Political Animal


January 05, 2012 10:10 AM Sincerest form of flattery

By Steve Benen

If you were in Washington in the 1990s, you may recall that the left spent a considerable amount of time and energy focused on intellectual infrastructure. Progressives looked at the kind of operations conservatives had put together — think tanks, activist organizations, foundations, conferences, etc. — and realized the left needed to play catch-up.

And they did. Liberals got to work and created an incredibly impressive network of institutions and outlets. It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but in time, powerhouse outlets like Media Matters, MoveOn.org, TPM, and the Center for American Progress were not only up and running, but also having a major impact.

The great irony is, the left sought to duplicate the right’s intellectual infrastructure, and had so much success, the right now wants to duplicate the left’s intellectual infrastructure.

Impressed by the effectiveness of the liberal Center for American Progress, a group of conservative journalists and operatives are preparing to engage in their own sincerest form of flattery — launching an advocacy group with a similar name and mission but very different target.

Part assault on CAP and part homage, the Center for American Freedom’s goal is to wage a well-funded assault on the Obama White House and the liberal domination of partisan online media.

Based in Washington, it will have an annual budget of “several million dollars,” according to its chairman, Michael Goldfarb, and will house a new conservative online news outlet, the Washington Free Beacon, edited by former Weekly Standard writer Matthew Continetti. It will also include a campaign-style war room led by two former chiefs of the Republican National Committee’s vaunted research operation, and a media-monitoring shop that aims to do to MSNBC what Media Matters has done to Fox News.

I don’t doubt Goldfarb will have plenty of access to financial support from plenty of right-wing fat cats.

But it’s worth pausing to note that the “Center for American Freedom” — no credit for creativity, guys — isn’t the first stab at duplicating the left’s recent institutional success. Consider this list: Freedom’s Watch, FreedomWorks, the Coalition for a Conservative Majority, National Council for a New America, The Vanguard, Move America Forward, Resurgent Republic, Renewing American Leadership, and the American Action Network. Do these names sound familiar? Probably not, but they were all conservative groups that popped up in recent years, some to great fanfare and with big budgets, each intending to bolster the right’s infrastructure. They all flopped.

We’ll see if CAF has more success, but I have my doubts.

Also note, this new initiative intends to try its hand at something the right is generally awful at: investigative journalism.

The Beacon won’t cover the Republican presidential campaign currently consuming much of the nation’s media attention, Goldfarb said.

“We want to break news, we want to do investigative reporting, and that’s a big reason why we’re investing so heavily in the research component of this thing,” he said.

For all I know, Goldfarb will do fine investigative journalism. I suppose we’ll see soon enough.

But let’s just say the right’s track record in this area is abysmal. Remember the “sting” targeting NPR last year? It was pretty pathetic. The Planned Parenthood expose fell apart a month earlier. The Shirley Sherrod video, intended to be a sterling example of the right’s investigative reporting, became a notorious example of new-media deception. The entire ACORN controversy was built around a series of misleading and heavily-edited videos.

Looking back over the last several decades, most of the time, quality investigative journalism has come from mainstream news organizations and left-leaning outlets like The Nation and Mother Jones. The right, historically, has avoided this kind of work, preferring to create outlets like Fox News, National Review, and the Weekly Standard.

Whether you find those conservative outlets valuable or not, it’s fair to say investigative journalism isn’t part of their m.o. The Republican-friendly outlets just don’t do in-depth, shoe-leather journalism to break major news stories.

Over the last couple of years, conservatives have begun taking steps to change this, bolstered by far-right financial backing. What’s wrong with this? In theory, nothing. Investigative journalism can play a valuable role in holding officials accountable and ensuring transparency. If folks on the right want to do some digging and turn up malfeasance, more power to them.

But they’ve proven to be very bad at it. Laura McGann had a great piece in the Monthly a while back, noting that “conservative investigative journalism tends to produce reports that are wrong,” a problem compounded by the fact that while their efforts are ostensibly about improving transparency, the far-right activism is nearly always shrouded in secrecy.

The Center for American Freedom may excel where others have faltered, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • stormskies on January 05, 2012 10:19 AM:

    Also note, this new initiative intends to try its hand at something the right is generally awful at: investigative journalism.


    Investigative journalism deals with actual facts. The Repiglican universe is devoid of facts equaling reality. Their universe is one of a set of interlocking delusions that can not be penetrated by actual facts. To actually investigate would then require them to undermine their own universe. So of course they fail.

  • DAY on January 05, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Ideology first, then adjust the facts to fit.

  • c u n d gulag on January 05, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Methinks they confuse "investigative journalism" with advocacy and propaganda for political purposes.

    They don't look for facts, or follow the money.

    They look for the money, and then ignore any facts, or make up their own.

    But, it's nice to see that ignorant assholes who couldn't hold a job as an overnight floor-mopper at a backwater WaWa, have still more Wingnut Welfare outlets from which to collect checks, for scribblings that the monkey's typing away, hoping to write a Shakespeare sonnet, would look down upon as amateurish dribble.

