Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • New York Observer Reporter Quits Over Paper’s Cozy Relationship With Trump

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Kushner, Trump

    A political reporter for the New York Observer has quit, citing the paper’s close relationship with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

    Ross Barkan, the paper’s national political reporter, made his announcement on his Twitter account, writing, “Personal news: I'm announcing today that my last day at the New York Observer will be April 27th.”

    Barkan told Politico that the Observer’s recent endorsement of Trump – along with The National Enquirerthe only papers to do so – was a factor in his decision: “It was a decision I’ve been wrestling with for more than a day and more than a week. I didn’t expect [the endorsement] was coming. It blindsided me.”

    Jared Kushner, the owner of the paper, is married to Ivanka Trump (Trump’s eldest daughter).

    Barkan also criticized Observer editor in chief Ken Kurson for helping Kushner write Trump’s March 21 AIPAC speech. Barkan said, “The AIPAC situation was very troubling. Anyone knows that an editor in chief should not be reviewing the speech of a presidential candidate. I don’t care if it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders.”

    He told Politico that the “AIPAC situation did not please” the rest of the Observer’s politics desk, including political editor Jill Jorgensen and reporter Will Bredderman.

    When it was first reported that the Observer had a hand in writing Trump’s speech, the Huffington Post noted that it “raises questions of conflict of interest given that he also oversees election coverage.” Kurson told Huffington Post: “It’s a complicated world and I don’t intend to let the eleven people who have appointed themselves the journalist police tell me, at age 47, how to behave or to whom I’m allowed to speak.”

    In 2014, ice cream shop manager and political science major Bill Gifford told the New York Times that Kurson had approached him to write “a smear piece” about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is suing Trump over his controversial Trump University business.

    Gifford declined to write the piece, but the Observer later published a piece the Times described as “a searing, 7,000-word indictment of Mr. Schneiderman, portraying him as vindictive and politically opportunistic” that “also included a robust defense of Donald J. Trump.”

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • As Breitbart Casts Doubt On Own Reporter's Assault Claim, She Reportedly Files Charges Against Trump Staffer

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Fields

    On the same day Breitbart News published a story casting doubt on its own reporter's account of being manhandled by Donald Trump's campaign manager, the Breitbart journalist in question reportedly filed charges against the Trump staffer.

    Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields alleged in a March 10 Breitbart.com piece that she was "grabbed" and "yanked" down while attempting to ask a question of Trump after his March 8 press conference. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris identified the alleged assailant as "Corey Lewandowski, Trump's 41-year-old campaign manager." Politico published audio of the incident, in which Terris identified Lewandowski as the assailant.

    The Daily Beast reported that "sources said Lewandowski acknowledged to Breitbart's Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, that he did manhandle Fields." The Daily Beast also reported that its sources say Lewandowski explained his actions by indicating that "he and Fields had never met before and that he didn't recognize her as a Breitbart reporter, instead mistaking her for an adversarial member of the mainstream media." (The Trump campaign later sent The Washington Post an email exchange between Boyle and Lewandowski, in which Lewandowski denies talking to Boyle about the incident and Boyle responds that he had "nothing to do with" the Daily Beast article.)

    The Trump campaign said the accusation was "entirely false," and in a series of tweets Lewandowski also denied his involvement in the incident. Breitbart President and CEO Larry Solov released a statement saying they were "disappointed" in the response from the Trump campaign. Trump himself told reporters that "perhaps she made the story up."

    On her Twitter account, Fields posted a picture of her arm showing bruises from the incident, writing, "I guess these just magically appeared on me." She tagged both Lewandowski and Trump in her message. Fields also gave an interview to ABC News and said "it's been really hurtful, because obviously no one wants to be touched and violated like that." Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro called for Trump to fire Lewandowski "immediately."

    Breitbart News suspended its own reporter, Patrick Howley (who has a history of sexist comments directed at women), for now-deleted tweets that questioned whether Fields was telling the truth.

    But on March 11, Breitbart published a story casting doubt on Fields' and Terris' accounts of the incident. Joel B. Pollak wrote in his story that "New video of Donald Trump's press conference Tuesday evening shows that the Washington Post's account of an altercation involving Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields could not possibly have happened as Ben Terris reported." Pollak cited Lewandowski's "adamant denials" as evidence that "mistaken identity cannot be ruled out" and "is the likeliest explanation" for what happened.

