Why Did Media Matters Go On A Jihad Against Dean Scontras?

Gerald at Dirigo Blue made an amusing observation about how the “right wing echo chamber” operates on October 20th.

His observations were somewhat true – there is no denying that once a story gets “out there”, people on the right take those stories, shop them around to the big opinion leaders online and in print, and try to get momentum for those stories.

He seems shocked — SHOCKED! — that this is happening, but what Gerald failed to comprehend was that not only does the left do this too (and that they are better at it and have bigger weapons), but that this is quite literally how political communication works and has worked since the advent of mass media.

It was interesting, though, to read such outrage over a story about Congresswoman Chellie Pingree‘s ethically questionable behavior being printed in As Maine Goes. National Review Online, and The Examiner.  If that is the extent of the echo chamber on the right, then I’m not sure that even qualifies as a “chamber”.

But the irony of his complaint about the evil, horrific right wing echo chamber is that at the very moments he was typing out his missive, a much larger, much more coordinated, and much more vitriolic echo chamber had already been activated on the left, with the sole purpose of destroying Dean Scontras.  More on that in a second.

As Al Diamon has noted, Pingree was in serious trouble in his race against Scontras, and facing the loss of her seat made a decision to go sharply negative on Scontras (who, incidentally stayed positive the entirety of the campaign) in a bid to save her flailing campaign:

Three weeks before the election, incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree was in trouble. Her own polls showed upstart Republican challenger Dean Scontras closing the gap rapidly, as she continued to flounder with questions about her rich boyfriend, hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman, and her free rides on his corporate jet.

According to her advisors, Pingree had one chance to salvage her race. She had to go negative.

She did, and it worked. Her campaign – and a bunch of allegedly independent outside groups – poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into anti-Scontras ads that portrayed him as a right-wing ideologue and a threat to Social Security. Scontras, who had little money of his own and had made much of refusing help from Republican political action committees, had no way to respond.

Within days, tracking polls showed his negatives rising, particularly among moderate suburban voters, who had supported Pingree two years ago but seemed to be wavering in this election. Scontras was hoping support from the Tea Party movement would offset some of the negative-ad barrage, but that amorphous group proved to have little impact on the race.

This is slightly inaccurate – Scontras never counted on “the Tea Party” for help as Pingree continually said he did.  There is no real Tea Party activism in the first district.  In all my conversations with Scontras and everything I heard him say on the trail, I never once heard him even say the words “Tea Party”, and I never witnessed any real courting of the phantom activists that never really existed as an option for him.

But that aside, the rest of the explanation was correct.  Pingree saw her campaign failing, and decided to nuke Scontras, knowing he wouldn’t have a way to respond.

And so began a rather shameful few weeks of slime.

But that’s politics.  I find it sad, unfortunate, and ultimately reflecting on the character of the candidate who did it – but in the end politics is a game, and she played to win, rather than to keep any level of dignity or self respect.

However, during the campaign I began to notice something strange.  Something that certainly puts whatever right wing echo chamber that exists to shame.

The Media Matters Action Network – the most prominent national left wing media attack machine in the country, devoted to taking on the right – has a political operation called “Political Correction“, which is a project devoted to “holding conservative politicians and advocacy groups accountable.”  Fair enough.

But beginning October 19th, Political Correction decided to wipe out one man.  Dean Scontras.

In the span of ten days, Jamison Foser, a Senior Fellow at Media Matters (among other contributors) wrote eighteen specific articles dedicated to Dean Scontras, attempting to rip him to shreds.

In an election cycle where more than 100 incumbent Democrats were being targeted for defeat by the national Republican establishment (ME-01 was not one of them), in an election where more than 60 seats held by Democrats ended up flipping, in an election where there were 37 Republicans attempting to defeat Democrats in the Senate, in an election where nearly every gubernatorial contest in the country was up for grabs and governing Democrats were in trouble in many of them – you are telling me that none other than Dean Scontras was the primary target of Media Matters’ political attack wing?  And by primary target, I mean nearly 50% of the posts on Political Correction were devoted to him at times.


During that span of ten days, Scontras was on the front page of Political Correction more than any other politician.  More than John Boehner, more than Eric Cantor, more than Mitch McConnell, more than Haley Barbour, more than any Republican running for the House, more than any Republican running for the Senate, more than any Republican running for the Governor’s mansion, more than any member of Republican leadership at any level of government.  And not just “more” – it was a lot more.  There were days, such as October 22nd where three separate articles attacking Scontras were on the front page.


Even if you want to make an argument that Media Matters’ attacks on Scontras were “issues based”, and were “drawing a contrast” and were “true” (all of which, incidentally, are nonsense) – that does not explain the sheer volume of attacks on an obscure, poorly funded candidate on no one’s radar, in the middle of a liberal district, running against an incumbent Democrat.  Organizations like Media Matters do not simply go on this kind of a Jihad “just because.”

There were clearly dozens – probably hundreds – of Republican candidates running for Congress, who had more “attackable” records than Scontras – anyone in the public eye for any length of time could have dozens of attack articles written on them.  There were certainly at least a couple hundred Republicans running for Congress who were better targets to savage, because they had a better strategic or tactical reason to do so (again, more than sixty seats changed hands).

So why, and how, did the highest levels of Media Matters get involved in trying to destroy Dean Scontras of all people?

An interesting question.  It seems that on the very day that Political Correction initiated its massive swarm of attacks on Scontras, the Media Matters organization itself also started running defenses of Pingree.  So, at the same time their political attack wing was trying to rip apart Scontras, their media criticism arm – their bread and butter – was defending Pingree.  Why all of this attention to this race – a race that was on no one’s radar?  How did this happen?

On October 18th, Pine Tree Politics received a tip – from an extremely reliable source – that there was a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee internal poll on the ME-01 race which showed Dean Scontras only five points behind Pingree.  A couple days later we decided to quietly mention that on Twitter just for discussion’s sake, since we don’t tend to write stories on internal polls.

So let’s work out this timeline here.  Some time around the 18th Pingree and company get word from the DCCC that their race is in real trouble and Scontras is threatening to beat her.  Magically, on the very next day, the 19th, Media Matters begins to churn out defenses of Chellie Pingree.  Their political attack wing, Political Correction, then goes on an unprecedented and head scratching campaign to wipe out any credibility Scontras has built up.  These activities continue until the weekend before the election.

Media Matters is a leading progressive activist organization.  So is Common Cause, the organization Pingree used to be in charge of.  Both of these organizations are headquartered in Washington, D.C., and the leadership of all of these organizations travel in the same social circles here.  They also routinely collaborate and communicate.

I think it is becoming blindingly obvious that in a panic about their cratering chances to win re-election, Pingree decided to call up some old friends from the Media Matters organization – friends she likely made while at Common Cause – and begged for their help.

No other Democrat got this kind of treatment in this election cycle.  There were literally hundreds of Democrats across the country who were bleeding and badly in need of help against insurgent Republican candidates – most of which ended up losing.

That Pingree was able to activate this left leaning echo chamber for her benefit is a testament to having friends in high places, and Washington D.C. connections.

So, congratulations on your win, Congresswoman Pingree.  I, for one will not forget how you obtained it.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.