Fox News's Attack on Media Matters…Validates Media Matters' Critique of Fox News

By Chris Mooney | July 7, 2011 9:54 am

I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the “Fox News Effect”: Why it is that Fox viewers believe more misinformation about science, and also about politics, as documented in multiple studies. But of course, I’m not the only one who has been pointing this out–so, of course, has David Brock’s organization, Media Matters, the top press watchdog coming from the progressive corner.

Apparently, Media Matters’ attacks are getting under Fox’s skin, and as Politico reports, the network has responded by arguing that Media Matters ought to lose its tax exempt status. One slight problem: that’s a weak legal argument, and one that seems specially designed to serve a political goal–just as Fox’s claims about global warming and other topics often are…just as Media Matters and others have often observed.

Why should Media Matters be tax exempt, a nonprofit? Because while it surely expresses opinions, it is centrally an organization that educates about media bias, and does not directly support campaigns, candidates, or legislation. In this, it is just like umpteen other such organizations in Washington and around the country. It is just like all the conservative think tanks, and all the liberal think tanks, and all the advocacy groups…and on, and on, and on.

Indeed, there is an exact parallel of Media Matters on the right: The non-profit Media Research Center, which calls itself “a 501(C)3 organization whose mission is to educate the public and media on bias in the media.” I don’t think any of these organizations should lose their status…neither those with which I agree, nor those with which I disagree. Rather, I simply think that Fox should stop generating questionable arguments and claims for ideological reasons–both in its treatment of climate science and other factually contested issues, and in its dealing with critics.


Comments (18)

  1. The assault by Fox News on Media Matters has been relentless for the past couple of weeks. They have taken to daily reports including calls to file complaints with the IRS challenging their tax-exempt status. They have had their resident psychiatric “expert,” Keith Ablow, psychoanalyze MM’s founder, David Brock (a violation of medical ethics). And they have instructed their viewers to lie on the complaint forms to the IRS.

    This is an unprecedented attack by a major media enterprise against a non-profit with whom they disagree.

  2. Johnny

    Chris, can you please explain how someone can “…believe more misinformation … about politics”.

    What exactly is “Political Misinformation”?

  3. Doug

    What, I’m wondering, would qualify as “Political Misinformation” in your world, Chris? Is it as black and white as anything that doesn’t fit into your world-view, or is it a more nebulous definition?

    As I see it, all news media is biased. Sure, FNC may not be ‘fair and balanced’, but neither is any other mainstream news outlet. The bottom line is that truly neutral reporting is boring as hell, and it takes inflammatory speech targeting one subset of the population, like, say, “The Republican War on Science”, to get any attention.

    No need to feign shock that FNC is fighting back. When MM’s site flatly states that their mission lies in “monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media”, that pretty much screams bias to me. When your group is founded to focus on negative coverage of one ideology, I don’t really think there’s a way to claim that there’s any neutrality.

    At least the Media Research Center has the sense to tip their hand in their mission statement.

  4. Neon Sequitur

    Political misinformation is a polite euphemism for “bald-faced lies.’ And what FOX news calls “liberal bias” is what journalists in the rest of the civilized world refer to as “fact-checking a story.” Because once it’s fact-checked,it no longer meets FOX’s standards for “fair and balanced.” The *facts* don’t support their slanted, one-sided, right-wing narrative, and never will.

    So what do they do?

    Make a bunch of $h!t up!!! And their audience considers these fabrications to be unquestionable “truth.” They’re misinformed, they’re proud of it, and they vote.

  5. ApostasyUSA

    That is mad funny!!!

    Media Matters starts telling fox news advertisers to stop buying ads, so Fox News fires Glen Beck.

    Win Media Matters.

    Then Fox News starts running ads of their own against Media Matters.

    Ultra win Media Matters!!!

    Every 30 second ad Fox runs against Media Matters is lost revenue for News Corp. If this was the goal of Media Matters then bravo!!! Bringing down Fox News isn’t an easy task but I’m glad someone is up to it. Thanks Media Matters!

  6. Sean McCorkle

    What exactly is “Political Misinformation”?
    What, I’m wondering, would qualify as “Political Misinformation” in your world, Chris?

    Um, does “Barack Obama was not born in the United States” count?

  7. ╦heBigo╦

    The Obama was not born in the U.S conspiracy came straight out of the Hilary Clinton campaign camp E-Mail.

    Ad even after that NO news organization pushed such a conspiracy as fact.

  8. Johnny

    @#6 Sean

    You said regarding “Political Misinformation”:
    Um, does “Barack Obama was not born in the United States” count?

    Great idea for an example. Lets see if it works.

    Here’s a very timely article on it today, from Fox.

    An expert on forensic documents is furios that Fox claimed he validated Obama’s birth ceritfiicate, where as he claims he did not validate or authenticate it.

