Politics

Politico reporter withheld information about liberal Media Matters For America

Photo of Will Rahn
Will Rahn
Senior Editor

About a year ago, the organization Media Matters For America gave Politico reporter Ben Smith a 2010 planning memo for a profile he was writing on the liberal advocacy group.

But Smith curiously withheld key parts of the 89-page document when he published his story, “Media Matters’ war against Fox,” in March 2011.

The Daily Caller became aware of this after obtaining the same document while reporting the series “Inside Media Matters,” which debuted here late Sunday night.

Smith made no mention of Media Matters targeting organizations other than Fox News, such as the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Nor does he reveal that, according to the memo, Media Matters was intent on researching Republican political figures like Republican former U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and Republican Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, and the prominent libertarian political donor Peter Thiel.

“An opposition research team will serve to hold Thiel and others like him accountable,” the memo states. Smith made no mention of such efforts in his story.

He also failed to disclose Media Matters’ interest in marginalizing political news websites including Newsmax and Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, saying only that the organization had narrowed its focus to “Fox and a handful of conservative websites.”

It’s not clear why Smith, who recently left Politico for the website BuzzFeed, didn’t include more specifics from the lengthy document in his March 2011 story if he had the full copy.

Approached by The Daily Caller about this on Monday, Smith reacted by subsequently posting most of the memo online at BuzzFeed. His version did not include the final five pages, which contained a Media Matters For America three-year budget outline.

(RELATED: See the full Media Matters strategy memo, with its budget projections)

“Here’s the document Politico reported on in 2011, and The Daily Caller wrote about today, online for the first time,” Smith wrote on the site. “In it, the liberal group lays plans for an all-out assault on the conservative cable network.”

In an email, Smith explained that he wouldn’t address questions about why he chose to publish his copy of the document now instead of in 2011, because he’s not “comfortable” talking with reporters from TheDC. He also said he never had the budget pages from the document.

It’s not surprising that Smith had the memo: Sources with inside knowledge of Media Matters told TheDC that the organization has had great success at getting Smith — and certain other reporters — to write stories pitched to them.

Smith’s story last year included interviews with top officials at the liberal organization, including its founder David Brock.

Politico media reporter Dylan Byers went to bat Monday for Smith — his former boss — in two blog posts, including one item about how Smith reported on the memo first.

“The timing of this publication is a bit unfortunate for the Daily Caller, which just yesterday suggested that Smith was a dumping ground for Media Matters’ research and now finds itself sourcing the same material as though it were exclusive a year after the fact,” Byers wrote.

But while Byers’ story on Monday was titled “Daily Caller publishes old MMFA memo,” there was much in the memo Smith didn’t touch in his story.