Few media outlets annoy me more than Media Matters. Conservatives usually accuse them of being a George Soros-backed smear organization with a pathological obsession with Fox News. On the other hand, Media Matters maintains that they’ll simply ‘quote conservatives back to themselves’ to show how absurd/racist/sexist/evil conservatives are.
Sometimes conservatives are right. I have no love for Glenn Beck, but Media Matters ran a complete smear job on him back during the whole ACORN scandal. Basically, the undercover video shows some lady talking about killing her husband. Media Matters notes that her husband is alive and well. They conveniently cut out the clip where Glenn Beck notes they hadn’t yet been able to figure that out yet. I’m sure that cut was just an accident.
The partisan critique is obvious, they certainly didn’t criticize Rachel Maddow for citing a blatantly satirical site saying Christians should urge Palin to push for an invasion of Egypt. And while they criticize Glenn Beck for calling Obama a fascist, they were mum when Keith Olbermann called Bush a fascist. Neither seems to have gotten the memo that, as George Orwell noted back in 1946, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”
But there’s another, more serious problem with how they typically operate. This came to mind after re-watching Noam Chomsky’s film Manufacturing Consent. Noam Chomsky is a famous leftist, but I find him to usually be a clear thinker (on everything but economics) and worth listening to. Here’s a clip where he talks about concision:
Chomsky’s basic argument is that unconventional thoughts require more evidence and thereby more time to flesh out. But you can’t do this with concision. After all, it used to be conventional wisdom that slavery was just dandy or in some places, that Bolshevism wasn’t such a bad idea.
Now I admit, I’m guilty of this as well. So are many other conservative, liberal and libertarian groups. But no one seems to have mastered it to the degree Media Matters has. And to one degree or another, what choice do you have if you’re going to be criticizing the media (although you could still be nonpartisan or consistently honest). But it’s a problem worth fleshing out. Especially given how often the likes of Keith Olbermann, The Young Turks and Ed Shultz still take little clips, usually from Media Matters, and replay them to take some quick shot at conservatives or libertarians.
So Media Matters will take a short clip where someone says something that goes against conventional wisdom, then have some group that disagrees with said person refute it. For example, they posted this video under the scare line “Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: Obama Is ‘Wielding His Executive Power Like ‘A King””:
Even the guest states this isn’t new to Obama (some credit is due for not cutting that). But Napolitano was making the same criticisms of Bush and Media Matters didn’t criticize him then. In fact, Noam Chomsky was making similar arguments. As was Keith Olbermann (whom Media Matters loves). In fact, as was Media Matters. Yet it just sounds so radical when he’s only given two minutes to flesh out his argument.
Or here’s a more blatant example: Media Matters criticized the Heritage Foundation for a project they had on over-criminalization. One part listed proposed laws that on “tackling child sex slavery, child sex trafficking, child pornography and violence against children.” Actually, that part of Heritage’s website was just naming pending legislation with no opinion given. Furthermore, what if a law sounds really nice, say like the Patriot Act. Does that mean it’s a good law? What if this law against child porn actually meant that anyone found with it on their browser’s cache would receive 20 years in prison even if they went to that site accidentally or had gotten a virus on their computer. A law’s name has nothing to do with how good or bad that law is.
Overall, I think the problem is simply that Media Matters doesn’t want to play fair. They don’t want to flesh out the other side’s argument or argue a certain point of their own. Quick clips, no debate, no response. They simply want to make their opponents look stupid by constraining them with concission, whether it be in context or out of it. It takes as much time to explain many of Chomsky’s assertions in the above video as it does to explain arguments about how president’s are becoming more king-like or why welfare institutionizes poverty or whatever. Many left and right-wing arguments go completely against common wisdom, so both can be subject to the “propaganda model” Chomsky refers to.
Of course, Media Matters isn’t the only example of this. As Chomsky noted, much of the U.S. media does this and many other “media watchdog sites” do as well, be it on the right or left. Media Matters is simply the most obvious example. Furthermore, I should note that John Stossel, whom they love to criticize, gives long interviews with plenty of the debate on hour long programs dedicated to a single subject… very little concission there. Well done, John.