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The Methodology of Media Matters, AKA Media Antimatter

Posted on July 17 2009 11:18 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Oh how I used to love Media Matters, the left-wing media “watchdog” group founded by former conservative journalist turned Democrat activist, David Brock. When the site started up in May of 2004 I was almost at the peak of my developing career as a leftist polemicist. Each week I sought out new arguments to attack the Bush Administration, the War in Iraq, and the Conservative Movement. And there were few sites better in aiding this task than Media Matters.

The organization defines its mission in these terms:

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Launched in May 2004, Media Matters for America put in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation — news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda — every day, in real time.

The principal method by which Media Matters pursues the foregoing mission is by posting its “research” on its website. This amounts to reading and watching the media and then writing rebuttals to what conservatives and Republicans say.

Sometimes Media Matters actually follows its mission’s guidelines, acting as a fact-checker for right-leaning pundits by pointing out genuine errors. One example is Media Matters’ recent post on Pat Buchanan’s questionable claim that President Barack Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has never written a law review article.

Posts of this nature really are not what draw people to Media Matters, though; they certainly were not when I was a “progressive.” No, what I sought out were Media Matters’ examples of the wild, angry rhetoric of the Conservative Movement. Whenever Ann Coulter or Michael Savage would say something that was politically incorrect or a bit rough around the edges, then Media Matters would highlight it alongside its examples of “conservative misinformation.”

By situating its condemnations of harsh conservative rhetoric alongside errors of fact, Media Matters made a blur of opinion and research. It appears to have recognized this error. Now, factual challenges are grouped in a designated research section, while attacks on rhetoric are relegated to the Media Matters blog. Good for them.

In spite of this improvement in organization, however, the practical effect is essentially unchanged. Media Matters amounts to a political antimatter — an unnatural, expensive injection into the national dialogue. While purportedly seeking to clarify the American political discussion, it instead only intensifies the partisan back-and-forth with its conservative caricatures. The site routinely highlights rhetoric it doesn’t like, without considering the context that caused it. For example: Why is it that conservatives are so passionate about defending the American Idea? What drives them? Perhaps if these questions were considered, then the rhetoric might make a bit more sense.

Most leftists don’t read conservative books, listen to talk radio, or watch Fox News. And part of the reason is because the image of the unreasonable conservative has been so thoroughly perpetuated by the Left, with Media Matters leading the charge. If leftists only get a chance to grapple with the conservative political tradition through Media Matters’ filter, then they’re really missing out. I certainly was — until I took the time to actually confront Conservatism on its own terms and let the ideas speak for themselves.

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