    Terris rejected the premise of Pollak's story, telling the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, "I saw what I saw." He explained that his eyes were "trained on" Lewandowski during the entire incident because he was at the event to profile the Trump campaign team, focusing on Lewandowski. Terris also noted to Wemple that "this is Breitbart," calling into question the outlet's apparent decision to accept mistaken identity as an explanation for the incident simply based on the claims of Trump's campaign manager.

    In Wemple's story, Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said, "As we said from the beginning, Corey Lewandowski was not involved." Wemple noted that her "statement appears to represent an admission from the campaign that the assault did indeed occur, contrary to Trump's statements from last night." The Trump campaign issued a follow-up press release again calling Fields' claim "entirely false" and linked to Pollak's story. Lewandowski also tweeted a link to the Pollak post.

    On the same day Pollak published his Breitbart.com story casting doubt on Fields' account, the conservative Independent Journal reported that Fields had "filed a report with the police department in Jupiter, Florida, which is the jurisdiction where the alleged incident occurred."

    According to CNN, Fields confirmed that "she filed charges against Corey Lewandowski Friday with the police department in Jupiter, Florida. Police in Jupiter said they were looking into misdemeanor battery allegations. The police report, obtained by CNNMoney, identifies the complainant as Fields, but does not name a suspect."

    Breitbart has consistently promoted Trump during the presidential campaign. A report from BuzzFeed said that "editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least last year that the company's top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website," and that one editor said "he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump."

  • Fox News Hides Newt Gingrich's Six-Figure Conflict Of Interest In Anti-Union Commentary

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Fox News and Fox Business have allowed Newt Gingrich to praise anti-union legislation without disclosing that he's been paid at least $140,000 by an organization lobbying for the bill in question.

    Gingrich wrote a March 1 FoxNews.com op-ed calling on Republican candidates to support the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which "would require all union elections to take place via a federally supervised secret ballot vote." He praised the ERA as containing "common-sense" reforms and said it would be "a vehicle to propose specific pro-employee solutions on the campaign trail."

    Gingrich also appeared on the January 12 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co. and praised the ERA, saying it "has a lot of protection for the workers as opposed to the union."

    Fox did not disclose in either instance that Gingrich has been a paid adviser to The Center for Union Facts. The center's programs include having "researched and educated the public about the Employee Rights Act" and "engaged in limited lobbying in support of the ERA," according to the group's 2014 IRS 990 form (which is the most recent available). The group runs a pro-ERA website, which highlighted Gingrich's Fox Business appearance under the headline, "Newt Gingrich Praises ERA on Fox Business."

    The group discloses in its 2014 filing that it paid Gingrich Productions (Newt's company) $140,000 in "consulting" fees for that year.

    The Center for Union Facts is run by Rick Berman, a corporate lobbyist who has launched several front groups targeting progressive causes. CBS' 60 Minutes reported that Berman is infamous for being the "arch-enemy" of government efforts to reduce the use of "products like caffeine, salt, fast food and the oil they fry it in," and for opposing "Mothers Against Drunk Driving, animal rights activists, food watchdog groups and unions of every kind." A February 2006 New York Times article about the group's founding reported that "Berman said various companies and a foundation had contributed to his nonprofit group, but he refused to identify them."

    A January 10 Orange County Register op-ed by Gingrich identified him as "an adviser to the Center for Union Facts." Gingrich has a history of disclosure problems as a media personality.

  • Fox's Howard Kurtz Lets Frank Luntz Praise Marco Rubio Without Disclosing Past Financial Ties

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fox News host Howard Kurtz invited Republican pollster Frank Luntz onto his show to praise Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) without disclosing Luntz's past financial ties to Rubio.

    During the February 28 edition of MediaBuzz, Kurtz spoke to Luntz about his focus groups with Republican primary voters and the media's coverage of the Republican presidential primary.

