Mike Huckabee, who is parting ways with Fox News, has profited from renting his Fox-promoted MikeHuckabee.com email list to a wide range of shady characters, including a medical quack claiming Alzheimer's disease cures; a for-sale stock pundit that was fired from Fox; a financial firm that was fined by the government for engaging in "deliberate fraud"; and a survival food company that profits off of readers' fears of being "herded into FEMA camps."
Huckabee has previously denied responsibility for his shady sponsored emails, telling Media Matters: "You are supposed to read the disclosure and the disclaimer that is a part of the messages. You know, we are simply the conduit to send messages, these are sponsored and I can't always vouch for the veracity."
Fox News helped grow Huckabee's email list, as Fox and the former Republican governor regularly promoted MikeHuckabee.com on his weekly program Huckabee. When visitors reach Huckabee's website, they're asked to sign-up for his email list.
Fox News and Mike Huckabee are finally parting ways as the now former host explores a second presidential run. After serving as the governor of Arkansas and losing a 2008 presidential primary bid, Huckabee was hired by the network. His media career was rife with controversial comments and outright falsehoods.
Media Matters looks back at Huckabee's worst media moments below.
While discussing President Obama's birth certificate in February 2011, Huckabee repeatedly and falsely claimed President Obama grew up "in Kenya." Huckabee claimed that upbringing explains why Obama's worldview is "very different than the average American ... his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."
Amidst widespread derision over his remarks, Huckabee went into damage control mode and offered a series of increasingly dishonest explanations for the comments. His defense didn't wash with many observers, including conservative columnist George Will.
In 2014, conservative media outlets and personalities routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Media Matters looks back at some of the worst media scandals of the year.
The ethical mess that was Fox News in 2014 is perhaps best embodied by Scott Brown, the former senator turned Fox News contributor turned Senate candidate (again) turned Fox News contributor (again).
During his original run for the Senate in 2009 and early 2010, Brown could reliably count on Fox News for fawning coverage -- including hosts playing on-air with a shirtless Scott Brown "action figure."
After Brown lost his 2012 re-election bid to Elizabeth Warren (despite Fox's best efforts to smear Warren), the network quickly hired him as a contributor, celebrating the "out of the box thinking" Brown would bring to the channel. Within weeks of his hiring, it was obvious that Brown and Fox were teaming up to help set Brown up for the next act of his political career.
During his appearances in 2013, Brown was repeatedly asked about his potential candidacy for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat, afforded an opportunity to opine on a range of potential campaign issues, and given a chance to inoculate himself against the inevitable carpetbagger criticism he would face in trying to run for office in New Hampshire after previously serving as a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts.
In 2014, Brown seemed to carefully delay formal declaration of his candidacy in order to avoid being suspended by Fox News. The network, which eventually cut ties with him in March, gave Brown a platform to attack his eventual opponent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and continue to hone his messaging to Fox's massive audience.
Fox's attempts to get Brown back into the Senate didn't end with his contract. The network produced and aired a documentary featuring Bret Baier, its chief news anchor, called Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire. Brown's team found it so favorable that it repeatedly screened it for voters in the state, including in an event hosted at their campaign headquarters.
Fox News helpfully re-aired the special both nights on the weekend before the election, but it wasn't enough to help carry Brown across the finish line, as he lost his Senate bid.
Two weeks later, Fox News hired him back.
UPDATE 1 (4:08pm): West has updated his piece but has not admitted to the plagiarism.
The following sentence has been added to the piece, just before the series of paragraphs Media Matters highlighted as originating with the viral story: "Then I came across a widely circulated email and viral internet post about a number of stories that seem to have dropped off the radar of the mainstream media, and conveniently ignored by the Department of Justice."
That sentence replaces one from the original version in which West had credited the research in the article to himself, writing: "I decided to do a little checking and scouring for some information. And it didn't take long to find proof of hypocrisy that reaches the highest levels -- the White House."
The post now includes italicized paragraphs where West had previously committed mass plagiarism. He has also fixed the three plagiarized typos that were originally identified by Media Matters. There is no indication in the post that it has been changed.
UPDATE 2 (5:15pm): Following the publication of this post, Media Matters emailed West for comment. Michele Hickford, AllenBWest.com editor-in-chief, replied that "I know you've already written your story, but I have revised our post to indicate the copy that came from the original sources. I had inadvertently omitted the quotation marks when I originally posted."
Media Matters subsequently asked Hickford for further clarification. Hickford wrote that "Allen West is the author of the post." She also said that "as editor, I had inadvertently omitted the quotes, and once I realized the quotes were omitted, added the sentence regarding the source of the original content to clarify." When asked why the post does not indicate that it has been revised, Hickford wrote: "We do not generally note updates to the stories unless substantive facts of the stories have changed. in this case, the specific shooting incidences remain unchanged."
This explanation doesn't pass the smell test. West originally wrote that he himself did "a little checking and scouring for some information." West did not originally include any links or citations to the material that was purportedly intended to be quoted (and still does not do so). And West's editor "inadvertently omitted" quotation marks for five paragraphs (the sixth paragraph cited below has not been italicized).
