This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
Media Trackers is an investigative non-profit launched in 2011 in Wisconsin, sponsored by American Majority, to "dig up dirt on the left" rather than continuing to be "on the receiving end of damaging stories developed by liberal groups such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress." American Majority's Drew Ryun "envisions a state-based network of similar non-profits." So far, Media Trackers "has gotten considerable in-state pick-up on quick-hit videos and pieces aimed at what it says are errors, hypocrisy or offensive behavior by labor unions and their Democratic allies." Drew Ryun, co-founder of American Majority, told Politico in April that he could foresee setting up similar groups around the country if the Wisconsin experiment works. The Media Trackers website claims that the organization is "dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and quality fact-based journalism. Our site examines stories published in the mainstream media, explores claims made by some of the more partisan Wisconsin political groups, and provides the facts on the issues, people and elections that matter in the state."
According to Mother Jones, Ryun formed Media Trackers as a "nimble attack blog . . . that could quickly capitalize on the latest missteps by big-government politicians or the "liberal" media -- essentially hard-hitting, opposition-research-style shops that prize scoops, speed, and scandal over policy briefs and press conferences."
Media Trackers "Mangle[s] the Truth"
Media Trackers has a history of "mangl[ing] the truth," according to Mother Jones and such media outlets as PolitiFact and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Origin of Claim that Baldwin Voted Against Body Armor
Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that "Media Trackers was the first to suggest that Baldwin's support for this measure meant she favored 'denying body armor and medical supplies to U.S. military personnel' fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." This claim was extrapolated from Baldwin's support of a bill that would allow individuals to seek conscientious objector status from the IRS to prevent their tax dollars from going to fund wars.
Kenneth Mayer, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "the notion that, if this bill would pass, it means that Tammy Baldwin would be denying body armor to troops, is ludicrous."
This claim has been repeated by many people, including New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Recently, Tommy Thompson's campaign ran ads attacking Baldwin, saying "she fought to block funding that provides body armor for our troops just to make a political point." Brian Sikma, the communications director for Media Trackers has also been spreading this claim, going so far as to say "she voted against body armor and medical supplies" in a radio interview.
Underage Girls Signing Recall Petition
In November of 2011 Media Trackers released a video that showed two young women signing the recall petition. They suggested that one of the young women did not appear to be 18 years old, and the video was reposted on conservative outlets around the country. When the age of the young women came under question, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin released information proving that the young women were over 18 years old.
Accusing Sen. Lena Taylor and Her Mother of Facilitating Voter Fraud
Dan Bice reported in December 2011 that "Media Trackers had suggested Taylor and her mother might have been "accessories" to voter fraud for their role in helping a felon named Russell Collins vote illegally in the April election." This accusation was based on the fact that Taylor's mother runs a religious shelter, and many of the shelter's patrons listed the address as their residence for voting purposes. The most shocking claim made by Media Trackers was that one of those voting from the address, Russell Collins, voted illegally. This accusation was quickly debunked when the Assistant District Attorney ascertained that Collins was in fact "off papers" and eligible to vote.
Brian Sikma, the communications director at Media Trackers was active in spreading these false claims. He told the Journal Sentinel, "Last week, we saw Sen. Taylor introduce legislation that would allow felons the moment they leave jail to vote... But looking at what we found, it looks like she didn't even wait for the law to change. She was, in fact, an accessory to one felon voting on April 5 when that individual was ineligible to vote under Wisconsin statutes."
When it was demonstrated that Collins had not in fact voted illegally the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "asked if Media Trackers should offer an apology to Taylor or her mother, Sikma said he didn't think so. 'We stand by the information we were given,' he said."
BBQ for Votes
An August 2011 "exclusive" that "a labor-backed progressive group had violated Wisconsin state law by handing out free BBQ to Milwaukee residents in exchange for pledges to vote early in a closely fought state Senate recall election . . . turned out to be dead wrong; the DA found no evidence of wrongdoing."
