David Brock Advises Media Of The Washington Free Beacon's Unethical Practices

Media Matters chairman David Brock is cautioning the media against validating the journalistic legitimacy of The Washington Free Beacon for accurate information, particularly with regard to its recent reports on Hillary Clinton.

The Free Beacon has published several pieces in recent days that attack Clinton based on tapes obtained from the University of Arkansas (UA) archives that depict interviews Clinton gave in the early 1980s.

The method and substance of The Free Beacon's reporting have been called into question.

In a memo to news editors and reporters that was reported by Buzzfeed, Brock delineated unethical practices and methods of The Free Beacon, and urged credible media outlets to refrain from validating The Free Beacon's journalistic legitimacy. Among other concerns, Brock pointed to The Free Beacon's hidden reliance on an opposition research firm headed by GOP operatives to obtain the information relied on for its recent anti-Clinton stories. 

Here is the full text of Brock's letter:


JUNE 23, 2014

To: News Editors & Reporters

Re: Washington Free Beacon

From: David Brock, Chairman, Media Matters

I'm writing today to apprise you of a number of significant new facts about the practices and methods of The Washington Free Beacon, a widely-quoted right-wing website, specifically with regard to its so-called recent “reporting” on Hillary Clinton.

It is my expectation that consideration of the facts below will give you and your news organization a new understanding of how to regard information published in The Washington Free Beacon going forward, as well as an appreciation of how these unethical practices and methods threaten to taint all journalistic inquiry.

Since its inception in February 2012, The Washington Free Beacon has presented itself as a legitimate journalistic news website. The Free Beacon is published by the Center for American Freedom, a conservative organization whose chairman is Michael Goldfarb, a Republican political activist and former campaign aide to Senator John McCain. On the Center's board is William Kristol, the well-known neoconservative commentator and former Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff. Goldfarb is also listed as founder of The Washington Free Beacon.

On June 21, Business Insider reported on how The Free Beacon obtained tapes from the University of Arkansas library, which The Free Beacon used to publish articles attacking Hillary Clinton, under the byline of Alana Goodman. According to Business Insider, it was not the reporter but one Shawn Reinschmiedt who requested and received the tapes on which The Free Beacon articles were based.

Goldfarb told Business Insider that Reinschmiedt “runs a firm that has been working with the Beacon since we launched.” But Goldfarb did not explain the identity of that firm or its character.

In fact, Reinschmiedt, the former research director of the Republican National Committee, is a founding partner in the Republican opposition research firm M Street Insight. According to Form 990 disclosures filed by The Free Beacon's parent organization, The Center for American Freedom, The Center paid the firm M Street Insight $150,000 for “research consulting” in 2012.

The Free Beacon's “reporting” fails to disclose that The Free Beacon paid a Republican opposition research firm for the information it falsely published as its own journalistic work from the University of Arkansas tapes.

I trust you'll agree that a journalistic news website hiring undercover Republican operatives to misrepresent themselves as journalists and secretly to provide it with information is, at best, an unusual practice. I certainly know that you understand that any time a news organization pays money for information, journalistic ethics requires that it be disclosed to readers.

It goes without saying that Media Matters supports legitimate journalistic inquiry and objects to no fact-based information disclosed by any journalistic entity regardless of its political viewpoint or consequences.

However, the underhanded practices and methods of The Washington Free Beacon are another story entirely. Here we have opposition research being acquired by a Republican research firm and then published through a website that claims to be practicing journalism while hiding the true facts of how it got its information.

As you may know, I have more than a passing familiarity with similar right-wing dirt-digging operations disguised as journalism conducted against the Clintons in the 1990s. At that time, The American Spectator magazine contracted with Republican investigators to supply the organization with negative information on the Clintons which was then packaged as the magazine's own investigative reportage. In the current arrangement between The Washington Free Beacon and M Street Insight, I fear we are seeing this disgraceful history on the right repeating itself.

In the matter of the University of Arkansas tapes, The Free Beacon has perpetrated a fraud on the University of Arkansas, its readers, the public, and on legitimate news organizations. Ultimately what The Free Beacon is hiding is its true nature: The Free Beacon is not a journalistic website at all, but rather a right-wing dumping ground for Republican opposition research that The Free Beacon buys and then distributes under false light as the fruits of its own research and investigations.

I hope that you'll remember these facts in the future when deciding how to treat The Washington Free Beacon and its so-called “reporting.” If credible media outlets regard the unethical practices of The Free Beacon as valid, all of journalism will be debased.