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Media Matters Declares Victory: 'The War On Fox Is Over'

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Media Matters believes it has largely won the war against Fox News, whose president is Roger Ailes. He is the chairman and CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Media Matters believes it has largely won the war against Fox News, whose president is Roger Ailes. He is the chairman and CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

WASHINGTON -- Since its founding in 2004, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America has been a thorn in the side of Fox News. Its dozens of staffers monitor the network's leadership, hosts, guests and financial dealings incessantly, calling out misinformation, conflicts of interest and evidence of a partisan agenda, in a bid to shed light on the workings of the right-wing echo chamber.

But in the coming years, Fox will no longer be the center of Media Matters' universe. That's because the group believes it has effectively discredited the network's desire to be seen as "fair and balanced."

"The war on Fox is over," said Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone. "And it's not just that it's over, but it was very successful. To a large extent, we won."

According to its strategic plan for the next three years, a copy of which was provided to The Huffington Post, Media Matters envisions shifting its focus to new, increasingly influential targets, including Spanish-language media, social media streams, alternative online outlets and morning and entertainment sources. It will enhance its state media and issue-based monitoring, as well as continue its focus on right-wing radio and legacy outlets.

"We've always said, 'Media Matters watches Fox, so you don't have to,'" said Bradley Beychok, the group's president. "That remains true. Fox News isn't going to stop lying, so we'll stay on that beat. But, our success regarding Fox News means that our talented team will carry out our mission in different ways consistent with a new strategic vision responsive to the transforming media environment."

The progressive fascination with Fox News picked up in June 2004, with the release of "Outfoxed," a documentary about the network by filmmaker Robert Greenwald, founder and president of Brave New Films. By combining interviews with clips of Fox News broadcasts, the film made the case that the network was anything but "fair and balanced," as its slogan proclaimed. Greenwald is currently working on producing a 10-year anniversary edition of the documentary.

"When we started the film ... liberals and progressives and Democrats were saying, 'Oh, [Fox is] not really so bad. Because it's really just a couple of commentators,'" said Greenwald. "So we've come a long, positive way in terms of people realizing that they are a channel dedicated to one point of view. And obviously Media Matters has played a crucial role in our passing the baton and their taking it up and sticking on it. And I think it's good timing to move on to other issues."

"It's not clear how much more can be achieved by focusing on Fox," he added. "There are many more outlets that need Media Matters holding their feet to the fire."

Fox News did not return a request for comment for this article.

Media Matters argues in its strategic plan that Fox News is no longer the gatekeeper it once was, now that social media has proliferated and many of the network's personalities have moved elsewhere. Former host Glenn Beck, for example, now has his own digital news operation.

Conservative media, in other words, has become more fragmented; messages often move straight to legacy outlets like the nightly news, or become part of the national conversation by leapfrogging the press entirely.

Carusone argued that Media Matters' focus on traditional outlets is more important than ever, especially given the changing nature of the news business and the staffing cuts happening in many places.

"These outlets are not our enemy. We do not have a hostile posture toward them," he said. "But in some ways, because they're vulnerable, because the right-wing echo chamber is so well-funded and so loud, there's a role and a posture that we have to take that's very different from the one we had in the past. It doesn't mean that we don't listen to the regular players anymore, but it just means that structurally, we have to think about how we make sense of it."

Media Matters has also been branching out by doing investigative reporting and increasing its coverage of specific issues: gun violence, LGBT equality, energy and climate, immigration, the judiciary, the economy and women's rights. Moving forward, it hopes to hold an annual conference in Washington, develop a deeper network of activists and expand its technological capabilities. One idea is a new portal site and a system, currently known as "Project M," that will allow the group to better monitor the media landscape.

Carusone, who was recently promoted to his current role, has been a key foot soldier in the war on Fox. Before he joined the organization, back when he was still in law school, he started a campaign against Beck in response to the host's 2009 comment that President Barack Obama is a racist. With the help of some progressive organizations, Carusone successfully convinced hundreds of companies to stop advertising on Beck's show.

He joined Media Matters in 2011, around the time that Media Matters Founder David Brock declared an all-out "war on Fox" and launched a "Drop Fox" campaign aimed at the network's advertisers. Although the company Orbitz, one of Media Matters' main targets, stood by Fox at the time, it eventually pulled out after a few weeks. Carusone said the group considered the push a success. He pointed out that Fox President Roger Ailes said just a few months later that the network needed to do a "course correction" away from the far right.

Host Megyn Kelly has since taken over the 9:00 p.m. time slot that had been occupied for years by Sean Hannity, who is known for being more vitriolic and partisan than Kelly. Carusone argued that financial pressure, created in part by Media Matters, forced that shift.

"That was in large part because it's hard to ignore when your financial stakeholders are beginning to express concerns," said Carusone. "They're a business, after all. They act like a political operation, but they're still a business."

Still, he added, the group has its eye on Kelly.

"We deal with reality. She's not as vitriolic," said Carusone. "On the other hand, she is in some ways more pernicious because her credibility has not been completely and totally eroded ... so she has the potential to legitimize and validate smears and lies in ways that some of the more disreputable figures on Fox can no longer do, which just presents a new challenge."