With Equality Matters, Media Matters Takes a More Activist Approach

Updated 10:04 p.m. Media criticism and social change activism are two different things.

Sometimes the first can be oriented toward the second, but watchdogs groups that work the refs. are in general far less effective than the sort of activists who take direct action against their cultural opponents and organize for change -- activists who have been a critical part of every rights-based social change movement in the past century.

So it is interesting to see this week that Media Matters for America, a well-funded and well-staffed liberal Washington media watchdog group that has spent more than half a decade tweaking members of the press and turning right-wing talk radio and television hosts into villians ad seriatim, has moved to create its first explicitly activist site on behalf of a specific cause.

Launched officially on Monday, Equality Matters is a Web site and enterprise within the larger organization dedicated to fighting homophobia in the press -- and also pressuring Congressional and policy leaders to support same-sex marriage.

"I think it's the first time they've done it like this, but I think that you might see more as they look for ways to do this better, faster," said Equality Matters director Richard Socarides, a former Clinton administration official who spent the past decade as a media and entertainment lawyer. "I think they are thinking of having similar treatments for other issues. But this has been way out in front."

Socarides and Media Matters CEO and founder David Brock have been friends for a decade and began having conversations about a gay rights-specific project around a years ago, Socarides said, though it wasn't until the last two months that everything finally came together and they decided to make a go of it.

The timing of the announcement, just days after the historic repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces, could not have been more auspicious.

But the most interesting part of the move for students of the progressive movement in Washington is that it means that one of its most well-funded institutions is now on record as being an advocate for same-sex marriage and making that advocacy an explicit part of the overall progressive agenda -- something it has not always been.

Equality Matters will "try to be a rapid response war room that can push back against homophobic misrepresentation in the media and politics quickly," Socarides said, "but also very much about keeping the pressure on members of Congress and policy makers to create change more rapidly."

That means pressuring Republicans -- and Democrats, too.

"We're going to try to hold everybody accountable," he said.

Joining Socarides at Equality Matters on Jan. 15 will be Kerry Eleveld, for the last two years the White House reporter for The Advocate, and three or four others who will engage in reporting, research, training and communications campaigns on behalf of gay rights and equality.