Why has the right-wing media recently launched a series of unremitting attacks against Media Matters?
The attempt to diametrically dismiss Media Matters, a modernized and less aggressive version of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has seemingly failed the right-wing media. The organization has maintained its tax-exemption status, increased its credibility as a research group, and managed to find a particularly strong financial resource in liberal billionaire George Soros and his foundation, the Center for American Progress. It’s not surprising that a more aggressive strategy to weaken and dismantle David Brock’s anti-Fox News operation has been undertaken, given the stakes: reactionary ideology inexplicably contradicts itself to the point of self-destruction whenever Media Matters seems to republish it.
Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller has taken the lead in a blistering crusade against Brock and Media Matters. It launched a scathingly cynical “investigation” into the pair, offering “obtained” emails and unnamed sources that granted the Daily Caller’s reporters little more than irrelevant gossip. This isn’t an opinion of my own, incidentally—
the Guardian‘s Reuters’ Jack Shafer, a respected libertarian, called the series “bad journalism and lame propaganda”, and most importantly, “weak tea”.
But the fact that the Daily Caller’s uncontroversially “laughable” investigation into Media Matters isn’t where the fight against this relatively small operation is happening. It’s been Fox News’ biggest pet peeve for a long time, dating back to 2006 when Hannity and Colmes was still on the air. An interesting development in Fox’s targeting of Media Matters, besides its unabashed enthusiasm for giving airtime to the “reporting” by websites like Breitbart.com and the Daily Caller, has been the excuses that Fox commentators have been giving to bring up the subject of Media Matters in order to smear it.
Bill O’Reilly, for example, recently argued that the alleged coordination between Media Matters, the Democratic National Committee, and news organizations like MSNBC would be “blatant corruption of the first amendment.” To provide more insight into this seemingly constitutional topic, he brought Bernie Goldberg on the March 14th edition of The Factor:
…while Media Matters does have some allies in the media, these allies are not necessarily in positions of power, and Goldberg noted that Media Matters isn’t necessarily making journalists more or less liberal than they already are. Goldberg agreed that Media Matters is “annoying,” but its influence on the electorate is negligible.
Goldberg’s assertion that Media Matters isn’t making journalists “more liberal” is simply a non-sequitur in this conversation. Firstly, it doesn’t matter if individual journalists are more liberal or more conservative on Cable television or in the agenda-setting press, because the institutional structure of the private media system dictates the specific narratives that the news media provides on a daily basis. Arguing that a left-wing statement that appears within a fraction of an hour’s worth of airtime is relevant to media bias as a science is absurd. As Justin Lewis and Edward S. Herman famously argued, this would be like saying that the workers on the floor of a factory have any influence into what the car industry produces. Bernie Goldberg proves, unsurprisingly, that he has no logical credibility as a media analyst, despite writing multiple books on the subject.
Media Matters is “annoying”, a word commonly used by the conservative media to describe the organization, because it doesn’t really do that much. The little that it does do is technical research: it records and closely watches right-wing outlets of activism, talk radio, and news organizations, then posts the recorded material on its website. There’s not much else to what they do, although one could argue that this is significantly important.
This seemingly marginal work infuriates the right-wing, because much of what conservative organizers say requires an “inner logic”, to quote Noam Chomsky. Regular listeners become strikingly ideological, and even emotionally attached to such reactionary logic and the answers it provides. Thus, when Media Matters posts a 5 minute video and the right-wing vigorously attacks it for taking the material out of context, conservative ideologues may well believe that’s true. Outside of the perverted inner logic of the reactionary “context” (a 4 hour radio show ), the logic seems absolutely ridiculous and most importantly, counter-intuitive, which is precisely what Media Matters intends to do.
This is why Media Matters rarely has to re-articulate or explain what it republishes. The material isn’t logically sound and, ironically, an abomination of free markets in itself. Media Matters doesn’t republish right-wing material because it makes the conservative press look bad—it republishes right-wing material because it looks bad as soon as cartesian common sense is applied by the individual, and not the organizer behind the microphone. Understanding the right-wing’s assault on Media Matters reveals little about the organization or David Brock; rather, it reveals just how cynical the right-wing media has become.