Over the weekend, Politico published a profile of Media Matters by Michael Calderone.
From a glitzy new office in downtown Washington, the ideological war over the media is fully engaged.
Six years after its founding to counter what it said was "conservative misinformation," Media Matters for America employs a staff of 70 that spends 19 hours a day monitoring newspapers, magazines, broadcast and cable television, talk radio, and the Internet to counter reporting or commentary it deems to be inaccurate or biased.
One of the bloodiest battles in that war occurred last fall, when Kevin Jennings, an openly-gay educator hired by the Department of Education to run an anti-bullying campaign, became a conservative cause.
Jennings was under fire from critics because he once described how as, a 24-year-old teacher, he counseled a student having a sexual relationship with an "older man." Several conservative outlets and commentators said that by law Jennings had to report the incident, claiming the student was only 15 years old at the time, and the relationship thus constituted statutory rape.
Media Matters obtained the student's driver's license and proved he was 16 at the time, the age of consent in Massachusetts. While some may still question Jennings' judgment, he didn't break any law.
"This should put to rest claims made by Fox News and other conservatives that Jennings covered up 'statutory rape' or 'molestation,'" wrote Media Matters senior fellow Karl Frisch. "To continue reporting such reckless speculation is at best willful disregard for the facts and at worst journalistic malpractice."
The battle over Jennings convinced Media Matters that it needed to not only monitor other media but to do its own original reporting. On Monday, Joe Strupp, who covered the press for 11 years with Editor & Publisher magazine, will launch a new media blog after signing on as the group's first investigative reporter.
Joining a partisan organization is a change for Strupp, given that his press coverage with E&P, or in appearances on "Fox News Watch," was solidly non-partisan. However, Media Matters, he says, didn't ask about his political beliefs when it hired him, and his goal remains to do "straight-ahead reporting." Still, Strupp acknowledges that he represents a "new sort of wing for their organization."
So while Media Matters may increasingly hire journalists with more traditional news backgrounds, the reporting and writing still fits in with the organization's goals. Unlike a newspaper, Media Matters is not in the business of selling advertising, subscriptions or competing on a variety of beats. It also has a clear political agenda.
For instance, Media Matters hired Will Bunch, a veteran Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger, as a senior fellow last month. Bunch plans on remaining at the Daily News while also working on a book that seems well-suited for the Media Matters audience: "The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, Hi-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama."
While Media Matters president Eric Burns and senior fellow Eric Boehlert are more visible presences on cable news and talk radio, founder David Brock remains chief executive and a major presence in the organization.
He plays a key role in strategy and fundraising, which supports the entire non-profit apparatus, and is typically at the office each day. "He guides us, gives vision," Rabin-Havt said.
That Brock has anything to do with the organization at all is more than a little ironic given his own role as part of the right-wing conspiracy. Two of Brock's notable contributions were his book "The Real Anita Hill," and a 1994 American Spectator article that spawned "Troopergate," leading to allegations that Bill Clinton, while Governor of Arkansas, used state troopers to arrange liaisons with women.
Brock later confessed that much of the Anita Hill book was false, apologized to the Clintons for the Troopergate article, broke with the right officially in a 1997 Esquire piece, and four years later explained his conversion in greater detail with his memoir, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative."
At the time Brock started Media Matters, the main counter to conservative media groups such as MRC and the even more established Accuracy in Media, founded in 1969, was Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal watchdog group that launched in 1986 to target media bias and censorship. While FAIR offers some analysis online each day, it doesn't do so as comprehensively as the better-funded Media Matters, which has researchers posting clips of video and audio throughout the day along with frequently updated online content.
Rabin-Havt, who like other Media Matters executives, arrived at the organization after working for a number of groups affiliated with liberal advocacy and the Democratic Party, said he thinks Media Matters has been somewhat misunderstood by mainstream reporters.
"The culture here, in this office, and I think reporters would be surprised by this, isn't one of sniping or disrespect towards the media," Rabin Havt said, adding that "being a reporter is such an incredibly honored profession, and plays such a role in our society and our debate, and we want people to do the best job they can."
Be sure to check out the profile in its entirety.
Other Profiles of Media Matters:
- Daily Beast: The Real War on Fox (10/30/2009)
- New York Observer: Thanks, Lou Dobbs! Progressive Watchdog Media Matters Had a Fine '09 (12/15/2009)
- The Hill: Fighting ire with fire (11/03/2008)
- New York Times: An All-Out Attack on 'Conservative Misinformation' (10/31/2008)
- Guernica Magazine: Anti-Drudge (10/2008)
- New York Times: New Internet Site Turns Critical Eyes and Ears to the Right (05/03/2004)