Media Watch: Frontline’s Artificial Monster

The latest Frontline campaign finance expose, “Big Sky, Big Money”  is little more than an exercise in gotcha journalism and is exemplary of why, according to a recent Gallup poll, 60% of Americans have “little or no trust” in the media. From the first shady visit to a reputed “meth house” where boxes of documents mysteriously turned up that seem to suggest collusion between shadowy groups and candidates in Montana — home, of course, to the recent challenge to Citizens United that was ultimately reversed by The Supreme Court — to the final attempts to confuse a rational “no comment” with a diversionary tactic from a lawyer after presenting him with documents he had never laid eyes on before, Frontline had a clear goal: to convince viewers that money in politics, used to ensure that certain individuals and groups had their interests represented, is a bad, nefarious thing. But read that last sentence again. Is spending money to make sure your interests are represented in politics — especially in light of the fact that Frontline offers no evidence, merely wild, unsubstantiated claims, that any rules or laws were broken — really a bad thing?

For their part, the focus of the report, American Tradition Partnership, a non-profit that seeks to educate voters through grassroots efforts and does lean conservative, has responded, calling the report:

“…the latest unsubstantiated, well-coordinated attack on American Tradition Partnership, brought on by opponents of the work we do to educate grassroots citizens about important issues related to the environment, energy, and economic growth,” said Donald Ferguson, Executive Director of ATP. “Aside from wild conspiracy theories and willful misreadings of applicable campaign finance and nonprofit laws, tonight’s Frontline story simply revealed what most Montanans and Americans already knew: that radical anti-growth environmentalists aren’t the only ones who are free to organize, raise money, and communicate with the public on important policy topics.”

Frontline makes much of the fact that outside spending has reached a high and that this is proof that these groups are having a larger role in the debate than that traditionally enjoyed by the two parties. It is true that more money has been spent this year, to the tune of something like $6 billion. But, as CCP Chairman Brad Smith notes, this is proof of more, and differentiated,  public involvement rather than proof that elections are being “bought” or that influence is being peddled.

“Money actually breaks up old monopolies, makes more ideas heard, makes more voices heard,” said Center for Competitive Politics co-founder and Chairman Bradley Smith, another former FEC chairman. He added that outside groups “ought to be participating. There’s no reason why the debate should be limited to what candidates and parties want to talk about.”

In fact, the only thing shady in Frontline’s segment is the reporting.



  1. […] merely wild, unsubstantiated claims, that any rules or laws were broken — really a bad thing?   Read more… Independent groups NY Times: Rove vs. Bloomberg? It Seems That Way in Maine Senate Race  By […]

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.