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An All-Out Attack on ‘Conservative Misinformation’

WASHINGTON — They are some of the more memorable slip-ups or slights within the news media’s coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign.

A Fox News anchor asks whether Senator Barack Obama and his wife had greeted each other with a “terrorist fist jab.” Rush Limbaugh calls military personnel critical of the war in Iraq “phony soldiers.” Mr. Limbaugh and another Fox host repeat an accusation that Mr. Obama attended a madrassa, or Islamic school, in Indonesia.

Each of these moments might have slipped into the broadcast ether but for the efforts of Media Matters for America, the nonprofit, highly partisan research organization that was founded four years ago by David Brock, a formerly conservative author who has since gone liberal.

Ripping a page from an old Republican Party playbook, Media Matters has given the Democrats a weapon they have not had in previous campaigns: a rapid-fire, technologically sophisticated means to call out what it considers “conservative misinformation” on air or in print, then feed it to a Rolodex of reporters, cable channels and bloggers hungry for grist.

Producers for both “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central take calls from the organization. James Carville, the Democratic strategist and CNN commentator, has read from its items on the air, not least, he says, because they “just irritate the right to no end.”

“It was always kind of a dream, that we needed something like that,” Mr. Carville said. “I wouldn’t say they’ve become as effective as the entire conservative media backlash thing, but they’re probably more effective than any single entity.”

At the core of the Media Matters operation is its ability to hear and see so much of the news and commentary that streams across the nation’s airwaves, and to scan so many major newspapers and blogs. The group has an annual operating budget of more than $10 million — up from $3 million in 2004 — much of it donated by wealthy individuals with ties to the Democratic Party, including Peter B. Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance; Steve Bing, a movie producer; and Marcy Carsey, a television producer.

That money allows the group to monitor and transcribe nearly every word not only on network and cable news but also on nationally syndicated talk radio and, lately, local radio. It was Media Matters that widely disseminated a transcript of Don Imus making racially and sexually offensive comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. (On its own this summer, the group also circulated a photo of this reporter that had been digitally altered by Fox News.)

Media Matters says it does not coordinate its efforts with the Obama campaign — the campaign has its own media-criticism Web site, FightTheSmears.com — though some Democratic operatives have, at the least, suggested potential items to Media Matters over the years.

Read the whole story here. 

November 3, 2008 Posted by | **MAIN**, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment