Two weeks before Tucker Carlson got canned, I hung out with Abughazaleh and five of her Media Matters colleagues in their Navy Yard office overlooking the Anacostia River to watch them watch Fox News’s evening lineup. The space is massive, with open seating and large conference rooms — and very few employees. (Most of the team has worked from home since the pandemic began.)
Blonde, blue-eyed, and petite, Abughazaleh could easily pass for one of Fox News’s talking heads. Indeed, Abughazaleh has a pretty good idea of what it would take for her to become a darling of the right on one of the shows she monitors daily. “Rant about cancel culture on Twitter, make some ‘I stand with J.K. Rowling’ tweet, escalate it over and over,” she said. “Complain, rinse, and repeat.
“It’s so easy and there’s so much money in it, which is why so many people do it,” she continued. “All you have to do is whine and be a little racist. To be clear, I’d rather gouge out my eyeballs.”
Abughazaleh joked that she was born to be a “conservative sleeper agent.” She grew up in a “well-off” area of Dallas and attended private schools up until her sophomore year of high school. Her father is a Palestinian immigrant, and she’s a seventh-generation Texan on her mother’s side. Their conservative household regularly tuned into Fox News.
As a child, Abughazaleh also watched her maternal grandmother — a longtime member of the Texas Federation of Republican Women — work on multiple GOP campaigns and listened to her glowing descriptions of the party’s ideology. (Upon her grandmother’s death, Abughazaleh inherited the mink coat that she wore to President Nixon’s inauguration.)
Abughazaleh was a Republican up until her teens. She credits her progressive political awakening to a move to Tucson, Arizona, during those years. “At least half my high school was low-income or undocumented,” she says. “The bootstrap myth just shattered before my eyes.”
She attended George Washington University in Washington, DC, during Donald Trump’s years in office, majoring in international security in addition to studying journalism. Upon graduating in 2020, she said, “I wanted to work for an organization that aligned with a good mission, a mission that I believed in, and I didn’t want to work somewhere that would just be a job — I wanted to care about what I do.” The position at Media Matters was perfect for her.
Media Matters describes itself as a “progressive research and information center” dedicated to “comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the US media.” The group’s website archives footage from television shows and online broadcasts alike, which it uses to track false narratives or draw attention to how certain issues are being covered.
Part of Abughazaleh’s job is to pull TV clips of Fox News moments from her assigned shows and send the transcripts to her colleagues so that they can keep track of what’s being said on a wide range of topics on the cable news channel.
Unlike some of her colleagues, who utilize multiple desktop monitors, Abughazaleh does all of her work on a laptop. She flips from one tab to another with lightning speed, sending out emails, posting clips to Twitter, and firing off biting responses to people in her mentions.
On the evening I watched her at work, one of the first segments she grabbed was Carlson’s “wildly racist rant” about Tennessee state politician Justin Pearson. “You’re here for a fun night,” she said while exporting the clip from Carlson’s opening monologue. “Strong stuff — he’s having a normal one today.”
Media Matters employees are sometimes criticized for platforming problematic content by posting clips from Fox News. Abughazaleh sees it differently. “Fox is the most-watched cable news channel in the country,” Abughazaleh said. “They already had the platform. And just letting them get by scot-free does more damage than it helps.”