I have been covering political boycotts frequently since the inception of this blog, including the Prop 8 boycotts, the Mormon Boycott, the DNC boycott, the Beck boycott, the King & Spalding boycott, boycotts of various states for various reasons, the anti-Israel boycotts, and so on.
So when the boycott of Rush Limbaugh started as a result of his comments about Sandra Fluke, I took an interest.
There has been a lot of coverage regarding my post, Media Matters astroturfed the Limbaugh secondary boycott. The post was based in substantial part on interviews given by Angelo Carusone, Director of Online Strategy for Media Matters, who was not bashful in claiming credit for Limbaugh’s loss of advertisers, particularly in the early days of the boycott.
In response to the Limbaugh tweet, a non-Media Matters group called Boycott Rush, organized by former congressional candidate Krystal Ball and someone who tweets under the name @shoq, asserted that it started its efforts before and independent of Media Matters. Among other things, I was falsely accused of working for and being paid by Limbaugh to tarnish the anti-Rush movement by tying it to Media Matters. A comment also was made about my “professional future” (these tweets are from March 18):
When Rush later tweeted an image from the Boycott Rush groups web page (called The Stop Rush Project) showing how advertisers were targeted in an organized way, @shoq posted this message (the link has the full message, this is an excerpt):
Limbaugh Says This Site Is Some Kind Of “Astroturfed” Campaign. Is it?
No, and such nonsense is one more silly thing he’s said lately that just makes him look desperate to suggest there’s some conspiracy to persecute him and deny him his free speech rights. He just “says it,” knowing his thousands of loyal supporters will eagerly to repeat it. But what else is he going to say? That women speaking for millions of other women and citizens who are just fed up with his brand of “entertainment” are acting forcefully, and organically?
Probably 75% of the 40 volunteers on this site are women. Many of them have waited years to take aim at this infamous misanthropic bully, and Krystal’s petition got so much traction, so fast, that it was pretty evident that this #stoprush movement was going to be their moment to act. And act they have. Within two days, this site documented dozens of independent projects that would zeroing in on this issue and Rush Limbaugh.
Carusone and Media Matters also issued statements to Politico denying that they “controlled” Boycott Rush or the Stop Rush Project, and insisting that their efforts were independent of those volunteer efforts:
Via email, Angelo Carusone, the creator of the Media Matters-related “Stop Rush” campaign, responds:
I must admit. I am pleased to see that Rush Limbaugh is highlighting the breadth and depth of the efforts to deliver accountability for his irresponsible multi-day smearing of Sandra Fluke. As evidence of so-called “astroturf,” Mr. Limbaugh tweeted a screenshot of a site that actually completely undermines his claim. The site he showed a picture of is in not a Media Matters site; a cursory review of it shows that it was started by and maintained by a group of volunteers who want accountability for Limbaugh.
First, Mr. Limbaugh dismissed his advertiser losses as a couple of french fries. Despite his claims that everything was fine, he apparently hired a crisis manager. Now, as evidence of astroturf, Mr. Limbaugh highlights a group of volunteers working on Rush related efforts.
In a follow-up email, Carusone stated again that the Stop Rush Project website was not his.
UPDATE: The site is created and organized by Shoq, “a well known progressive advocate on Twitter and Facebook.” Jess Levin, a spokesperson for Media Matters, confirms that Carusone controls only the StopRush.org website and the @StopRush Twitter account.
This claim that Media Matters was not involved in the Stop Rush Project, and the false accusations made against me, caused me to go back to the Twitter histories of the participants to document their interactions.
Those Twitter histories, combined with other public information, demonstrate early and frequent coordination of efforts between Media Matters (through Carusone) and the Boycott Rush group. Here’s the history:
On February 29, when Limbaugh mentioned those two words, Carusone, was ready to move based on research he had done on Limbaugh’s advertisers, using a template he created for pressuring Glenn Beck advertisers over two years. Using the @StopBeck username, Carusone decided to activate @StopRush (the link in the top tweet is to a Media Matters report on Rush’s comments):
A day after Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke “a slut,” Angelo Carusone, a Washington-based activist, began contacting advertisers to boycott Limbaugh’s show — over the phone, via e-mail, through Twitter Inc. and on Facebook Inc. (FB) ….
