The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, which burst back into the public eye this week with multiple reports highlighting embarrassing past public remarks by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, has long targeted conservative media and Fox News in particular — while giving a pass to liberals guilty of comparable misstatements.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, founded 15 years ago by conservative journalist turned progressive activist David Brock, has led pressure campaigns and advertiser boycotts against former Fox News stars Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly — as well as ongoing campaigns against Carlson and fellow Fox News primetime hosts Laura Ingraham. Each has lost dozens of sponsors.
But the organization has largely ignored embarrassing past comments made by the likes of civil rights leader turned MSNBC host Al Sharpton or MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, who once ran a blog (unearthed by Mediaite) that included remarks she herself described as “hateful.”
“In the end for progressive activist groups like Media Matters, Fox News is the biggest and most powerful [in cable] and therefore the first and only elephant to bag,” Joe Concha, a media reporter for The Hill, told TheWrap. “It’s why those who part ways with the network are never targeted again. There’s a bigger mission here, and that is to weaken the network by removing its biggest stars.”
A rep for Media Matters insisted that the group maintains a broad focus. “We don’t only watchdog Fox News. We put research resources and work into way more than Fox,” the individual said, without offering specifics. “There are other ways to push for change and accountability other than advertiser efforts.”
Though its mission statement on its website makes clear that its focus is on monitoring media “for conservative misinformation,” Media Matters has largely bypassed other increasingly ascendant players in right-wing media, including local news giant Sinclair and David Pecker’s American Media — producing few articles and launching no boycotts against other outlets’ prominent personalities and sponsors.
“Sinclair just isn’t important. You can find Sinclair if you are a hardcore boomer con passing around memes on Facebook but Fox is a brand,” said media critic Stephen L. Miller, a former Fox News contributor who is no relation to the White House official of the same name. “You can turn Fox on and watch it and everyone knows it. They have higher ratings than MSNBC and certainly higher than any show on CNN, which is what this is actually about.”
Indeed, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone dismissed critics of MSNBC’s Joy Reid, calling attacks on the host “bulls—” and “right-wing chicanery” and said outrage over her past derogatory remarks about LGBT people was “not based on a pattern of behavior but on a random thing plucked from time and space.”
Carusone also shot down criticism of his own past comments after the Carlson-founded Daily Caller resurfaced 2005 blog posts in which he referred to “trannies” and “Jewish gold.” “That entire exercise on our website was a satirical parody of a right-wing blow hard,” Carusone told TheWrap. “I did it for two months and I stopped. It was a parody.”
For many media critics, Media Matters’ selective outrage over Fox News is a blind spot that reduces its overall credibility.
“It’s pretty simple: Media Matters is on record declaring the Joy Reid story wasn’t worth exploring at all because it didn’t reach its standards. The standard, of course, being that Reid works for MSNBC and is one of the network’s most beloved hosts.” Concha said. “To cover Reid would mean alienating its readers and defying its mission, and that just wasn’t going to happen.”
Radio host and The Federalist contributor Jesse Kelly added, “Media Matters gave Joy Reid a pass because she’s a lefty and Media Matters is only interested in the destruction and silencing of people on the right.”
Media Matters’ targeting of Fox News isn’t new. In a 2011 interview with Politico that noted that Media Matters had “all but abandoned its monitoring of newspapers and other television networks,” the group’s then-president Brock declared “war on Fox” and promised a campaign of “guerilla warfare and sabotage.”
The organization only began reporting on Carlson since he joined Fox News a decade ago. He actually worked for MSNBC from 2005 to 2008 — a period when Carlson made many of his most inflammatory comments on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show. Media Matters did not surface the comments at the time and MSNBC is not known to have taken any disciplinary action against him. Reps for the network declined to comment for this story.
While Media Matters has not said that it wants to see Carlson removed from the air, the organization has pressured current and prospective advertisers to avoid the network. “It would be unfair of us to know all that we know about Fox News and its volatility and not share that when it would matter most to those brands,” Carusone told TheWrap.
On Wednesday, the channel held an event for prospective media buyers to win over new advertisers for the network’s less partisan news programming. Carusone told TheWrap the group’s releases of past Tucker comments were not intended to overshadow the gathering, but his organization staged a protest outside the network’s headquarters in New York City on the same day.
In a statement, Fox News said the advertiser showcase went swimmingly. “Today more than 100 advertisers attended Fox News Channel’s first ever upfront presentation which showcased our best in class journalism and opinion programming,” Marianne Gambelli, Fox News president for advertising sales, told TheWrap. “We were extremely proud to open our doors and introduce the media buying community to our America’s Watching campaign, incredible team of talent and new state of the art studios.”
So far, the channel has vowed to stand behind Carlson, a point he proudly stated in his opening monologue on Monday.
“Fox News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day. Toughness is a rare quality at a TV network, and we are grateful for that,” Carlson said. “We will never bow to the mob, ever, no matter what.” In recent months, the network has issued several statements of support for him and Ingraham — who is also facing a protracted advertiser boycott over remarks she made last year about Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg.