presidential campaign dismissing conservative criticisms of Kerry as nothing more than “distortions.” To take one example, Kerry’s critics disproved his claims that he had spent Christmas of 1968 “sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia.” Rather than making a concession to this reality—which was generally conceded—Media Matters portrayed all attacks on Kerry’s record as “unfounded, contradictory, and discredited.” The Tides Foundation, meanwhile, gave Media Matters $100,000 in 2004 for what it described as the latter’s “voter education” efforts.
Media Matters also waged a negative-publicity campaign against the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a Republican-leaning media outlet that broadcast the documentary film Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal on its 62 stations during the 2004 election cycle. Stolen Honor featured the testimony of former POWs in Vietnam who asserted that the cruelties to which their captors had subjected them during the war were exacerbated by the anti-war posturing in which John Kerry engaged after completing his tour of duty. When some of Sinclair’s largest advertisers subsequently pulled their ads from the company’s programming, Media Matters took “partial” credit for that outcome.
Media Matters has long nursed a special contempt for the conservative, nationally syndicated talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh. In the aftermath of the initial revelations of prisoner-abuse that had occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Limbaugh likened the antics of the guilty U.S. soldiers to fraternity initiations where the perpetrators were merely “blowing off steam.” Media Matters responded quickly, launching an anti-Limbaugh campaign that included expenditures of $100,000 to broadcast ads denouncing the broadcaster on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and ESPN. David Brock personally wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, asking that Limbaugh’s program be removed from the American Forces Radio and Television Service. Brock claimed that Limbaugh had “condoned torture,” and that his program “divides rather than unites Americans.”
In June 2005 Media Matters again excoriated Limbaugh, this time for his opinion on the so-called Downing Street memo, which accused the Bush administration of manipulating evidence and otherwise fudging facts in order to promulgate its policies. “Limbaugh baselessly suggested Downing Street memo ‘may be a fake,’” read a Media Matters headline. Yet, as Media Matters was forced to acknowledge in the compass of its attack, Limbaugh’s remarks, far from being “baseless,” were actually derived from a report that had appeared in the Associated Press.
In 2007 Media Matters falsely claimed that Limbaugh had characterized anti-war Iraq veterans as “phony soldiers.” In fact, Limbaugh was referring only to left-wing activists who fabricated military credentials in order to lend an air of perceived authority to their anti-war arguments. Media Matters, however, edited out the full context of Limbaugh’s remarks and emailed a doctored transcript to liberal-left journalists nationwide. Once the actual transcript became available, the controversy ended.
In 2007 as well, veteran broadcaster Don Imus also felt the wrath of Media Matters. Though not a conservative by any means, Imus had long been in Media Matters’ crosshairs because of his repeated, harsh criticisms of Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton was a particular favorite of David Brock and his watchdog group, which not only had been building a dossier on Imus for some time, but had assigned a young, Washington, DC-based researcher named Ryan Chiachiere to monitor Imus’s program on a daily basis. On April 4, 2007, Chiachiere heard the shock-jock refer to black players on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes” and promptly posted a 775-word blog, along with a video clip of the offending comments, on the Media Matters website; in addition, Media Matters swiftly dispatched a news release about the incident to hundreds of reporters nationwide. It also notified organizations like the NAACP, the National Association of Black Journalists, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, all of which joined the anti-Imus campaign. The Daily Caller reports what happened next: “Over the course of a week, Media Matters mobilized more than 50 people to work full-time adding fuel to the Imus story. Researchers searched the massive Media Matters database for controversial statements Imus had made over the years. The group issued press release after press release. Brock personally called the heads of various liberal activist groups to coordinate a message. By the end of the week, Imus was fired.”
When Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News distinguished herself as one of the few mainstream media reporters willing to investigate the Obama administration’s false claims regarding the genesis of the infamous September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Media Matters condemned Attkisson for her “shoddy reporting.”
Training Program for Left-wing Media Pundits_
In August 2009, Media Matters launched its Progressive Talent Initiative (PTI), a boot camp designed to train progressive pundits to maximize their effectiveness at articulating their positions during media appearances. David Brock conceived of PTI as a means of further countering what he perceives as the “chronic imbalance” favoring conservatives in the media, and as a way to “professionalize the training and booking” of media spokespeople for the left. During its first 19 months, PTI trained nearly 100 pundits who appeared some 800 times on television and radio.
Media Matters’ Ties to George Soros, and the “War on Fox”
From its inception, Media Matters was careful to obscure the financial ties it had to the controversial billionaire financier/philanthropist George Soros. But in March 2003, the Cybercast News Service (CNS) detailed the copious links between Media Matters and several Soros “affiliates”—among them the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, and Peter Lewis. Confronted with this story, a spokesman for Media Matters explained that his organization “has never received funding directly from George Soros” (emphasis added), a transparent evasion. Nor were the groups cited by CNS the only connection between Media Matters and Soros. As investigative journalist Byron York noted, another Soros affiliate that bankrolled Media Matters was the New Democratic Network. In addition, Soros was a central figure in the Democracy Alliance, which news reports identified as yet another major benefactor of Media Matters. To summarize, Soros and his Open Society Institute poured millions of dollars into the coffers of groups like the Center for American Progress, the Democracy Alliance, MoveOn, and the New Democratic Network. In turn, these organizations funneled some of that money to Media Matters.
In October 2010 Soros decided to stop concealing his ties to Media Matters, when he openly announced that he was donating $1 million to the organization—money that would be used to hold “Fox [News] host Glenn Beck and others on the cable news channel accountable for their reporting.” Said Soros:
“Despite repeated assertions to the contrary by various Fox News commentators, I have not to date been a funder of Media Matters. However, in view of recent evidence suggesting that the incendiary rhetoric of Fox News hosts may incite violence, I have now decided to support the organization. Media Matters is one of the few groups that attempts to hold Fox News accountable for the false and misleading information they so often broadcast. I am supporting Media Matters in an effort to more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse in our democracy.”
David Brock, for his part, confirmed that Beck would now be Media Matters’ chief target:
“From the moment in early 2009 that Roger Ailes enlisted Glenn Beck to the Fox News Channel’s new agenda—a battle to overturn the 2008 election results that Ailes likened to the ‘The Alamo’—Fox has transformed itself into a 24-7 GOP attack machine, dividing Americans through fear-mongering and falsehoods and undermining the legitimacy of our government for partisan political ends. Worse still, in recent months, Fox has allowed Glenn Beck’s show to become an out-of-control vehicle for the potential incitement of domestic terrorism. No American should be quiet about these developments—the degradation of our media and the reckless endangerment of innocent lives.”
In March 2011, Politico.com reported that Media Matters had “all but abandoned its monitoring of newspapers and other television networks,” preparing instead to wage “what its founder, David Brock, described … as an all-out campaign of ‘guerrilla warfare and sabotage’ aimed at the Fox News Channel [FNC] … and a handful of conservative websites, which its leaders view as political organizations and the ‘nerve center’ of the conservative movement.” Brock explained that whereas previously “[t]he strategy that we had had toward Fox was basically a strategy of containment”—i.e., challenging FNC’s factual claims and trying to keep them out of the mainstream media—the new strategy would be an unrestrained “war on Fox.”
In that “war” effort, said Politico, Media Matters: (a) was “assembling opposition research files not only on Fox’s top executives but on a series of midlevel officials”; (b) had “hired an activist who has led a successful campaign to press advertisers to avoid Glenn Beck’s show”; (c) was “assembling a legal team to help people who have clashed with Fox to file lawsuits for defamation, invasion of privacy or other causes”; (d) had “hired two experienced reporters … to dig into Fox’s operation to help assemble a book on the network”; (e) was planning, in collaboration with an executive from MoveOn.org, “to run a broad campaign against Fox’s parent company, News Corp.”; and (f) planned to “disrupt [the] commercial interests” of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.
According to the Daily Caller, Brock’s animus against Fox was so extreme that Media Matters considered harassing individual Fox News employees at their homes, hiring private investigators to look into their private lives, and hiring a law firm to pursue lawsuits against the network. In February 2012, Brock and co-author Ari Rabin-Havt released a book titled _The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.
_In 2014 Media Matters came to the defense of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, a key architect of Obamacare, when newly uncovered videos showed Gruber boasting that he and congressional Democrats had knowingly and repeatedly lied about key aspects of the health-care legislation so as to deceive American voters who were “too stupid” to realize what was happening. When Fox News explored the scandal in depth, headlines and stories on the Media Matters website derided Fox for “dishonestly” conducting a “fraudulent media campaign” to promote a “manufactured … scandal.”