    Kurtz said there had been a notion that Rubio was "a media darling," but that "everybody in the media beat up on him and some practically said he was finished" after coming in fifth place in the New Hampshire GOP primary. Luntz in response said Rubio was "a great communicator," and that people thought "because he always sounds good, because he always sounds reasonable, therefore the media's in bed with him. That's not the case." Luntz also said that Rubio had "won the last two out of three debates," according to focus groups conducted by Luntz:

    HOWARD KURTZ (HOST): So people are convinced that Fox or some other channel or some other network is for or against Rubio or Trump or Cruz. As if there's -- everyone is getting marching orders.

    FRANK LUNTZ: I give you credit for putting that -- I'm shocked. That would never be on CNN. That would never be on MSNBC.

    KURTZ: If it were about that network.

    LUNTZ: If it were about their own network. So good for you for putting that on. Yes. And I get it all the time. If I go to the Trump blogs, then Fox is in the pockets of Rubio. If you go to Cruz blogs, it's in the pockets of Trump. If you go to the Rubio blogs, it's in the pockets of everybody else. People see what they want to see and they disregard the rest. We are all seeing things through rose colored glasses and it becomes almost impossible to be fair, which is why these debates are so important. Because it's the one time when you can actually hold the candidates accountable.

    KURTZ: But just briefly on Rubio. The notion he's a media darling, after he had that performance where he was sort of hammered for being robotic and then finished fifth in New Hampshire, everybody in the media beat up on him and some practically said he was finished. So it's not like the entire business is pumping up this guy.

    LUNTZ: He's a great communicator. And that's - they're conflating good communication with support from the media. They think that because he always sounds good, because he always sounds reasonable, therefore the media's in bed with him and that's not the case. But Rubio has won the last two out of three debates.

    KURTZ: In your view or the view of the public?

    LUNTZ: In the view of the focus groups and yet it hasn't moved numbers.

    A January 2012 Wall Street Journal article reported that Rubio hired Luntz to assist in writing his book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, which Kurtz failed to disclose.  

    Fox News has repeatedly failed to disclose Luntz's ties to Rubio while allowing him to praise the presidential candidate. Host Neil Cavuto let Luntz in January claim that Rubio "is the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates" and "what the public needs right now." The Kelly File later that month had Luntz host a focus group after a GOP debate in which he advised them to "watch how well [Rubio] did on immigration." And in early February host Megyn Kelly again invited Luntz on to discuss Rubio, where Luntz claimed "Rubio is in perfect position" to do well in upcoming primaries.

  • New Book Exposes Koch Brothers' Guide To Infiltrating The Media

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    kochguide

    A new book by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer lays out how the oil billionaire Koch brothers rose to the powerful position they are in today, where they wield unquestionable political influence and have shaped public opinion in drastic ways. Titled Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the book brings to light many tactics that the Koch brothers and others in their network of like-minded millionaires and billionaires have used over the years to push their agenda while hiding the true motivations behind it.

    The book examines the influence of several of the country's wealthiest conservative donors, but it pays particular attention to the activities of Charles and David Koch, who have organized their network and spearheaded the group's political efforts. "Few had waged a more relentless or more effective assault on Americans' belief in government," Mayer wrote of the Kochs.

    A key element of the Koch brothers' strategy is influencing the media. Through media, they have advanced their political and ideological goals and attacked those who stand in their way. The Koch brothers and their network have paid conservative media figures to promote their message, bankrolled front groups that run aggressive anti-environmental media campaigns, and even created their own right-wing "news" outlets. Meanwhile, they've garnered some favorable mainstream media coverage by tightly controlling reporter access to their summits and other events, while attacking and otherwise intimidating journalists who dare to shine a light on their activities.

    Here is how the Koch brothers and their network have infiltrated the media:

    Buying A Conservative Media Echo Chamber

    Creating Their Own Media Outlets

    Funding Front Groups That Run Deceptive Media Campaigns

    Tightly Controlling Reporter Access To Their Events And Activities

    Intimidating Journalists Who Seek To Uncover Their True Agenda

    step1

    "Instead of earning the media, they were paying for it."

    This is how former Republican Rep. Dick Armey of Texas described the activities of the Koch front group he once chaired. Indeed, Mayer lays out several ways that Koch-backed front groups have spent money to create a "national echo chamber" in the conservative media. Most notably, she highlights two Koch-backed organizations that directly paid conservative pundits to promote the Koch agenda on air.

