On Tuesday, X/Twitter filed a lawsuit against Media Matters for America (MMfA), the media arm of political smear artist David Brock.
Brock made his living in the nineties attacking Democrats, pushing the Paula Jones story and writing The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, until announcing a religious conversion via his 1997 Esquire piece “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hitman” and moving to team blue to head up orgs like Media Matters and Correct the Record. Brock is a unique figure in our history, as perhaps no American has ever turned his face so completely inside out in public.
I can’t indulge in homilies to Elon Musk’s X as a haven for free speech while he also continues to suppress disfavored accounts (including all Substack contributors), but the X suit at least has a chance of becoming a referendum on serious forms of media manipulation. The X allegations, which obviously need proving out, detail in microcosm a phenomenon that’s been unpleasantly familiar to Americans since about 2016. We’ve grown used to a Twilight Zone existence in which nearly every news story of consequence, from Nord Stream to Bountygate to sonic weapons in Cuba, the Dancing Syringe Panic to “Russia Trying to Help Bernie Sanders” to the pee tape have the feel of invented stories. Later, they’re often proved to be, and worse, we’ve been conditioned to forgive the institutions caught routing such fakes our way, and salute the next narratives sent up the flagpole. The method is never put on trial.
The X lawsuit against @mmfa should serve as a reminder that founder David Brock is one of the most shameless, venomous liars in recent political history, by his own admission a proud trafficker in disinformation. Why he’s ever been taken seriously is a mystery @ggreenwald pic.twitter.com/bZYOpA1BM6— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) November 21, 2023
In this case, it might be. MMfA is accused of creating a news story, reporting on it, then propagandizing it to willing partners in the mainstream press. Again, the X allegations need to hold up in an adversarial process, but the company claims to have fully captured a dollhouse version of a generation’s larger media frauds, making this a fascinating case to watch. From the suit:
Media Matters… exclusively followed a small subset of users consisting entirely of accounts in one of two categories: those known to produce extreme, fringe content, and accounts owned by X’s big-name advertisers. The end result was a feed precision-designed by Media Matters for a single purpose: to produce side-by-side ad/content placements that it could screenshot in an effort to alienate advertisers…
Media Matters therefore resorted to endlessly scrolling and refreshing its unrepresentative, hand-selected feed … until it finally received pages containing the result it wanted: controversial content next to X’s largest advertisers’ paid posts.
The described activity allegedly preceded the November 16 Media Matters article, “As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content.” The piece, which now brandishes gloating editor’s notes pointing out that Apple and IBM have since paused ads on X, included a key screenshot seemingly designed to freak out advertisers:
This whole thing would be merely a petty spat between political antagonists, except Media Matters has been a major driver of this general type of story, in which an offense is first invented, then made the focus of ginned-up outrage, then massively propagandized via unscrupulous press partners. The technique has been used to suppress interest in damaging revelations but more often to destroy or defame political figures on the right (Donald Trump), left (Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders) and in between (Tulsi Gabbard, for instance).
As our own Matt Orfalea pointed out yesterday, Media Matters had a key part in one larger known con, being a primary trafficker in stories sourced to Hamilton 68, the phony “dashboard” purporting to track Russian bots created by the Alliance for Securing Democracy and New Knowledge. MMfA also pushed info from the Steele reports, hyped Steele-generated details like the “Michael Cohen in Prague” story, bashed figures who dared question the “collusion” narrative, and even went after reporter Jeff Gerth for writing a Columbia Journalism Review opus about Russiagate reporting snafus via headlines highlighting how much “Trump and right-wing media amplified” the “questionable” CJR story.
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The defining paradox of the fake news/“anti-disinformation” era is that the people deemed authorities on what is and is not fake news consistently prove to be, themselves, purveyors of the product. Their episodes have mostly involved media tales too far-reaching to litigate. This case is small and contained enough to fit in an ordinary courtroom. Irrespective of one’s feelings about X/Twitter, this Media Matters suit could be a long-overdue chance to put the venomous and generationally influential David Brock media machine on trial. For once, MMfA does matter.