Media Matters CEO Discusses Training Program to Combat Fox News

Mar 23, 2011

Media Matters CEO and President Matt Butler answered your questions about the organization's program that trains progressive leaders to be talking heads in an effort to combat Fox News.

1) How to you counter all the misinformation that guests and hosts on all of the Fox opinion shows deliver minute after minute all day and night long? 2) Plus, those who hear this misinformation on Fox will not seek out the truth from Media Matters since a) they believe that they just heard the truth, and b) they do not trust Media Matters. Can't we bring back the Fairness Doctrine so that any broafcast media has to give equal time to opposing views? that's the way it used to be until Reagan stacked the FCC with conservatives.

It's a really good question.  Countering all the misinformation that comes out of right wing media is really tough.  That's why the Media Matters team is 86 people covering the news 24-7 and responding to every point we can get to on

What ever happened to critical thinking? Do you think only one side of the various political and cultural debates needs to be combated? I enjoy watching both MSNBC and FOX News. I know that each source has an inherent bias based on their beliefs. Watching conservative news programs has helped me become a more critical viewer/reader of all sources of news. I no longer believe that any reporter is completely objective. BTW, my first thought, when I read the description of of what this chat would focus on, was whether or not there is also a need to train conservative leaders to be talking heads in an effort to combat MSNBC's news programs? That might be a money maker for you as well.

The conservatives have been doing this for decades.  The Leadership Institute among other training programs has been training young conservative talkers by the hundreds each year.  You're right - everyone should be listening to the news critically.  We're trying to make the progressive voices stronger so they can be heard equally. 

I understand why Fox News is a principal target for you. But aren't all media guilty of elevating nonsense in the pursuit of avoiding accusations of bias? Is Media Matters doing anything to address this phenomenon in all media?

This is where we take exception to the portrayal of Media Matters' mission in the piece.  We are NOT solely focused on Fox.  Our mission is to correct conservative misinformation whereever it occurs, it just so happens that Fox is the largest producer.  Accordingly, PTI is not just about training pundits to go on Fox.  We want strong progressive voices on all networks.   We have booked our trainees on every major network multiple times. 

How does it feel to be the only Washington-based organization unafraid to call Fox News out when it lies and misrepresents facts based on its political agenda? Does it annoy you when media critics from around the country shy away from calling Fox out for fear of a) Being labeled "liberal,: or b) being called names by their snipy PR department?

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but we're not the only organziation calling out Fox News.  Lots and lots of our progressive allies also push back on Fox's distortions every day.  We just happen to be the ones who do it all day every day. 

How are you going to stop progressives from apologizing for everything and taking forever to make a memorable favorable impression by being factual and succinct? Mastering the art of short sweet impressions is clearly practiced by the rightwingers so we know it is possible. Talk facts and vision and HIT HARD!

This is exactly what we're doing with the PTI program.  We need strong progressive voices advocating for all of our policy priorities.  The PTI program puts a huge premium on standing up for what for what you believe in and doing so in a compelling way. 

One of Fox's most effective propaganda weapons has been the demonization of all other news organizations & sources so that their viewers feel like traitors if they even look into any other sources, or listen to detractors. How do you point out lies to people that have been repeatedly told that those who point out the lies are the primary enemy? All objections just feed even more into their preset conclusions.

We know we aren't going to be able to convince everyone of the innaccuracy of a lot of the information coming out of the right wing, but if we can stop that misinformation from making it into mainstream news and media we feel like we have scored a major victory. 

What is the most significant success that you have seen through this media training program?

Our alums are making appearances on every major news network every day and that is making a difference.  They are better trained and  more compelling and ready to go toe-to-toe with even the toughest conservative voices.

I read the article. It seems like the training is responding to two things: (a) human nature (the importance of visuals) and (b) the combative show hosts. None of us can do anything about the first. But is there anything we could do about the second?

We actually think there's a lot you can do with visuals to be more compelling and create a more postive impression for the viewer.  As for show hosts, we focus heavily on dealing with really hard questions and difficult questioners.  We make sure our trainees are ready for them. 

This is a softball question. Is there anything in the article you'd like to correct in terms of facts or tone or impressions left?

Only that we're not entirely focused on being Anti-Fox.  We're focused on correcting conservative mis-information from all its sources.  If Fox would stop denying climate change for instance, we'd leave them alone on the issue.

You say that your alums are doing well. Could you name a few so I can do some independent corroboration?

In the interest of privacy we leave it up to our trainees to decide whether or not they want to talk about having been trained by the PTI program.  One trainee who has agreed to be public about his involvement is a great guy from Texas named Bob Cavnar.  He's been on television a ton since the oil spill last April.

