Media Matters: We're not defending letting the DOJ sift through reporters' phone records, but Media Matters is

I’m conflicted about calling them out on this, if only because some media types seem to be treating it as a betrayal of principle. Why? Carrying water for Democrats is the point of the organization. Of course they’d be apoplectic if a Republican president pulled the same move on the AP as Obama and Holder have, but that’s a given. To act surprised and disappointed that they’d take this line is to pay them the compliment of believing that they were ever more than a red-in-tooth-and-claw partisan org, and I refuse to pay it. Why would anyone else?


So here’s Media Matters doing what Media Matters does:


If the press compromised active counter-terror operations for a story that only tipped off the terrorists, that sounds like it should be investigated.

It was not acceptable when the Bush Administration exposed Valerie Plame working undercover to stop terrorists from attacking us. It is not acceptable when anonymous sources do it either.

Is this story about a government source blowing the whistle on government misbehavior, or about a source gratuitously exposing ongoing counter-terrorism operations?

Did Republicans in Congress who are now exploiting the situation to score political points oppose the media shield law that likely would have protected the Associated Press in this situation?

How should the Justice Department strike the balance between respecting our free press and investigating damaging leaks that jeopardize counter-terrorism operations?

Emphasis in the original. (As Bryan Preston notes, “the Bush administration” is their term for Colin Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage, who outed Plame inadvertently.) The objection here isn’t to the talking points themselves, which are kinda sorta defensible in the abstract but maybe not for a fishing expedition that involved some 20 AP reporters. The objection is that, as anyone even passingly familiar with Media Matters understands, this sort of qualified, judicious let’s-wait-and-see defense of the DOJ would be unimaginable from them under a GOP administration. It’s just politics.


Speaking of which, a fun fact: The specific organization that issued these Obama-serving talking points is “Media Matters Action Network,” a sister org to “Media Matters For America” that’s tax-exempt under — ta da — section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. It’s the same sort of organization, in other words, as the tea-party groups that were harassed by the IRS. How is it that TPers need special scrutiny for possibly engaging in political activities when one of the most notorious Democratic talking-point clearinghouses on the Internet got their 501(c)(4) status rubber-stamped? Good question. Here’s what the IRS says about the relevant statute:

To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(4), an organization must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.

Who’s more of a threat to skirt the purpose of this section, a tea-party group with 20 members that might “indirectly participate” in a specific campaign somewhere or a large organization that reliably serves the national messaging needs of one of the two major parties? CBS reporter Jan Crawford noted a funny coincidence today:


Per Dana Loesch, the Daily Caller accused MMFA. a 501(c)(3) org, last year of collaborating with the DOJ press office on talking points, which may help explain MMAN’s servility this morning. There have been loads of lefty quasi-defenses lately of the IRS’s actions on grounds that, while it’s wrong to single out one side of the other, it’s high time to crack down on political activities by tax-exempt 501(c) groups, especially PACs. You will not, it’s safe to say, see MMFA/MMAN mentioned in those critiques despite (or rather, because of) the endless services they’ve provided to the White House’s and Democratic Party’s respective PR shops. Nor will you see the studiously apolitical “social welfare” group Organizing for Action mentioned, even though, if you can believe it, it’s a 501(c)(4) in good standing.

But here’s the punchline from MMFA/MMAN chairman David Brock, now that he’s been shamed into a response:

From David Brock, Chair of Media Matters for America and Media Matters Action Network:

Media Matters for America monitors, analyzes, and corrects conservative misinformation in the media and was not involved with the production of the document focusing on the DOJs investigation. That document was issued by “Message Matters,” a project of the Media Matters Action Network, which posts, through a different editorial process and to a different website, a wide range of potential messaging products for progressive talkers to win public debates with conservatives.

As a media watchdog organization, Media Matters for America recognizes that a free press is necessary for quality journalism and essential to our democracy. A healthy news media is what we fight for every day. Yesterday, 52 news organizations signed a letter to the Department of Justice expressing concerns that the DOJ’s broad subpoena of Associated Press reporters’ phone records runs counter to First Amendment principles and injures the practice of journalism. We stand with those news organizations and share their concerns.


Among the reporters openly laughing at the “Media Matters distances itself from Media Matters” defense: Ben Smith, Dylan Byers, and HuffPo’s Jason Linkins. Partisanship on the Democrats’ behalf is fine most of the time, but choosing the White House over the guild is going to earn MMFA heat from places it never anticipated. Oh well. In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with Byers’s summary of Media Matters’s spin:

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