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Media Matters accepted $50K grant for ‘fact checking’ religious broadcasts

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Alex Pappas
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      Alex Pappas

      Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC's Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul's Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.

The liberal Media Matters for America organization once accepted a $50,000 grant to monitor and attack religious news outlets, according to tax returns examined by The Daily Caller.

The grant came in 2006 from the ARCA Foundation, a 60-year-old philanthropy that funds Democratic causes. The foundation gave Media Matters the $50,000 “to support a Religious Broadcasting Project to expand the monitoring and fact checking of religious broadcasts,” according to its tax return that year.

Becca Freedman, a program associate at the ARCA Foundation, told TheDC by phone that she could not immediately provide any details about the grant because the executive director who worked there in 2006 is no longer employed by the foundation.

That former executive director, Donna Edwards, is now a Democratic member of Congress representing Maryland’s 4th District.

The details of Media Matters’ religious monitoring project are not clear, but under Internal Revenue Service regulations a non-profit organization must honor any restrictions that individual or institutional funders place on their donations.

Jess Levin, a spokeswoman for Media Matters, did not return an email seeking comment. The organization has not commented publicly on stories from The Daily Caller’s “Inside Media Matters” series since it began Monday. (RELATED: Follow the investigative ‘Inside Media Matters’ series here)

But it is clear by browsing the Media Matters’ site that its researchers often write about religion: Since 2006, Media Matters has published at least 65 articles about the Christian Broadcasting Network. Titles of those stories included “Is there any tragedy Pat Robertson won’t exploit?” and “Robertson blamed [Ariel] Sharon stroke on policy of ‘dividing God’s land.’”

Other articles critical of religious broadcasters included swipes at Rev. Jerry Falwell and the then-president of Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Chris Roslan, a spokesman for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said the network was unaware of the grant or any specific program by Media Matters monitoring religious broadcasters.

“But they’d be very curious to learn about that,” he said.

A search of religion-themed stories on Media Matters’ website shows the liberal group has most recently been hitting news outlets for covering the uproar over the Obama administration’s birth control rule. One such story was headlined “Obama’s Birth Control Policy Has Support From Catholic Hospitals, Colleges, And Charities, But Fox Won’t Tell You That.”

The ARCA Foundation was endowed in 1952 by Nancy Susan Reynolds, the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company founder’s last surviving child. Her granddaughter Nancy Reynolds Bagley chairs the foundation’s board. She is also editor-in-chief of the socialite-scene-tracking Washington Life magazine. According to ARCA’s website, Bagley worked on health care reform in the Clinton administration before moving to the Democratic National Committee.

ARCA’s grantmaking history puts its mission on the left wing of American politics. Its largest grantees include the liberal Common Cause organization and National People’s Action, whose website touts its success stories as “Wins for the 99%.”

The foundation’s tax records show that it has contributed $190,000 toward the operation of “Democracy Now!” — a left-wing news and talk radio program that airs on the Democratic-aligned Pacifica network, on NPR affiliates and on community-access and college stations.

It has also given $250,000 to the Foundation for National Progress, the non-profit organization that publishes the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Another $350,000 went to the Independent Media Institute, which runs the progressive “alternative press” website Alternet.org.

Among the more than $50 million in grants ARCA has awarded overall, more than $2.2 million has been earmarked for programs aimed at normalizing U.S. relations with, and changing American policy toward, the communist government of Cuba.

According to the Capital Research Center, while Rep. Edwards was at the helm of ARCA it made $400,000 in grants to organizations related to ACORN, the embattled Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

ARCA reported having more than $51 million in assets at the end of 2010.

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This article was updated after publication to reflect the fact that James Dobson is no longer president of Focus On the Family.