(Now before I start, I should say that I am well aware that Media Matters has its critics. Some people think that Media Matters should not have tax-exempt status. That has no relevance to the accuracy of its reporting, however. Since Media Matters targets only the conservative media, others consider them biased and therefore don't respect their research. But the fact that Media Matters targets only conservative media does not show that their research isn't worthy of respect. This blog focuses on the conservative media, but I have what I take to be very good criticisms of my targets and they must be judged on their own merits.)
Oliver Willis quotes Sen. Mitch McConnell's speech at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday as follows:
Last June I stood here and warned of a grave and growing threat to the First Amendment. That threat has not let up at all. Our ability to freely engage in civic life and organize in defense of our beliefs is still under coordinated assault from groups on the left that don't like the idea of anyone criticizing their aims. And from a White House that appears determined to shut up anybody who disagrees with it. Now on the outside there is a well-documented effort by a number of left wing groups like Media Matters to harass and to intimidate conservatives with the goal of scaring them off the political playing field and off the airwaves as well. An internal Media Matters memo from January 2010 showed the extent to which these tactics have been turned, literally, into a science. In it, we learned of the group's plan to conduct opposition research into the lives of on-air news personalities and other key decision makers over at Fox News. And to coordinate with 100 or so partner groups to pressure the network's advertisers and shareholders to, get this, by the threat of actual boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, shame, embarrassment and other tactics on a variety of issues important to the progressive agenda.Willis writes that, in response to McConnell, Media Matters president Bradley Beychok said, "Mitch McConnell seems to be implying there is something underhanded or sinister about what Media Matters does. That is not the case. We monitor and correct conservative misinformation in the media." I have been reading Media Matters long enough to know that Beychok's assertion is generally true. And that, by the way, is good enough: absolute perfection in the pursuit of one's goal is too much to ask.
Let's think carefully about what McConnell said, granting, at least for the sake of argument, that Media Matters' mission is exactly what Beychok says it is.
McConnell complains that organizations like Media Matters are trying to "harass and intimidate conservatives" with the intention of "scaring them off the political playing field." How are they doing this? By using "boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, shame, [and] embarrassment" to apply pressure to Fox News advertisers and shareholders. Why? Because they disapprove of criticism of their liberal agenda. At stake is the freedom of conservatives to "engage in civic life and organize in defense of [their] beliefs."
Now, think about that, and ask yourself, what really is wrong with any of this? I know for a fact that there is much misinformation in the conservative media. Correcting it does not necessarily imply or require a political agenda. None of my criticisms of Lori Ziganto's anti-abortion posts, for example, took issue with her position; rather, I criticized her bad arguments and misinformation in support of her position. But suppose that Media Matters has a political agenda. Again, what is wrong with this? Fox News has a political agenda. Mitch McConnell has a political agenda. Shouldn't conservatives disapprove of criticism of their agenda? Why wouldn't they? Would there be anything wrong with conservatives using boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, and so on, to apply pressure to, say, MSNBC advertisers and shareholders? No. No activity McConnell mentions is against the law. And freedom of speech does not protect anyone from having to confront those who disagree with them. Rather, the "grave and growing threat to the First Amendment" is represented by those like McConnell who believe that they have a right not to be challenged in the marketplace of ideas. Seriously, who is a bigger threat to the First Amendment: those who protest against Fox News, or those who have a problem with such protests? And McConnell's claim that conservatives' freedoms are endangered is ludicrous. Conservatives have all the freedoms everyone else has. But conservatives also have to face the consequences of exercising those freedoms, just like everyone else. If you want to broadcast the crazy shit one is apt to find on Fox News, people are going to get upset. And by the way, isn't that what you're counting on? You want your own people to get upset so that they'll write those checks, right?
What's really going on here is that McConnell is whining. Never have I heard as much whining and moaning from Republicans as I've heard since Obama was elected in 2008. They complain about NPR because NPR refuses to lean to the right and consequently they want to defund the CPB. (You might think that NPR has a liberal bias. I listen to NPR every day, and I can tell you that you are wrong.) Broadcasting should be privately funded, they surely believe, especially tea party types. Well, if Fox News has to compete in the marketplace with everyone else, then they will have to put up with consumers, some of whom are well organized, who don't like them.
Now, you might say that my reasoning is good, but the assumption that I began with is false: Media Matters' mission is not what Beychok says it is, but is in fact some other sinister thing. My challenge to you is this: show me that you're right. Show me your evidence. Make a case for your point of view. I am open-minded enough to consider good arguments, and I have in the past gone where the evidence has taken me and changed my mind. (Once, I thought that the death penalty is morally justified. How wrong I was about that!)