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By Allan Uthman
David Brock is an interesting character. He started out his career in “journalism” in the late ‘80s as a typical hateful conservative closet homosexual, eventually penning widely disseminated, dishonest hit pieces on Anita Hill and the Clintons for right wing rags like Insight and The American Spectator. He was a key figure in the Arkansas project, dredging up any smear he could to dirty up the Clintons at the behest of legendary scumbag Richard Mellon Scaife, including Troopergate and Paula Jones.
But by 1997, Brock had undergone a change of heart, brought on in part, as he admits in his fascinating book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, by his growing acceptance of his own homosexuality. Brock became a man reborn, trying to redeem himself by confessing to and attempting to undo the media crimes the right wing perpetrates to this day. It’s in that spirit that, in 2004, Brock founded Media Matters for America, “a web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” It’s the right Brock attacks these days, but with considerably more rigorous journalistic practices than he once employed. But the attack dog instinct is still strong in Brock, and sometimes it gets the best of him.
Here’s the thing: I love Media Matters, for the most part. They do the soul-crushing work of plowing through countless hours and column inches of hopelessly bad political analysis, just so some lazybones like me can Google some ludicrous statement we remember hearing on Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, and find the Media Matters page documenting and meticulously refuting whatever idiocy the shouting heads are promoting. They provide concise, distilled outrage-capsules for the mainstream media to attack itself with on slow news days. And they’re relentless: Years after the “Al Gore says he invented the internet” distortion made its debut, Media Matters still smacks it down pretty much every time someone says it. They’re clearly partisan, and surely seemed to be working extra hard on Hillary Clinton’s behalf during the primaries (Hillary spoke last year of “institutions that I helped to start and support like Media Matters and Center for American Progress.”), but they do a reliable, credible job of countering misinformation, which is obvious by the way they’ve been consistently demonized by the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity, and they sprang up to fill a tangible, longstanding need to counter the sadly effective GOP tactic of simply lying about their opponents.
But all of this is why I find it bothersome when they waste time and effort pitching hissyfits about this or that media figure’s vulgar jokes or indecorous turns of phrase. I don’t know when Media Matters started doing this exactly, but the trend has grown significantly over the last couple of years.
There are basically two types of posts at MMFA: The usual “so and so said such and such, which is bullshit” posts, and then the “so-and-so said something mean” posts. You can tell the difference between these types of posts easily: If they’re countering a provably false claim, they cite evidence. But if they just give you the sound bite, what they’re essentially saying is, “Can you believe this dick said this?”
It’s easy to see the appeal of going in this direction. Some of these “offensive” statements are ones you’ve heard about: Bill Bennet’s “abort black babies” comment, Don Imus’s career-killing “nappy-headed hoes,” David Shuster’s “pimping Chelsea” remark, which earned him a suspension from MSNBC. And then there’s Chris Matthews. Matthews, an old Irish geezer who is completely hopeless on gender issues, pretty much can’t get through an episode of Hardball without saying something that women can elect to be offended by, if they’re looking for it, and Media Matters is definitely looking for it. Matthews was forced (judging by his demeanor) to apologize on air for a remark about Clinton, that "[T]he reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
Every time one of these controversies catches on, and the targeted pundit either is fired, suspended, or submits in the form of an apology, Media Matters grows in stature, and their attention strikes more fear into the hearts of the press. It’s a sad irony that it’s off-color language, not factual errors, that actually have the more career-threatening potential. But the people they’re knocking off aren’t Republicans. Because the only people who really give a damn what Media Matters thinks about their insensitivities are Democrats and liberals. The real shitheads only feel empowered. Media Matters has been going at the liars on Fox News for years, but have yet to do anything but provide them with another target for their misplaced aggression. MSNBC, on the other hand, have capitulated to them at every turn. Is that progress, really? Certainly, Chris Matthews has had an axe to grind against the Clintons for years, and he’s said some pretty groan-inducing things about Hillary. But the Republican pundits have said completely insane things—about her being a murderer, a lesbian, and worse. Only Matthews actually has to give a crap that he’s offended Media Matters, while the others wear it as a badge of honor.
Lately, especially, Media Matters has really been jumping the shark on this tactic. Their last post on Matthews, for instance, is laughable, blasting him for calling women voters “low-hanging fruit.” “Low-hanging fruit” is now a sexist slur? No. No it isn’t. It’s a metaphor, a metaphor for the most easily pickings of a group. Obama can win the white female vote, Matthews asserts, by simply highlighting the fact that he is pro-choice and McCain is not. And he’s probably right. Hence “low-hanging fruit.” I’m hard-pressed to imagine, really, what kind of insult is perceived here, unless it’s the implication—undeniably true—that reproductive rights are important to most women. But Media Matters finds this statement so offensive that they put it up without comment, as if its outrageousness is self-evident, and yes, many of their readers reacted predictably, excoriating Matthews’ supposed misogyny without ever bothering to articulate it.
Another example is a post quoting Andrea Mitchell describing southwest Virginia as “real redneck, sort of, bordering on Appalachia country.” Seriously, you’re supposed to be offended by that. There’s no mistake of fact there; it really is redneck country. So why did Media Matters flag Mitchell’s comment? Because it offended their eminently offendable sensibilities. And then, four days later, “NBC's Mitchell apologizes for "redneck" comments.” Score one for the good guys?
Every time they do this—go after a media figure for making an utterance which falls beyond their prescribed limits on “colorful” speech—Media Matters loses a little more credibility as an organization devoted to accuracy in media reports. Because whether someone speaks or writes with social sensitivity or not, it is the relative accuracy of those statements Media Matters should be scrutinizing, not their politeness. Each time liberals pitch a misguided shit-fit over a misinterpreted metaphor, or a euphemism like “redneck” that everyone outside of a TV studio uses with comfort and regularity, they further alienate the “regular voters” they need to win. The fact is that most people, and not just working-class whites, but really almost everybody, including me—think that excessive, preening PC language policing is asinine, uptight, joyless bullshit, and they recoil instinctively from it, and its progenitors. If even a robotic corporate tool like Andrea Mitchell isn’t cautious enough for you, then who the hell is? What we need in the media isn’t more guarded, neutral language; it’s more accuracy in factual statements. Media Matters used to be about that, and indeed, they still are, primarily. But it’s pretty damn hard to take them seriously when they’ve declared war on naughty words.
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