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TNR: Media Matters Seeks New Identity in Post-Clinton World

Clio Chang and Alex Shephard write in The New Republic about the organizational shake-up and shift in focus at the leftwing media watchdog Media Matters for America. The brainchild of its Clinton ally founder David Brock, Media Matters now seeks to reinvent itself in a post-Clinton world. Brock has recently stated that he hopes to transform his social media platform Shareblue into a “Breitbart of the left.” But Clinton’s electoral loss offers a unique challenge for Media Matters because, as Chang and Shephard report, “[t]he organization had long ceased to be a mere watchdog, having positioned itself at the center of a group of public relations and advocacy outfits whose mission was to help put Clinton in the White House.”

From The New Republic:

The allegiance to the Clintons has always sat uncomfortably beside Media Matters’s ostensible goal of holding media accountable. Any journalist on Twitter knows that even mild criticisms of Clinton would almost instantaneously raise the hackles of some Media Matters staffer, giving the distinct impression that the whole project was about protecting Clinton from unflattering press rather than ensuring journalistic integrity. But Media Matters depended heavily on its association with the Clintons. Brock, a formerly conservative journalist who wrote a biography of Clinton that portrayed her as a hardcore leftist Lady Macbeth, has always been an object of suspicion among liberals, his conversion reeking of snake oil. His elevated stature in the world of Democratic politics comes not from any deep roots in liberalism, but the fact that the Clintons blessed his enterprise. That Media Matters both checks conservative media and protects the Clintons has been instrumental in Brock’s ability to raise money for his nonprofit empire, which also includes the website Shareblue (formerly Blue Nation Review) and the super PACs Correct the Record and American Bridge. (Brock did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)

In our numerous conversations with past Media Matters staff, there was a consensus that in the lead-up to Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy in 2015, the organization’s priority shifted away from the mission stated on its website—“comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation”—and towards running defense for Clinton. The former staffers we spoke to largely felt that this damaged Media Matters’s credibility and hurt the work it did in other areas. “The closer we got to the 2016 election the less it became about actually debunking conservative misinformation and more it became about just defending Hillary Clinton from every blogger in their mother’s basement,” one former staffer told us. This was, moreover, a repeat of what Media Matters did in 2008, when there was a rift between staffers and management over the favoring of Clinton in her race against then-Senator Barack Obama.

In March of 2015, The New York Times broke the news about Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, which in retrospect turned out to be the most damaging story of the entire campaign. In response, Media Matters flooded its site with posts attempting to counter the narrative that was quickly forming—that Clinton had broken the rules and had something to hide. “It was all hands on deck,” one former staffer said. “Everyone was just supposed to be looking out for Clinton stuff all the time.” Left unaddressed was whether the story itself was guilty of conservative misinformation.

Employees were asked to stay late or work on the weekends specifically to cover Clinton, which many felt came at the expense of other stories and the organization’s mission. Nearly every former staffer we spoke to felt that researchers, in particular, were underpaid and overworked, and that these problems often surfaced when they were forced to work on stories they felt were dubious. As one former staffer described it, “They were paying me $35,000 a year to watch Fox all the time and to do rotating shifts where I’d have to change from a day shift to a night shift every two weeks. It was just a miserable job.”

Read the rest here.

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