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Correction:

The paragraph about Sam Stein and Nico Pitney has been rewritten. Originally I wrote that "a Google search suggests Sam Stein has written frequently about Media Matters. Nico Pitney, less so." Also, it was brought to my attention that Politico's search engine doesn't respect phrasal searches, so the figures for Ben Smith have been corrected. No wonder the Dally Caller didn't do this research — it's hard!

Media Monday: Which reporter is Media Matters' top lackey?

February 20, 2012 - 08:55 AM
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(Flickr/MJmerry)

The Daily Caller's seemingly endless series on conservative-media watchdog Media Matters for America, while largely met by silence or derision, prompted the Post's Erik Wemple to write:

If the Daily Caller really wants to call this an “investigation,” then the least it can do is a few searches on Google or Nexis... Why not just rely on the public record? Why not just look at a reporter’s clips and determine whether s/he overuses Media Matters material?

The Caller seems uninterested in Wemple's advice, preferring instead to hype its publication of a Media Matters memo it "obtained" — even though, as Dylan Byers notes, Politico published wrote about it nearly a year ago. So I've taken it upon myself to do the Caller's dirty work. Full disclosure: Best as I can recall, I have never received a single email for Media Matters, and the only time I've ever mentioned the liberal organization was to call its "Drop Fox" campaign "useless."

In the series' opening salvo, by Tucker Carlson and Vince Coglianese, the Caller singled out nine reporters who allegedly served as Media Matters' lackeys. A "source with firsthand knowledge" said, “If you can’t get it anywhere else, Greg Sargent’s always game,” referring to the liberal blogger who runs the Post's Plum Line. Using that site's search engine, I found just 12 articles since 2005 in which Sargent references Media Matters. Of those, four are innocuous mentions in morning or evening roundups, while three more only make passing references to the organization. Of the remaining five, two relate to Fox News: audio uncovered by Media Matters in which a Fox exec admits to speculating about Obama's alleged socialist tendencies even though he found the idea "far fetched"; and the news that Fox had agreed to run a Media Matters ad about a $1 million donation the News Corporation had made to the Republican Governors Association. The other three are about Media Matters founder David Brock: his defense of using undisclosed donors; and his gearing up, through a "big-money outside groups," to "go head-to-head with the flood of outside money conservative groups." Sargent, hardly sounding like a mouthpiece for the organization, writes that "the shift suggests that the brand of media criticism practiced by Media Matters is shading into outright guerrilla-style political activism."

Here's what I found, based on searches via Google, Nexis, or the websites of the reporters' respective publications:

• The Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. and Eugene Robinson have mentioned Media Matters just once since 2005.

• The LA Times' Jim Rainey has mentioned Media Matters five times total, always referring to it as a "liberal media watchdog," "left-leaning media watchdog group," or similar.

• The Huffington Post's search engine doesn't allow you to filter by author, and the site doesn't appear to be indexed by Nexis. A Google search shows Sam Stein and Nico Pitney have mentioned Media Matters, but without a small army of interns, I can't possibly say how often.

• The San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli has mentioned Media Matters 15 times since 2005.

• The New York Times' Brian Stelter has mentioned Media Matters 21 times since 2009.

• While at Politico, from 2007 until joining Buzzfeed last year, Ben Smith mentioned Media Matters eight times in passing, cited its research or quoted someone there five times, and wrote about the organization itself five times.

In some of these mentions, Media Matters is cited as a source. That can be problematic, as Jack Shafer notes in his criticism of the Caller's series, because it's not always apparent what Media Matters authors have left out to bolster their case. ("Media Matters, like so many think tanks and watchdogs, is in the propaganda business," he writes.) Many more of these mentions, however, are just that: mentions, in passing. And that's hardly proof that these reporters are in bed with Media Matters. After all, the Daily Caller has mentioned the organization 118 times since the beginning of 2010.

Politico reporter fails to recognize Wisconsin state flag. Donovan Slack, covering Obama's visit to a Master Lock plant, filed a report titled "WH flies labor flag in Milwaukee," writing that it makes "very clear what side President Obama [was] on here in Wisconsin." Problem was, as HuffPost's Jason Linkins and others noted, the accompanying photograph showed that the flag flown at the event was not that of a labor union, but rather the state flag. This seemed particularly egregious, given that the flag bears the state seal and says "Wisconsin 1848." The article was scrubbed, and now bears a correction: "An earlier 44 blog post about Obama’s visit to Wisconsin incorrectly identified the Wisconsin state flag." An unfortunate error, yes, but forgivable. The kindest words came from Gawker, of all places, where Hamilton Nolan wrote, "We all make mistakes."

THE CLIPBOARD

"WUSA reporter Andrea McCarren balks after backlash over teen drinking stories" [Farhi]

"The Huguely case: What makes for a media mob?" [Farhi]

"Does The Post rely too much on wire services?" [Pexton]

"Shadid tributes: ‘His success was the result of grueling work’" [Beaujon]

"Aaron Morrissey, former DCist editor, headed to Atlantic Media Company" [TBD]

"POLITICO Novelized" [Buzzfeed]

"Ted Leonsis on print media" [WaPo]

"'No Beef' from Ted Leonsis on Post Sports Blogs" [Porcupine]

Post puts grab-ass photo opposite KidsPost [Romenesko]

"At CPAC, plenty of lefty media, but campaign finance reporters left out" [Beaujon]

"Politico TV coming to a station on your dial?" [Wemple]

"Dinner with 'The Atlantic'" [Adweek]

"Dave McKenna Working for ESPN?" [Porcupine]

"Atlantic Media Execs Headed To St. Bart's"/"Comparing 'Atlantic' staff retreats: St. Barts or Atlantic City?" [Buzzfeed, TBD]

"Sari Horwitz will cover Justice Department for Washington Post" [Beaujon]

"TVs are murdering our babies, the Washington Post reports" [TBD]

"City Paper to Launch Groupon-Like Site, 'Real Deal'" [Porcupine]

"Oops! Rushed Transcript Leads to Inadvertent Foodie Partisanship" [DCist]

"Express, Examiner Delivery Vans Stolen" [Porcupine]

"An open letter to the Indianapolis Colts: Release Peyton Manning, for Washington Post readers' sake" [TBD]

The next day, the Post's Tracee Hamilton published another column, "Peyton Manning risks make one suitor seem increasingly likely."

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