The Watchdog’s Watchdog

BrockThe front page of Friday’s Washington Post includes reporter David Farenthold’s hit piece on Bernie Sanders. Much closer in tone and content to Charles Krauthammer on a bad day than legitimate journalism, Farenthold’s commentary is expertly debunked by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich at Huffington Post and macroeconomist Dean Baker from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Accordingly and because there are so many flaws and obvious errors in Farenthold’s reasoning, I’m not going to try to unpack all of them here. Moreover, my main focus is not how Farenthold dishonestly panders to the neo-liberal ideology of Washington Post owner/Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Instead, it’s the failure of media watchdog Media Matters to respond.

But first, let’s devote a few paragraphs to Farenthold’s article. He starts with an aggressive take down of Bernie’s proposal to eliminate tuition at state colleges and universities.

Under the College for All Act, the federal government would cover 67% of this cost, while the states would be responsible for the remaining 33% of the cost.

To qualify for federal funding, states must meet a number of requirements designed to protect students, ensure quality, and reduce ballooning costs. States will need to maintain spending on their higher education systems, on academic instruction, and on need-based financial aid. In addition, colleges and universities must reduce their reliance on low-paid adjunct faculty.

States would be able to use funding to increase academic opportunities for students, hire new faculty, and provide professional development opportunities for professors.

No funding under this program may be used to fund administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid, or the construction of non-academic buildings like stadiums and student centers. (Emphasis supplied.)

Farenthold’s analysis:

And with the government paying for college, colleges would run by government rules. Sanders’s rules. For one thing, Sanders thinks student centers are a waste of government money. He would make sure they did not get any more of it.

What’s obviously wrong with this paragraph? First, Farenthold falsely implies that government would be paying tuition for all colleges when in fact Sanders’ proposal comprehends only state schools. This leads to the fallacy that colleges “run by government rules” would mean a significant change in the status quo. In fact, the covered schools already run by government rules since each and every one is owned and operated by a state, city, or county.

Second, Farenthold sets Sanders up as a king whimsically micro-managing schools. In fact, Sanders insists on decentralized decision-making. Third, Farenthold’s allegation that Sanders “would make sure that” there would be no more students centers does not follow logically from anything that Sanders has proposed. Sanders insists that federal monies allocated for college tuition at state schools pay the actual costs of educating students. States, however, will still be free to provide additional funds, beyond their one-third share of academic expenses, to pay for additional services and non-academic buildings.

Certainly, the tuition-free proposal raises questions. Will states have to spend more on higher education than they do now? Will states have the wherewithal to fund student unions and gyms? Does Sanders really believe that these centers don’t further the educational mission of universities and colleges? These are questions to which, I’m sure, Sanders or his team would have responded if they had been asked. A good journalist would have asked. Farenthold didn’t.

Again though my piece isn’t ultimately about Farenthold’s reactionary folderol. It’s about the failure of Media Matters to rebut it.

Founded by David Brock in 2004, Media Matters’ mission is prominently featured at its website.

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Although the center’s primary focus may be debunking right-wing media cant, it also trains a gimlet eye on the mainstream media with stories challenging CNN, Newsweek, and USA Today currently at or near the top of its home page. Recently, Media Matters has published a number of articles alleging bias in the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and server while she was Secretary of State.

In light of its stated mission and practice, Media Matters had a moral obligation to highlight the many inaccuracies in Farenthold’s story; all of which stem from the writer’s conservative assumptions and worldview. Friday afternoon, I emailed an employee at Media Matters to ask whether it was planning to respond to Farenthold’s piece which by then had been on the Post’s website for about 24 hours. My contact thanked me for the flag and said an editor would look into it. Nothing has been posted and it appears that nothing will be.

It would appear that Brock, who is a Clinton bundler and runs the pro-Clinton SuperPac Correct the Record, has decided that, with few exceptions, his website will not highlight partisan attacks on Bernie Sanders. The watchdog’s watchdog has one eye firmly shut.

IRS guidelines note

all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Assuming there is an unstated policy at Media Matters to turn a blind eye to conservative media misinformation, it would seem that the organization is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Internal Revenue Code. Certainly some of the organization’s underwriters may feel cheated to learn that conservative misinformation that hurts Hillary Clinton’s chief Democratic rival is being ignored. Given Brock’s high-profile role as a Clinton flack and in light of Media Matters’ dubious decision not to report on Farenthold’s dishonest article, Brock is ethically bound to separate himself fully from the day-to-day operations of Media Matters and to ensure that the organization’s direction is wholly outside of his control. In his place, a truly independent director should be appointed.

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One Response to The Watchdog’s Watchdog

  1. Shade says:

    It looks to me a bit like David Brock is doing his best to one-up Al Sharpton in every way possible.

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