Allen West heavily plagiarized from a viral Internet story in a piece attacking the Obama administration for purportedly ignoring the deaths of law enforcement officers. West lifted at least six paragraphs (including typos) from the story, which was previously posted on sites like Yahoo! Answers, Free Republic, Facebook, and the comments section of various websites.
West is a Fox News contributor and former Republican congressman who was recently named the CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a conservative think tank. Announcing his hiring, NCPA called West, who begins on January 2, "an outstanding choice for CEO. He is a visionary leader, committed to the free-market principles that form the foundation of the NCPA's research and education."
West wrote a December 11 piece for his website responding to recent "black lives matter" protests. He wondered if President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have ever stopped to "consider if the lives of law enforcement officers matter" and claimed he did "a little checking and scouring for some information. And it didn't take long to find proof of hypocrisy that reaches the highest levels -- the Oval Office."
He then heavily plagiarized from a viral piece that began appearing on the Internet months ago. The viral piece, which attacks President Obama's response to law enforcement murders, has been posted on various websites, comments sections, message boards, and Facebook pages (including on West's fanpage by one of his followers).
The piece has been attributed to a wide range of people, including "a Retired Police Officer" or "a retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer." It's also appeared as bylined pieces on community commentary pages and in Letters to the Editor pages under the names Doug Oxford (Citrus County Chronicle, 9/20/14), Bill Jamison (Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, 9/5/14), and Nick Hale (Naples Daily News, 8/31/14), according to a Nexis search.
The claim that President Obama has been indifferent to the deaths of law enforcement officers is wrong. PolitiFact called a variation of the claim "pants on fire" false, writing that "We found many instances of White House 'special recognition' for fallen officers." It added: "the meat of its accusation -- that Obama has ignored the suffering of law enforcement officers killed in action -- is demonstrably wrong. We found at least six instances in which Obama honored the lives of fallen officers in writing or in speeches."
West alternated between lightly rewriting the piece and copying its text verbatim, including typos. His examples and the viral piece's examples appear in the same order.
Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have another ally in the media: CBS News and Fox News analyst Frank Luntz. The Republican strategist and pollster has reportedly provided the Kochs with messaging advice while using his media platform to praise Koch advertising efforts as "powerful," "one of the best," and having "unlocked the key."
The Kochs "helped create a broad network of nonprofit groups that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics." During the 2012 elections, their network reportedly raised over $400 million for conservative causes. Politico's Ken Vogel reported today that the Koch brothers' network "has in many ways surpassed the reach and resources of the" Republican National Committee. The biggest Koch-affiliated group is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), "which spent $130 million in the midterms, with 550 paid staff" to target Democrats.
Mother Jones' Peter Stone reported that the Koch brothers have been using Luntz as a messaging consultant dating back to the 2010 election cycle. Luntz has "provided message advice for Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, the fundraising hub for the Koch network, for critical ad campaigns in Senate battleground states." Earlier this year, Luntz reportedly "popped up in at least two conference calls hosted by top Koch operatives with wealthy donors."
Stone noted Luntz praised an AFP political ad on Fox News after having helped craft their message, prompting a conservative operative to remark: "One hand is in [the Kochs'] pocket, while the other hand pats them on the back."
National Review wrote on March 31 of Luntz's influence on Koch messaging: "Luntz found that emotional appeals were more effective and that women were considered more credible than men on the [health care] issue. 'Women are more focused on quality of life and peace of mind,' Luntz says. This year, all of AFP's testimonial ads feature middle-class women speaking from their homes."
During media appearances, Luntz has attempted to portray himself as above the fray while failing to disclose his connections to the Kochs' political advertising. During an October 14, 2012, appearance on CBS' Face The Nation, Luntz complained about "awful" negative advertising: "It's also ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of all ads are now negative. And so all you are told is why your opponent is a fool, is incompetent, or worse yet, a liar. And so how are you supposed to then function as a democracy when ninety-seven percent of it-- and it's awful and it works." Luntz did not mention his own history with AFP's negative advertising.
The timing and nature of Luntz's work with AFP is murky. When reached by Mother Jones, Luntz "declined to discuss the details of his Koch work" and AFP similarly declined comment, making a full accounting of Luntz's financial connections with the Koch network difficult (The network largely operates within the shadow of difficult to trace "dark money"). During a December 2013 appearance on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Luntz claimed he was no longer working for AFP. Host Bill Hemmer said: "By the way, you used to do some work for this group a few years ago, and you're no longer affiliated with them, is that true?" Luntz replied: "That is correct." Luntz then went on to praise the ad's message.
Luntz joins a long roster of media figures who have connections with the Koch empire. At least 15 Fox News hosts and contributors have recently campaigned for Americans for Prosperity and its sister group the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Fox figures have in turn defended the Kochs on-air, dismissing criticism of them as "McCarthyistic," and "a form of social control." They've also praised Koch political efforts as "effective" and "devastating" against Democrats.
Luntz has offered effusive praise of AFP's advertising efforts during his TV appearances, repeatedly calling their ads one of "the best." The group, in turn, frequently highlights his appearances on its YouTube page. Below are four times Luntz touted AFP's political ads without disclosing his connections to the group.
