As 2005 comes to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you -- the readers, activists, and contributors who have made Media Matters for America the nation's leading progressive media research and information center. Because of your support for our efforts to monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation, we're making a difference.
Since January 1, Media Matters has documented and corrected 1,531 instances of conservative misinformation -- and more than 2,834 since we launched in May 2004. Here's a look at the year's highlights.
JANUARY: Drawing attention to journalists involved in government payola scandal
While the year began with Bill O'Reilly accepting our 2004 "Misinformer of the Year" award on his prime-time Fox News program, our focus quickly shifted to revelations that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars under the table to promote a Bush administration education initiative. We immediately called for all news organizations to review their relationships with Mr. Williams, and he lost his syndicated column. Despite his statements to the contrary, we documented that Williams had originally criticized aspects of the education initiative he was later paid to promote. Later in January, The Washington Post revealed that conservative commentator Maggie Gallagher had received federal funds to promote a so-called "marriage initiative." One day later, Salon.com discovered that a third conservative commentator, Michael McManus, was paid to promote Bush's "marriage initiative." Media Matters joined the Human Rights Campaign and the Campaign Legal Center at the National Press Club to amplify these stories and to demand from our government that it will never again break the law by paying journalists to promote a political agenda.
FEBRUARY: Exposing Jeff Gannon
On the heels of revelations that the Bush administration was secretly paying conservative writers to promote administration policies, Media Matters broke the news that White House press corps member Jeff Gannon was "Washington Bureau Chief" not of a legitimate news agency but of a phony journalistic enterprise, Talon News, created by longtime Texas Republican operative Bobby Eberle. Media Matters also documented Gannon's lack of journalistic credentials and the fact that several of Gannon's articles were lightly edited versions of press releases issued by the Bush administration and the Republican National Committee. Within days, Gannon's presence in the White House press room became a national scandal. Gannon was ejected from his post, and the right-wing "news" service was shut down.
MARCH: Fact-checking the Social Security debate
The Social Security debate heated up following Bush's State of the Union address and raged through the spring. Media Matters pushed the media to report the facts -- not conservative spin -- on Social Security and the radical proposals to change it. Media Matters' analysis of State of the Union coverage brought to light the administration's success in pressing reporters to use the misleading term "personal accounts" (rather than "private accounts") in reporting on Bush's social security privatization plan. We redressed numerous instances of exaggerated public support for private accounts and repeatedly countered the false claim that private accounts would address the solvency of the Social Security system.
Media Matters did not allow Fox News host and Washington managing editor Brit Hume to get away with falsely claiming that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated replacing Social Security with private accounts. After we documented Hume's falsehood, Roosevelt's grandson called Hume's statement an "outrageous distortion" and called for his resignation.
APRIL: Monitoring coverage of the Terri Schiavo case
Media Matters closely watched the Terri Schiavo case, showing how media coverage of the issue was slanted and factually inaccurate.
For example, Media Matters revealed that a Florida neurologist who declared that Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state and could be helped, Dr. William Hammesfahr, falsely claimed to be a Nobel Prize nominee. His false claim was repeated by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, and eight times during a one-hour broadcast by Fox News host Sean Hannity.
In another instance, Media Matters uncovered a CNN.com graph of polling results that falsely conveyed the impression that Democrats far outnumbered Republicans and independent voters in thinking the Florida state court was right to order Schiavo's feeding tube removed when in fact, a majority of all three groups agreed with the court's decision, and the gap between Democrats on one hand and Republicans and independents on the other was within the poll's margin of error. In response, CNN corrected the misleading graph and guaranteed that such an error "will never happen again."
MAY: Calling attention to the Downing Street Memo
Media Matters -- together with dozens of members of Congress, Air America Radio, and the progressive blogosphere -- brought attention to the Downing Street Memo, which provided new evidence that the Bush administration lied about its reasons for going to war in Iraq. This was a big story in Britain but unreported in the United States until Media Matters and others drew attention to it -- and to the failure of the U.S. media to cover it -- after which it was given blanket coverage on the cable channels and the influential Sunday talk shows. The Washington Post's ombudsman favorably wrote about Media Matters' criticism of the paper's failure to cover the memo; five days later, the Post ran a major piece on the memo's revelations, jump-starting the U.S. news cycle. CNN's Wolf Blitzer covered the memo for the first time three days after Media Matters took him and CNN to task for ignoring the story.
JUNE: Discrediting Edward Klein's Hillary attack book
Media Matters pre-emptively discredited Edward Klein's slanderous book The Truth About Hillary with hard facts exposing his history of shoddy reporting, the publisher's political agenda, and the book's innumerable factual errors and poor sourcing. In the wake of our work, Klein's promotional appearances were canceled, and Klein himself eventually admitted to errors in his book. The expressed intention of the publisher -- to "Swift Boat" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- was thwarted.
JULY: Combating misinformation in the judicial nomination battle
Media Matters spearheaded the analysis of news coverage following Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement announcement and the subsequent Bush nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be her successor. Immediately, Media Matters noticed that C. Boyden Gray, a key activist for a group committed to supporting President Bush's nominees to the court, was being featured on Fox News as an impartial commentator and labeled as a "Fox Supreme Court Analyst." Media Matters sent a letter of protest to Fox and followed up with an action alert, which was distributed by Working Assets' Act for Change. The action worked. Though Gray continued to appear on Fox, he was subsequently identified as former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush.