Privacy of Recall Signatures
In November 2011, "in another splashy post that was quickly amplified by the right-wing blogosphere, Media Trackers' Wisconsin outlet claimed there were 'no privacy protections' for people who signed a recall petition to recall Walker, leaving them open to harassment and abuse. PolitiFact rated the claim 'Mostly False,' and noted that Media Trackers had given no evidence that harassment was taking place." In March 2012, "soon after the Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed an ethics complaint against conservative state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, Media Trackers published a story claiming four of the commission's nine members had signed Walker recall petitions. In fact, none had."
Efforts to Undermine Walker Recall
Media Trackers blogger Brian Sikma has claimed that signing a recall petition poses a threat to the safety of women, arguing that personal information and political preferences should not be available to "just anyone." Sikma allegedly heavily paraphrased a quote in his post from Mary Jo Baas of Liberty House Consultants. It turns out that contrary to Baas's comments that she has willingly made her personal information and political preferences available to the public by making campaign contributions to Governor Scott Walker. Her consulting firm was also paid $9,000 for work that it did on behalf of the Republican Party in 2008. 
Two days after the launch of the Recall Scott Walker campaign, Media Trackers claimed it uncovered dangers in the signature gathering process. Due to "a flaw in the security of the system (that) has been discovered," Media Trackers said in their online article that "there are no privacy protections for those who sign a recall petition." They also make the claim that people circulating recall petitions don’t have to be certified by a government agency and don’t have to register with the state and argue this is a new phenomenon. Despite Media Trackers claim, PolitiFact found that it is not new that state law does not require credentialing of people who circulate recall petitions. PolitiFact also found the group Meida Trackers to be misleading when it says it is newly discovered that there are "no privacy protections" for the limited information recall signers provide, as there never have been. 
Smear Campaign against Wisconsin Jobs Now
In August, 2011 Media Trackers filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board and the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office alleging illegal election and electioneering activities on the part of Wisconsin Jobs Now! Shortly after issuing a press release detailing the allegations, Media Trackers refused to cooperate with the DA in conducting an investigation. It was subsequently revealed by Bill Omulski, a representative of the right-wing MacIver Institute, that the "witness" of Wisconsin Jobs Now's illegal activity was Media Trackers operative Colin Roth. Roth was then interviewed by the DA, and revealed that he had not witnessed any illegal activity. The absence of any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Wisconsin Jobs Now suggests that the allegations of electioneering activities were a calculated smear campaign designed to help Republican senators facing recall campaigns. The ploy was successful, with headlines lasting for days in major publications like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Both Media Trackers and MacIver Institute receive funding from the Bradley Foundation. 
Started in Wisconsin, Expanded to Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Ohio
According to Mother Jones, "After seeing Media Trackers in action, its anonymous donors shelled out enough fresh cash for Ryun to expand into Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Ohio." Indeed, Media Trackers announced its expansion into Colorado and Montana with two similar press releases on May 9, 2012. Media Trackers Florida and Ohio seem to have been started in a slightly earlier wave, with organizational "about" pages on each of their websites dated March 16, 2012.
There is no personnel or staff listing on the Media Trackers websites, but the following staff are listed as blog/news authors on the organization's websites':
- Brian Sikma, Communications Director for Media Trackers in Wisconsin - Sikma has also authored numerous blog articles on the Media Trackers site.
- Collin Roth, Researcher (formerly Assistant Volunteer Coordinator at Justin Amash for Congress & Campaign Staff Assistant at Bill Cooper For Congress) - Roth has authored numerous blog articles on the Media Trackers site.
- Dena - Although no last name is listed, Dena has also authored numerous blog articles on the Media Trackers site, the most recent on June 16, 2011.
- Jason Hart - Hart has authored 13 articles on Media Trackers Ohio's blog website as of May 2012.
- Chris Leggatt - Leggatt has authored nine articles on Media Trackers Florida's website as of May 2012.
- Tom Lauder - Lauder has authored five articles on Media Trackers Florida's website as of May 2012.
- Garrett Lenderman - Lenderman has authored four articles on Media Trackers Montana's website as of May 2012.
- Phil Rolen - Rolen has authored one article on Media Trackers Montana's website as of May 2012.
- Aaron Gardner - Gardner has authored ten articles on Media Trackers Colorado's website as of May 2012.
- Kyle Forti - Forti has authored six articles on Media Trackers Colorado's website as of May 2012.
The Media Trackers website "welcomes your feedback as citizen journalists" and is asking people to "register and start writing your article."