    The first group is FreedomWorks, which originated from the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy. Mayer reported that FreedomWorks "quietly cemented a deal" in 2011 with Glenn Beck, who was a Fox News host at the time. Beck read "embedded content" written by FreedomWorks staff in exchange for an annual payment "that eventually topped $1 million." Mayer further explained: "They told him what to say on the air, and he blended the promotional material seamlessly into his monologue, making it sound as if it were his own opinion." Because of this deal, Politico reported, FreedomWorks saw "50,000 new email sign-ups."

    Americans for Prosperity (AFP) -- the other Koch front group that formed out of Citizens for a Sound Economy and has received significant funding from Koch foundations -- forged a contract with conservative radio host Mark Levin to promote AFP's attacks on climate scientist Michael Mann, thereby "copying the deal that FreedomWorks had struck with Glenn Beck." Levin attacked Mann and other climate scientists, Mayer wrote, accusing "enviro-statists" of "inventing global warming in order to justify a tyrannical government takeover."

    In addition to the deals between Koch front groups and conservative pundits that are identified in Mayer's book, the Heritage Foundation, which has received millions from Koch foundations, has spent millions to sponsor the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, according to Politico.

    Additionally, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the central group in the Kochs' financial network, paid Republican strategist Frank Luntz's firm $1.5 million for messaging work in 2014. Luntz then used his media platform as an analyst at CBS News to praise the Kochs and defend their spending without disclosing his own financial ties to them.

    And in 2011, Koch Industries hired Republican political operative Michael Goldfarb to improve the company's image while Goldfarb was working as opinion editor for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. Shortly thereafter, The Weekly Standard published a long piece defending the Kochs, which was described by investigative reporter Lee Fang in a Think Progress piece as "8,000 words of hagiography." Goldfarb is still listed as one of The Weekly Standard's contributing editors, and the conservative magazine has published several articles in recent weeks criticizing Jane Mayer and her book.

    step2

    The Koch brothers and their network have had a hand in creating several "news" outlets that echo the Kochs' conservative, anti-government message: The Daily Caller, The Washington Free Beacon, and the Franklin Center.

    The Daily Caller was founded by financial investor Foster Friess, a major Koch donor who has attended many of the Kochs' annual summits and donated at least $1 million to conservative causes that the Kochs support. Friess provided $3 million in seed funding to The Daily Caller, a conservative website which, according to Mayer, has "functioned more as an outlet for opposition research paid for by the donor class." Charles Koch's foundation would later back the website, and the Daily Caller News Foundation is currently listed as a "partner organization" of the Charles Koch Institute. Tucker Carlson, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, also has other ties to the Kochs: He joined the Cato Institute in 2009, which the Koch brothers co-founded, and he is currently listed as a senior fellow there. The Cato Institute has received millions of dollars from the Koch family, and David Koch currently sits on Cato's board of directors. Mayer notes that The Daily Caller was "the chosen receptacle" for the Kochs' retaliatory attacks on her after The New Yorker published an exposé she wrote on the Kochs in 2010.

    After the Kochs started receiving some bad publicity, Koch Industries hired Michael Goldfarb to improve the company's image. Later, in 2012, Goldfarb founded The Washington Free Beacon, and he remains its chairman. The website has published articles defending the Kochs, attacking their opponents, advancing the Kochs' criticisms of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, and promoting their agenda. Plus whatever this is.

    The Franklin Center, which runs Watchdog.org, is the "investigative news" service for the State Policy Network, a network of conservative think tanks that are largely funded by Koch-backed dark money groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The Franklin Center itself received 95 percent of its revenue from Donors Trust in 2011, and it was receiving millions from Donors Capital Fund as of 2013. Mayer writes that the Franklin Center frequently "attacked government programs, particularly those initiated by Obama," adding that it "claimed to be a neutral public watchdog, but much of its coverage reflected the conservative bent of those behind it." As Mayer pointed out, a couple of journalists have "t[aken] issue with the Franklin Center's labeling of its content as 'news.'" Yet the Franklin Center continues to reach far and wide, with 40 state news websites and writers in 34 states as of 2013, and its reporting appearing in state and local newspapers at times.

    step3

    Key to the Kochs' success has been the "growing fleet of nonprofit groups" that "mobilized public opinion" behind their agenda, writes Mayer, particularly against action on climate change. The Koch brothers "had built and financed a private political machine," backing "[e]ducational institutions and think tanks all over the country" that "promoted [their] worldview." Mayer cited Harvard scholar Theda Skocpol, who noted: "Climate denial got disseminated deliberately and rapidly from think tank tomes to the daily media fare of about thirty to forty percent of the U.S. populace."

