Next Tuesday, a new book written by David Brock, the founder of of Media Matters for America, will be released. Given that Media Matters styles itself as a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. Media,” the title of the book is not surprising. The Fox Effect is about the career of Roger Ailes, the current president of Fox News, and how he became affiliated with the American right and injected its values into mainstream journalism.
What's interesting though is not the book, but its timing. In 2009, Karl Frisch, an employee at Media Matters wrote a memo to Brock and then president Eric Burns. This memo is now available in its entirety, and part of the aggressive campaign that it outlines against Fox News' credibility involves hiring private investigators to learn about Fox employees, driving away Fox advertisers, creating a Fox SWAT team to respond to its coverage, and most importantly, writing a book under the name of David Brock attacking the network. It seems the last has come true and it makes one wonder what other strategies came to fruition.
I think this sort of planning and plotting would be more appropriate for 13thirteen-year- old kids ats summer camp than a supposed “research and information center,” but even aside from the question of integrity (which I find appallingly lacking in this whole episode), there is an issue of effectiveness and retaliation. Frisch seems to be aware of this possibility. He writes, “Fox is likely to retaliate,” and that Media Matters should find “ways to protect the privacy of our employees and the security of our office.”
Here are five ways that Fox could retaliate. The options are likes a rogue gallery of right partisans.
Get Rupert Murdoch Involved. It's not smart to aggravate a news company that is controlled by the man whose News of the World listened to calls of the British elite and also bribed British police officers. Fox is just as a capable of waging a credibility war, and they might have access to the tools of electronic warfare.
Get Andrew Breitbart Involved. The right's attack dog had a ferocious weekend at CPAC (see here) and he has some experience going after Media Matters. His involvement would just add fuel to the fire, and make a bad decision by media matters into a colossally bad decision by spurring a never-ending cycle of attacks and counter-attacks (or are we already at that point? Yyes). What would Breitbart's film be attacking Media Matters be titled? Perhaps “Media (Doesn't) Matters?” The history of Breitbart's attack against academia and the left wing media makes him the worst-case scenario opponent for Media Matters.
Attack the Non-profit Status of Media Matters. A complaint has already been filed with the IRS against Media Matters by C. Boyden Gray, a former White House counsel to the most recent Bush. I'm no lawyer, but as far as I can tell, the complaint is baseless, but it's part of a wider effort to get the tax exempt status of Media Matters revoked.
The Nuclear Option. In this scenario, Fox could go after former Politico and now Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith via a quote claiming (with little support) that Smith would collaborate closely with Media Matters and use their reporting in his own writing. This would be a scorched earth tactic that would leave no media institution untouched. The war would escalate. There are already signs. Today. Dylan Byers yesterday criticized a the Daily Caller story on the subject, and the right attacked right back (Breitbart in fact). Interestingly, as an aside, Politico is running a story today on the leftward turn of Fox News in recent times.
Fight Fire with Fire. Fox could just retaliate directly with something like this.
To wrap up, I'll reiterate my point about media gotcha-games: they are nothing but self-destructive.
Arguments about media objectivity that are waged by media organizations will never create anything positive because to effectively criticize something as biased, one must have a relatively non-biased position from which to stand. Media groups must always aspire to be non-partisan (though that is just an ideal) not trash their own objectivity. Media Matters has further damaged its ability to claim that and Fox will be able to act like a victim, until, of course, the next sorry round of these childish games. In the breach, we'll all have to take on the burden ourselves and work on correcting our biases and seeking the most high-quality information.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore