Media Matters for America

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Media Matters for America
FormationMay 3, 2004; 19 years ago (2004-05-03)
FounderDavid Brock
Founded atWashington, D.C., U.S.
Type501(c)(3) nonprofit
47-0928008
Purpose"Comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media"[1]
President
Angelo Carusone
AffiliationsAmerican Bridge 21st Century Super PAC, Media Matters Action Network (501(c)(4))
Revenue (2022)
$16.6M
Expenses (2022)$18.8M
Websitewww.mediamatters.org Edit this at Wikidata

Media Matters for America (MMfA) is a left-leaning[2] 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and media watchdog group.[3] It was founded in 2004 by journalist and political activist David Brock as a counterweight to the conservative Media Research Center.[4] It seeks to combat conservative misinformation and disinformation.[5] Two notable initiatives include the "Drop Fox" campaign (2011-2013) that sought to discredit Fox News' 'fair and balanced' claims;[6][7][8] and a 2023 report about X (formerly Twitter) that highlighted antisemitism on the platform. In addition to reports, the organization issues quick responses to conservative misinformation across a range of media outlets.[9]

Organization overview[edit]

Founding[edit]

Media Matters for America was founded in May 2004 by David Brock,[10] a former conservative journalist. Brock said that a central goal would be to monitor journalists and outlets for misleading conservative claims and then to point them out.[4] Brock argued that existing conservative monitoring groups had been doing this and pushing mainstream journalists, the media, and American politics, to the right as a result.[4] Brock founded the group with help from the Center for American Progress.[4]

Funding[edit]

In 2004, MMfA began with the help of $2 million in donations.[4][9] That year MMfA received the endorsement of the Democracy Alliance, a partnership of wealthy and politically active progressive donors. The Alliance itself does not fund endorsees, but many wealthy Alliance members acted on the endorsement and donated directly to MMfA.[11][12][13] In 2010, George Soros donated $1 million to MMfA citing concerns that the "incendiary rhetoric of Fox News hosts may incite violence."[14][15] During a 2014 CNN interview, David Brock stated that Soros' contributions were "less than 10 percent" of Media Matters' budget.[16][17] Media Matters has a policy of not comprehensively listing donors.[when?][citation needed]

Personnel[edit]

John Podesta, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, provided office space for Media Matters early in its formation at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank which Podesta established in 2002.[18] Hillary Clinton advised Media Matters in its early stages out of a belief that progressives should follow conservatives in forming think tanks and advocacy groups to support their political goals.[18][19] According to The New York Times, Media Matters "helped lay the groundwork" for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.[20]

Media Matters has hired several of the best known political professionals who have worked for Democratic politicians and for other progressive groups.[21][22] In 2004, National Review referred to MMfA staffers who had recently worked on the presidential campaigns of John Edwards and Wesley Clark, for Congressman Barney Frank, and for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.[21]

Eric E. Burns served as MMfA's president until 2011.[23] Burns was succeeded by Matt Butler, and then, in 2013, by Bradley Beychok.[24] In late 2016, Angelo Carusone replaced Bradley Beychok as MMfA's president. Under Carusone, the organization's focus has shifted toward focusing on the alt-right, conspiracy theories, and fake news.[25]

In 2014, the staff of Media Matters voted to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Initially, Media Matters management had declined to recognize the union through a card check process, instead exercising its right to force a union election which delayed the process until July when the vote went in favor of unionization.[26][27]

Initiatives[edit]

Early research[edit]

Media Matters analyzes American news sources including NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, OAN, Breitbart, the Fox News channel, and conservative talk radio. Its techniques include content analysis, fact checking, monitoring, and comparison of quotes or presentations from media figures to primary documents such as Pentagon or Government Accountability Office reports.[citation needed]

Beginning in 2006, Media Matters for America has released a number of studies which documented that Democrats and progressives are outnumbered by Republicans and conservatives in terms of guest appearances on television news programs.[28][better source needed]

