A floundering attempt to smear a Colorado state lawmaker who recently sponsored gun safety legislation demonstrates that the nationwide network of state-based conservative media outlets that the right wing has founded in recent years have the same problems with journalistic rigor as their larger, better-known cohorts.
The Colorado branch of the right-wing news outlet Media Trackers published a March 6 report claiming to offer new information which "exposed" the "criminal record" of State Representative Rhonda Fields. Fields has sponsored gun safety legislation currently under the debate in the legislature, including a bill extending the background check system. Alongside her mug shot, the group explained that Fields was arrested for larceny and shoplifting decades ago, commenting, "Despite her own criminal record, Rep. Fields has sought to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
The Media Trackers piece quickly spread through the right-wing blogosphere, with Instapundit Glenn Reynolds commenting, "criminals prefer unarmed victims." But contrary to Media Trackers' "BREAKING" headline, Fields has long been open about her past. Declaring the report "old news," Fox's Denver affiliate reported:
Fields was arrested in 1976 for larceny, and then again in 1991 for shoplifting. In 2010, FOX31 Denver reported on Fields' arrest record when she was campaigning for a position in the state House. The Denver Post dug into the politician's past, as well.
"It's something I'm not proud of," Fields said of her arrests during her campaign. "It happened over 20 years ago. I had to leave a husband who was addicted to drugs. I stole food to feed my kids. I'm so glad I'm not the woman I was back then."
With the story dissolving, Media Trackers followed the right-wing media's time-tested maneuver of doubling down. They produced a follow-up report breathlessly claiming Fields' "disregard for the state's laws continued well into her tenure as an elected lawmaker." They cited as evidence minor traffic violations such as Fields being "fined $130 for a lane assignment infraction."
The Media Trackers attacks on Fields come just days after the well-publicized arrest of Franklin Sain, a gun rights proponent who allegedly threatened Fields for sponsoring gun legislation. In an email to Fields, Sain said the legislator was a "pathetic N***** C*** alnog with MCCANN, two c**** who are way overdue a good f***ing." Fields, whose son was shot and killed alongside his fiancée because he planned to testify about drug dealers who had murdered his friend, is not the only state legislator who favors strengthening the state's gun laws to receive threats in recent days.
Media Trackers was launched as an effort by wealthy conservative donors to create a series of "nimble attack blogs that could quickly capitalize on the latest missteps by big-government politicians." Conceived by a former Republican National Committee staffer, the group started with a Wisconsin outlet in January 2011 and has since set up shop in Ohio, Montana, Florida, and Colorado.
Like the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Media Trackers provides a way for wealthy conservatives to fund right-wing alternatives to the traditional media without being publicly linked to those funds. Unlike the Franklin Center, Media Trackers makes no bones about the explicitly political nature of its work.