Apparently, the people at Media Matters take the term “investigative journalism” seriously — even if they misunderstand it. According to a September 2009 e-mail obtained by Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller, Media Matters Director of Media Relations Karl Frisch proposed to founder David Brock and MMFA president Eric Burns that the organization conduct a campaign to “embarrass and discredit” Fox News, which Frisch called the “enemy” which the progressive movement needed after winning the presidency and control of Congress. Among the ideas Frisch proposed was hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on Fox News anchors and staff:
A little after 1 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2009, Karl Frisch emailed a memo to his bosses, Media Matters for America founder David Brock and president Eric Burns. In the first few lines, Frisch explained why Media Matters should launch a “Fox Fund” whose mission would be to attack the Fox News Channel.
“Simply put,” Frisch wrote, “the progressive movement is in need of an enemy. George W. Bush is gone. We really don’t have John McCain to kick around any more. Filling the lack of leadership on the right, Fox News has emerged as the central enemy and antagonist of the Obama administration, our Congressional majorities and the progressive movement as a whole.”
“We must take Fox News head-on in a well funded, presidential-style campaign to discredit and embarrass the network, making it illegitimate in the eyes of news consumers.”
What Frisch proceeded to suggest, however, went well beyond what legitimate presidential campaigns attempt. “We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff,” he wrote.
After that, Frisch argued, should come the legal assault: “We should look into contracting with a major law firm to study any available legal actions that can be taken against Fox News, from a class action law suit to defamation claims for those wronged by the network. I imagine this would be difficult but the right law firm is bound to find some legal ground for us to take action against the network.”
Did MMFA actually put Frisch’s plan into action? At the moment, the answer appears to be no, at least not in terms of hiring the investigators. In the two-plus years since Frisch’s e-mail, MMFA hasn’t dropped a personal bomb on anyone from Fox. The lawsuits haven’t piled up, either. They have sent trackers to public events and bitterly criticized Fox’s reporting, but that’s a legitimate form of activism, if often tedious and tiresome.
What is interesting about this memo is the timing. Yesterday, I wrote that the true red flag in The DC’s exposé wasn’t the fact that MMFA successfully got its message out via the media; lots of orgs manage to do that, including some we like, and reporters/commentators like Ben Smith and Greg Sargent didn’t do anything the rest of us eschew. The real issue was the fact that MMFA did that while coordinating closely with the White House, which prompted the question of whether Barack Obama and his staff weren’t really the hands pulling the strings on its MMFA marionette.
So what was going on at the White House at the time that Frisch sent this memo to Brock? It was just within days that Obama and his administration launched their weird war on Fox News. On October 11th, White House communications chief Anita Dunn — one of MMFA’s main contacts at the White House — went on a nine-minute tirade about Fox on CNN, calling it “an arm of the GOP.” On October 12th, Fox announced that the White House had told them a week earlier that Obama would not do an interview with their network. The same day, John Nichols at The Nation — a leading progressive magazine — called Obama the “Whiner in Chief” over the ongoing battle with Fox. Obama himself joined the attack on October 22nd, complaining that Fox was more like a talk-radio station than a news outlet. Only after this ill-advised war began to unsettle more friendly media outlets and expose the President to gales of criticism over the spectacle of the government launching an attack on a media outlet did the White House retreat at the end of the month from the war they had started.
This looks like a strong circumstantial case for coordination between MMFA and the White House, and once again, it’s not entirely clear just which of the two ran the show. It’s getting pretty easy to connect the dots and see the outline of a covert attempt to influence and bully the media through sock-puppetry with MMFA. If the White House war on Fox had gotten a more sympathetic reaction, I wonder whether that army of PIs would have been deployed.
Update: Fox News Insider picked up this post early this afternoon. I thought they might take an interest in it.