Media Matters for America (or MMfA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2004 by journalist and author David Brock. Media Matters for America describes itself as "a web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." Media Matters for America defines "conservative misinformation" as "news or commentary presented in the media that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda.
Media Matters analyzes the dominant American news sources. Networks reviewed include NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and FOX News Channel. Newspapers that are subject to scrutiny include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Journalists and personalities investigated by Media Matters also include Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, John Gibson, Shepard Smith, Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Pat Robertson.
On April 4, 2007, Media Matters for America monitored the Imus in the Morning broadcast when Don Imus referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team members as "nappy-headed hos." The organization posted their view of this comment and later a video clip on the Internet, and sent out a bulk emailing to individual journalists and to the National Association of Black Journalists, eventually resulting in CBS Radio and MSNBC canceling his program.
On February 14, 2006, the organization published a study of the guest appearances on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press from 1997 through 2005. This study examined over 7,000 guests as either Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, or neutral. Media Matters stated: "The conclusion is clear: Republicans and conservatives have been offered more opportunities to appear on the Sunday shows - in some cases, dramatically so." The American Spectator later criticized this study for allegedly characterizing "progressive" commentators as "neutral" in its underlying methodogy.
A second analysis was published April 4, 2006 examining Sunday news programs from January through March 2006. Media Matters reported: "Republican and conservative dominance continued unabated, as those from the right outnumbered Democrats and their progressive compatriots." Besides the political stance of the guests, "the Sunday shows feature panel discussions comprising conservative journalists and opinion writers "balanced" by reporters for mainstream news outlets -- with no progressive journalist."
The third study was released July 20, 2006 concluding "Republicans and conservatives dominated on all three Sunday shows." Media Matters stated that "Republicans and conservatives outnumbered Democrats and progressives in total guest appearances," more particularly Face the Nation "featured nearly twice as many Republicans and conservatives as Democrats and progressives during the second quarter."
In September 2007, Media Matters kicked off what became known as the "phony soldiers controversy" by publicizing remarks made by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh under the headlined "Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are 'phony soldiers'". Media Matters' report, which contained a partial transcript of Limbaugh's September 26 show, alleged that he was referring to Iraq war veterans opposed to the war when he used the phrase "phony soldiers" on that broadcast. The national media quickly picked up the story, and by early October, Limbaugh's comment and its possible meaning was being debated on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Limbaugh, conservative pundits, and many Republican congressmen contended that the remark was being taken out of context, and he had actually been referring to Jesse MacBeth, a man claiming be to a decorated veteran, but who had never actually served in the war. John Gibson, while a commentator at Fox News, criticized Media Matters' reporting of Limbaugh, and the conservative National Review accused Media Matters of creating a "phony controversy" and trying to "manufacture outrage" regarding the remark. The National Review suggested that Media Matters may have intended to present a "completely false account of what happened". Media Matters argued that its item was accurate and included context and that Limbaugh and his defenders sought to remove context to cast his remarks in a more favorable light. Lampooning O'Reilly, Gibson, and other conservatives who rallied behind Limbaugh, Stephen Colbert satirically blamed Media Matters for the controversy. "By posting [Limbaugh's remarks] on the Internet," Colbert said, "the general public [heard] words that were meant for people who already agree with us. Hey, Media Matters, you want to end offensive speech? Then stop recording it for people who would be offended.
Within a week of when Media Matters broke the story, forty-one US senators signed a letter to Clear Channel Communications, the company that broadcasts The Rush Limbaugh Show, calling for the company to "publicly repudiate these comments and ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize" for the remarks. Limbaugh refused. The letter ultimately sold on eBay for $2.1 million dollars, the most charity money on eBay up to that date.
An annual feature on the Media Matters website was the title of "Misinformer of the Year," which was awarded to the journalist, commentator, and/or network which, in the opinion of Media Matters, was responsible for the most numerous and/or grievous factual errors and claims. The complete list of awardees of "Misinformer of the Year" is as follows:
In 2007, the "Misinformer of the Year" item was discontinued in favor of a new feature with a similar focus, "Misinformation of the Year." This feature instead looks at a particular behavior Media Matters believes is being repeated in the mainstream media. In 2007, the "Misinformation of the Year" article focused on the controversy regarding Don Imus and his inflammatory remarks concerning the Rutgers women's basketball team, as well as other instances of offensive and degrading remarks towards certain people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.
In May 2004, the New York Times reported that Media Matters has received "more than $2 million in donations from wealthy liberals" and "was developed with help from the newly formed Center for American Progress". According to the Cybercast News Service, Media Matters has received financial support from MoveOn.org, Peter Lewis, and the New Democratic Network.
According to Bill O'Reilly and others, George Soros is funding Media Matters through Democracy Alliance -- an organization of progressive donors. The Democracy Alliance does not collect and distribute money on behalf of its members. Alliance members donate directly to the organizations of their choice. Media Matters has stated publicly on numerous occasions that Soros has never given money to the organization either directly or through another organization.
Bill O'Reilly, the subject of many Media Matters items and a frequent critic of Media Matters, has accused them of "specializing in distorting comments made by politicians, pundits, and media people" while "smearing" those who do not agree with "left wing politics" such as Senator Joseph Lieberman and has compared the organization to the Ku Klux Klan. O'Reilly said that he believes Media Matters took comments he made on his radio program to Juan Williams regarding a dinner with Al Sharpton in Harlem out of context. O'Reilly said that the Media Matters piece put together two out of context comments that were initially spoken five minutes apart and presented them as one comment in an effort to mislead readers. In an appearance on NBC's Today with Matt Lauer, Media Matters senior fellow Paul Waldman responded that they had included "the full audio, the full transcript, [and] nothing was taken out of context. In response to the controversy, Williams wrote an editorial for Time noting that in his opinion "the attacks on O'Reilly amounted to an effort to take what he said totally out of context in an attempt to brand him a racist by a liberal group that disagrees with much of his politics.