Media Matters boot camp readies liberal policy wonks for the camera’s close-up
By Jason Horowitz, Tuesday, March 22, 8:15 PM
“I’m here to be intensely trained,” Lee Brenner announced as he came through the door of a discreet building near Dupont Circle.
The brick carriage house is usually the headquarters of the Mathematical Association of America, but for a few days in the middle of March, the left-wing organization Media Matters for America converted it into a partisan boot camp where rebel forces were trained for combat on Fox News. Over four grueling days, Harvard-honed instructors drilled a dozen softie policy wonks, molding them into an elite unit of smiling, succinct and well-coiffed talking heads.
Since its inception in August 2009, the Progressive Talent Initiative, or PTI, has trained nearly 100 pundits who have appeared 800 times on television and radio. Media Matters uses that metric to pitch donors for more contributions, but its leadership believes that the surge of camera-ready liberals has recaptured lost ground in the media wars against conservatives.
“There was a chronic imbalance,” said David Brock, the founder of Media Matters, which picks up the entire cost of the course. “We didn’t just want to accept that this is the way it is.” Brock is a former conservative writer at the American Spectator who was instrumental in efforts to discredit Anita Hill and to oust Bill Clinton, and who made a sharp left turn a decade ago.
The primary mission of Media Matters, he said, is to obsessively monitor Fox News and call attention to its distortions. But now it’s moving into the operational phase, transforming from observers to shock troops. The organization, he said, had to “professionalize the training and booking” of a left-leaning counterpoise.
Media Matters selected the coterie of attractive, articulate participants from 100 applicants, the largest pool so far. All in mid-career, the class included liberal think tank directors, former Capitol Hill staffers and presidential campaign aides, a pollster, a university professor, a combat veteran and contestants from both “American Idol” and “The Apprentice.”