  • T2 on January 05, 2012 10:24 AM:

    they all seemed obsessed with "Freedom"....I wonder what code word that is for? Free to own Slaves? Or Freedom for Slaves?

  • Brenna on January 05, 2012 10:26 AM:

    A think tank institute's chances of success seem to be predicated on having the truth on your side.

  • martin on January 05, 2012 10:27 AM:

    and a media-monitoring shop that aims to do to MSNBC what Media Matters has done to Fox News.

    Isn't that Somerby's job;> (hi Bob)

  • MsJoanne on January 05, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Does it matter? All they do is lie anyway. They create some something, in this case CAF. Do one or two decent stories (right leaning, of course), and then lie like Andy Breitbart's Big Lie, I mean Big Government, and voila! hard hitting rightie lies which work wonderfully, every news org starts repeating, starting, of course, with Fox, until they're caught in their lies (10 or more times, for it takes that much embarrassment to make Fox, et al, stop bowing to the blatantness of the lies) but by then it's too late.

    GOP news has nothing, so they lie.

    The GOP has no policy ideas, so they obstruct.

    It's how they roll.

  • Matt Alan on January 05, 2012 10:36 AM:

    Speaking of copying a name, don't leave out Pat Roberston's/Jay Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which name is strikingly similar to the Amercian Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

  • jjm on January 05, 2012 10:37 AM:

    My mate has already dubbed this "ThinkBackwards."

    The Kochs are firmly rooted in late 19th and early 20th century ideas. They are completely IRRELEVANT to today's world.

  • Dave Munger on January 05, 2012 10:40 AM:

    There's a notion among science that any field with "science" in its name isn't really a science. It's not true, but it's not a bad starting point. Similarly, I think we can all agree that any organization with "freedom" in its name isn't really concerned with freedom.

  • bleh on January 05, 2012 10:44 AM:

    The Right does not do investigative journalism; they do advertising and propaganda.

    Quite apart from the historical record, which I think is fully conclusive, why on Earth would the Right want to do ? The point of investigative journalism is to expose the secret misdeeds of the powerful. And whom do the Right serve and protect? Not the powerless, that's for sure!

    This is just advertising in the service of advertising. Or, if you will, lying to support a bunch of liars.

  • Kiweagle on January 05, 2012 10:49 AM:

    WTF? Talk ignoring the obvious! Benen evaluates them on the quality of their "factual" reporting but completely misses the point of that effort: The destruction of the people they're lying about.

    But let’s just say the right’s track record in this area is abysmal. Remember the “sting” targeting NPR last year? It was pretty pathetic.
    NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned following after attacks from Fox, as did Senior news executive Ellen Weiss after Fox's Juan Williams got fired.

    The Planned Parenthood expose fell apart a month earlier.
    Despite the debunking, the organization has never been under more threat of losing its Federal funding than it is now.

    The Shirley Sherrod video, intended to be a sterling example of the right’s investigative reporting, became a notorious example of new-media deception.
    Shirley Sherrod was fired and the Obama administration was publicly embarrassed for rushing to judgement without the facts.

    The entire ACORN controversy was built around a series of misleading and heavily-edited videos.
    And where is Acorn now?

    If I'm a conservative, the above is a sign of success, not failure for God's sake.

  • R. Porrofatto on January 05, 2012 10:52 AM:

    Let's not forget, that would be this Michael Goldfarb.


  • kindness on January 05, 2012 10:55 AM:

    The Righties have Fox. They have shills in the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, The Cato Foundation. What more do they need? Already they are awash in Koch & similar other 1% funding. Will another group help get their message out better? No. Just more of the same.

  • John in TX on January 05, 2012 11:03 AM:

    One thing's for sure, for the year or so that the "Center for American Freedom" is active, it will be remarkably successful at one thing: providing sister networks CNN and FOX with a whole new stable of "commentators" and "experts" to call on to provide "balance" to the overload of progressive experts they always have on to discuss things.

  • MsJoanne on January 05, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Exactly what Kiweagle on January 05, 2012 10:49 AM said. E.x.a.c.t.l.y.

  • Dervin on January 05, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Not to be that guy, but I think it's wrong to classify TPM as part of the Left's Intellectual Infrastructure, I always saw it as a part of the smart straight news reporting service.

    Remember Josh was a supporter of the Iraq Invasion based on the Judith Mitchell (the NY Times reporter).

  • Kiweagle on January 05, 2012 11:41 AM:

    Thank you MsJoanne for making us feel like our comments aren't simply an exercise in futility - I needed that.

    And Dervin, don't you mean Judith Miller? I'd be very surprised if you were right about Marshall given how vociferously he attacked her reporting - though it's worth checking (any links you can provide to back that up?). I too love TPM and have been keenly following it since its inception, but I'd say it was a Liberal site even though they're not shy about criticizing and/ or investigating Dems - which is obviously what makes them so great.