Media outlets have been hosting former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to discuss race as it relates to crime and policing. But Giuliani, who stoked "racial divisions" during his time in office, has used these outlets to push "false" and "misleading" crime statistics.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple*, who writes a reported opinion blog on the media, criticized Post colleague George F. Will for praising a conservative advocacy group without disclosing his "out-and-out conflict of interest."
Will wrote a November 19 column endorsing the efforts of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which is fighting against increased Department of Justice oversight of private voucher schools in Wisconsin.
But as Wemple notes, the piece omitted "Will's connection to WILL." The Post columnist is a member of the board of directors at Wisconsin's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a nonprofit which granted WILL $500,000 in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant making decisions. Wemple correctly summarized Will's ethical lapse:
Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.
Will defended his lack of disclosure to Wemple, claiming, in part, that "I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything."
Numerous conservative media outlets are scamming their followers with paid promotions for dubious marijuana stocks. In one instance, a promoted stock had its trading temporarily halted and was part of an FBI-investigated pump-and-dump scheme. In another, fine print acknowledged the promoters had "a direct conflict of interest" that would "negatively" affect "your shares."
Erick Erickson's RedState, Dick Morris, Newsmax, Townhall, and Human Events have all recently pushed the shady investments.
Readers who took the financial advice would have made a bad call as the stocks have plummeted. For example, conservatives sent sponsored emails recommending a company called MediJane at an entry point of $0.85. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.03. Dick Morris sent a sponsored email promoting Cannabis-Rx, Inc. on April 14, when it was trading at around $1. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.17.
Politico recently reported that pot companies "are a new vehicle for stock scammers promising big returns," prompting federal and state agencies to investigate stock manipulations. Scrutiny is focusing "on pump-and-dump schemes, which involve attempts to inflate a company's share price and then sell, or dump, the stock before unsuspecting investors get wise to the scheme." The schemes are more likely to target "penny stocks," which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defines as "a very small company that trades at less than $5 per share." Penny stocks are traded over-the-counter instead of on formal exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange.
The SEC issued an investor alert in May warning that "fraudsters" are using penny pot stocks "to lure investors with the promise of high returns." It cautioned that red flags include "E-mail and fax spam recommending a stock" and "SEC trading suspensions" -- both characteristics of the conservative-promoted stocks.
These shady stock promotions are part of a larger trend of conservatives scamming their followers for profit. Fox Business host Charles Payne was paid to promote now virtually worthless penny stocks. Tobin Smith sent paid promotions for stocks that ended up tanking; he was eventually fired from his position at Fox News for the practice. And Fox News host Mike Huckabee sent sponsored emails touting Smith's recommendation of Gray Fox Petroleum (GFOX); GFOX's price has since tanked and is now trading at a near 52-week low.
Below is a look at two recent marijuana stocks that conservative media promoted to followers.
After the Washington Post reported on the numerous steps Mike Huckabee is taking towards mounting a presidential run, Fox News announced that it was "evaluating his current status" as a contributor and planning to meet with him when he returned from an overseas trip. But Huckabee has returned from the trip and is back on-air at the network, hosting GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson's lobbyist to promote Adelson's "top" issue.
While Huckabee continues to use Fox News to bolster his political ambitions, the network has not offered a public update on his employment.
In a November 12 profile of Huckabee, Washington Post reporters Tom Hamburger and Robert Costa laid out the various ways Huckabee and his associates are gearing up for a potential presidential run. According to the Post, Huckabee and his team have been courting donors and GOP insiders, scheduling campaign planning meetings, and looking for a campaign headquarters.
Costa and Hamburger highlighted the "finesse" needed by Huckabee and his team to avoid losing his Fox News show, which Huckabee and his allies have repeatedly cited as important in keeping him visible to voters. According to "Republicans familiar with Huckabee's efforts," the Fox host designed his new political group "to allow him to retain his Fox News contract, since the group is not overtly political."
After the Post story was published, Media Matters called for Huckabee's suspension, citing the fact that the network had recently cut ties with Ben Carson -- another contributor who was publicly considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination -- and pointing out that Huckabee by any reasonable standard had provided just as much (if not more) evidence that he planned to enter the race.
Boston Globe columnist John E. Sununu's latest piece urges approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizes regulations against oil and gas companies. The Globe did not disclose that Sununu is an advisor for a Washington firm that lobbies for the pipeline's construction on behalf of its would-be builder.
Sununu is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire who lost re-election to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in 2008. He joined Akin Gump, the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington, DC, as an adjunct senior policy advisor in 2010. His corporate profile states that he "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues."
In the latest example, Sununu wrote a November 20 column criticizing Democrats for failing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He wrote that "Democrats still don't know what the Keystone debate is really all about," adding that Keystone XL "is a debate about infrastructure, regulation, and the power of government to thwart investment on the flimsiest of grounds."
Sununu added that "the public understands that allowing the government to arbitrarily stand in front of private investment and economic development sets a dangerous precedent -- something Democrats in the Senate do not."