If you get most of your propaganda news from FAUX “News,” especially from their evening opinion shows, you can be forgiven (partially; it’s still your choice to watch FAUX) for thinking that the media watchdog web site Media Matters is a “far-left smear site” run by “smear merchants.” Why? Because that’s what FAUX hosts (primarily, but certainly not exclusively Bill O’Reilly) call it, virtually every day – or at least every time Media Matters publishes yet another embarrassing fact-check of the sort of right-wing spin and propaganda which goes on regularly in the conservative press, including FAUX “News.”
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.
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Nowhere (in contrast to FAUX, notably) does Media Matters imply that they try to uphold some arbitrary and misleading sense of “fair and balanced” coverage of the news. FAUX has already shown the country and the rest of the world that what one claims – however vehemently – that one is or that one does isn’t necessarily what one is or what one does in reality. FAUX “News” is a news-based organization dedicated to promoting conservative opinion and legislative (and social/cultural) gains (and the corresponding defeat of liberal/progressive ideas). That’s what they are and what they do – despite the oft-touted, self-description “Fair and Balanced,” which is their corporate tagline. And recently, Dana Perino, of all people, not only proved it, but admitted it publicly on FAUX’s own airwaves. Join me after the fold and I’ll explain…
How do we know that much of the conservative media is merely propaganda for the conservative agenda? Because of organizations like Media Matters, who saw years ago what FAUX’s agenda was, and how disingenuously they were intending to go about promoting it. I’m not affiliated with Media Matters in any way, and don’t know anyone who works there personally, but I would be surprised if the organization or its employees would have nearly the problem with FAUX that they do if, as both they and numerous other commenters have suggested, FAUX was honest in its approach to what it was doing and called itself some version of “the conservative news channel.” There have been both liberal and conservative news organizations for decades in this country. Many have come and are already long gone by today, some still exist. The oldest continually-operating one is The Nation magazine, a liberal outfit which, in their TV ads, proudly trumpets that they have “that famous liberal bias you just can’t get anywhere else.” Obviously, they’re being somewhat tongue-in-cheek over at The Nation’s advertising HQ, but the point they’re trying to deliver through humor is a threefold one: 1) They report news 2) they have a liberal/progressive perspective on the news and most importantly 3) it is possible to do both 1 and 2 (report the news and do it from a liberal perspective) while still maintaining integrity. As long as you retain your integrity and honesty about what actually occurred, and allow the “liberal perspective” portion of your coverage to inform and comment upon – but not twist or mangle – the facts of the news, it is certainly possible to cover news from a liberal (or any other) perspective. Honesty and integrity are the keys, as well as (periodically, when appropriate) disclosure of one’s perspective – though one’s perspective is usually pretty apparent to regular viewers/readers.
That last point is important to the story I’m about to tell: that one’s perspective is usually pretty apparent to anyone who watches or reads a given site/commentator regularly. The Nation discloses and even celebrates its liberal perspective; they’re proud of it. When you purchase a copy of The Nation, you know exactly what you are going to get, generally speaking. In sharp contrast to that, FAUX “News” has spent many, many hours and words pretending that they are “fair and balanced.” They aggressively deny the charge that they are in fact a conservative opinion outlet. Occasionally, if pressed, they will admit that their evening programming consists of opinion shows (really…with a sneaker-wearing former DJ who rants incoherently about the communist architecture at 30 Rock and does play-acting of poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s wine, who’d have ever guessed that was opinion-based?), but they will insist that’s no different from any of the other news-based opinion shows on MSNBC or CNN or even the broadcast networks (though they don’t explain why there are literally no clearly liberal hosts with their own prime-time shows, now that Sean Hannity is Colmes-less). And FAUX absolutely bristles at the suggestion that their news coverage is anything but flatly objective, “fair and balanced.”
Enter Media Matters. Media Matters (like The Nation), as I demonstrated above, makes no secret of the fact that they are progressives. It’s right there in their “About Us” link on the main page of their web site, as is their mission: to monitor and correct conservative misinformation in the press. They don’t make the claim that there has never been any liberal misinformation in the press, or that there is none today. It’s simply not their purview: they believe that there is a great deal of conservative misinformation, and they have set themselves up to monitor and correct it by fact-checking and pointing out patterns of misinformation. This, of course, makes veins in the neck of the propagandists at FAUX (and elsewhere) positively throb with anger. After Bill O’Reilly visited Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem with the Reverend Al Sharpton in 2007, Media Matters highlighted the casual racism O’Reilly displayed in his piece about the experience. O’Reilly, predictably, went ballistic (as he is predisposed to do, apparently), calling Media Matters “smear merchants” and “a far-left smear site,” phrases he has repeated many times since then. In fact, he’s repeated those specific phrases so often that it’s not hard to imagine that the show’s creative talent (O’Reilly and writers) had a strategy session to try to figure out what they thought would be the best-sounding disparagement of Media Matters that they could (at least try to) make stick in the minds of The Factor’s viewership…and hopefully, the larger public consciousness. But whether it’s simply a verbal tic, or the way O’Reilly himself thinks and speaks of Media Matters or whether it was a conscious decision to attempt to discredit them, O’Reilly’s disparagement and attempts to discredit Media Matters was – and remains – far from unique on FAUX “News.” A simple Google search will produce many similar examples; Media Matters also, as a matter of course, documents the attacks on their own site.
