The progressive movement’s media presence has grown exponentially during the Bush presidency. Bob Garfield talks with Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, about how the growth happened and what the future holds.
BOB GARFIELD: Former Clinton staffer John Podesta is heading up Barack Obama’s transition team, but he’s made it clear he will not be pulling a Dick Cheney by sticking around when the administration goes live. Instead, he'll be going right back to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank he started in 2003.
Back then, with the rise of neo-conservatism, the ascendancy of Fox News Channel and ubiquitous conservative talk radio, the Center for American Progress and its offshoot, Media Matters for America, were formed to build out an equal and opposite infrastructure.
Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow for Media Matters, and he joins us once again. Eric, welcome back to the show. ERIC BOEHLERT: Thanks for having me. BOB GARFIELD: Do I have that right, that the Center for American Progress and Media Matters were formed to fight the vast right wing conspiracy with the vast left wing conspiracy? ERIC BOEHLERT: [LAUGHS] We prefer infrastructure building. I mean, clearly the Republicans, conservatives through the Reagan years and even through the Clinton years, they were able to continue to accelerate sort of their infrastructure building mostly through D.C. think tanks which conservatives had long dominated. And on the liberal side and the progressive side, there wasn't really anything.
BOB GARFIELD: But the right would say that the left has always had that infrastructure, called “the media.” [LAUGHS] ERIC BOEHLERT: Right, and then that’s certainly been sort of the talking point and the propaganda from the right for almost four decades. But I would just go ask any veterans from the Clinton Administration if they thought for eight years the D.C. press was sort of on their side, as they chased down Whitewater [BOB LAUGHS] and impeachment and Travelgate. BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. ERIC BOEHLERT: I mean, they were at war with the press for eight years. BOB GARFIELD: Now, I don't know how much of this is a direct result of the work of the Center and of Media Matters, but the landscape is so [LAUGHS] astonishingly different in 2008 than it was a mere five years ago. Could you run down the list, you know, beginning with MSNBC and The Huffington Post? ERIC BOEHLERT: Well, it’s just amazing. If you think back four years ago, where there was very little. There was no Huffington Post, which is now getting twice the traffic of The Drudge Report. Media Matters had just launched in the spring of 2004 but really wasn't getting, you know, the kind of attention that we're getting now. You have bloggers like Firedoglake, Glenn Greenwald. A lot of these key cornerstone bloggers came in after the disappointment of the John Kerry loss.
And you mentioned [LAUGHS] MSNBC. I mean, in 2003, they fired Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq War. He was their number-one-rated talk show host, and they fired him because [LAUGHS] MSNBC was sort of uncomfortable having, you know, a liberal antiwar face on TV.
Now we've got, of course, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow who are putting up all kinds of impressive rating numbers basically doing progressive shows. BOB GARFIELD: I want to play something for you. Just listen to this: [CLIP]: [AUDIENCE LAUGHING] BEN AFFLECK AS KEITH OLBERMANN: Our fourth story on the countdown. In its last desperate moments, the McCain presidential campaign has decided to get its Nazi on. Asked at a Toledo rally yesterday to justify the invasion of Iraq, the Arizona senator said, quote, “When a brutal dictator threatens his neighbors, responsible democratic governments simply must act. Hitler is a good example.” [LAUGHTER] So let me - [END CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: Now, that’s a parody on Saturday Night Live a week ago of Keith Olbermann. Was that not a shot across the bow at the progressive media for verging on self-parody, which I think, almost by definition, reduces credibility? ERIC BOEHLERT: No. That was a shot at Keith Olbermann ‘cause he’s a star on cable TV. I don't think the sketch had anything larger to say about the progressive movement. That was just making fun of someone who’s famous on TV. BOB GARFIELD: All right, I want to ask you one more thing. ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah. BOB GARFIELD: This movement most likely could not have flourished the way it has, and John Podesta’s dreams could not have been realized to the extent that they have been, without a Bush presidency to push against. It’s easier to fight against something that’s egregious.
Now that a presumably sympathetic Obama Administration is in power, with a presumably sympathetic Democratic Congress, does this take some of the wind out of your sails? What are you going to be doing for the next four to eight years?
ERIC BOEHLERT: Oh, that’s easy. I mean, at Media Matters, you know, I mean, it’s always about being a watchdog on the press and looking for conservative misinformation. I mean, within hours of Barack Obama’s election, I mean, countless instances of pundits and columnists suggesting whatever Barack Obama does, don't try to govern from the left because this is a center-right country, it’s a conservative country and, you know, the last thing he should do is adopt progressive policies. That was within hours of his [LAUGHS] landslide blue state victory.
So the Beltway media has its particular viewpoint, and I think a lot of it is sort of built on years of conservative misinformation. And it'll be just as important in the next four years as it was for the previous to keep an eye on this stuff and to try to flush out this conservative misinformation in the press.
And, obviously, the right wing press is going to go, I think, frankly, haywire with an Obama Administration, and it’s important that their talking points and their rallying cries don't seep into the mainstream and become conventional wisdom. BOB GARFIELD: Eric, thank you once again for joining us. ERIC BOEHLERT: My pleasure. BOB GARFIELD: Eric Boehlert is senior fellow at Media Matters for America.