Since its inception in August 2009, the Progressive Talent Initiative, or PTI, has trained nearly 100 pundits who have appeared 800 times on television and radio. Media Matters uses that metric to pitch donors for more contributions, but its leadership believes that the surge of camera-ready liberals has recaptured lost ground in the media wars against conservatives.
“There was a chronic imbalance,” said David Brock, the founder of Media Matters, which picks up the entire cost of the course. “We didn’t just want to accept that this is the way it is.” Brock is a former conservative writer at the American Spectator who was instrumental in efforts to discredit Anita Hill and to oust Bill Clinton, and who made a sharp left turn a decade ago.
The primary mission of Media Matters, he said, is to obsessively monitor Fox News and call attention to its distortions. But now it’s moving into the operational phase, transforming from observers to shock troops. The organization, he said, had to “professionalize the training and booking” of a left-leaning counterpoise.
Media Matters selected the coterie of attractive, articulate participants from 100 applicants, the largest pool so far. All in mid-career, the class included liberal think tank directors, former Capitol Hill staffers and presidential campaign aides, a pollster, a university professor, a combat veteran and contestants from both “American Idol” and “The Apprentice.”
Brenner, a former producer of CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer” and political director at MySpace, had recently founded a digital communications firm called FastFWD Group and an online magazine called HyperVocal.com.
To observe the training, The Post agreed to withhold the names of participants who asked not to be identified, which many of them did when instructors warned that a public alliance with Media Matters could jeopardize their chances of getting booked on Fox. Since Brenner said he had already criticized Fox on the record, he for one was willing to risk alienating “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren.”
On Wednesday morning, Brenner, who has black coiled hair, a pleasant demeanor and a taste for the blazer-and-jeans look, climbed the stairs to perform his “baseline video” hit with instructor John Neffinger.
Neffinger, 39, is one of the three partners in KNP Communications, a D.C.-based firm that Media Matters contracts to conduct the training. An attorney with a boyish, Tom Cruise charm (equal parts “The Firm” and “Magnolia”), Neffinger had a promising career teaching public speaking to executives, including those who “sold cigarettes to kids,” he said. He abandoned all that for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.