Media Matters wants a fight, but can’t take a punch
Published: 1:28 AM 03/21/2012 By Vince Coglianese
After facing down more than a month of tough reporting, David Brock’s Media Matters for America still has nothing to say for itself. The progressive messaging group has all but clammed up about its internal turmoil under a constant barrage of scrutiny from conservatives and liberals alike.
It’s been a little over a month since The Daily Caller published the beginning of an investigative series examining the inner workings of Media Matters. The reporting, bolstered by first-hand knowledge from sources familiar with day-to-day activities in the group’s Washington, D.C. offices, revealed close coordination with the Obama White House, a slew of favored — and receptive — mainstream journalists, intense erratic behavior by Brock, a Glock pistol illegally carried by Brock’s assistant and consequence-free sex in the office’s media war room.
TheDC also revealed an extensive list of left-wing foundations that bankroll the group’s operations. Those findings showed the organization’s use of Bernie Madoff-exposed assets, the receipt of a donation specifically earmarked for targeting religious media, and a laundry list of big-name progressive foundations, including the Tides Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and MoveOn.org, among many others.
In that same time frame, Fox News reported that Brock had to sell his Rehoboth Beach, Del. home to pay his former domestic partner $850,000 in what Brock called “blackmail” to keep him silent about details purportedly devastating to Media Matters.
Additionally, Media Matters’ foreign policy department has risen to become the group’s greatest public liability, with senior fellow MJ Rosenberg under fire across the political spectrum — and in the pages of The New York Times — for being “virulently anti-Israel,” according to liberal Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.
A report published Monday by TheDC showed that Media Matters’ foreign policy associations include a tangled relationship with Al-Jazeera, a Qatar government-operated television network with an anti-Israel — and arguably anti-American — editorial posture.
Amid all this fallout are serious questions about Media Matters’ ability to maintain its tax-exempt charitable status with the IRS, with the White House and senior Democrats aligning themselves closely with the organization.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has even promised his voice — regardless of the consequences of political ties for Media Matters’ favored tax status — in helping to promote the organization’s latest anti-Fox News book, “The Fox Effect.”
That tax status, TheDC learned, began to face scrutiny from Republican members of Congress in mid-February.
Through all this, Media Matters has been extraordinarily quiet, publicly answering only a single question regarding a 2009 Media Matters internal memo suggesting the group hire private investigators “to look into the personal lives” of Fox News employees.
“I could not care if a Fox News person was cheating on their wife. That doesn’t matter,” Media Matters’ Executive Vice President Ari Rabin-Havt replied to TheDC during a book event. “We don’t dig into people’s personal lives, no.”
Beyond that claim, Rabin-Havt dismissed a Daily Caller reporter as a “troll.”
“I generally make a policy not to respond to trolls, basically,” he said. “I’m not going to respond to an article that’s basically filled up with just crap. There’s no point getting into a match back and forth with The Daily Caller, and that’s why we chose not to respond.”
Neither Brock nor his group’s spokeswoman, Jess Levin, has returned a single request for comment from TheDC.
Additionally, Brock has avoided nearly all national media outlets while promoting his book, “The Fox Effect,” giving him ample cover from facing tough questions.
The lone exception came late Tuesday night in the form of an op-ed appearing prominently on the home page of the news website Politico.
In an opinion column, Brock went back on the offensive against conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh, complaining about his treatment of a Georgetown Law School student and contraception activist on Feb. 29. Limbaugh referred to Sandra Fluke as a “slut” on his show that day, and later apologized for his choice of words.
Brock’s Politico op-ed came 20 days later — and long after countless other liberal commentators had tired of attacking Limbaugh and his advertisers — in what amounted to a safe toe in the water that gave Media Matters a higher profile without addressing the widespread charges against it.
Brock was at least once offered, and refused, an invitation to appear on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Feb. 19. “We asked Media Matters to make someone available,” host Howard Kurtz told viewers on that day’s broadcast. “David Brock is not able to come on — the founder of the group — because he’s got a book coming out next week,” he explained.
During that program, when challenged on why Media Matters hadn’t yet responded to the reports published by TheDC, Kurtz responded, “Well, we’re going to give them that opportunity, perhaps next week.”
That opportunity never came, and it was not for a lack of trying.
A producer for “Reliable Sources” accidentally reached out to TheDC to confirm Brock’s appearance on the Feb. 26 broadcast. But that invitation was later retracted, according to Kurtz.
“In the end we wound up not inviting him because we had too much other news to deal with,” Kurtz told TheDC via email.
As to why Brock hasn’t even appeared on the liberal MSNBC to promote the book, the network did not return TheDC’s request for comment.
MSNBC may have some incentive for maintaining distance from Brock. A source within his organization originally told TheDC that Media Matters took credit for “pretty much writing their [MSNBC's] prime time.” The network’s president, Phil Griffin, made himself readily available to phone calls by Media Matters staff.
Ads by GooglePolitico, among the few national outlets to speak with Brock for his book tour, published a playful interview with him on March 13. The questions, ranging from “tell us your favorite joke” to “how often do you Google yourself?” are the same asked of every guest in the publication’s “Answer This” series.
Reporter Patrick Gavin told TheDC that he offered Brock the interview on Feb. 7, “before the Daily Caller thing ran [on Feb. 12].” Gavin said Brock’s answers were emailed back to him on Feb. 22, ten days into TheDC’s investigative series on the group.
Brock was also on MSNBC host Ed Schultz’s Feb. 21 radio show, where he took a cursory question regarding TheDC’s reporting.
“We haven’t responded,” Brock said. “Reuters [columnist Jack Shafer] said that The Daily Caller piece was ‘bad journalism and lame propaganda,’ and we don’t feel like we need to respond to that.”
It’s a drastically different PR strategy for an organization whose founder once published an open letter challenging Fox News host Bill O’Reilly to an on-air debate in an effort to defend Media Matters and George Soros, the liberal financier who would eventually become a major contributor to the group.
According to the Dec. 16, 2004 letter, O’Reilly had previously dismissed Media Matters as a “far left, deceitful, disgusting website” composed of “‘character assassins’ and ‘despicable weasels.’”
“You once offered your viewers your definition of the word ‘coward,’” Brock responded in the letter. “On the January 5, 2004, O’Reilly Factor, you declared: ‘If you attack someone publicly, as these men did to me, you have an obligation to face the person you are smearing. If you don’t you are a coward,’” he recalled.
“Well, Mr. O’Reilly,” Brock continued, “you have attacked me publicly on numerous occasions, and you refuse to face me. You, sir, are a coward — by your own definition of the term.”
“Should you continue to refuse this offer,” Brock concluded, “it is only reasonable that the American people will conclude that you are not only — as you would put it — a ‘coward,’ but a hypocrite as well.”
Beginning in February, Fox News has devoted extensive coverage to the challenges facing Media Matters, but none of those reports have elicited a response from the oft-pugnacious media monitoring group. Even the “Fox Attacks Media Matters” video round-up — featured prominently on the MediaMatters.org homepage — has gone dark, with the last clip dated February 8, 2012. The organization’s coverage now excludes dozens of once-meticulously documented mentions of Media Matters on Fox News programs.
Additionally, Media Matters has not published a single entry on its website challenging the many news stories released over the last month about its own operations.
Media Matters did not return a request for comment for this story.