Media Trackers is primarily sponsored by the Tea Party non-profit and training group American Majority, which is funded for the most part by the Sam Adams Alliance. In 2010, American Majority received $328,720 from the right-wing and Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. American Majority's funders also include conservative non-profit DonorsTrust, which gave American Majority $365,580 since 2009, and the Vanguard Charitable Trust, which has donated $2 million since 2010. Media Trackers is also closely affiliated with the MacIver Institute, which promoted many of its stories during the recall campaigns of Republic senators in Wisconsin. The Bradley Foundation has also provided substantial funds to the MacIver institute, totalling $310,000 in the past two years.
Radio personality Charlie Sykes publicly supports Media Trackers and the MacIver News Service. Sykes serves as senior fellow and magazine editor for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Records show the institute receives $400,000 per year from the Bradley Foundation, representing about half - and sometimes more - of its annual budget. "I like to encourage any alternative media outlets - blogs, websites, think tanks, oppo research groups - that can come up with interesting, important stories," the conservative talker said. "And I make no secret of the fact that I really like a lot of the stuff that MacIver and Media Trackers have been doing; hopefully, they'll keep all of us in the media honest," said Sykes. 
No address, phone number or email address are listed on the website.
Web contact form: http://mediatrackers.org/contact/
Articles and Resources
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- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kenneth P. Vogel Right seeks edge in opposition wars, Politico.com, April 3, 2011
- ↑ Daniel Bice, Conservative outlets write all the news that fits their tilt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 7, 2011
- ↑ Media Trackers, About, organizational website, accessed May 5, 2011
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 Andy Kroll, Media Trackers, the Right's New Oppo-Research Attack Dog, Mother Jones, May 21, 2012
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Daniel Bice, Claim that Baldwin voted against body armor for troops far from truth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 30, 2012.
- ↑ Patrick Marley, Group questions age of petition signers; Dems release details to show they are over 18, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 21, 2011.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 Daniel Bice, Ex-con eligible to vote; conservative outlet didn't check, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", December 5, 2011.
- ↑ Conservative group says signers of petitions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are at risk, PolitiFact, November 17, 2011
- ↑ Daniel Bice, Charges against Judicial Commission fall apart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 24, 2012
- ↑ Jesse Russell Media Trackers suggests signing recall petitions could be perilous for women, Dane101.com, December 9, 2011
- ↑ Conservative group says signers of petitions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are at risk, Politifact, accessed December 1, 2011
- ↑ Cody Oliphant, Anatomy of a right-wing smear campaign; Media Trackers, MacIver Institute, and Charlie Sykes One Wisconsin Now Blog, December 7, 2011
- ↑ Media Trackers Colorado, MEDIA TRACKERS: CO SENATE DEMS SHILLING FOR OBAMACARE WITH UNION BILL, organizational press release, May 9, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Montana, Media Trackers: Taxpayers take $3 Million Loss in Sale of Story Mansion to Org Led by Former City Planner Epple, organizational press release, May 9, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Florida, About, organizational website, March 16, 2012, accessed May 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Ohio, About, organizational website, March 16, 2012, accessed May 2012
- ↑ Drew Ryun, Correcting the Record, Media Trackers, organizational blog article, April 13, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers, Author: Brian Sikma, organizational blog website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Collin Roth, Collin Roth, LinkedIn.com online profile, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers, Author: Collin, organizational blog website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers, Author: Dena, organizational blog website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Ohio, Author: J. Hart, organizational blog website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Florida, Author: Chris, organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Florida, Author: Tom L., organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Montana, Author: Garrett Lenderman, organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Montana, Author: Phil Rolen, organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Colorado, Author: Aaron Gardner, organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Colorado, Author: Kyle Forti, organizational website, accessed May 22, 2012
- ↑ Media Trackers Write for us, organization website, accessed May 5, 2011
- ↑ Daniel Bice, Conservative outlets write all the news that fits their tilt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 7, 2011
- ↑ Kenneth P. Vogel, Right seeks edge in opposition wars, Politico.com, April 3, 2011
- ↑ Daniel Bice [Conservative outlets write all the news that fits their tilt, JS Online, December 14, 2011