Radio Free never takes money from corporate interests, which ensures our publications are in the interest of people, not profits. Radio Free provides free and open-source tools and resources for anyone to use to help better inform their communities. Learn more and get involved at radiofree.org

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued a civil investigative demand, a form of subpoena, to Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Media Matters for America on March 25, 2024, for documents related to its reporting about the social platform X. A day later, Bailey filed a lawsuit in Missouri circuit court seeking to enforce his demand, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

On Nov. 16, 2023, Media Matters published a report written by its investigative reporter Eric Hananoki that found advertisements for major brands appeared next to pro-Nazi posts on X. Following the report’s publication and a post on X by owner Elon Musk that appeared to endorse an antisemitic conspiracy theory, several major companies paused their advertising on the platform.

The report touched off a firestorm of response from X and from Republican politicians across the country. X filed a lawsuit on Nov. 20 against both Media Matters and Hananoki, alleging that they had manipulated the platform’s algorithms to produce the report’s findings in order to harm X’s relationship with advertisers. (Media Matters filed a motion to dismiss X’s suit in March 2024.)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also cited allegations of algorithm manipulation in a probe he initiated into “potential fraudulent activity,” issuing his own civil investigative demand on Dec. 1, 2023, that Media Matters turn over documents related to its reporting on X. Media Matters sued to block that demand and was granted a preliminary injunction against Paxton in April 2024.

Bailey opened his investigation into Media Matters on Dec. 11, 2023, alleging that it appeared to have used the “coordinated, inauthentic activity” described in X’s lawsuit “to solicit charitable donations from consumers.” He said that his office would look into whether this violated Missouri’s consumer protection laws, “including laws that prohibit nonprofit entities from soliciting funds under false pretenses.” Bailey instructed the nonprofit to preserve all records related to the case.

Three days later, Bailey announced that he and then-Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (now serving as governor) had sent letters to several major companies that paused their advertising on X, including Apple, Disney, IBM and Sony, informing them of the investigation into Media Matters.

Bailey then issued a civil investigative demand similar to Paxton’s and petitioned a state court to enforce it, arguing that given Media Matters’ response to Paxton, it was unlikely to comply by his April 15 deadline.

Bailey’s demand included requests for Media Matters’ 2023 and 2024 donation records, documents associated with Hananoki’s reporting and materials “related to generating stories or content intended to cancel, deplatform, demonetize, or otherwise interfere with businesses located in Missouri, or utilized by Missouri residents,” among other records.

“My office has reason to believe Media Matters used fraud to solicit donations from Missourians in order to bully advertisers into pulling out of X, the last social media platform dedicated to free speech in America,” Bailey said in a news release. “If there has been any attempt to defraud Missourians in order to trample on their free speech rights, I will root it out and hold bad actors accountable.”

The organization has objected to Bailey’s demand in full. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told Ars Technica, “This Missouri investigation is the latest in a transparent endeavor to squelch the First Amendment rights of researchers and reporters; it will have a chilling effect on news reporters.”

In a response to Bailey’s announcement of the suit on X, Elon Musk wrote: “Much appreciated! Media Matters is doing everything it can to undermine the First Amendment. Truly an evil organization.”

Carusone, in the Ars Technica article, countered: “Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Elon Musk has actually intensified his efforts to undermine free speech by enlisting Republican attorneys general across the country to initiate meritless, expensive, and harassing investigations against Media Matters in an attempt to punish critics.”


This content originally appeared on U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Incident Database and was authored by U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Incident Database.

Citations

[1] As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content | Media Matters for America ➤ https://www.mediamatters.org/twitter/musk-endorses-antisemitic-conspiracy-theory-x-has-been-placing-ads-apple-bravo-ibm-oracle[2]https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/17/technology/elon-musk-twitter-x-advertisers.html[3] Apple pulls its ads from X after Musk’s antisemitic posts - The Verge ➤ https://www.theverge.com/2023/11/17/23965928/apple-x-ads-elon-musk-antisemitic-posts[4]https://www.mediaite.com/news/missouri-attorney-general-promises-elon-musk-hes-investigating-media-matters-over-nazi-report/[5]https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txnd.383454/gov.uscourts.txnd.383454.1.0_1.pdf[6] Texas attorney general subpoenas Media Matters after report on X - U.S. Press Freedom Tracker ➤ https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/texas-attorney-general-subpoenas-media-matters-after-report-on-x/[7]https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/media-matters-elon-musk-texas-attorney-general-ken-paxton-rcna129402[8]https://ago.mo.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023.12.11-Notice-of-Investigation-MMFA-Final.pdf[9] Attorney General Bailey Directs Letter to Advertisers Amidst Media Matters Investigation | Attorney General Office of Missouri ➤ https://ago.mo.gov/attorney-general-bailey-directs-letter-to-advertisers-amidst-media-matters-investigation/[10]https://urldefense.com/v3/__https:/ago.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=55bd24fd8f5e7d3dc227d1072&id=db4680359b&e=5061322ab3__;!!EErPFA7f--AJOw!ETYd6-r89czF7zE17gLE1hiQGpb-d6nFvURvBmLd5C5hnpNE48q4-5B7kDa_RWdG0trenZqszeKvVFdR6_JbXWk$[11]https://urldefense.com/v3/__https:/ago.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=55bd24fd8f5e7d3dc227d1072&id=b6ed931e46&e=5061322ab3__;!!EErPFA7f--AJOw!ETYd6-r89czF7zE17gLE1hiQGpb-d6nFvURvBmLd5C5hnpNE48q4-5B7kDa_RWdG0trenZqszeKvVFdRm4ayoAE$[12] Attorney General Bailey Files Suit Against Media Matters for Refusal to Cooperate with Investigation | Attorney General Office of Missouri ➤ https://ago.mo.gov/attorney-general-bailey-files-suit-against-media-matters-for-refusal-to-cooperate-with-investigation/[13] Missouri AG sues Media Matters over its X research, demands donor names | Ars Technica ➤ https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2024/03/missouri-ag-sues-media-matters-in-lawsuit-echoing-elon-musks-complaints/[14] x.com ➤ https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1772339333673972131