The leftward shift or "course correction" at Fox News in recent months could have several explanations but a pair of reports in Politico and The Daily Caller give credit to the cable network's mortal enemy: Media Matters for America. It's a thesis that Media Matters would gladly tout and Fox News would vehemently deny, but it comes as viewer complaints accumulate that the network is embracing a more mainstream conservatism compared with its previous embrace of Glenn Beck.
This morning, Politico's Keach Hagey taps into the bubbling resentment among Fox viewers during an interview with Patrick Brown of The Western Center for Journalism, which recently ran a poll among conservative readers in which some 70 percent said Fox News had moved to the left. Brown and other Fox viewers such as Cliff Kincaid of America's Survival said the network was skewing to the left. The cause? Media Matters.
“What happened is they buckled under pressure from George Soros and his operatives to get rid of Glenn Beck,” said Kincaid. He added that the push by Media Matters included other tactics by Soros besides the $1 million he gave the left-wing watchdog in October 2010 to "hold Fox News accountable." In a rather vague quote, he says “We talked to a private investigator who interviewed representatives or employees of News Corporation about the threats and intimidation against them for going after Soros."
It's not clear what sort of "threats and intimidation" tactics he was referring to but it comes as conservative news site The Daily Caller publishes an internal Media Matters memo that calls for hiring private investigators to "look into the personal lives" of Fox employees. “We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff,” wrote Media Matters' Karl Frisch in a memo to founder David Brock and President Eric Burns dated Sept. 29, 2009.
“We should look into contracting with a major law firm to study any available legal actions that can be taken against Fox News, from a class action law suit to defamation claims for those wronged by the network," it read. "I imagine this would be difficult but the right law firm is bound to find some legal ground for us to take action against the network.”
The tactics are all theoretical and there's no proof they actually carried out the plan. However, it's clear the organization believes it played a crucial role in ousting one of Fox's main conservative voices Glenn Beck. In a story yesterday, current and former employees claim credit for his departure:
“We called it ‘fingerprint coverage,’” explains one former staffer, “where you know it was the result of your work.” As an example, he cites the left-wing group Color of Change, co-founded by the controversial former White House “green jobs” czar Van Jones, which received much of the credit for pressuring advertisers to drop their sponsorship of Beck’s show. But in fact, he says, Media Matters developed the campaign that cowed Beck’s sponsors.
As The Washington Post's Erik Wemple observed yesterday, claiming responsibility for Beck's ouster and tilting the network to the left are things Media Matters would love to pitch to potential donors. But as Hagey notes, Fox News is first and foremost a business and financial incentives could very well play a role.
Although it has been completely dominant in the cable sphere for years, last year, its ratings in primetime slipped 9 percent in total viewers and 15 percent in the target 24-54 demographic, while CNN and MSNBC gained viewers in primetime.