The point is that this is where the whole matter of integrity in presenting one’s views comes into play. It’s certainly possible to imagine that Media Matters is indeed an ill-intentioned organization dedicated to smearing conservatives in particular general and FAUX in particular and that O’Reilly and FAUX are merely justifiably reacting to unfair and inaccurate smears against their good name(s), just as it’s possible to imagine that Media Matters is what they say they are (and that they conduct themselves in the main with integrity) and FAUX is guilty of distorting the news to further conservative ends. That’s why O’Reilly and FAUX use such a response to instances of Media Matters’ work which paints them in an unflattering light: if they can convince people it’s all sour grapes from a partisan organization, then not only can the current specific claim be dismissed as nothing more than a smear job, but Media Matters can be pre-deligitimized in the future, so that when people hear that Media Matters said something, their first reaction will be: “oh, that left-wing attack group.” That’s why it’s important both in terms of each organization’s relative (and absolute) credibility, as well as to simply understand the truth of the matter, to examine the facts closely and determine which group is right and whether one group is indeed twisting the story to fit their own agenda, instead of pointing out that the facts of the story help to demonstrate their point already.
This brings us to Dana Perino, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, after the late Tony Snow became too ill to perform the job daily. Perino was press secretary during arguably what were the worst years to hold the job in the Bush administration: the years when public confidence in and approval of the Bush administration had begun to wane to literally history-making sustained lows. One could argue that Scott McLellan or Ari Fleischer might have had a tougher job because they were in the job when much of the actual malfeasance of the Bush administration was occurring in real time, and they had to go before the nation’s assembled political media and (depending on what you believe) either lie consciously to cover much of it up, or be used as “useful idiots” who were kept out of the loop of what was truly going on which only the top advisors knew. But I think Perino’s job was harder: by the time her pumps hit the podium, the media were chagrined about their lackluster performance in asking the tough questions which might have helped prevent the Iraq war, and other asleep-at-the-switch moments during the early years of the Bush administration, and they reacted by treating every utterance with as much or more skepticism than perhaps they should have employed when it would have potentially made a difference, in 2001-03. The point is that Dana Perino knows what it’s like to have the media hound you relentlessly, day in and day out, even more than the average press secretary for a United States President does.
I mention this about Perino because of a news story which appeared last week in the Times of London and The Australian – both Murdoch properties, the same mega-media conglomerate which owns FAUX – which reported that the Obama administration had “secretly advised Scottish ministers it would be ‘far preferable’ to free the Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya.” That’s incendiary stuff indeed, and paints the Obama administration in quite a bad light, to have it publicized that they would prefer to see the release of a known terrorist who killed hundreds (including Americans) than see him jailed.
Right wing blogs and other “usual suspects” of conservatism who value liberal (and Obama)-bashing over accuracy, twisted the story even further. Ultimately, on the morning show “Fox And Friends,” Dana Perino (now a FAUX “News” contributor) was asked about the story and repeated, on air, that the White House had preferred to see the terrorist freed rather than jailed. If only it were true. Media Matters, who seems to read every newspaper and watch every news television show in existence, did their usual thorough and even-handed examination of the claims, and found them meritless and distorted, and the White House unequivocally stated their preference to keep the man either jailed, or, if released due to illness, to keep him in Scotland where he could remain under surveillance much more easily.
But score one for Ms. Perino, because once the truth began to come out, she realized that she had allowed herself to be swept up in propaganda enough to repeat it (and contribute to it) on FAUX “News” air. And she remembered her own time in the “hot seat” in the White House briefing room, feeling besieged and having to defend against every sort of claim under the sun. Perino’s own experience with being on the other side of having to answer charges of malfeasance led her – unlike most of her conservative cohorts who merely gleefully and uncritically pushed this story along – to the knowledge that such a job is made a thousandfold harder when the claims aren’t true. It’s also simply not fair. So kudos to Dana Perino for insisting on following up on “FOX and Friends” with a correction of the record. However, what’s most interesting to me in that final address on the subject Perino makes, comes at just after the one-minute mark, where she says:
I’m glad there’s a web site out there that can track my every move and keep me honest.
She is referring, of course, to Media Matters, the very same web site which her FAUX “News” cohorts relentlessly continue to attempt to discredit by referring to them as liars and smear merchants, nothing more than left-wing ideological hit-men. It may have been a somewhat-sarcastic comment from Perino (I doubt she really enjoys being wrong, having to correct the record, or looking like a rank propagandist); she seemed to be taking a gentle jab at the idea that “good grief, they watch everything and nit-pick it.” But Perino was aware that a) Media Matters had gotten it right, b) the right-wing media had been the ones twisting and distorting the reality of the event, and c) she was frustrated at herself for believing it unquestioningly at first, and for having gotten caught looking bad as a result.
So the next time you hear Sean Hannity….Or Bill O’Reilly….or Glenn Beck….or Neil Cavuto, or in fact any one of literally dozens of other conservative propaganda-spewers who differ from Media Matters in the crucial area of prioritizing “what makes liberals look bad” over the truth, say that Media Matters is a biased, non-credible source which exists to smear and distort, go back and play Ms. Perino’s shamefaced and possibly inadvertent – but accurate – admission that there is indeed a web site out there which tracks her (and other conservatives’ public statements and “keeps them honest”).