Could you be subsidizing a declared war on Fox News?
That question may sound absurd at first, but according to a former lawyer in the administration of the elder George Bush, the answer is yes.
Media Matters, the far-left website that has become a mouthpiece for the Democratic party, currently enjoys tax-exempt status. It's also declared a war on Fox News, working hard to discredit and attack cable's most popular news channel. That, says C. Boyden Gray, violates the rules behind receiving tax-free donations. In an op-ed in the Washington Times this week, Gray explains his argument:
MMA’s activities should disallow its tax-exempt status in two fundamental ways. First, IRS rulings make clear that attacks on individuals, statement of positions that are unsupported by facts and use of inflammatory language and other distortions will cost an organization its tax-free status. Second, in declaring “guerrilla warfare” on Fox as the “leader” and “mouthpiece” of the Republican Party and in developing a sophisticated Democratic-leaning media training boot camp, MMA has transformed itself into an aggressive advocate for Democratic and progressive causes and thus produced a second deviation from exempt educational activities.
According to Gray, Media Matters's tax-exempt status represents "a form of government support for activities that clearly do not merit tax-exempt status and that as a result infringe on Fox News’ First Amendment rights."
In an interview with Bill O'Reilly last night, Gray explained more:
So what kind of work are you subsidizing? For starters, it's the dramatic anti-Fox rhetoric and headlines the site puts out on a daily basis:
But that's really just the tip of the iceberg. What else is the group up to? Well, it loves attacking conservative hosts such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It devotes time every day to monitoring both, cutting and putting up clips it feels are gotcha moments. For example, this week the group published a clip of Limbaugh seemingly comparing Obama to Hitler:
The Huffington Post picked up the piece and overtly drew up the supposed comparison. But a close listen of the audio reveals Limbaugh wasn't calling Obama Hitler, but rather talking about Obama's generals, pointing out that they did something similar to Hitler's generals -- mainly tried to stand up to their commander-in-chief.
And finally, just in case you might have thought that Media Matters is an equal-opportunity critic, you're right. In part. As The Atlantic pointed out this week (via Mediaite), when CNN anchor Ed Henry decided to jump networks to Fox he was immediately targeted by Media Matters (whereas before he was praised):
That was fast. Hours after Ed Henry announced his move from CNN to Fox News as chief White House correspondent, the liberal media watchdog Media Matters has begun painting him as a right-wing nut job. The treatment is par for the course in the world of partisan watchdog groups (we'd expect the same from its conservative archival Newsbusters if a CNN anchor moved to MSNBC). But the group's rushed denunciation of Henry is a little silly considering the group's only other articles about Henry this year credit the then-CNN correspondent for debunking Republican Darell Issa's "false claim" that the stimulus "didn't create any jobs" and criticizing President Obama's critics for spreading a "myth" about the president's India trip costing $200 million.
Is there really any doubt what the group's agenda is? And if not, should it continue to get a tax break?
"No one would deny anybody the right to use his own or other private funds to criticize media coverage," Gray writes in the Times. "But equally no one would argue that it would be appropriate for Congress to provide taxpayer funds to organizations for the purpose of financing attacks on free speech. Yet that is the effect of allowing tax deductions for such attacks."