I have no problem with training talking heads, but I wish there was more actual reporting on what is called cable NEWS and less opinion. I can and do form my own opinions after reading and listening to accounts and opinions from many sources and points of view. I like David Brooks idea of if you read a liberal piece you should then read a conservative piece. I have learned a lot this way and it helps to develop critical thinking even when you may disagree with the writer. Where I have a issue is that so many people assume mistakenly that something they read or hear in the news, especially on a news channel is 100% factual. I see bias on all the major channels though some reporters really work hard to only report facts more than others. I hateto say it, but some of the older journalists seem to have better standards than a lot of the younger ones. If it were up to me, opinion would be moved to a new channel called Opinion, not Fox News or MSNBC or even CNN.

You're very right about this.  Fox is especially a problem in this area.  Fox isn't a news organization anymore, its a political communications machine -- the political opinions are the point.  This is what makes our job at Media Matters very very tough.

Glenn Beck is on the radio for 3 hours and on tv for 1 hour a day. When you come up with 2 or 3 small points it is like saying everything else is accurate. He is absolutely kicking your butt. I read Media Matters just to see how loony the left is!

Well we're only 86 people working here, there's only so much we can do to push back on the volume of absurdity coming out of Glenn Beck and his friends on the right. We try and pick the particular 2-3 innaccuracies that show just how out of touch Beck is with American values.  We seem to be having some success Beck's ratings are down significantly and main stream advertisers want nothing to do with him. 

Or does it make a difference? For some time I have defended "Fox News" and being relatively even handed and have thought the opinion people were totally off the wall. But most do not take time to make that distinction and perhaps it is not even necessary. But we can agree that Chris Wallace is decent.

There are definitely some good people and good journalists at Fox.  The problem is there is no wall between the opinion factory at Fox and the news department.  We have documented time and time again where management forces their political agenda  on the news department.  Search "Bill Sammon" on our website: and you'll see exactly what we're talking about.

Looks like you are only interested in sycophantic questions. You might learn something and improve if you were open to honest inquiry. May I say - you are way too predictable. Hannity would never say anything good about a progressive. You would never say anything good about a conservative. Prove me wrong.

There are plenty of people who hold conservative views who stay faithful to facts.  We welcome honest and open debate.  Shepherd Smith often gets it right and plays pretty fairly even if we do use a  little bit of an adult-slip up of his in our training.  The problem is when people on either side aren't faithful to the facts, that's the distinction we are trying to uphold.

Do you feel that only "right wing'" news media presents misinformation? What about your "left wing" news media?

No one gets it right all of the time.  The problem is when a right wing organization has been shown something is innaccurate and CONTINUES to push the falsehood.  That's not journalism, that's poltics.  See: the Birther movement, climate change, death panels etc.....

If the goal is the truth - and not merely poltiical convenience - then all media outlets should be examined and their faults brought forward. Why aren't you doing that?

As we said at the beginning of this chat we're not exclusively anti-Fox.  We've published pieces calling out  CNN, MSNBC,  the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. on inaccurate reporting. 

Do you hate ALL conservative news outlets? And do liberals throw their own money around the way they want to throw other people's money around?

Conservatism isn't the problem.  A wanton disregard for the facts is.  Its a problem for the American conservative movement that these days those things are so often correlated. 

How many of your trainees use the listserv mentioned at the end of the article? And for the sake of transparency, will you publish the talking points used there so that they can be fact-checked?

All our trainees are on the listserve, we try and support all of them as much as possible.  

I heard on NPR this morning that 30% of seniors still think there are Death Panels with the health care administration. It is so discouraging.

This is the reason we developed PTI, and clearly our work isn't finished. 

It seems to me the one individual who is the most effective counter to Fox is Jon Stewart. What are you thoughts on him and his show?

We are big fans of Jon Stewart and anyone who puts facts above spin.

As everyone has pointed out on this chat, there's a lot of conservative misinformation to correct so we've got to get back at it.  Thanks for the questions and the time.  Feel free to check us out at

What article are you talking about? Is it in today's Post? Can we have a link?

In This Chat
Matt Butler
Matthew Butler has over fifteen years of professional campaign experience. He has served as Deputy Campaign Manager and Chief Financial Officer for the Presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Chris Dodd, as well as Campaign Manager for Maria Cantwell’s successful 2006 reelection. Butler was also an attorney with the firm of Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, LLP in Santa Monica. Before that, Butler worked the Clinton 1996 and Gore 2000 Presidential races managing coordinated campaign expenditures at the Democratic National Committee. He holds a B.A. in International Studies from American University, 1994, and a J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law, 2000. Butler is a native of Columbus, Ohio. Butler joined Media Matters in 2009; he has served the company in various roles, including Chief Financial Officer, Director of the Progressive Talent Initiative, and Chief of Staff.
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