    Mayer focused on two organizations in particular: Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Cato Institute. In addition to "spearhead[ing] a national drive to block action on climate change," AFP "took a lead role in organizing the Tea Party rebellion." But the Kochs insisted that they were not involved in the tea party movement, and as Mayer noted, "such denials helped shape the early narrative" in the media "of the Tea Party movement as an amateur uprising by ordinary citizens." 

    The Cato Institute, which was co-founded by the Koch brothers, took a lead role in attacking the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Cato published "a steady stream" of misleading reports, which were frequently criticized by experts yet "echoed throughout the network of Koch-funded groups." Cato also "energetic[ally]" promoted the faux Climategate scandal -- falsely claiming that climate scientists deceitfully manipulated data -- in the mainstream media, where Cato officials were often "respectfully quoted as nonpartisan experts." One Cato scholar gave more than 20 interviews pushing the contrived scandal, spreading the story "from obviously slanted venues to the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, adding mainstream credence."

    AFP and Cato have continued to promote their anti-environment agenda in the media without disclosing their oil industry ties. And those groups are just the tip of the iceberg; Media Matters has identified dozens of groups backed by fossil fuel interests that are working to attack the Environmental Protection Agency's climate change plan. One tactic commonly employed by these groups is to run op-ed campaigns promoting false and misleading attacks on environmental policies in state and local newspapers, as Media Matters and others have detailed.

    step4

    The Kochs' political activities have largely been "shrouded in secrecy," writes Mayer, and such secrecy is a key to their success. When they do make media appearances, it is to "portray themselves as disinterested do-gooders and misunderstood social liberals."

    The Kochs' biannual donor summits, where they have "succeeded in persuading hundreds of the other richest conservatives in the country to give them control over their millions of dollars in contributions," have historically been closed-door affairs. Only in recent years have the Kochs invited a handful of mainstream media reporters to attend the summits, but just in "snippets," and under tightly controlled conditions. Reporters had to agree to refrain from identifying conference attendees without their consent or approaching donors for interviews, and they were allowed in to only a select number of sessions, according to a copy of the conditions for the August 2015 summit obtained by ThinkProgress. That summit thereafter received positive coverage in publications including Politico, USA TodayThe Washington Post, and The New York Times.

    But these conditions also drew some criticism from media ethicists. Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, told ThinkProgress that the terms were "outrageous," and suggested that news organizations should "refuse to attend under these circumstances." Robert Drechsel, a professor and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found it "remarkable" that news organizations "would agree to in effect become complicit in facilitating such secrecy and anonymity." Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone questioned whether the rules "still allow for reporting in the public's interest" or are "so rigid that the resulting coverage will primarily benefit the Kochs." Calderone noted in a separate article that the rules "could restrict journalists from reporting what's right in front of their eyes," and that "it's possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want ... but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election."

    Mother Jones' Daniel Schulman told Calderone that the rules allow the Kochs to "closely control their images." And indeed, at the most recent conference, Undercurrent's Lauren Windsor overheard that a USA Today reporter was "prepped" by the Koch's communication staff hours before an article was published that Windsor said "dutifully relayed Koch talking points" about the new Koch group that is purportedly aiming to address poverty and education. Bloomberg News was recently prompted by a Koch spokesperson to remove a line from an article in which the reporter stated that Charles Koch "warned that climate change's worst effects would fall on people in poorer parts of the world." The article was changed to say that according to a Koch spokesman, Koch was "referring to the impact of bad climate policies or programs, not the negative effects of climate change itself."

    step5

    Ever since her first long-form article on the Koch brothers in The New Yorker in 2010, Mayer has faced intimidation tactics and efforts to discredit her by the Koch network.

