The Sheffield Shuffle
NewsBusters creator Matthew Sheffield gets a few things right about new media, but it's overshadowed by his retrograde, knee-jerk bashing of the old, "liberal" media.
By Terry Krepel
This also allowed Sheffield to present himself as something of a new-media guru on the right. He runs Dialog New Media, which provides consulting and social-media promotion services. Dialog's website is careful to limit any discussion of its employees' conservative ideological tilt to the bios page.
But for all of Sheffield's self-proclaimed new-media expertise, his views regarding the mainstream media are surprisingly retrograde -- he has bought into the MRC-promoted canard that the media is hopelessly biased, and right-wing sugar daddies need to step up and promote conservative causes.
Bashing the media to benefit conservatives
Sheffield was even more retrograde during the 2012 presidential election, denouncing polls showing President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney were biased.
In a Sept. 29 NewsBusters post -- a couple days after touting the notoriously unreliable Dick Morris' assertions pre-election polls were being "artificially skewed to more resemble a 2008 electorate model -- Sheffield declared that "exit polling has historically overestimated the Democratic vote" and "underestimated how many people would vote for the Republican presidential candidate," adding, "it is important to keep in mind that if you are seeing a poll that is predicting a massive vote increase for President Obama over his 2008 totals in a state or nation-wide, it probably is not the fault of an oversampling of Democrats."
But the 2012 turnout was, in fact, looking a lot like 2008, and contrary to Morris' prediction of a Romney landslide, Obama won decisively and Nate Silver was right. Morris lost his job as a Fox News contributor for his record of wrongness; Sheffield remains at the top of NewsBusters.
Following Romney's election loss, Sheffield began lobbying for rich conservatives to fund right-wing media.
In a post-election piece co-written for the far-right American Spectator with habitual correction generator Noel Sheppard, Sheffield tried to make the media-bias bogeyman bigger and scarier than ever: "The 2012 cycle demonstrated that left-wing journalists have far more sway on Americans' opinions than many conservatives have been willing to admit." And those media liberals are everywhere:
Even though the influence and popularity of the mainstream media have fallen in its traditional venues of print and broadcast television, the left-wing media establishment is also in control of the rapidly growing Internet news market and the cable television market. Fox News and MSNBC aside, the cable market is entirely controlled by the left: CNN, HLN, Current, CNBC (news side), Comedy Central, and all the highest-rated entertainment channels that venture occasionally into politics lean leftward.
By contrast, the authors wrote, the "audience reach" of conservative media "is still tiny compared to the hundreds of millions who consume news generated by the liberal mainstream media."
Despite this, Sheffield and Sheppard claim, "exposing liberal media bias and finding ways of reaching people who are not interested in the conservative 'alternative media' structure have become even more critical to our political system." But wasn't the the intent of the MRC's $5 million "Tell the Truth!" campaign this year, which was much more interested in making sure the truth wasn't told about Republican candidates? Sheffield and Sheppard make no mention of this campaign, let alone its effect -- though the article's lamenting tone tacitly admits the campaign was a failure. (Perhaps if the MRC hadn't squandered money on flashy promotions like a Times Square billboard, it might have had an impact.)
Sheffield and Sheppard continued their excuse-making, insisting that Romney's loss was "not a mass rejection of conservatism nor were they proof that Americans have somehow moved to the left." but doesn't this line of reasoning also mean that GOP gains in 2010 were not proof that Americans embraced conservatism or otherwise moved rightward? The authors didn't address that. Nor did they address the fact that this theory also means that the millions of dollars the MRC spends every year to fearmonger about "liberal media bias" are essentially wasted.
Conservative sugar daddies wanted
ConWebWatch has documented how the only way conservative newspapers stay in business is through the deep pockets of conservative owners, at least until they get tired of losing millions of dollars annually down a money pit. Sheffield, to his credit, understands this, which is why he's begging for right-wing sugar daddies to fund conservative media.
In a Jan. 4 NewsBusters post, Sheffield called for "top-dollar donors on the right" to invest in media properties that "can serve as intermediating institutions for our ideas to the masses" instead of 'TV campaign ads, junk mail, and white papers that no one ever reads."
In doing that, though, Sheffield embraced the concept, promoted by Rush Limbaugh, that Obama won re-election because "low-information voters" who care about superficial things and not deep political issues voted for him. He went on to rant about the "left-wing media elite" and sneer at people who hold different political beliefs than he does:
It is impossible to reason with people who hold irrational beliefs about economics. People who believe things because they make them feel good or because they saw it on TV cannot be argued with. Instead, we must develop similar means of reaching low-information voters with our messages via channels which are far larger than conversations on Twitter or Facebook.
Sheffield expanded on the sugar-daddy idea in a Feb. 21 post encouraging a "conservative billionaire" to buy the Boston Globe in order to "actually have a real asset instead of some junk mail and some worthless TV ads." But he overlooks the fact that Boston already has a conservative newspaper in the Herald, which, yes, has been a perpetual money-loser (and, ironically, is printed and distributed by the Globe).
Sheffield then devoted a March 6 post to his ongoing lament that right-wing funders won't fund a genuine news operation. Sheffield did get some things correct, such as agreeing with the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone that the conservative media in its current state is more interested in playing gotcha than doing real shoe-leather journalism. But he also oddly complains that Calderone "ignores some very innovative journalism being produced by my colleagues over at CNSNews.com."
Actually, what Sheffield calls "innovative" at CNS is really a more extreme case of the problem Calderone outlines:
There's nothing terribly "innovative" about any of this -- right-wing outlets have been doing the same thing for years. CNS, however, does have the financial power of a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization behind it.
Baseless defending gun vote
In an April 21 NewsBusters post, Sheffield declared that the congressional defeat of stricter background checks for purchasing guns was evidence that "the media" had blown its credibility:
Seemingly lost in the fits of rage both before and after the final vote were the facts: 1) The bill that was supposedly designed in response to the Newtown massacre would not have prevented it from happening. 2) The Senate Democratic leadership could have expanded background checks had it also been more open to amendments which would have forced states to respect each others’ concealed weapons permits, 3) The 90 percent number that was frequently bandied about was derived from extremely imprecisely worded questioning. It cannot be considered a reliable metric in light of many other polls on firearms issues. 4) Senate Republicans had offered a bill which did not expand background checks but did actually give money to actually prosecute people who failed them. Under the present enforcement mechanism, just 44 of the 80,000 people who failed a background check to purchase a gun were prosecuted.
But Sheffield offers no evidence that his apparent preferred solutions -- expanding concealed weapons and prosecuting those who fail background checks -- would have stopped the Newtown massacre either.
Indeed, it's unclear that prosecuting those who failed background checks -- the background check system having already succeeded by prohibiting purchase of that weapon -- would do anything beyond clog the court system. As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, a full one-quarter of failed background checks are due to mistakes in the system and that the person should have been able to purchase the gun, and juries in some areas of the country are reluctant to convict a person who attempted to purchase a hunting rifle.
Sheffield also provides no evidence that the polls showing massive support for increased background checks contained "extremely imprecisely worded questioning." That's just more of his whining that polls that don't reflect his personal political views must, in fact, be biased.
The fact that Sheffield apparently feels he must continually loop back to knee-jerk bashing of the "liberal media" suggests that his views about new media aren't quite as enlightened as he would like to make them appear.