On September 12, 2007, Media Matters released a comprehensive study of 1,377 U.S. newspapers and the 201 syndicated political columnists the papers carry on a regular basis. Media Matters said "in paper after paper, state after state, and region after region, conservative syndicated columnists get more space than their progressive counterparts."[29][better source needed] John Diaz, an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, cautioned that the small town columnists leaned significantly to the right, which he felt could explain the rightward slant in columnists even if the trend doesn't hold for papers with the largest readership.[30]

"Misinformer of the Year"[edit]

An annual feature on the Media Matters website is the title of "Misinformer of the Year", which is given to the journalist, commentator, or network that Media Matters contends was responsible for the most factual errors or claims. Past recipients include Rupert Murdoch,[31] Sean Hannity,[31] Glenn Beck,[31] Mark Zuckerberg,[31] and Steve Bannon.[32]

Progressive Talent Initiative[edit]

The initiative seeks to train mid-career liberal pundits in media skills like TV interviews using four-day bootcamps.[33][34]

Media Matters Action Network[edit]

David Brock established Media Matters Action Network, a 501(c)(4), to track conservative politicians and organizations.[35][when?]

In 2009, Media Matters Action Network launched the Conservative Transparency website, aimed at tracking the funding of conservative activist organizations.[36] Media Matters Action Network established the Political Correction project with the goal of holding conservative politicians and advocacy groups accountable.[37]

In December 2010, Media Matters Action Network started EqualityMatters.org, a site "in support of gay equality". At launch the site fully incorporated Media Matters's content on LGBT issues.[38] Designed to provide talking points for liberal activists and politicians, Brock set up the Message Matters project.[33] Media Matters runs the website DropFox.com and works to get advertisers to boycott Fox News. One target, Orbitz, initially referred to Media Matters' efforts as a "smear campaign",[39] but agreed, on June 9, 2011, following a three-week effort by prominent LGBT organizations, to "review the policies and process used to evaluate where advertising is placed".[40] In 2015, the formal Equality Matters program was deactivated and merged with the LGBT Program within Media Matters.

American Bridge 21st Century[edit]

Brock established American Bridge 21st Century as a super PAC focused on opposition research.[41][when?]

Don Imus[edit]

On April 4, 2007, Media Matters posted a video clip of Don Imus calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team members "nappy-headed hoes" and made their discovery known in Media Matters' daily e-mailing to hundreds of journalists. According to The Wall Street Journal, top news outlets didn't mention the incident until objections made to CBS Radio by the National Association of Black Journalists led to an on-the-air apology from Imus. MSNBC, calling Imus's comments "racist" and "abhorrent", suspended Imus' show, and within minutes, CBS suspended Imus's radio show. The Wall Street Journal said Imus's apology "seemed to make matters worse, with critics latching on to Mr. Imus's use of the phrase 'you people.'" Included among those dissatisfied with Imus's apology and suspension were the coach of the Rutgers team and a group of MSNBC African-American employees. After Procter & Gamble pulled advertising from all of MSNBC's daytime schedule, and other advertisers, including General Motors and American Express requested CBS to cancel any upcoming advertising they had bought for "Imus in the Morning", MSNBC and CBS dropped Imus's show.[42]

Rush Limbaugh "phony soldiers"[edit]

In September 2007, Media Matters reported on radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh saying Iraq War veterans opposed to the war were "the phony soldiers". Limbaugh later said he was speaking of only one soldier, Jesse MacBeth, who had falsely claimed to have been decorated for valor but had never seen combat. Limbaugh said he was the victim of a "smear" by Media Matters, which had taken out of context and selectively edited his comments. After Limbaugh published what he said was the entire transcript of phony soldiers discussion, Media Matters reported that over a minute and 30 seconds was omitted without "notation or ellipsis to indicate that there is, in fact, a break in the transcript."[43][44] Limbaugh told National Review that the gap between referring to "phony soldiers" and MacBeth was a delay because his staff printed out an ABC news story that reported on what it called "phony soldiers" and that his transcript and audio edits were "for space and relevance reasons, not to hide anything."[45]

