February 18, 2011

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Established in May 2004, Media Matters for America is a "web-based, not-for-profit … progressive research and information center" seeking to "systematically monitor a cross-section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation." But in addition to "news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible," the organization’s concept of “misinformation” includes anything that "forwards the conservative agenda." Thus political differences of opinion are often portrayed by Media Matters as lies or worse.

The principal method by which Media Matters pursues its stated mission is by posting summaries of its ”research” on its website. This amounts to reading and watching the media and then writing rebuttals to what conservatives and Republicans say.

Sometimes Media Matters actually does play the role of fact-checker for right-leaning pundits by pointing out genuine errors. More commonly, it draws attention to what it depicts as examples of wild, angry rhetoric by conservatives. In its earlier years, Media Matters would highlight such rhetoric alongside its examples of “conservative misinformation.” By so doing, it blurred the distinction between opinion and research.

Eventually Media Matters recognized this error and began to list factual challenges in a designated research section, while attacks on rhetoric were relegated to the Media Matters blog. In spite of this improvement in organization, however, the practical effect was essentially unchanged.

Media Matters' founder and CEO is David Brock. A reporter for the conservative magazine The American Spectator in the 1990s, Brock (in the aftermath of his biography of Hillary Clinton that brought disastrous reviews) engaged in a public self-denunciation, characterizing all his past writings critical of liberal figures as a confection of lies and slanders. In Brock's present judgment, the mainstream media have fallen under the sway of conservative ideology. He believes that conservatives have moved the mainstream media “to the right and therefore they've moved American politics to the right. … I wanted to create an institution [Media Matters] to combat what they're doing." 

Standing behind Brock was John Podesta, a former chief of staff in the Clinton administration and the head of the "progressive" Washington, DC think tank, the Center for American Progress. In 2004 Podesta provided Brock with office space for his fledgling enterprise. Soon after, Media Matters received over $2 million in seed donations from a roster of affluent donors including Leo Hindery Jr., a former cable magnate; Susie Tompkins Buell, a co-founder of the fashion company Esprit and a close ally of Senator Hillary Clinton; James Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist who nearly served as ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration; Bren Simon, a Democratic activist and the wife of shopping-mall developer Mel Simon; and New York psychologist and philanthropist Gail Furman. Media Matters, which can accept tax-deductible contributions under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, has also benefited from the patronage of Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Corporation and a longtime consort of billionaire financier George Soros.

Media Matters has not always been forthcoming about its high-profile backers. In particular, the group long labored to obscure any financial ties to 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, and Peter Lewis. Confronted with this story, a spokesman for the organization explained that "Media Matters for America has never received funding directly from George Soros" (emphasis added), a transparent evasion.

Nor were groups cited by CNS the only connection between Media Matters and Soros. As investigative journalist Byron York has noted, another Soros affiliate that bankrolled Media Matters was the New Democratic Network. In addition, Soros is reported to be involved in the Democracy Alliance, a partnership of some 80 affluent financiers who each vowed to contribute $1 million or more in order to build up an ideological infrastructure of leftist thinks tanks and advocacy groups. News reports list Media Matters as a main beneficiary of the Alliance's funding. By August of 2004, Media Matters' operating budget had already doubled to $4 million.

To summarize, Soros and his Open Society Institute has poured millions of dollars into the coffers of MoveOn, the Center for American Progress, and Democracy Alliance. In turn, these organizations have funneled some of that money to Media Matters.

In October 2010, Soros openly announced that he was donating $1 million to Media Matters, which would use the money to hold “Fox [News] host Glenn Beck and others on the cable news channel accountable for their reporting.”

Prior to founding Media Matters, David Brock met with a number of leading Democratic Party figures, including Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and former Vice President Al Gore. In 2007, Mrs. Clinton told the YearlyKos convention of leftwing bloggers that she "helped to start and support" Media Matters. Today, more than a few of the organization's roughly 30 staff members are Democratic operatives. Among these are Media Matters' chief communications strategist Dennis Yedwab, who is also the Director of Strategic Resources at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Brock's personal assistant, Mandy Vlasz, is a Democratic pollster and a veteran consultant to Democratic campaigns, including the 2000 Gore/Lieberman campaign. Katie Barge, the Director of Research at Media Matters, formerly presided over opposition research for Senator John Edwards' unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.

A notable figure at Media Matters is senior fellow Eric Boehlert, who was among the most passionate defenders of University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian after the latter was accused of having been the North American leader of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In an 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."

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.”

Media Matters' Editorial Director is Marcia B. Kuntz, who formerly headed the Judicial Selection Project of Alliance for Justice.

In September 2006, Media Matters became the sponsor of Eric Alterman's media, politics, and culture blog, Altercation.

In June 2007, Media Matters released a report titled The Progressive Majority: Why A Conservative America Is a Myth. According to this study, 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 conclude. The report examines public attitudes regarding the economy, social issues, national security, the environment, energy, health care, and the proper role of government.

On January 14, 2008, the Canada Free Press identified the Treasurer of Media Matters, Rachel Pritzker Hunter, as a Board member of Democracy Alliance (which helps to fund Media Matters). A generous donor to Democratic candidates and causes, Hunter in recent years has given money to the presidential campaigns of Sherrod Brown, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Wesley Clark.

Media Matters receives financial support from the Tides Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Peninsula Community Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation.


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