    Koch operatives formed a "boiler room operation," seeking to discredit the New Yorker story by "undermining" Mayer. They hired a private investigation firm looking for "dirt" on Mayer, who was told by a well-informed source: "If they couldn't find it, they'd create it." After their search for dirt turned up nothing, Mayer learned that The Daily Caller intended to publish a "hit piece" accusing her of plagiarism. But Mayer reached out to the reporters she was supposedly plagiarizing, and they "offered to make public statements" supporting her, so The Daily Caller dropped the story.

    Mayer is not the only journalist to experience intimidation from the Kochs (though hers may be the most extreme example). At the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual meeting, Greenpeace researcher Connor Gibson was confronted by Koch Industries government affairs director Mike Morgan. Gibson captured a partial video of the interaction, but Morgan then took Gibson's phone away from him, until Morgan was forced to return it by police. Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson called Koch Industries "the most hostile and paranoid organization I've ever engaged with." Mayer also wrote that Koch security threatened to arrest Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel after catching him in a cafe at one of their summits, "[u]nless he left the premises immediately."

    Koch Industries also utilizes its website KochFacts.com to combat negative reports. Mayer notes that KochFacts.com "wage[s] ad hominem attacks, questioning the professionalism and integrity of reporters whose work the company found unflattering, ranging from The New York Times to Politico." The website has blasted David Sassoon of the Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News as a "professional eco-activist" and "agenda-driven activist." It also frequently posts personal email exchanges with journalists, "sometimes to the reporter's shock," according to The Washington Post. This includes email exchanges with reporters and editors at The New York Times, MSNBC, Politico, and more.

    Hopefully, Jane Mayer herself is a testament to the fact that reporters will not back down from exposing the true extent of the Kochs' influence and how it is shaping our country for the worse. There is surely more to the story not yet uncovered.

    koch graphic

  • NBC News Veterans And Media Ethicists: CNBC Should "Not Allow" Larry Kudlow To "Misuse" Its Network To Campaign

    "It Is A Straight-Up Conflict Of Interest"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran journalism experts and two former NBC News presidents are urging CNBC to remove senior contributor Larry Kudlow from the channel as he lays the groundwork for a potential campaign for the U.S. Senate.

    Kudlow has said he is "moving toward" a Senate run in Connecticut with no apparent action from the network.

    Among Kudlow's steps are interviewing potential campaign staff, creating strategy, and promoting "a test-the-water committee, which would become the campaign." At the same time, CNBC has allowed Kudlow to use its platform to attack potential Democratic opponent Sen. Richard Blumenthal. 

    In 2010, when Kudlow was also rumored to be weighing a run for office, CNBC said it would "change" Kudlow's status with the network if he started "seriously considering" running. 

    Asked about Kudlow's latest apparent political aspirations, a CNBC spokesperson told Media Matters on Monday, "Larry Kudlow is not a CNBC employee and no longer anchors a show and hasn't since March 28, 2014. He is now a senior contributor."

    CNBC offered the same response to the Washington Examiner when the paper asked about Kudlow in September. The Examiner noted at the time, "Kudlow is, however, under contract with CNBC. The spokesperson would not comment on the terms of that arrangement, Kudlow's compensation, or when exactly CNBC would make a decision on its relationship with him as he considers a run for public office."

    In a press release announcing its October 2015 Republican debate coverage, CNBC called Kudlow one of its "top" contributors and touted his involvement in the network's "special programming" surrounding the debate. He has recently been covering the Republican primary for the network from Iowa and New Hampshire

    In comments to Media Matters, news veterans criticized Kudlow and the network. 

    "If I were still there I would not allow it," said William Small, who served as NBC News president from 1979-1982. "It's a misuse of a news division, a news division is not supposed to take sides. There are a lot of people, especially at Fox, who do, but it never happened on my shift. That's a conflict of interest. I'm surprised that CNBC would allow that."

    Richard Wald, a former NBC News president from 1972-1977, said CNBC should make Kudlow clarify what he is doing and act accordingly by taking him off the air if he is running.

    "The first step is for the management of the network to sit down with Mr. Kudlow and find out his intentions and his timing. They should not skirt the ethical positions by deliberately not knowing," Wald said via email. "He can't use the network for political advantage if he is going into electoral politics. If the network finds that he is about to join the contest, or will do so on a date certain, then they should be prepared -- as you say they have stated before -- to take him off the air until the election is over." 

    Several former network news reporters agreed.

