CBS News Doesn't Tell Viewers Its Pro-Eric Cantor Analyst Was Paid By His Campaign
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UPDATE: CBS News responded to this post by suggesting it doesn't need to disclose if its on-air talent is being paid by the people they're analyzing.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair claimed the network had provided adequate disclosure during the broadcasting, telling Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple: "His work as a strategist for Republicans was disclosed on the broadcast."
Wemple found that explanation wanting, writing that journalism ethics would require CBS to disclose the specific "consultant-client relationship" between Luntz and Cantor:
There's some logic here: Saying that Luntz strategizes for Republicans could be interpreted to encompass his work for Cantor, who is a Republican certainly in need of political strategy.
Yet this is an on-air title, not an on-air disclosure. When it comes to getting people to say favorable things about other people, there's nothing like a consultant-client relationship to facilitate things. When money changes hands, journalism ethics must pay heed.
CBS This Morning hosted its political analyst Frank Luntz to discuss House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Republican primary loss to Dave Brat. An upset Luntz said that Cantor's defeat was "a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country." But at no point did CBS News or Luntz disclose a major conflict of interest: Cantor has paid Luntz's firm thousands of dollars for consulting.
Frank Luntz is the CEO of the political consulting firm Luntz Global (Luntz sold his majority stake in the company in January, but continues to serve as an executive). According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Luntz Global has received over $15,000 in consulting fees since 2012 from Cantor for Congress: On February 27, Cantor paid Luntz Global $2,354 for "seminar expenses"; on December 12, Cantor paid Luntz Global $5,000 for "speech consulting"; on April 9, 2012, Cantor paid Luntz Global $8,000 for "speech writing."
CBS This Morning hosts Norah O'Donnell and Charlie Rose did not note the CBS News political analyst's financial connections to Cantor. Luntz hailed Cantor as a hero to the country whose loss shatters the "cooperation" between House Republicans and the White House. From the June 11 edition of CBS' CBS This Morning:
LUNTZ: Well you had Eric Cantor, who had a very good relationship with Joe Biden. Had open lines of communication. I think for the GOP it's going to be very dangerous now for a Republican to talk to Democrats, as it was Democrats to talk to Republicans a few years ago. That this a blow for conversation. This is a blow for some sort of cooperation and I think it's bad for the country, not just bad for the Republicans.
LUNTZ: I think this is such a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country. Eric Cantor had the ability to negotiate. Eric Cantor had the ability to sit toe to toe and make concessions and make agreements. And maybe that hurt him in the primary, but that's exactly what we need in Washington, and now we're losing him.
After Rose noted Cantor "was a pipeline to Wall Street too in raising money," Luntz replied, "He was also a pipeline to Americans who just wanted people to get things done. And we've lost that leadership in Washington."
In his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, Robert Draper reported that Luntz orchestrated a 2009 meeting where prominent Republicans, including Eric Cantor, formulated a plan to win back Congress and the White House. He wrote: "Luntz had organized the dinner -- telling the invitees, 'You'll have nothing to do that night, and right now we don't matter anyway, so let's all be irrelevant together.' He had selected these men because they were among the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers -- and because they all got along with Luntz, who could be difficult."
CBS News has repeatedly had disclosure problems with Luntz, who was hired by the network in 2012. When it first began hosting him, CBS couldn't decide whether Luntz was an active or "former Republican" pollster and strategist (he's active). Luntz also appeared on CBS during the 2012 campaign to discuss Republican vice presidential candidate and Rep. Paul Ryan without disclosing Luntz Global received money from Ryan's congressional campaign.
Luntz's lack of disclosure may violate CBS Corporation's standards of conduct. The CBS Corporation Business Conduct Statement on conflicts of interest informs CBS employees, "including those employed on a temporary, freelance, intern, or per diem basis," that "in all cases" they "must disclose all potential conflicts of interest" to CBS.