When IRS officials in 2014 claimed to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of key emails containing evidence that the agency had unjustifiably delayed or denied the processing of applications for tax-exempt status by hundreds of conservative organizations during 2010-12, a Media Matters report charged that “Fox News personalities baselessly accused the Obama administration of engaging in a cover-up following reports that the IRS lost emails connected to the alleged targeting of organizations seeking tax-exempt status, ignoring the fact that government agencies regularly lose emails due to antiquated computer systems and policies.”
Expenditures Designed to Influence 2012 Elections
Also in early 2012, as the presidential election season was gearing up, Media Matters was planning to spend $20 million—double the organization’s reported $10 million annual budget—on efforts to influence media coverage prior to the election.
Ties to Al Jazeera
In contrast to its “war on Fox News,” Media Matters has had some notable friendly ties to Al Jazeera, the anti-American, Qatar-based Arabic television station and satellite network. For example, in March 2012 it was reported that M.J. Rosenberg, a senior foreign-policy fellow at the Media Matters Action Network (a sister site to Media Matters), had a profile on Al Jazeera’s website, where his articles attacking Israel and the United States regularly appeared. As told by the Daily Caller, Rosenberg represented Media Matters at the first Al Jazeera “Unplugged” forum on social media in Qatar in May 2010. At that event, he praised Al Jazeera as a “mainstream network” and a “factual” source, while attacking Fox News as a “very, very dangerous force in the United States.” Rosenberg also charged that Al Jazeera had been “bombed by orders of the United States government.” That same year, Al Jazeera’s then-director general, Wadah Khanfar, visited Media Matters’ offices in Washington, where he met with David Brock and the organization’s president, Eric Burns.
Media Matters and Israel
In December 2011, the aforementioned M.J. Rosenberg ignited controversy when he referred to supporters of Israel as “Israel firsters.” The use of that term, which implied loyalties to Israel first and America second, was widely panned by the Jewish community and by newspapers like the Washington Post. But neither Rosenberg nor Media Matters disavowed the slur.
According to Breitbart.com journalist Ben Shapiro, Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert “once downplayed genocidal anti-Semitism, routinely suggests that media coverage is too pro-Israel thanks to intimidation by nefarious forces …, and defended terrorist professor Sami Al-Arian.”
Another Media Matters figure, research fellow Oliver Willis, has accused Israel of “playing games with American lives” by building settlements on lands occupied by the Jewish state during the 1967 Six-Day War. Further, Willis writes that he “can’t wait for the day when we can tell both sides [of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict] to go to hell”; that “the Democratic Party will be at its best” only after pro-Israel, AIPAC-affiliated liberals are “marginalized”; and that conservatives consistently attack “everyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with Israel.”
Media Matters’ Influence on the Obama Administration
A February 2012 Daily Caller exposé revealed that Media Matters had “regular contact with political operatives” inside the Obama White House, in part through its weekly strategy calls with members of the administration. In June 2010, for instance, David Brock and Media Matters president Eric Burns met at the White House with Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett and the President’s former communications director, Anita Dunn, who had recently (in November 2009) stepped down from that post amid controversy. Dunn, for her part, parroted Media Matters’ claim that Fox News is “more a wing of the Republican Party” than a media outlet. When Fox News host Glenn Beck had accurately revealed, in 2009, Dunn’s self-professed admiration for Mao Zedong, Media Matters condemned the broadcaster for what it called his “ridiculous smear of Anita Dunn.”
In November 2014 the Obama White House nominated Matthew S. Butler, the former CEO and president of Media Matters, to serve as a commissioner on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). As Heritage Foundation scholar Hans von Spakovsky writes: “The EAC serves as a national clearinghouse and resource for information about the best practices in election administration. It is also responsible for the accreditation of testing laboratories and the certification, decertification, and recertification of voting systems, like the electronic voting machines many people use when they vote in their precincts.”
Collaborating with NOW, Against Rush Limbaugh
In early May 2012, Media Matters and the National Organization for Women held a secret, narrowly focused strategy session to brainstorm ways of getting the conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh off the air. According to Media Matters online outreach director Jay Carmona, the key would be to target Limbaugh’s advertisers in local radio markets. “[M]ost local station affiliates make the bulk of their profit off of these local advertising dollars,” said Carmona, “so targeting your local advertisers really is how you get those local stations to drop Rush.”
Collaborating with the Justice Department
On September 18, 2012, The Daily Caller reported that dozens of pages of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) emails (obtained via the Freedom of Information Act) showed that Media Matters had secretly collaborated with the communications staff of Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to discredit and suppress further news stories about scandals that were plaguing Holder and his agency. Among those scandals were DOJ’s infamous dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, and the role Holder and other DOJ officials may have played in Operation Fast and Furious.
For further details about these collaborations between Media Matters and DOJ, click here.
Media Matters’ collaboration with DOJ is significant because the former enjoys tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This not only exempts Media Matters from paying federal tax on its income, but also permits its donors to claim income-tax deductions for their contributions to the organization. However, 501(c)(3) status is typically reserved for groups that do not engage in partisan politicking, a criterion that Media Matters clearly does not meet.
Involvement in Gun-Related Felonies
In January 2013 the Daily Caller reported that former Media Matters staffer Haydn Price-Morris, who lacked a permit to carry a concealed firearm, had “committed numerous felonies in the District of Columbia and around the country” by carrying a fully loaded Glock handgun to protect David Brock during the latter’s travels. According to the Daily Caller, “multiple firearms used to protect the Media Matters founder were purchased with Brock’s blessing—and apparently with the group’s money.” Records show that the Glock was purchased with cash in Maryland, so as to prevent the transaction from appearing in the tax-exempt group’s financial books.
Stephen Halbrook, a D.C.-area attorney who had practiced gun law for more than 35 years, said that Price-Morris “could be looking at some substantial prison time because if we use the low-end felony sentence of five years, you could get five years for the non-registration, five for the carrying, and then [more for] the second offenses of the magazine being over 10 rounds and then the cartridges.” Halbrook also said that Brock himself could possibly be charged as “a conspirator, or maybe an aider or abettor of a crime.”
“Misinformer of the Year” Award
Media Matters annually presents a “Misinformer of the Year” award to the journalist, commentator, and/or network that was, by Media Matters’ reckoning, responsible for the most numerous and/or grievous inaccuracies. Past recipients include Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly (2004); MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (2005); ABC (2006); Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity (2008); Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck (2009); Fox News Channel’s Sarah Palin (2010); and Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation (2011).
Media Matters’ “Progressive Talent Initiative”
In 2009 Media Matters launched its Progressive Talent Initiative (PTI), a sort of boot camp/training ground for young progressives who wish to help push the media ever-more leftward. By December 2014, its graduates had appeared at least 800 times as commenters or interviewees on TV and radio. According to a Washington Post report: “Media Matters uses that metric to pitch donors for more contributions.”
Budget, Staffing, and Funding
As of early 2011, Media Matters had an annual budget exceeding $10 million and employed a staff of approximately 90 people.
From 2003 (a year before its formal incorporation) through 2011, Media Matters received more than $28.8 million in funding from some 120 organizations. Among these donors were the Arca Foundation, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Baytree Fund, the Bernard & Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Bohemian Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Carsey Family Foundation, the Dwoskin Family Foundation, the Dyson Foundation, the Edlis-Neeson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Gill Foundation, the Glaser Progress Foundation, the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, the H. Van Ameringen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the JEHT Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Lear Family Foundation, the Leland Fikes Foundation, the Lewis B. & Dorothy Cullman Foundation, the Lotus Foundation, Robert McKay‘s McKay Foundation, MoveOn.org Civic Action, the New York Community Trust, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Park Foundation, Peter Lewis‘s PBL Fund, the Pritzker Family Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Sagner Family Foundation, the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, the Schooner Foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund II.
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 Soros was referring to Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert’s assertion that Glenn Beck’s rhetoric had motivated a deranged gunman named Byron Williams, a multiple-felon who had twice been convicted for bank robbery, to aspire to kill employees at the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation and “start a revolution.” Williams, who engaged in a 12-minute shootout with police on a California freeway, never reached his destination (Tides), but he cited Beck, who had recently criticized the work of that Foundation, as his inspiration. Boehlert wrote that Beck “has routinely smeared the low-profile entity [Tides] for being staffed by ‘thugs’ and ‘bullies’ and [being] involved in ‘the nasty of the nastiest,’ like indoctrinating schoolchildren and creating a ‘mass organization to seize power.’” Boehlert added that “nobody knew” about Tides “until Glenn Beck started targeting it.” During the weeks that followed the Williams incident, Media Matters posted dozens of stories about the gunman, all of them mentioning the alleged influence of Glenn Beck.