Media Matters for America
Media Matters for America (MMfA) is an IRS tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that purports to document supposed conservative media bias. Media Matters Action Network (MMAN) is the affiliated 501(c)(4) organization that is the advocacy arm of MMfA.
Media Matters original goal was to serve as a “fact-checker” that focused on conservative media programming. But in practice, the organization primarily criticizes the opinions of Rush Limbaugh and the hosts and guests of Fox News Channel. MMfA was particularly focused Glenn Beck and was credited with leading the campaign to remove the host from Fox News airwaves.
In 2004, Democratic political operative and journalist David Brock received $2 million from several rich progressives to start Media Matters, with the goal of “monitoring” conservative commentators and to note any factual errors that they present on their television and radio programs. There was also an expectation that the material could be used by liberal talk radio hosts to help fill air time. MMfA was developed with help from the Center for American Progress.
MMfA has left no question as to its goals: to end what it perceives as a conservative media bias in the mainstream press. In its original filing with the Internal Revenue Service to request tax-exempt status, Media Matters explained that it should be exempt as an educational institution. The problem, according to their application:
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.
MMA has been established to identify occurrences of excessive bias in the American media, educate the public as to their existence, and work with members of the media to reduce them in order to ensure that the public receives news coverage and information that is not only accurate but free from domination by a particular world view.
MMfA openly admits that it is only looking for conservative bias in the media. The group also explains its plans to make all of its materials readily available to be used by media outlets, and that it will critique as much of the mainstream, popular media as possible, giving minute details. In short, it would be an all-out-assault to take on what the group viewed as a serious problem.
Because MMFA is a non-profit organization, it is not required to disclose its donors, and it does not do so. However, some donors have self-disclosed, while others, such as foundations and labor unions, must make certain filings that discloses their funding of Media Matters and other similar groups.
MMfA’s funders range from labor unions to progressive foundations to liberal billionaires. From fiscal year 2009 to 2012, the National Education Association (NEA) has contributed $400,000 ($100,000 per year) to Media Matters. MMfA has received an additional $185,000 from other labor organizations since 2005, making labor unions some of the largest known contributors to Media Matters. MMfA has directly quoted these labor groups and has defended them against “attacks” from reporters and media personalities. MMfA did not disclose these donations in its reporting on labor unions.
MMfA has received nearly $30 million from foundations since it started. The Tides Foundation is the largest contributors to MMfA and MMAN, giving nearly $4.4 million. There are undoubtedly close ties between the organizations besides financial support. MMfA frequently reports on the critics of Tides, but fails to mention that the foundation is MMfA’s largest donor. The line between Tides and MMfA is so blurry that even donors appear to be confused. In 2003, prior to the official launch of MMfA, the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation even designated a $100,000 contribution to “Tides Foundation – Media Matters for America.”
Billionaire George Soros donated $1 million to Media Maters in October 2010. According to the New York Times, Soros donated the money to help MMfA respond to the “incendiary rhetoric” of Fox News Channel commentators and the Politico reported that the Soros-MMfA joint statement said:
“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.” [emphasis added]
In 2010, MMfA gave a $200,000 grant to Citizen Engagement Laboratory, the parent group of Van Jones’s Color of Change, to attack Glenn Beck and to “educate advertisers” on his program of his “racist rhetoric.”
A super PAC founded by MMfA founder David Brock, American Bridge 21st Century, became more active once MMAN slowed down its own activities (largely due to the anti-Semitism charges outlined below). The PAC received a $1 million contribution from George Soros in June 2012 and hundreds of thousands of dollars from labor unions.
Anti-Fox News Agenda
Memos obtained by the Daily Caller revealed that MMfA considered hiring private investigators to track Fox News employees:
“We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff,” he wrote.
After that, Frisch argued, should come the legal assault: “We should look into contracting with a major law firm to study any available legal actions that can be taken against Fox News, from a class action law suit to defamation claims for those wronged by the network. I imagine this would be difficult but the right law firm is bound to find some legal ground for us to take action against the network.”
The memo also suggested that MMfA produce a book to attack Fox. The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine was released in February 2012.
MMfA’s obsession with attacking Fox News has been criticized and pilloried from those on all ends of the political spectrum.
MMfA spent $100,000 in an ad campaign against Rush Limbaugh in 2012, urging the radio audience to call stations and criticize Limbaugh. It also led an effort to get advertisers to boycott Limbaugh’s radio program—a plan which ultimately failed.
When Ed Henry of CNN left the network and went to Fox News in 2011, MMfA, within hours of the announcement, published a hit piece on Henry. As John Hudson at The Atlantic reported, “the group’s rushed denunciation of Henry is a little silly” because the only other articles on Henry that year were actually to credit him for criticizing a Republican congressman and other Obama critics.
