December 9, 2004
Andrew J. Heyward
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Dear Mr. Heyward:
In a December 8 article on CBSNews.com about "some Internet blogs [that were] also being used as proxies for campaigns," CBSNews.com's chief political writer David Paul Kuhn drew an unfounded comparison between, on the one hand, two South Dakota bloggers who, while purporting to run nonpartisan websites, also worked as paid advisers to John Thune's Senate campaign, and on the other, Duncan Black, who both operates his own website under the pseudonym Atrios and holds the position of senior fellow at the nonpartisan media monitoring organization Media Matters for America. The flaw in this comparison is clear on its face. In addition, it is based on a number of factual inaccuracies regarding Mr. Black's association with Media Matters. We demand that CBSNews.com run a correction.
The thrust of the Kuhn article was that bloggers such as the Thune consultants might increasingly be using their sites as "proxies for campaigns," while being subject to no laws or ethical standards. Had those consultants been real journalists, Kuhn wrote, they would have been fired on the spot by their media employers for their connection with the Thune campaign and would "likely never work in mainstream journalism again."
So far so good. But in an apparent effort at "balance," Kuhn then felt compelled to impugn a progressive blogger, Mr. Black, and by extension Media Matters as well. Following his point about the certainty that journalists in the Thune consultants' situation would be shown the door, Kuhn wrote "in the case of Duncan Black, this is what happened." Huh? Apparently purporting to explain what "this" was, Kuhn wrote that Mr. Black is the author of the "popular liberal blog Atrios [sic]," which he wrote under a pseudonym. "All the while," Kuhn wrote, "he was a senior fellow at a liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America."
Kuhn's point is not entirely clear. It's impossible to tell whether Kuhn is suggesting that the website operated by Mr. Black -- who, as he writes, has never been employed by a candidate or campaign -- is somehow tainted by his association with Media Matters (which is nonpartisan) -- or vice versa. But what is clear is that there are a number of factual inaccuracies embedded in this short excerpt. First, Mr. Black has not been a fellow at Media Matters "all the while" he has operated his website. Mr. Black started his website -- called "Eschaton," not, as Kuhn wrote, "Atrios," which is the pen name under which he operates the site -- in April 2002. Media Matters, which was launched in May 2004, hired him as a fellow in June 2004. Second, Mr. Black has been upfront about his association with Media Matters. Noting on his site that he was out of the country for most of July, he began in August 2004 posting a disclaimer to the effect that it is independent of Media Matters and nothing posted thereon reflects the views of Media Matters. Third, and most egregious from our perspective, Kuhn uses what is apparently a general, out-of-context quote by political communication expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson to suggest -- though again his intent is unclear -- that Media Matters is partisan, and even nefarious in that alleged partisanship. He quotes Jamieson as follows: "The problem is when a blog pretends to hold neutrality but is actually partisan."
The above quotation appears to equate Mr. Black's relationship to Media Matters with that of the South Dakota bloggers, tainted by hidden partisan ties to the Thune campaign. In fact, Media Matters is a 501(c)(3) progressive organization, which, while permitted to hold and express viewpoints, is not permitted to engage in partisan activity. Contrary to Kuhn's suggestion in quoting Jamieson (who we have no reason to believe was actually talking about us), Media Matters is not partisan.
This article is journalism at its shoddiest -- both wrong in its facts and unclear in its meaning. Please post a correction to those inaccuracies.
President and CEO
Media Matters for America
cc: Marcy McGinnis, Senior Vice President, News Coverage
John Frazee, Senior Vice President, News Services
Frank Governale, Vice President, News Operations
David Paul Kuhn, Chief Political Writer, CBS News.com
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania