Welcome to Media Matters for America, a new Web-based, not-for-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Because a healthy democracy depends on public access to accurate and reliable information, Media Matters for America is dedicated to alerting news outlets and consumers to conservative misinformation -- wherever we find it, in every news cycle -- and to spurring progressive activism based on standards and accountability in media.
In the mid-1990s, as a conservative media insider, I saw firsthand (and participated in) the damage done to our democracy when conservative misinformation masquerades as journalism. In my book Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative (2002), I revealed how this misinformation -- deliberately bought and paid for by covert political forces -- enveloped the media, poisoned public discourse, and nearly toppled a president.
Today, the misinformation pumped out by the conservative media machine -- a multibillion-dollar network of talk radio shows, cable television, heavily subsidized newspapers and magazines, political pundits, partisan thinks tanks, and high-traffic Internet sites -- is even more pervasive, spreading like a virus into professional media venues. Rush Limbaugh analyzed election night results for NBC News. Ann Coulter marches through major TV studios with her allegations of "treason" against half the American populace. Rupert Murdoch's top-rated FOX News Channel exerts pressure up and down the TV dial to compromise standards. And it is an open secret that in newsrooms across the country, the right-wing Drudge Report website -- judged to be only 80 percent accurate by its proprietor -- is the home page for many editors, reporters, and TV and radio producers.
The net effect of these corrosive trends has been to skew the media playing field to the right -- and, with it, the public debate. With progressives focusing on specific issues and public policy battles, conservatives have been working for decades, subtly amassing media power and influence. According to a new poll conducted by the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group and commissioned by Media Matters for America, a plurality of the American electorate has concluded that conservatives have more power and influence in the media today than do liberals.
The conservative media machine dominates our discourse, not because it is based in fact or logic but because it operates with almost total impunity. That ends today, as Media Matters for America puts in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor the media for conservative misinformation -- every day, in real time -- in 2004 and beyond.
Media monitoring is not a novel idea. Since the 1960s, the conservative movement has spent tens of millions of dollars on four organizations to tar the nation's foremost journalistic institutions -- such as The New York Times and the broadcast TV networks -- with thinly supported allegations of "liberal bias." These right-wing media monitoring outfits are themselves important cogs in the conservative media machine, working to stigmatize legitimate journalistic inquiry as politically motivated and to quash dissent from the conservative line.
Media Matters for America is prepared to go toe-to-toe with these right-wing media monitoring groups. We will comprehensively monitor a cross-section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets. Our website will be the principal vehicle for disseminating our research. On the left side of our website, we will post rapid-response items documenting conservative misinformation in each news cycle. The right side of the site will feature longer research and analytic reports. Two reports -- "Meet the New Rush, Same as the Old Rush" and "Backdating the Recession" -- can be found on our site today as Media Matters for America kicks off.
In addition, Media Matters for America is inaugurating four special projects for 2004. Our Democracy Project will closely track and swiftly correct conservative media misinformation on major current political issues, with the goal of discouraging responsible news outlets from giving it credence. Media Matters for America's Radio Project will comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct targeted political talk radio shows. We begin this month with Rush Limbaugh, who is "more influential than ... Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings," according to Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. The premise of our Columnist Project is that while opinion writers are entitled to make up their views, they are not entitled to make up their facts (click here for New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent's recent column on the subject); therefore, Media Matters for America will monitor to ensure that dozens of syndicated columnists -- and the newspapers that publish them -- maintain journalistic standards in their opinion columns.
Finally, Media Matters for America will build a community of activists who will take action against conservative misinformation in the media. Our Activism Project is in the planning stages, and I will report back soon on how you can organize and mobilize effectively, including through the use of Web-based tools that Media Matters for America is developing to keep the media free from malignant conservative influence.
In conclusion, Media Matters for America's truth-seeking perspective is one that all Americans -- liberal, moderate, and conservative -- are invited to rally around. Among the many lessons I learned from inside the conservative media is that lies and falsehoods damage progressive interests. I also recognize that conservative consumers of news are victimized by the misinformation they receive from the conservative media.
It is well past time that all Americans, regardless of ideology, demand the accurate, reliable, and credible information and views from the media upon which the proper functioning of our democracy depends. I hope you'll join me -- and the staff and supporters of Media Matters for America -- in this vital cause.