Media Matters worked to prevent conservative misinformation from setting the terms of the debate. We repeatedly discouraged the media from wrongly attributing the term "nuclear option" to Democrats, because, in fact, it was coined by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) as a way to refer to the Republican-proposed Senate rule change to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations. We also debunked claims made by numerous media outlets that a statement Roberts made in 2003 signaled that he would uphold Roe v. Wade as a Supreme Court justice.
AUGUST: Exposing Pat Robertson's call to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
August began with our documenting Focus on the Family chairman James C. Dobson's analogy between embryonic stem-cell research and Nazi medical experiments and ended with Media Matters breaking the news that right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson, during a broadcast of The 700 Club, advocated that the U.S. government assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Robertson's remarks made international headlines and were swiftly condemned by Venezuela's vice president, U.S. officials (including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld), members of Congress, and clergy. Media Matters encouraged our readers to lodge protests with the cable channel ABC Family, which airs The 700 Club three times daily. In response, ABC Family issued a statement that it is contractually obligated to show The 700 Club but that the channel "strongly rejects" the views Robertson expressed; ABC Family agreed to place a permanent disclaimer on the broadcast.
SEPTEMBER: Tracking Hurricane Katrina coverage
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Media Matters was there when conservatives took to the airwaves and, to the shock of many Americans, repeatedly insulted the victims of Katrina, used false information to defend President Bush against charges that the federal government's response was inadequate (examples here and here), and mischaracterized the efforts of Democrats to pursue a formal inquiry about failures in the government's response to Katrina. When The Washington Post quoted an anonymous "senior Bush official" lying in order to counter criticism of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, Post ombudsman Michael Getler devoted a column to our criticism of the paper's two sentence correction of the lie as inadequate.
OCTOBER: Sparking debate on Bill Bennett's comments linking race and crime
Media Matters exposed and brought nationwide attention to former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett's statement on his radio show that "you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Numerous public officials, including President Bush, criticized Bennett's comments after Media Matters posted them. In the midst of the controversy, Bennett resigned from K12 Inc., an education company of which he served as chairman and member of the company's board of directors.
Bill O'Reilly commented on the Bennett controversy by calling Media Matters "assassins" and "the worst" among the country's "most vicious" political websites. He falsely claimed that we misquote conservative commentators, thereby ignoring the fact that we supply a transcript (including the full context) of each comment with which we take issue; further, these transcripts are often accompanied by video and audio clips. A few weeks after O'Reilly attacked us, we documented him encouraging Al Qaeda to attack San Francisco. In criticizing a ballot measure passed by 60 percent of San Francisco voters discouraging military recruiting in public schools, O'Reilly said, "And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead." O'Reilly was roundly condemned by officials in San Francisco, where his comments were front-page news.
Media Matters also worked tirelessly to counter the onslaught of misinformation surrounding the CIA leak investigation, which reached a boiling point in October with the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. We highlighted the media's repeated distortion of special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's mandate in investigating the case, including the false claims that his probe was originally limited to the violation of a single law and that he had sought authorization from the Department of Justice to expand this scope in early 2004. Further, when numerous conservatives asserted that the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity was trivial because it had already been common knowledge to her neighbors, Media Matters noted their complete failure to produce even one neighbor who claimed to have known of Plame's CIA connections before she was outed.
NOVEMBER: Ensuring accurate coverage of GOP scandals
As Republican scandals escalated in November, Media Matters corrected numerous national media figures who wrongly cast these GOP-laden scandals as nonpartisan. In covering Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) indictment, we debunked the false but oft-repeated claim that DeLay prosecutor Ronnie Earle is a partisan; we worked successfully to get media outlets to report the fact that Earle has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans. We repeatedly criticized the media's failure to report that Karl Rove, in order to gain access to classified information, likely violated the terms of a nondisclosure agreement when he spoke with columnist Robert D. Novak and journalist Matthew Cooper about CIA operative Valerie Plame. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter later wrote about this aspect of the CIA leak investigation under the headline "Is Rove a Security Risk?" Media Matters also pushed back when some media figures continued to rewrite the White House's original, broad promise to fire anyone involved in the Plame leak. Further, we combated conservatives' unfounded claim that Fitzgerald's probe had determined that the leak itself did not represent a crime.
Referencing his role in the Plame scandal, Media Matters wrote to CNN asking the network to refuse to renew Novak's contract. A few weeks later, members of the Media Matters staff hand-delivered almost 5,000 letters from individuals around the country concurring with Media Matters' call to not renew Novak's contract. On December 16, CNN announced that "Bob Novak's tenure on the network will come to a close (effective 12/31)."
DECEMBER: Fighting the "war" on Christmas
Throughout December, Media Matters led the way in documenting the right-wing's latest manufactured outrage: The so-called "war" on Christmas. Beginning in October, Bill O'Reilly mounted a crusade to defend Christmas from forces he said were anti-Christian. Media Matters exposed how O'Reilly fabricated evidence (here and here) to support his claim of a "war" on Christmas, including his utterly groundless assertion in one instance that a Texas school district banned red and green clothing. Unlike last year, when Media Matters first pointed out how the right was trumping up this divisive theme, this year the so-called "war" on Christmas became a national controversy, and many in the press, relying on our research, exposed it as fraudulent. Throughout 2005, we also closely monitored coverage of ongoing stories like the Iraq war and the state of the U.S. economy. And 2006 will quickly heat up with comprehensive monitoring of media coverage of the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
From all of us at Media Matters for America: Thank you for looking to us as a trusted source to separate conservative misinformation from fact and to continue to bring to light the hate speech that is simply antithetical to American values. Finally, a special thanks to our friends at Air America Radio, the Center for American Progress, and the progressive blogosphere for helping us spread the word. Stay tuned ...
President and CEO
Media Matters for America