Progressive Media vs. Freedom’s Watch

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy™ is revving up its media machine in response to news that Democrats intend to run a campaign for president against Republican John McCain. What gall! Unable to tolerate such impudence, Republicans, and their patrons in the press, are brewing a full-scale whine with a pungent aroma of fear and a nose for hypocrisy.

The object of their dread is the announcement of a new fund created in part to counter the media’s love affair with McCain. Progressive Media USA (PMUSA) was revealed in an article by Politico and described thusly:

“Wealthy Democrats are preparing a four-month, $40 million media campaign centered on attacks on Sen. John McCain. And it will be led by David Brock, the former investigative reporter who first gained fame in the 1990s as a right-wing, anti-Clinton journalist.”

As evidence of the trepidation with which the GOPress has received this news, here is a sampling of the headlines generated since the story broke this afternoon:

Politico: David Brock, Dems plan $40M hit on McCain
Fox News: Dems Plan $40 Million Anti-McCain Ad Blitz
USA Today: “$40M hit” to be aimed at McCain
UPI: Democrats planning for new McCain attacks
CBS News: Democrats Plan $40M Hit On McCain

Without exception, the headline writers all adopt a negative tone that focuses on the group’s alleged mission to attack McCain, despite the fact that the group’s organizers have laid out a much broader, issues-oriented agenda.

Bill O’Reilly joined the chorus by devoting a major chunk of his program to the story including his Talking Points Memo, an interview with Politico reporter Jim VandeHei, and an extended segment with Stepford Pundit Laura Ingraham. His long-time obsession with Brock and PMUSA backer George Soros explodes all over the screen. He repeatedly calls Brock, president of Media Matters, a “vile assassin” and, when VandeHei suggests that the right has similar groups, O’Reilly says that he’s not aware of any (more on this lie below). He pretends to ask VandeHei to provide more info, but then just continues his non-stop ranting without providing an opportunity to do so. In the course of his coverage O’Reilly describes the Soros/Media Matters connection as…

“…the most frightening thing I have ever seen in American politics.”

Really? More frightening than the election debacle of 2000? More frightening than Watergate? More frightening than the McCarthy Hearings? More frightening than the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King? Does O’Reilly really believe that an organization that demands honesty from the media is evil, as he says on the Factor? Does he really fear a wealthy individual who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to promote democracy around the world? More likely he is afraid of being repeatedly shown to be a lying gasbag who is more aligned with theo-corporatism than traditional American liberty.

Earlier in the day, Election HQ on Fox News brought in Republican propagandist Frank Luntz (who is identified only as a pollster without affiliation) to offer his analysis. Luntz argued vociferously that any move by Democrats to attack McCain would fail. He looked straight into the camera to make an impassioned plea that they abandon such plans or suffer at the polls. It was heartwarming to see Luntz display such empathy for his Democratic rivals. Who knew that he was so concerned about the electoral welfare of the party he has fought against his entire career.

The most stunning assertion by Luntz in this interview was his response to a surprisingly reasonable question from Megyn Kelly. She asked Luntz whether the Democrats’ plan was an appropriate reaction to all the favorable press McCain receives. Luntz seemed astonished that Kelly would suggest such nonsense. He disputed her premise and went further to declare that it was Barack Obama who was the press darling. He actually said aloud that:

“The most negative story that they can use on Obama is that he can’t bowl. Give me a break.”

Apparently Luntz has been a coma for the past few months. If the idiocy of this comment were able to generate light, you would be able to see it from space. Anyone with a television has seen the attacks on Obama that range from accusations that he is a Muslim to casting doubt on his patriotism to belittling his experience. And always, always his association with Rev Wright, criticisms of whom could populate their very own cable network. In fact, the segment immediately following Luntz’s interview with Kelly was yet another story about Rev. Wright.

Amidst this conflagration of outrage over the Democrats’ desire to actually mount a campaign, the media is missing a minor development that just might have some relevance to the stories they are advancing. They might want to look into the fact that Republicans are also engaging in this thing called politics. Last year a group of Republican insiders corralled their biggest donors and created Freedom’s Watch (FW). The New York Times trumpeted their arrival:

“Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda.”

At its launch the group announced that they intend to raise $200 million – five times the goal proposed by PMUSA. FW was co-founded by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is now its spokes-liar. FW’s new chief is Carl Forti, a former communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, and known for his unscrupulous dishonesty. FW is well off and well connected. And unlike PMUSA, its management is directly tied to Party operatives. Even Bill O’Reilly, who said he was unaware of any such organizations, was, in fact, well aware of FW. He interviewed its founding president Bradley Blakeman just four months ago.

Now the media is aghast at the thought that Democrats are coming to the field prepared to play. But not one of them has reported that the Republicans started this conflict, seeded it with more money, and even now are using it to escalate the propaganda war. Email from the McCain campaign has already gone out pleading with supporters to dig deeper.

“We need to be able to answer whatever smear campaigns the liberal left throws at us. Please help as we combat this base demagoguery with a donation of $50, $100, $250 or even $1000 today.”

It will be interesting to see if any of our observers in the 4th estate ever bother to fairly present the facts in this matter, or even to put it into context. But given the way they’ve misrepresented it thus far, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Update: In response to Obama’s request that third party groups not produce anti-McCain ads, Progressive Media USA has become Progressive Accountability. The new group will conduct research and tracking of the McCain campaign, but will not produce ads.