    "Anchors/reporters/'contributors' should not -- and should not be allowed -- to use a network to advance their political ambitions," Marvin Kalb, a 30-year Washington reporter and former host of Meet the Press, said via email. "This is done regularly on Fox, and it should not now spread to CNBC. If anyone, Kudlow included, wants to prepare a campaign for political office, it should not be from his or her perch atop a network."

    Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington correspondent and current director of the School of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University, said Kudlow's actions are a "very bright red flag" for CNBC management.  

    "The network cannot, should not, doesn't want to be used as a crass launching pad for someone's political future," Sesno said. "If he hasn't had meetings with network executives, if he hasn't he's overdue. If he hasn't crossed the line, he's very, very close to it. This is not hard, if you are the head of the network you call the guy in and ask if he is running, if he says 'yes,' he is off the air. If he says 'no,' he goes back to work."

    Kelly McBride, ethics instructor the Poynter Institute, echoed that view.

    "CNBC should step in here and tell Larry he can't use his on-air platform as an exploratory committee because that's not in the best interests of the network and its audience," she said. "They should force him to make his decision and get on with it, now that he's already mentioned it. At the very least, he shouldn't talk about it on air again."

    Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said CNBC's problem is that anything Kudlow says, especially related to financial interests that might be funding his campaign down the road, is tainted.

    "It is a straight-up conflict of interest," Wasserman said. "The reality is that he cannot help but filter and decide what he is going to put on the air in light of how it's going to serve that ambition. And once he's done that, he is a classic conflict of interest, his judgment is impaired by a classic outside entanglement." 

  • Megyn Kelly Allows GOP Pollster Frank Luntz To Criticize An Anti-Rubio Ad Without Disclosing Luntz's Ties To Rubio

    Frank Luntz Blasts An Ad Critical Of Rubio As "Crap"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Fox News host Megyn Kelly invited Republican pollster Frank Luntz on her show to attack a negative ad targeting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) without disclosing his financial ties to the presidential candidate.

    Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly brought Luntz on the February 2 edition of The Kelly File to discuss Rubio's third place finish in the Iowa caucus. Luntz offered glowing praise for the candidate, arguing that "Rubio is in perfect position" to do well in upcoming primaries. When asked about a negative ad targeting Rubio created by a pro-Jeb Bush Super PAC, Luntz called it "crap," saying that "all of these ads have failed" and "that money has been wasted":

    FRANK LUNTZ: Jeb Bush will spend when this is all over one hundred million dollars. Unprecedented for a Super PAC. And that money has been wasted. If I was a donor, if I was one of these people who contributed half a million, I would demand my money back with interest. ;All of these ads have failed. They've got another one with Marco's boots and it's done to Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking." It's crap. I don't know any other way. It's not persuasive. It doesn't turn voters. I cleaned up my language for you. I do not want to get thrown off the air. But when I play these ads to these focus groups they use the actual word to describe their reaction. It's a waste of money and it actually helps Rubio and it hurts Bush at the same time. 

    MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Oh really? So it has the reverse effect of that intended? 

    LUNTZ: Because it makes people angry. They're angry at the person who hosts the ads. You heard the end of that. It says Jeb Bush is a leader. What people hear is Jeb Bush is running a negative ad against his friend, Marco Rubio, and they hate it.

    The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2012 that Luntz was hired by Rubio to assist in writing his "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," which Luntz and host Megyn Kelly failed to disclose.

    Fox News and Megyn Kelly have failed to divulge Luntz's ties with Rubio while inviting him to provide political commentary on several other occasions. During a January 28 appearance on The Kelly File, Luntz lauded Rubio's performance in a GOP debate without any financial disclosure, touting "how well he did on immigration." Similarly, during a January 7 appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Luntz praised Rubio without disclosure, calling him "the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates" and "what the public needs right now."

    News ethicists and journalist have criticized Luntz and his former employer, CBS News for their lack of disclosure of Luntz's relationship with candidates he praises on-air.

  • Fox News Ignores Evidence To Absolve Cruz Of Wrongdoing In FEC Filing

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox's Chris Stirewalt deflected concerns raised in a New York Times report that GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) allegedly received two loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank during his 2012 Senate campaign that were not disclosed properly.

