A little after 1 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2009, Karl Frisch emailed a memo to his bosses, Media Matters for America founder David Brock and president Eric Burns. In the first few lines, Frisch explained why Media Matters should launch a “Fox Fund” whose mission would be to attack the Fox News Channel.
“Simply put,” Frisch wrote, “the progressive movement is in need of an enemy. George W. Bush is gone. We really don’t have John McCain to kick around any more. Filling the lack of leadership on the right, Fox News has emerged as the central enemy and antagonist of the Obama administration, our Congressional majorities and the progressive movement as a whole.”
“We must take Fox News head-on in a well funded, presidential-style campaign to discredit and embarrass the network, making it illegitimate in the eyes of news consumers.”
What Frisch proceeded to suggest, however, went well beyond what legitimate presidential campaigns attempt. “We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff,” he wrote.
After that, Frisch argued, should come the legal assault: “We should look into contracting with a major law firm to study any available legal actions that can be taken against Fox News, from a class action law suit to defamation claims for those wronged by the network. I imagine this would be difficult but the right law firm is bound to find some legal ground for us to take action against the network.”
Frisch went on to call for “an elaborate shareholder campaign” against News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News: “This can take many forms, from a front group of shareholders, to passing resolutions at shareholder meetings or massive demonstrations are [sic] shareholder meetings.”
Given the leaky nature of electronic communications, it’s unusual to see the term “front group” used approvingly in office email. Yet Frisch continued: “We should also hire a team of trackers to stake out private and public events with Fox News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors and senior network/corporate staff.” (RELATED: More stories in the ‘Inside Media Matters’ investigative series)
Preparing his bosses for the potential cost, he added that, “If we need to buy tickets for events that these people will be speaking at, so be it.”
The memo goes on to suggest new and unusual ways to harass Fox News: “detailed opposition research” on the network’s staff and executives, attacks against Fox News employees on Facebook and other social media, mailing anti-Fox News literature to their homes and placing “yard signs and outdoor advertising in their neighborhoods.”
At one point, Frisch suggests putting “a mole inside of” the network.
The cloak-and-dagger tactics seemed to make Frisch jumpy. “Fox is likely to retaliate,” he wrote. Media Matters should find “ways to protect the privacy of our employees and the security of our office.”
David Brock apparently took this warning seriously. By the next year, Media Matters had two security guards in the office, and Brock’s personal assistant was carrying a holstered Glock to protect him.
How many of these tactics did Media Matters actually engage in? Sources inside the organization either don’t know or won’t say, although one did confirm that Media Matters dispatched trackers to events featuring Fox News employees, including to at least one where News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch spoke.
What’s clear is that Media Matters believed it had many allies in the media and the left-wing political world. “We should consider sponsoring some of the top progressive blogs,” Frisch wrote. “They are upset with MMFA for not putting more money into the blogosphere and this would be a good opportunity to mend fences.”
Ditto for various other parts of the Democratic coalition: “We should work hard to enlist LGBT, Hispanic, African American, Women, Religious Leaders and Groups against Fox News.”
In another section, Frisch suggests convincing liberal film documentarian Michael Moore to make “a major documentary about Fox News and Fox News personalities.”
In at least two places, the memo makes suggestions that in retrospect look like prescient predictions. The first concerns Rupert Murdoch: “Murdoch’s problems in the U.K. (hacking the cell phones of prominent Brits) are hardly known to U.S. news consumers. We should do our best to bring embarrassing Murdoch news to the attention of his U.S. audience.” The effort appears to have succeeded.
Finally, the memo suggests that drones in the Media Matters research department ought to ghost-write an extended hit on the network: “[W]e should write a book under David’s name that savages Fox News and Fox News employees. The market for this is likely huge.”
Is it? We’ll see next week, when that book is released.