Media Matters for America funder Bill Benter emerges as financial sponsor of pro-Hagel ads

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
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One of the funders behind an ad campaign promoting Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Pentagon is also a major donor to the liberal advocacy group Media Matters for America.

Hagel, who President Barack Obama tapped Monday as his nominee to head the Defense Department, is already under fire from critics who say he “has sought to distance the United States from Israel” during his career.

According to a Foreign Policy magazine report Monday night, a substantial ad campaign aimed at swatting such attacks on Hagel is already underway, and gambling magnate Bill Benter is bankrolling it — at least in part. Benter is best known for reportedly contributing generously to J Street, a liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group which has also received funding from George Soros.

The opening salvo of the pro-Hagel campaign came in the form of week-long ads in Playbook, the daily tipsheet email distributed by the Politico website. Those ads reportedly earned Politico $35,000.

The Daily Caller reported in March 2012 that Benter has also been a long-time donor to Media Matters. (RELATED: Hong Kong gambler bankrolls Media Matters, may have helped endow foreign policy voice)

“I have been a contributor to Media Matters for many years,” Benter told TheDC in a statement then, “and am proud to support the important work that it does fighting for truth in media, working for more honest political discourse and promoting our shared progressive values.”

A source told TheDC then that Benter’s contributions were specifically given to finance the work of MJ Rosenberg, the one-time foreign policy voice of Media Matters. Rosenberg’s work attracted an onslaught of condemnation for his regular use of the term “Israel firster” — a phrase meant to question the loyalty of American supporters of Israel.

In a February 2012 interview with TheDC, the liberal Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz slammed Media Matters over what he called Rosenberg’s “extremist” writings, theorizing that the White House — which maintains close contact with Media Matters — would do well to create distance from the group.

“Well, I think if swing voters in the pro-Israel community had any idea how extreme Media Matters was on issues of Israel and supporters of Israel, they would regard Media Matters as another, you know, Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright,” Dershowitz said then. (RELATED: Sources, memos reveal Media Matters’ erratic behavior, close coordination with White House and news organizations)

Bipartisan pressure on Media Matters to fire Rosenberg proved to be too much for the group to sustain. Rosenberg was let go in April 2012 after months of internal hand-wringing.

It’s unclear if Media Matters received funds from Benter for the 2013 fiscal year. The group’s spokeswoman did not immediately return TheDC’s request for comment.

Following Obama’s nomination announcement Monday, Media Matters has already set to work producing content aimed at supporting Hagel’s confirmation.

Responding to a report by CNN that Hagel’s critics see his willingness to negotiate with Hamas and his dissatisfaction with sanctions on Iran as a weakness, Media Matters writer Adam Shah insisted that “the position Hagel has taken on Hamas is well within the mainstream and the position he has taken on Iran is not an anti-Israel position, but part of his long-held view that unilateral sanctions do not work.”

“Furthermore, Hagel is supported by high-profile pro-Israel commentators,” Shah added.

The Benter-sponsored ads supporting Hagel include an open letter declaring that “[n]o one has been more steadfast in supporting America’s commitment to Israel’s security than has Senator Hagel.”

When TheDC asked Benter in March 2012 about his involvement in Media Matters’ foreign policy writings, he explained in a statement, “Much of my philanthropic activity over the past several years has focused on preventing war and creating peace through education, scholarship and advocacy, not only in the Middle East but around the world.”

“I want to make it absolutely clear,” Benter’s statement continued, that “I would never support or condone anti-Semitism in any form.”

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