Is Fox News Scared? Desperate Attacks on Watchdog Group Media Matters Suggest Yes
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In the untamed jungle that is cable news, there is a ferocious and predatory beast stalking the terrain. Anyone who has encountered Fox News in the wild can attest to the spine-chilling threat imposed by the pseudo-news network. And now Fox News has the scent of new game.
The Fox News pack is on the warpath against the media watchdog group, Media Matters. In the past two weeks it has featured over 30 stories with the express purpose of challenging the group’s right to exist. Fox has assigned network stalwarts like Bill O’Reilly, Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer, James Rosen, Dick Morris, and Bernie Goldberg to the mission. This is an unprecedented, broadly distributed attack by a major media enterprise against a non-profit group it regards as an adversary.
This latest batch of complaints stem from comments made last March by Media Matters founder, David Brock. He was quoted in Politico as saying that the organization was shifting its focus toward Fox News to one of “guerrilla warfare and sabotage.” Giving Fox the benefit of doubt, one might conclude it’s only fair that Fox defend itself from such an overt declaration of war. The only thing that might refute that perspective is – reality.
If this is war, Fox is the aggressor. Fox News initiated its attacks long ago with aggressive and false assertions that cast Media Matters as hacks, anti-American, violent, and communist. Fox alleged that George Soros was pulling their strings long before Soros ever made any contributions to the group. Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck engaged in rhetoric so hostile that it inspired actual physical attacks against Media Matters and its progressive allies. A video (posted at the end of this story and courtesy of Media Matters) was posted two years ago and illustrates the hostility harbored across the Fox platform long before Brock’s recent comments.
The new and highly coordinated offensive by Fox asserts that Media Matters has violated the terms of its tax-exempt status by setting its sights on Fox. Fox quotes from the IRS rules governing non-profits that state that…
“…501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
On the basis of that criteria, Fox News argues that Media Matters is in violation and should have its tax-exempt status revoked. However, in order for that to be valid, Fox would have to admit that it is a political operation so that attacks on Fox News would qualify as opposition to political campaigns and/or candidates. Without that stipulation there is no violation on the part of Media Matters. So Fox is, in effect, conceding its role as a Republican mouthpiece. Shocking, I know.
Even if Fox were to come out of the propaganda closet, Media Matters would still be in the clear because the non-profit prohibition is explicitly related to campaigns and candidates and to lobbying. Since Media Matters is not directly aiding any political campaign or engaged in lobbying members of congress, there is no violation of its tax-exempt status. Politico cites attorney Marcus Owens, a former director of the Exempt Organization Division of the IRS, as saying that “the law is on Media Matters’ side.”
What makes this even worse is that Fox is not merely rebutting what it regards as negative criticism, it is actively using the tax status allegation as the basis for a campaign to shut Media Matters down. Fox repeatedly runs false, one-sided stories asserting that Media Matters is unlawfully receiving federal subsidies. These stories are followed with direct appeals to viewers to file complaints with the IRS. Fox anchor Steve Doocy has made several announcements on his morning show Fox & Friends like this one:
“Somebody has set up a website and we have linked it, actually, at FoxNation.com. If you go down about half way down you’ll see that logo. If you want to file a complaint with the IRS against Media Matters because you feel they have gone political, they have abandoned their initial quest, then go to that site and go ahead.”
Not only is that a waste of time because of the reasons stated above, it is also unethical. Has anyone ever heard of a news enterprise directing its viewers to file official complaints against another organization it regards as an enemy? If NBC were to instruct its viewers to file tax status complaints against the Tea Party because the organization attacks the network, would the folks at Fox News consider that acceptable?
Of course not. Fox would regard that as scandalous, unethical, outside the jurisdiction of a news network, and deliberate harassment. Which is exactly what it is when Fox does it. Such complaints, if accepted, would also open the door to challenges against conservative groups like the Media Research Center (operator of NewsBusters) and the Heritage Foundation.
When asked by Politico for a statement, the MRC’s Brent Bozell said only that “Media Matters stands accused of violating its tax-deductible status, and I think that fact speaks for itself.” Since the MRC stands accused of doing precisely the same thing that Media Matters does, that fact speaks for itself as well. Bozell is essentially saying that if Media Matters is guilty, then so is the MRC. And If the MRC is innocent, then so is Media Matters.
The link on Fox Nation that Doocy and others on Fox have referenced is nothing more than an appeal to readers to file complaints with the IRS. The article’s headline says it all: “Want to File an IRS Complaint Against Media Matters? Click Here.” The Fox Nationalists have bumped that story up to the top of the page every day, placing it first among the “New Stories” despite the fact that it is now almost two weeks old.
On one particularly egregious segment, Fox advised its viewers to lie when filling out the IRS complaint form.
The instruction to check the boxes for political campaigning and lobbying activities amounts to falsifying the form because there is no evidence Media Matters has done any of that. If these complaint forms required the complainant to sign under oath, then Fox would be guilty of suborning perjury. As it is Fox is merely guilty of attempting to flood the IRS with frivolous and phony paperwork; which for conservatives seeking to reduce the cost and oversight of government is pretty hypocritical.