The Associated Press, CNN, and ABC reported on the controversy,[46] as political satirist and fictional pundit Stephen Colbert lampooned Limbaugh and his defenders saying: "Hey, Media Matters, you want to end offensive speech? Then stop recording it for people who would be offended."[47]

Bill O'Reilly Harlem restaurant[edit]

In October 2007 television and radio host and commentator Bill O'Reilly said a Media Matters headline declaring "O'Reilly surprised 'there was no difference' between Harlem restaurant and other New York restaurants" took out of context comments he made regarding a pleasant dinner he shared with Al Sharpton at a Harlem restaurant.[48][49][50] O'Reilly said Media Matters misleadingly took comments spoken five minutes apart and presented them as one.[51] On NBC's Today, Media Matters senior fellow Paul Waldman said Media Matters had included "the full audio, the full transcript, nothing was taken out of context".[52]

Laura Schlessinger racial slur[edit]

On August 12, 2010, Media Matters reported that radio host Laura Schlessinger said the word "nigger" eleven times during a discussion with an African-American woman, although Schlessinger did not use the word as a slur. Schlessinger continued to say the word after the caller took offense, saying she thought the woman was being too sensitive and that a double standard was being used to determine who could say the word. Schlessinger also said that those "hypersensitive" about color should not "marry outside of their race". The caller had earlier in the discussion said her husband was white.[53][54] Schlessinger apologized for the epithet the day after the broadcast. A joint statement of Media Matters and other organizations noted that although Schlessinger "attempted to apologize for using the epithet, the racist diatribe on Tuesday's show extends far beyond the use of a single word" and urged advertisers to boycott her show. After General Motors, OnStar, and Motel 6 pulled their advertising, Schlessinger said she would not renew her syndication contract set to expire December 2010.[53][55] In January 2011, her show resumed on satellite radio.[56]

Schlessinger held Media Matters responsible for the boycott, which she called a typical tactic of the group to fulfill its "sole purpose of silencing people". She said the boycotts' "threat of attack on my advertisers and stations" had violated her First Amendment free speech rights.[57][58] Media Matters said that, as the boycott was not "government-sanctioned censorship", her First Amendment rights had not been violated.[59]

"Drop Fox" campaign[edit]

During an interview in March 2011, Brock said MMfA would focus its efforts on Fox News and select conservative websites in a new strategy that Brock described as a campaign of "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" and a "war on Fox."[6][60] MMfA said the greater attention given to Fox News was part of an initiative to educate the public about what it regarded as the distortions of conservative media, and the greater attention given to Fox News was in line with its prominence. MMfA said its Drop Fox initiative, for advertisers to boycott Fox, was also part of the organization's educational mission. MMfA said that changing Fox, not shutting it down, was its intention.[7]

In December 2013, MMfA Executive VP Angelo Carusone said "The war on Fox is over. And it's not just that it's over, but it was very successful. To a large extent, we won," claiming to have "effectively discredited the network's desire to be seen as 'fair and balanced.'" Around that time, Glenn Beck had departed the network and Sean Hannity's time slot was moved from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.[61] Other boycotts of cable news programs continued after the campaign, with PolitiFact suggesting that the boycotts are more successful in raising awareness than having an impact on the companies' bottom-line.[5]

Tucker Carlson audio recordings[edit]