A Paranoid, Admitted Liar at the Helm
Media Matters for America is the culmination of a bizarre political transformation of reporter David Brock. Brock became popular in Washington while working for the conservative magazine American Spectator. He was praised for his reporting on the Anita Hill allegations against Clarence Thomas during the latter’s Supreme Court nomination hearing. Brock described Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” and further slammed her in his book The Real Anita Hill. Brock received even greater recognition in the early 1990s for his reporting on Troopergate, the scandal that led to the Paula Jones lawsuit, and eventually, to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Brock’s career drastically changed course after he was given a $1 million advance to write a biography on Hillary Clinton. Rather than breaking any news in his book, Brock produced a fluffy piece that was panned. Brock’s journalism career fell apart. After the book’s publication, he radically shifted his politics, and in a July 1997 piece in Esquire, “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” said that he was disillusioned by the right, a revelation he came to after being disinvited to a party. He later published another piece in Esquire apologizing to Bill Clinton and saying that his sources for the Troopergate story were not reliable.
As Jonah Goldberg wrote: “As Jill Abramson told the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, ‘the problem with Brock’s credibility’ is that ‘once you admit you’ve knowingly written false things, how do you know when to believe what he writes?’” Kurtz reported in 2001 that Brock admitted to lying in the Anita Hill book.
Blinded by the Right, Brock’s memoir, was also panned by those of all political stripes. Christopher Hitchens said “I would say without any hesitation that [Brock] is incapable of recognizing the truth, let alone of telling it” and Camille Paglia slammed it as showing “amoral media ambition.” In light of Brock’s “awakening” MMfA can be seen as Brock’s attempt at redemption. His next book, The Republican Noise Machine naturally led to the creation of MMfA.
If Brock’s peculiar political shift was not strange enough, more recent reports regarding his mental health are even more unsettling. Brock’s behavior at a Democracy Alliance event in San Diego in 2008 alarmed many observers who believed that he was suffering from mania and potentially had mental health issues. A similar episode in 2010, in which Brock showed aggression, was also disturbing. The Daily Caller reported in 2012 that Brock had become incredibly paranoid, hiring two bodyguards to protect him at all times. Brock believed that someone on the political right would try to assassinate him. His personal assistant, Haydn Price-Morris, carried a concealed handgun when Brock attended events in Washington, DC.
Ironically, it was at this time that MMfA received from the Joyce Foundation $400,000 “To support a gun and public safety issue initiative.” When MMfA staffers learned of Price-Morris carrying a weapon, he was fired. This caused Brock to be “terrified” that the story might leak.
Accusations of anti-Semitism
M.J. Rosenberg was the Senior Fellow at Media Matters Action Network until his abrupt resignation in April 2012, following a controversy over Rosenberg’s use of a Jewish slur. Rosenberg was once on staff at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which advocates for a strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Rosenberg was an extremist and a master of ad hominem attacks. As a college student, Rosenberg published an article in the Village Voice in 1969, in which he condemned the average “leftist Jewish student” as an “Uncle Tom” who is an “aspiring WASP.”
But much like Brock, Rosenberg went through a bizarre and unexpected transformation, now finding himself at odds with AIPAC and supporters of Israel at every turn. Rosenberg has specifically accused AIPAC of having only a loyalty to Israel. Rosenberg was hired as a Senior Fellow at MMAN because the group “had nothing on foreign policy. They hired me specifically to be involved with this issue, with the Palestinian issue, with [the issue of] stopping the war with Iran.” From that perch, Rosenberg was a frequent guest on Al-Jazeera, calling the network “mainstream” and claiming it was the “factual” network in covering the Middle East. Rosenberg accused the New Republic, often considered a liberal publication, to be “very much of a right wing, Jewish publication.”
Even famed liberal attorney, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, came out against Rosenberg and Media Matters in 2012 saying that Rosenberg has accused Jews of having dual loyalty by using the derogatory term “Israel firster.” As Dershowitz explained in a column in the New York Daily News:
“Let there be no doubt that Rosenberg’s accusation of dual or singular loyalty to a foreign country is an anti-Semitic canard historically reserved for Jews… Indeed, he boasts of having ‘popularized’ the term ‘Israel firsters.’ Not surprisingly, the ‘Israel firster’ charge is just one of many odious and wildly inaccurate positions Rosenberg has espoused regarding Israel. He has called Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a ‘terrorist,’ Israel’s peace-loving President Shimon Peres an “uberhawk on Iran.
In the wake of the controversy, Rosenberg left MMAN in April 2012 and began his own blog because he was afraid that his association with Media Matters would hurt the organization. In plain terms: Rosenberg was not fired by Media Matters for his inflammatory comments—he is no longer there only by his own choice. Not long after his departure, the website for MMAN began showing very little new content.
Reports by the Daily Caller show significant coordination between MMfA and executive branch officials in the White House and at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Daily Caller reported that White House visitor logs show that on June 16, 2010, Brock and the Media Matters president met with Valerie Jarrett, once of Obama’s closest advisors. The Daily Caller also reported that MMfA participates in a “weekly strategy call” with White House officials, and that there are also meetings each week with an MMfA representative and representatives from other progressive organizations, “often with a representative from the Obama White House” according to the report.
Media Matters also assisted the staff of Attorney General Eric Holder in diffusing stories that were critical of the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ Office of Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler and MMfA writer Jeremy Holden exchanged e-mails just prior to his publication of an article attacking two former DOJ Civil Rights Division attorneys for their writing on the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation scandal. Another MMfA writer, Matt Gertz, requested help from Schmaler in writing stories on the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal. E-mails also reveal that the two likely spoke over the phone prior to Gertz reporting on the Trayvon Martin shooting, which was highly critical of the National Rifle Association.