    On January 13 The New York Times reported that Cruz "put 'personal funds' totaling $960,000 into his Senate campaign. Two months later, shortly before a scheduled runoff election, he added more, bringing the total to $1.2 million." However, The Times reported that the Cruzes' took out "two bank loans, each valued at $250,000 to $500,000" from Goldman Sachs and Citibank during the first half of 2012 and that "[n]either loan appears in the reports the Ted Cruz for Senate Committee filed with the Federal Election Commission."

    On the January 14 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox News' digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt tried to downplay the lack of disclosure on Cruz's 2012 FEC form by saying that the loans were "essentially a loan from the Cruzes to themselves" and that Cruz had reported the loan on other documents:

    CHRIS STIREWALT: Ted Cruz is right, this is stuff he did disclose. If he didn't disclose it on the FEC, he disclosed it on the ethics forms. But most importantly here, this was essentially a loan from the Cruzes to themselves. They borrowed against their investments so that they could take that, dump the money into the Senate campaign, and then pay it back later. So this was not money from somebody else. This was not favorable treatment from somebody else. This is in a way, like somebody borrowing against their 401k so they can take out a mortgage loan.

    While The New York Times report does admit that "there would have been nothing improper about Mr. Cruz obtaining bank loans for his campaign, as long as they were disclosed," he could be violating campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the sources of the loans -- Goldman Sachs and Citibank -- on the FEC form. Importantly, "other campaigns have been investigated and fined for failing to make such disclosures." Even though Cruz disclosed these loans on other forms -- which Stirewalt points to in defense of Cruz -- as campaign finance law expert and former election commission lawyer Ken Gross explained in The New York Times report, that would not be enough to satisfy the FEC requirement:

    Kenneth A. Gross, a former election commission lawyer who specializes in campaign finance law, said that listing a bank loan in an annual Senate ethics report -- which deals only with personal finances -- would not satisfy the requirement that it be promptly disclosed to election officials during a campaign.

    "They're two different reporting regimes," he said. "The law says if you get a loan for the purpose of funding a campaign, you have to show the original source of the loan, the terms of the loan and you even have to provide a copy of the loan document to the Federal Election Commission."

    The New York Times speculates that to disclose these big bank loans "might have conveyed the wrong impression for [Cruz's] candidacy," as Cruz had spoken out about "the political clout of Goldman Sachs in particular" when he said, "Like many other players on Wall Street and big business, they seek out and get special favors from government."

  • Fox Allows Pollster Frank Luntz To Shill For Marco Rubio Without Disclosing Financial Ties

    Frank Luntz Has A Long History Of Political Commentary Without Disclosure

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News host Neil Cavuto invited  Republican pollster Frank Luntz on his show to offer praise for GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) without disclosing Luntz' past ties to Rubio.

    During a January 7, appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto discussed recent turmoil in the stock market and asked Luntz to respond to how he believed the economy could affect the presidential race. Luntz responded that Marco Rubio would be the best political candidate for the economy claiming that he "is the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates" and "what the public needs right now":

    FRANK LUNTZ: Marco Rubio is the most optimistic, the most focused on the American dream of any of the candidates, and Rubio's intense passion about making America great again, to use Trump's slogan, it really applies to Marco Rubio because he is the one who talks about how his father and mother came from Cuba with very limited means and now look at what's happened to him. The guy is a United States senator, leading presidential candidate. 

    Rubio's message is the most optimistic, the most forward thinking of them all and that's what the public needs right now when they have the greatest concern, the greatest anxiety, based on what's happening on the Wall Street and the markets across the globe.

    A January 2012 Wall Street Journal article reported that Rubio hired Luntz to assist in writing his "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," which Cavuto failed to disclose.  

    This is not the first time news networks have failed to disclose Luntz' ties with Republican politicians when asking him on for political commentary. In June 2014, CBS came under fire from veteran ethicists and observers for failing to disclose Luntz had received more than $15,000 in consulting fees from Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-VA) congressional campaign. In March 2013 on Fox's Fox & Friends Luntz praised his former clients  Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) without disclosing his past work for the politicians, and during an October 2015 appearance on CBS in which Luntz pushed Ryan for the role of Speaker of the House, Luntz and CBS failed to disclose the $100,000 he had received from Ryan since 2012.