(Based on the dates of embedded links, the DailyKos anti-Rush petition did not start until several days later.)
By March 2, however, Carusone already was showing results, and the Boycott Rush participants were communicating with Carusone both as to strategy and relying on Media Matter’s databases and ability to confirm advertisers:
On March 2, both @shoq and Krystal Ball had a conversation with Carusone about the boycott, in particular as to the use of Twitter, “Just got off the phone with @StopRush & @KrystalBall1. Punking @rushlimbaugh is a sport our whole Twitter family can enjoy! #p2″. (“#p2 is a hashtag favored by liberals):
By March 3, it was clear that @StopRush (Carusone) was in the lead, with others following his unique knowledge of social media boycott techniques and access to Media Matters information:
By March 4, after Carbonite had dropped Limbaugh the night before, the Boycott Rush folks still looked to Carusone, who @shoq described being “most in sync with”:
There also were “Direct Messages” used which would not be public unlike tweets. @shoq requested at least three times, on March 5, 6 and 8, that @StopRush (Carusone) switch from public view to DM’s. It may be that they discussed the weather or something unrelated to boycott strategy, but that seems unlikely in context:
And another conversation on March 10:
These communications represent the minimum number of contacts; there could have been other communications not reflected in tweets.
There is other evidence of coordination.
An Update (image below) at the bottom of the original Boycott Rush website directs readers to another website, which then redirects to the Stop Rush Project web page. That Update tells supporters “to let Shoq Value and Media Matters” know about other boycott efforts because they were “trying to connect them all for info sharing, etc”:
The StopRush Project now contains only a partial view of their tactical spreadsheet of advertisers. When the website first went public on March 7 (that date is based on the earliest page dates at the website), however, additional information was within public view and was captured in screenshots taken by a blogger at Pundit House:
WBEC Vice President Peter Barry said his decision to cut Limbaugh has been met with overwhelming support from the station’s listeners:
“We have been inundated with calls and emails of support,” Barry told ABC News. “There have been probably 50 calls of support for every one call disagreeing with the decision.”
C’mon… there is no way liberals outnumber conservatives 50 to 1 in the talk radio audience. Knowing that statement to be bogus, I searched and found a left-wing site that provided me with a link to a Google doc containing Rush’s sponsors. Except this Google doc had people working on it right before my eyes and two had filled in their own email address for the organization.In a few moments the number of viewers ticked up to around 12 and then I thought the end was near so I grabbed this screenshot:
The full screenshot is at the link, but here’s the key part for this purpose, the left hand column which no longer is visible, showing that the group was relying on Media Matters verificatino of advertisers:
This is consistent with the earlier tweets from March 2 that the Boycott Rush group was awaiting confirmation of advertisers from Media Matters.
It may be that theMedia Matters verification was public, yet it shows how dependent groups like Boycott Rush were on Media Matters to provide advertiser information. (As an aside, the Pundit House blog post asserts a connection to persons associated with the Obama campaign, but I think more evidence is needed before such a conclusion could be reached.)
So what does this all show?
Angelo Carusone of Media Matters was the band leader of the Stop Rush and Boycott Rush efforts. While Media Matters did not “control” the Boycott Rush group, there was meaningful coordination. In the first few days of the boycott effort there were multiple public and private communications between Carusone of MMFA and Boycott Beck regarding boycott strategy.
Carusone’s Beck boycott background and access to Media Matters databases of Limbaugh advertisers and resources made him an invaluable part of the anti-Limbaugh effort nationwide.
This also shows the power of social media, and how a relatively small number of people can create the appearance of a mass movement. When those efforts are stoked and coordinated by experienced boycott operatives with the resources of an organization like Media Matters behind them, the effect can be powerful and can scare away advertisers.
I’m normally suspicious of Media Matters, but in this case I believe Carusone’s braggadocio about the role of Media Matters in the Rush boycott movement.