Dick Armey had no idea he was speaking to the left-wing Media Matters organization during an interview last week, he told The Daily Caller Tuesday. Instead, Armey thought he was chatting with the conservative Media Research Center.
Armey and his tea party organization FreedomWorks parted ways in early December after disagreements over the direction of the powerful nonprofit and how the group’s money was being spent. (RELATED: Why Armey resigned)
A post published Friday by Media Matters blogger Joe Strupp relayed concerns by Armey — also a former House majority leader — about FreedomWorks’ expenditures, including several million dollars spent on sponsorship opportunities with radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
In that interview, Armey described his disagreement with FreedomWorks’ decision to advertise on those shows. He said he would have preferred spending the money “to recruit activists and inform activists and to encourage and enthuse activists,” something Armey didn’t feel was accomplished through robust radio advertising.
Over the weekend, conservative reaction to Armey’s decision to “dish” to Media Matters about his tumultuous exit from FreedomWorks ranged from befuddled to furious.
“If Dick Armey is going to go to Media Matters, he’s willing to burn down the movement over his vendetta,” Red State blogger Erick Erickson wrote on Twitter.
“This is disgraceful,” Jim Hoft wrote on his blog, The Gateway Pundit. “The former FreedomWorks chairman did not approve of the way the conservative group was working with Glenn Beck to push conservative causes. So, he went to the most sinister far left outlet on the planet to rip on FreedomWorks. He must have lost his mind.”
But in a Tuesday phone interview with TheDC, Armey insisted that even though Strupp properly identified himself, it wasn’t until “somebody busted my chops on Facebook” that he realized he spoke to a left-wing group.
“I wouldn’t know Media Matters from a hole in the wall,” the 72-year-old told TheDC. “That was a major, big screw up on my part. I thought they were somebody else.”
When asked who he thought Media Matters was, Armey replied, “Who’s the guy with the red beard that always does the show where he points out how biased the press is?”
“Oh… the Media Research Center? Brent Bozell?” TheDC suggested. Bozell appears weekly on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to spotlight liberal media bias in a segment called “Media Mash.”
“Yeah, I thought it was Brent Bozell,” Armey replied. “What I thought I had was I’d get them interested in the absolute screw job I got from The Washington Post.”
That “screw job” was a Christmas Day report claiming Armey had staged an armed “coup” in the fall to fire FreedomWorks’ top executives and have them escorted from their Capitol Hill offices by a gun-carrying aide. Though he was interviewed for the broader report, Armey told TheDC that nobody from the Post ever actually asked him about that explosive gun allegation.
“The Washington Post never mentioned that to me, whatsoever,” Armey said, explaining that Post reporter Amy Gardner called him “three or four” times for the story without asking about the gun tale.
Gardner did not immediately return TheDC’s request for comment on the matter.
As to the charge that Armey used a gun to intimidate the FreedomWorks staffers, he reiterated the explanation he shared with Mother Jones’ David Corn in the day following the Post story.
“Actually, David Corn got it right in Mother Jones,” Armey said. “There is a guy named Beau Singleton — he was on my Capitol Police detail. He’s retired from the Capitol Police today. He’s still licensed to provide personal security and on many occasions when I’m in Washington, he does that for me as a courtesy.”
Armey said Singleton’s gun was hidden from view under his jacket and that “Adam Brandon, Matt Kibbe and Dean Clancy” — FreedomWorks executives all — “would have known exactly who he was.”
Armey said concerns about Singleton’s carrying a gun only surfaced as a political attack following the tragic December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. And Singleton did not escort FreedomWorks employees from the building, Armey said. Singleton told Corn the same thing.
“I was just kind of there,” Singleton told Mother Jones. “I can’t see why they would act like I was menacing.”
None of the staffers who described the gun story were quoted on the record by the Post.
“I understand these guys try to put a spin on that and make me look bad, because that’s what they do,” Armey went on. “If you look at the left-wing press, it celebrates Dick Armey as a mad gunman.”
As to conveying that message of media malpractice to Media Matters, Armey said he was too “chatty” and didn’t realize the direction Strupp was taking the conversation, aiming for attacks on Limbaugh and Beck.
As to FreedomWorks’ activities, Armey explained that his point to Media Matters was that he wanted to see the tea party group refocus its spending on conservative activism and away from advertising. “We were always proud that we got so much done with so little money.”
Asked about a recent Rasmussen poll that showed just 8 percent of Americans now identify as “tea party members,” Armey lamented that FreedomWorks had some role in not slowing that attrition as it moved away from activism. “They had a stronger identification when we were seen as an activist group working within the tea party movement,” he said.
“When you look back at who FreedomWorks was in ’09 and ’10, and what we did with respect — I’ve always said it this way: We did not create the tea party movement, we never managed the tea party movement,” Armey said, “but we facilitated it so much, that there would not have been a movement without us.”