Over the weekend, Fox committed fully half of its “News Watch” program to the Media Matters affair. The show opened with a biased story from Fox reporter James Rosen, including former Bush lawyer, C. Boyden Gray, making this ludicrous assertion:
“When you start to accuse Fox News of being the spokesman for the Republican Party, which is demonstrably false – there’s no basis for that. Brock, Media Matters, makes no effort to substantiate any of that – That’s when it crosses the line.”
Of course, there is ample evidence that Fox News is operating as the public relations arm of the Republican Party. Fox has had in its employ up to five potential GOP candidates for president. It interviews Republican candidates almost exclusively. It has distributed memos instructing its anchors and reporters to use language that parrots Republican talking points. It has even broadcast reports written by the Republican National Committee word-for-word, displaying accompanying graphics that contained the same typos in the original RNC document. That last bit of journalistic cronyism was the work of current Fox "News Watch" host Jon Scott.
Speaking to Politico, Ari Rabin-Havt, the executive vice president of Media Matters, refuted Gray’s assertions saying, “Our contention about Fox News’s political operations are supported by the facts and their own actions, especially during the previous few years.”
Media Matters has more than made an effort to substantiate the overtly partisan behavior of Fox. It has proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. The evidence against Fox is overwhelming. Yet "News Watch" attempted to divert attention away from such evidence by discussing how often Fox was the target of Media Matters, displaying a chart showing that Media Matters had done more stories on Fox News than any other news entity. Why would that surprise anyone? If the mission is to document media misinformation, the most frequent offender is going to show up most frequently.
The "News Watch" panel was composed of four conservative defenders of Fox and one lonely, but earnest, liberal, Jehmu Greene. Jon Scott brought up George Soros three separate times, but were it not for Greene no one would have heard about the uber-conservative Media Research Center. The right has its own army of billionaires (Murdoch, Koch, Scaife, Anschutz, Adelson, etc.) funding their partisan enterprise, but no one other than Greene would discuss it. Even after she brought it up, the other panelists scurried away refusing to hear of it. And it should not go without mentioning that Fox News itself is one of MRC’s biggest supporters, regularly featuring MRC’s Brent Bozell, and much of its news content comes straight from MRC. Fox’s former news chief, Brit Hume, thanked the MRC:
“…for the tremendous amount of material that the Media Research Center provided me for so many years when I was anchoring Special Report, I don’t know what we would’ve done without them. It was a daily buffet of material to work from, and we certainly made tremendous use of it.”
As a result of News Watch’s obsession with Media Matters, notable media events of the past week were ignored or abridged. Those events included Michele Bachmann’s entry into the presidential race, Glenn Beck’s final show on Fox, and the president’s contentious news conference. Why would Fox News Watch, a show dedicated to the media, deliberately excise and/or abridge coverage of such significant stories in order to expand coverage of a media-monitoring organization that most Americans have never heard of? Because Fox News is scared.
On Tuesday, July 5, Fox News elevated its attack to new levels of absurdity. Fox & Friends’ Doocy brought in Glenn Beck’s co-author and “doctor” Keith Ablow for an interview that careened off into the surreal. Ablow pretended that he could psychoanalyze someone he has never examined or even met. Here is a portion of the exchange:
Steve Doocy: I understand you’ve done a psychological profile of [Media Matters founder] David Brock. What did you find?
Keith Ablow: Well, look, I looked at him from a distance, but you don’t have to look very hard to see into the man’s mind apparently. This is somebody who seemingly has such low self-esteem, Steve, that he’s lurching from one group to another. Whoever will embrace him and reassure him that he’s a decent guy and be his cheerleader in a dramatic way, that’s who he’s gonna be with. [...] You can’t believe this guy because he’s full of self-hatred which he then projects on the world around him in order to get love. So he’s gotta have somebody to hate because he thinks that’s the way, the best way to galvanize the love in his direction. So yes, it’s always about being a hit man, you know, exposing someone. There’s very sexual connotations here too.
I pity anyone who actually has this fraud as an analyst. Ablow has no basis whatsoever to arrive at his puerile conclusions. He is merely taking hostile swipes at someone he is being paid to disparage. He should have his license revoked. He fails to provide a single example of anything Brock has done that is incorrect or unsubstantiated.
This attack is purely personal. Ablow’s notation of “lurching from one group to another” references the fact that Brock was once a conservative, but is now a liberal. However, Brock was a conservative for many years and, after evolving over time to the left, he has remained liberal for the past decade. Would Ablow regard Andrew Breitbart, David Horowitz, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann -- all former Democrats or liberals -- as lurching, self-haters?
Ablow neglects to explain what the “sexual connotations” are. He probably raised that issue to remind his audience that Brock is openly gay, a factor the Fox audience will surely regard as negative. Ablow is in violation of the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics (Section 7.3), which state:
“On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
At the risk of being accused of psychoanalyzing Fox News, I must observe that Fox is obviously afraid -- so afraid of Media Matters that it has become obsessed with destroying it. Fox is afraid that the successful campaign against Glenn Beck will continue to unravel the Fox News bastion of lies, racism and partisan propaganda. While most Americans have probably never heard of Media Matters, Fox is promoting the group to the top of the news pile, even above Casey Anthony. They know that any organization that shines the light of truth on Fox News is going to make things difficult for an enterprise like Fox whose mission is to disseminate disinformation and keep viewers ignorant.