  • dj spellchecka on January 05, 2012 12:10 PM:

    the right already has a lot of places that everyone outside the echo chamber pays no attention to: the daily caller, the american spectator, the washington times, newsbusters, etc....how is this gonna be any different?

    on the other hand, as kiweagle correctly points out, breitbart's various bigbullshit sites do real damage

  • MsJoanne on January 05, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Kiweagle and others. I know many like me read comments religiously. I don't often comment (especially since this disaster of captcha, as it usually takes 10 spins to see something I can almost read, and then three tries -with 10 spins each- to actually post a comment), but sometimes you just have to.

    I was thinking along the same lines as what you wrote in my prior comment, but you did it 1000x better.

  • JS on January 05, 2012 12:41 PM:

    I'll also second (eighth?) what Kiweagle said. This announcement is just a showy "harrumph" to attract the village's attention to the next in a long line of Republican front operations to spread their quarter-truth propaganda against political enemies.

    As part of the villages' role as Charlie Brown to Republican operatives' role as Lucy with the football, this front operation will be given "very serious" deference immediately, and weeks will be lost getting the word out on debunking their "scoops".

    The name is just so it looks good in the inevitable Super-PAC ads. Such as "Politifact". Sounds good to the casual voters, means bupkis.

  • MsJoanne on January 05, 2012 1:02 PM:


    JS on January 05, 2012 12:41 PM

    The name is just so it looks good in the inevitable Super-PAC ads. Such as "Politifact". Sounds good to the casual voters, means bupkis.

    Well, as jaded as I am, I simply forgot that is how they do things. You are right on, m'friend! Reagan started it with Star Wars and the Global Warming deniers do it to this day. That is exactly what they are doing. Watch for those real-serious-and-nicely-named bogus headlines and quotes popping up everywhere.

    This is fucking depressing. Seriously depressing.

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on January 05, 2012 1:13 PM:

    Back in the 1960s, CAF meant Confederate Air Force, a bunch of rich guys flying old planes around in Harlingen, Texas.

    Those were the days.

  • exlibra on January 05, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Late to the table, but have to add my voice to Kiweagle et al. Heads rolled, organisations were either hobbled or totally dismembered, and all Steve worries about is journalistic standards???? Really???

    For a "unatiol partisan", it's the results that count, not the unclean roads it took to get there.

  • Rick B on January 05, 2012 4:05 PM:

    Since all the right wing does is propaganda and manipulation of facts to fit predetermined outcomes (short phrase: "Lie") this would appear to represent a new market niche for left wing organizations.

    Anytime the right wingers publish anything, a left wing organization needs to evaluate the truth of it. Such an organization would either substantiate the lies they will tell (most likely) or will force them to become truth tellers (costing them their backers and their intended audience.)

  • FearItself on January 05, 2012 5:58 PM:

    Isn't this just another entry in the big right-wing welfare racket of soaking up conservative money that wants to influence politics? One wonders how the Koch brothers managed to get so rich when they have such a stunted ability to spot a con.

  • Doug on January 05, 2012 7:40 PM:

    All that will be produced is propaganda, albeit with the gloss of "reporting" for those unwitting (dumb?) enough not to notice.
    And propaganda isn't the great thing many, especially on the right, seem to think it is. IF one controls ALL the media, I'm thinking along the lines of Stalin here, then one can, at least for a while, mold public opinion, create support for policies, etc. The effects can be maintained longer if there is a "threat" of some sort, real or manufactured, to be used to silence any opposition. Especially any really dangerous opposition that spreads facts and hard information.
    Unfortunately for such "opinion makers", and barring a one-party, totalitarian state, reality tends to set in fairly quickly on those being "propagandized" with the result best summarized by a (fictional?) Soviet worker's statement "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work." That sentiment ends up pervading ALL sectors of society but, of course, no one dares tell those in charge the truth. Until it's too late.
    Which would explain the surprised looks on many of their faces when they're frog-marched out to stand in front of some wall and offered a cigarette...

  • toowearyforoutrage on January 06, 2012 9:48 AM:

    A key disadvantage to right wing investigative journalism is a relative lack of targets worth investigating.

    Worthy targets: Blogojavic (sp?), Spitzer, Jefferson...

    Liberal media is just as happy to put the microscope on their own. Right wing investigative journalism is superfluous. Then, the liberals turn their backs on these people even for relatively minor stuff (Spitzer). The stories die quickly... there's nothing more to investigate.

    Contrast that with liberal investigation of corrupt Republicans. Nothing is done about these malefactors so the liberal press can investigate their NEXT crime. Repeat business is how liberals stay in work.

    If Democrats would adopt Reagan's 11th commandment and turn a blind eye to more Democratic wrongdoing, a thriving right wing exposee business could emerge.

    Here's hoping my side never loves power so much.

  • toowearyforoutrage on January 06, 2012 12:33 PM:


    Catching up on an old thread, you may never see this, but anyone else...

    I read comments when I feel something important is left to be said and look to see if someone brings it up.

    More often than not, someone like you or c.u.n.d gulag covers it perfectly well. You're not wasting your time, you're saving us from writing the same thing.