    In this instance, Fox is being accused of political misinformation, with pro-Obama bias!

    So tell me, is this “political mis-information” because the expert claims he didn’t’ say it, or is it “The Truth” because it favors the liberal in this situation?

  9. lamanga2004

    Check the UK news if you want to read more about Murdoch and Co.

  10. Jesse

    Fox is the only major network that even tries to present news without the leftist agenda that started in the 60’s and has mushroomed to where it is now.

  11. JDSender

    Jesse, repeating a lie doesn’t make it true. Fox is free to make any argument they wish, but the facts they present to support their opinion need to be ‘true’ (verified by evidence). For example, it is a verifiable fact Pres. Obama is male. Saying he was born in Kenya, despite 2 types of officially verified birth certificates and one deep FBI investigation, isn’t even an opinion, it’s a lie.
    Same with ‘death panels’ in the Healthcare reform.
    What Fox calls a ‘liberal-bias’ is actually ‘fact-based-bias’.

    There are loads of web sites listing Fox’s lies. Read them an judge the evidence for your self.
    Or drink the kool-aid of the wealthy over-lords. It is a ‘cult’ (look it up)

  12. Forge

    You know what happened when Mike Wallace published false information about then pres. GWB on CBS? They fired his ass. You know what happens when Fox news reporters and opinionators publish false information? They do it again a few minutes later. Over and over and over until morons believe it. Sorry #10. Just because most media reporting is to the left of the reactionary BS you may wish were true does not make it leftist. The whole leftist agenda meme is a myth derived of that simple truth.. Fair and balanced is a lie. Even-handedness, on the other hand, is a liberal trait.

  13. Rational

    Thanks to Fox News, rationality, logic, and living in reality (as opposed to a fantasy world) are all equated to being a democrat.

  14. Sean McCorkle

    Ad even after that NO news organization pushed such a conspiracy as fact.

    does repeated airtime for guests who DO push it count?

  15. MylzBrandish

    @7 and @8

    The “Fox News Effect” in the article doesn’t refer to Fox News lying, but to Fox’s viewers being more misinformed (having their facts wrong).

    Whether Fox lies or not isn’t the question. You don’t have to lie to make someone believe something not true.

    Would you like to posit your own theory of why Fox’s viewers are so remarkably misinformed compared to other media outlets?

    Were these people dumb before they started watching Fox? Does Fox naturally appeal to dumber viewers, making it a selection factor?

    Or, to take the simple option, maybe something about the way Fox covers the news is causing this rampant ignorance among it’s viewers.

  16. Nullius in Verba

    “Would you like to posit your own theory of why Fox’s viewers are so remarkably misinformed compared to other media outlets?”

    We’ve done this one loads of times. In some cases it’s because the definition of “informed” and “misinformed” is effectively “holds the same/opposite opinion as the researchers”, and in other cases because the selection of topics they pick to study are those that the researchers consider to be or notice as examples of common misinformation, which are generally those where prevailing opinions disagree with their own. Since there are more scientists – and particularly social scientists – with a strong liberal bias, you get confirmation bias and selection bias effects.

    When people say something that aligns with your own opinion you don’t notice – even if it’s wrong. If somebody says something that doesn’t fit your beliefs, it triggers a mental alarm; you analyse it, you fact-check, you remember it.

    Everybody is relatively ignorant on virtually all technical topics – even experts are expert in relatively narrow fields. All media outlets output constant errors, misunderstandings, part-truths, falsehoods, and spin – Fox included. But you only notice a particular subset of them. The other side notice a different set (or sometimes the same set with a different definition of informed/misinformed), and I assure you they hold the exact same opinion in reverse! Is it not more likely that cognitive bias is a feature of all human reasoning, and that we all need to be aware of our own fallibility?

    There are plenty of people around – including scientists – who hold the belief that scientific research on cognitive biases doesn’t apply to them and their own beliefs. Do you think they might be right? Or are they more likely being dumb?

  17. Dylan

    Forge says “You know what happened when Mike Wallace published false information about then pres. GWB on CBS? They fired his ass.”

    Yeah….that’s some fine reporting there.

  18. Draa

    Just listen to the people defending Fake News. How sweet.

    The same thing that got NotW in trouble will bring down Fake News here, too. Unless we are to believe that they wouldn’t hack the phones of Americans. We all know they would ,and I’m sure that the Feds are checking into it now. Hopefully it will be someone really inportant and Murdoch will lose another few billion. Good luck surviving Fake News, you slimey worthless right wing POS.

    It’s funny, my mom who is a 65yo conservative and was always a devoted Republican called them a bunch of crooks and Fake News their leader. If the Republicans don’t realize that life long Republicans look at them and laugh they deserve the dust bin of history they’re headed for.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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