In March 2019, MMfA released audio recordings of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, in which he made remarks demeaning to women between 2006 and 2011 on the call-in show hosted by shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. Among other comments, Carlson called rape shield laws "unfair", defended Mormon fundamentalist church leader Warren Jeffs, who had been charged of child sexual assault, and called women "extremely primitive". After Carlson's remarks had been widely reported, Carlson tweeted: "Media Matters caught me saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago" and declined to apologize.[62] The following day, MMfA released a second set of audio recordings in which Carlson referred to Iraqis as "semiliterate primitive monkeys" and said they "don't use toilet paper or forks." Carlson also suggested that immigrants to the U.S. should be "hot" or "really smart" and that white men "created civilization".[63]

The Daily Caller, which Carlson co-founded, responded by resurfacing blog posts made by MMfA's president Angelo Carusone. These blog posts included derogatory comments about transvestites, Jews, and people from Japan and Bangladesh. Carusone responded by saying that the posts were supposed to be a "caricature of what a right wing blowhard would sound like if he was living my life" and apologized for the "gross" remarks.[64][65][66][67]

Misinformation on social media[edit]

Media Matters analyzed Donald Trump's Facebook posts from 2020 and early 2021 and flagged 1/4 of them as containing misinformation or extremist rhetoric.[68][69]

Antisemitism on Twitter (X)[edit]

In November 2023, Media Matters published analysis indicating that advertisements of major firms such as IBM were being displayed on the social media platform Twitter next to user posts containing anti-Semitic content, including praise for Adolf Hitler and Nazis. Several prominent companies suspended their advertising on the platform in reaction to the study and to some of Musk's recent posts.[70][71][72]

X Corp. owner Elon Musk filed a suit in a Texas court alleging Media Matters defamed the platform with the intention of hurting its advertising revenues. According to the lawsuit, the group designed account interactions in order to obtain specific advertising placements. Media Matters called the complaint frivolous and an attempt to silence their reporting.[73][74][75] On the same day as the lawsuit was filed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opened an investigation into Media Matters for "potentially fraudulent activity", stating that his goal was "to ensure that the public has not been deceived by the schemes of radical left-wing organizations".[76][77] Media Matters filed suit against Paxton in federal court days later, alleging he had violated the First Amendment to chill the group's work and engaged in unlawful retaliation to punish the group.[78][79] In December 2023, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey opened a similar investigation into Media Matters.[80] Legal experts have criticized Musk's lawsuit, deeming it "frivolous" or "bogus", and saying that it contradicts the First Amendment.[81][82]

RealClearPolitics reported in December 2023 that Musk said to Alex Jones during a Twitter Spaces discussion:

Media Matters is an evil propaganda machine, so I am opposed to evil propaganda machines, so we are suing them in every country where they operate. And we will pursue, not just that organization, but anyone funding that organization. I want to be clear about that, anyone funding that organization. Media Matters is an evil propaganda machine. Media Matters can go to hell, and I hope they do.[83]

Reception[edit]

Columnists and writers such as Paul Krugman and the late Molly Ivins cited Media Matters or identified it as a helpful source.[84][85]

In 2008, columnist Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times quoted David Folkenflik of National Public Radio as telling him that although Media Matters has a partisan slant they were still a useful source for leads, partly due to their broad research. Steinberg said the right already had similar outlets looking for stories and feeding them to reporters, and that Media Matters has effectively filled a void on the left. He notes that some journalists like Stuart Rothenberg prefer non-partisan sources.[9] A 2010 opinion piece by "M. S." on the blog of The Economist magazine argued that it carries no weight with conservatives due to its mostly critiquing conservative outlets.[86]

Allegations of bias[edit]

In 2015, Emma Roller in The Atlantic described MMfA as part of Brock's "three-pronged empire", along with the super PACs American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record. In addition to Roller, Clio Chang and Alex Shephard critiqued the group for defending Hillary Clinton too much before and during her 2016 presidential bid.[87][88][89][90] They accused MMfA of lowering its research standards to defend Clinton.[89]

Ben Shapiro accused it of targeting those with opposing political views with boycotts.[91][92] Jon Levine claimed it ignored derogatory comments made by Joy Reid while focusing on comments made by Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.[93]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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