The liberal group Media Matters has quietly transformed itself in preparation for what its founder, David Brock, described in an interview as an all-out campaign of “guerrilla warfare and sabotage” aimed at the Fox News Channel.
The group, launched as a more traditional media critic, has all but abandoned its monitoring of newspapers and other television networks and is narrowing its focus to Fox and a handful of conservative websites, which its leaders view as political organizations and the “nerve center” of the conservative movement. The shift reflects the centrality of the cable channel to the contemporary conservative movement, as well as the loathing it inspires among liberals — not least among the donors who fund Media Matters’ staff of about 90, who are arrayed in neat rows in a giant war room above Massachusetts Avenue.
“The strategy that we had had toward Fox was basically a strategy of containment,” said Brock, Media Matters’ chairman and founder and a former conservative journalist, adding that the group’s main aim had been to challenge the factual claims of the channel and to attempt to prevent them from reaching the mainstream media.
The new strategy, he said, is a “war on Fox.”
In an interview and a 2010 planning memo shared with POLITICO, Brock listed the fronts on which Media Matters — which he said is operating on a $10 million-plus annual budget — is working to chip away at Fox and its parent company, News Corp. They include its bread-and-butter distribution of embarrassing clips and attempts to rebut Fox points, as well as a series of under-the-radar tactics.
Media Matters, Brock said, is assembling opposition research files not only on Fox’s top executives but on a series of midlevel officials. It has hired an activist who has led a successful campaign to press advertisers to avoid Glenn Beck’s show. The group is assembling a legal team to help people who have clashed with Fox to file lawsuits for defamation, invasion of privacy or other causes. And it has hired two experienced reporters, Joe Strupp and Alexander Zaitchik, to dig into Fox’s operation to help assemble a book on the network, due out in 2012 from Vintage/Anchor. (In the interest of full disclosure, Media Matters last month also issued a report criticizing “Fox and Friends” co-host Steve Doocy’s criticism of this reporter’s blog.)
Brock said Media Matters also plans to run a broad campaign against Fox’s parent company, News Corp., an effort which most likely will involve opening a United Kingdom arm in London to attack the company’s interests there. The group hired an executive from MoveOn.org to work on developing campaigns among News Corp. shareholders and also is looking for ways to turn regulators in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere against the network.
The group will “focus on [News Corp. CEO Rupert] Murdoch and trying to disrupt his commercial interests — whether that be here or looking at what’s going on in London right now,” Brock said, referring to News Corp.’s — apparently successful — move to take a majority stake in the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.