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Glenn Beck Departs, Media Matters Plots New Targets

Glenn Beck
AP Photo/Richard Drew
Glenn Beck

The left-leaning watchdog group, which has pressured advertisers to yank support of conservative media personalities, ranks Andrew Breitbart, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others in separate "tiers" of influence, beliefs and reach.

Now that Media Matters has declared victory over Glenn Beck, what's next on its agenda? Getting Donald Trump to stop questioning where President Obama was born, perhaps, or maybe convincing advertisers to yank their support of another show on Fox News Channel. Maybe the left-leaning watchdog group will step up its campaign against online entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart.

It's all on the table, but the only thing that's for sure is whoever takes Beck's time slot when he ends his Fox News Channel show this year will be an instant target of the group.
 
"We monitor Beck's 5 p.m. show on Fox. Whoever is in at 5 p.m., we're still going to monitor," said executive vp Ari Rabin-Havt, the No. 2 executive at Media Matters. "The likelihood is whoever is on at 5 p.m. is going to be a source of conservative misinformation."
 
Beyond that, though, Media Matters isn't spilling its exact agenda, acknowledging only that there are "discussions" concerning Trump, Breitbart and others on an ongoing basis. But the advertising gambit -- which worked so well against Beck by discouraging most big brands to avoid his TV show -- is a tactic the group likes to use sparingly.
 
Besides the campaign against Beck, Media Matters has only targeted advertisers on two other occasions in the past two years, and was successful both times: when Dr. Laura Schlessinger used the N-word in a rant against political correctness on her former radio show and against Lou Dobbs while on CNN because of his stance on illegal immigration and his status as a "birther."
 
Rabin-Havt says there are internal discussions about launching another campaign to get advertisers to boycott a show, though he wouldn't name names.
 
"That would be jumping the gun," he said.
 
"When the line has been crossed so far, it warrants talking to advertisers. There was that conversation that happened with Beck," he added. "It's something we might do again; it's something we might never do again.
 
"As part of our systems, we do purchase advertising data on the major networks and radio shows."
 
While Trump is suddenly in the Media Matters' crosshairs due to him loudly and rather suddenly asking for Obama to show his birth certificate, he doesn't have a news show to boycott so he's safe from a Media Matters-inspired advertising boycott. Rabin-Havt said the group will not target Trump's hit NBC show The Celebrity Apprentice or his show on the Golf Channel.
 
"We don't care what Trump does in his real estate career or on Apprentice, but if he spreads political misinformation, that's what
we'll look at. He emerged on our radar screen a few weeks ago because he started doing that," said Rabin-Havt. "When Trump goes on Fox and has these birther rants, that's slightly important because he's starting a national debate."
 
Media Matters -- which operates on a $14 million budget, up from $9 million two years ago (financial backers have included billionaire George Soros, film producer Steve Bing and TV producer Marcy Carsey) -- employs 86 people, many of whom make up teams of a half-dozen people who monitor 24 TV shows daily and dozens of radio shows.
 
The group puts various media personalities and entities into separate "tiers" depending on the amount of "conservative misinformation" each spreads and to what degree they influence the debate.
 
Fox News is the biggest target and accounts for 55% of what Media Matters complains about. But the group's Tier 1 also consists of Breitbart, Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and WorldNetDaily.
 
Tier 2 is made up primarily of local radio hosts or national ones whose conservatism, influence or reach isn't as objectionable to Media Matters as is Limbaugh's or Savage's: Dennis Prager on the national level, for example, and Quinn and Rose from Pittsburgh and Steve Malzberg from New York on the local level. Tammy Bruce, an online-only radio host, also falls into this category.
 
Schlessinger was also a Tier 2 personality when Media Matters helped organize an advertising boycott against her. Since moving her show to Sirius XM, she's fallen to Tier 3, consisting basically of conservative media personalities who didn't make the upper two tiers.
 
There are a few who are tougher to categorize. Michael Medved, for example, lies between Tier 1 and Tier 2, and Dennis Miller's radio show doesn't interest Media Matters at all, while his appearances on The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News are monitored, Rabin-Havt said.
 
"The tiers are internal for how we divide up assignments during the day," he said.
 
Once a Media Matters team member sees, reads or hears something objectionable, they document it in an email list the staff refers to as the "Bat Signal."
 
Rabin-Havt said the Bat Signal contains up to 500 items a day. On Thursday, for example, one read: "At 5:27 p.m Glenn Beck said 'drug cartels are protesting -- oh, that's a labor union'."
 
Another read: "Right at the end of Neil Cavuto's show, he said, 'for those who get so emotional about a government shut down, shut up'."
 
"We determine from the Bat Signal," said Rabin-Havt, "what things need to be highlighted and what are part of a longer-term narrative."
 
If Media Matters zeroes in on one of its Bat Signal items, journalists, Democratic party operatives and others will get an email highlighting the perceived offense, and the results could be devastating, as was the case with Schlessinger, who didn't take long to resign her radio show after Media Matters focused their attention on her N-word rant.
 
More recently, Fox News host and former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said on Medved's radio show that it was "troubling" to see Natalie Portman celebrated for having a child out of wedlock. Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast noted that the remark went unnoticed for three days until Media Matters jumped on it. "Five hours later, MSNBC's Ed Schultz was skewering Huckabee, and the story quickly ricocheted from TMZ to Politico to Stephen Colbert," Kurtz wrote.

But sometimes Media Matters' activities can amount to free publicity. Breitbart, whose latest book comes out next week, says he relishes the idea of being a Tier 1 target of the group.

"All that will do is draw sympathy to me from people who don't like their tactics," he said. "The Left is totalitarian by nature. They can't exist in a free marketplace of ideas.

"We're entering an age of hyper-transparency, and my life's passion is to expose the Left as anti-free speech, anti-dissent and anti-liberty. The sociopaths at Media Matters are unlovable freaks."