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.”
A couple of things. One, I don’t believe the Daily Caller’s allegations that Ben Smith and others are shills for MMFA are worthwhile. Political reporters and commentators get story tips from partisan sources all the time. That they come from partisans doesn’t make these stories illegitimate. If reporters only got information from Girl Scouts and Maryknoll nuns, they wouldn’t have much to write about.
More importantly, this whole thing is disgusting, redolent of the UK Murdoch tabloids’ strategies and morals — and worse. It should frighten and appall all of us, left and right, that a partisan political outfit would consider attempting to gum up the works for a newsgathering organization by filing harassing lawsuits. Yes, it would be just as disgusting if a right-wing outfit tried to do the same thing to The New York Times. You do not have to be a fan of the Fox News Channel to see this as a chilling assault on free speech and freedom of the press. David Brock has become Richard Nixon.
I have a journalist friend who, a decade ago, was breaking lots of news about his local Roman Catholic bishop’s failings in the sex abuse scandal. The journalist learned from a troubled insider that the bishop had hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on him — this, in hopes of learning information that could be held over the reporter’s head in an effort to stop his digging. I learned from another source that one of the bishop’s minions was shopping a personal story about the reporter around to competitors, in an attempt to discredit the reporter. This told me everything I needed to know about the integrity of that bishop and his chancery, for whom the ends justified any means they thought necessary. Similarly, this memo tells you everything you need to know about the moral integrity of Media Matters.
Is this what you have to turn into to be a player in national politics and media these days? If so, God save my children from ever becoming part of the world of Washington.