Conservative media spend a lot of time and energy wringing money out of their followers. Between the conservative publications that use their email lists to scam subscribers with dubious health advice, and the conservative radio hosts who pitch precious metals to their listeners, and the symbiotic relationship that exists between right-wing pundits and conservative non-profits and activist groups, it's all but certain that at any given moment some overly credulous right-leaning Americans are throwing good money at bad investments.
Salon writer Alex Pareene has posited that "the conservative media movement exists primarily as a moneymaking venture." Indeed, conservative websites -- particularly conspiracy-minded ones -- offer a wide array of products inspired by their nonsensical jibbering. WND, for example, has an entire section of its online store devoted to selling products related to the Obama birth certificate conspiracy the site has been flogging for more than five years.
These sites hawk a staggering array of often-bizarre products, ranging from gear to protect you and your family from the ever-imminent Apocalypse, to playing cards featuring the members of the New World Order. All of it generously marked up. Right Wing Watch highlighted several gift options from conservative outlets "for the prepper in your family," including "a $150 bucket of black bean burgers" (with ketchup).
In the spirit of the season, here is Media Matters' Christmas (not holiday) shopping guide to right-wing websites.
Price: $1,499 from WND.com
WND has published dozens of articles over the years warning its readers of an impending attack on the U.S. -- possibly by Iran, North Korea, or Cuba -- with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that could leave "9 out of 10 Americans dead." This Faraday cage -- "manufactured specifically for WND" -- will ensure that "your electronics will survive" the devastating EMP attack, even if you don't.
It weighs a barely-there 55 lbs, and at the low price of $1,499, it only needs to protect 3 iPhones from an EMP attack (or one iPhone from three EMP attacks) in order to pay for itself. Be sure to supplement your Faraday cage with some "EMP Faraday Bags," designed with "desiccant pouches to remove humidity and a sliding bag clamp to ensure a tight Faraday cage seal."
"Super Male Vitality™"
Price: A steal at $69.95 (on sale from $89.97) from InfoWars
Super Male Vitality™ uses the "science of modern day technology" to keep you from losing "vitality, energy, sexual drive, and overall wellness." Alex Jones himself attests to the fact that Super Male Vitality™ is "literally an infusion of the highest quality sources and naturally derived essences."
So what goes into this magic science potion? There's "a ground vine with deep roots," various types of ginseng, "the common oat," and a tree bark that "has been described as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant."
You may think that paying $70 for a 2-oz. bottle of oats and ginseng is a bit excessive. But just listen to Alex Jones: "This product works so well for me that I actually had to stop taking it before I go on air or else I would want to do hours and hours of overdrive with complete focus."
Makes a great stocking stuffer alongside Fluoride Shield™, which protects you from the dangers of fluoride with the help of exotic, hard-to-find ingredients like tamarind and cilantro.
Keeping the Fox candidate machine moving right on schedule, the network featured Fox News host Mike Huckabee twice today to lob softballs at him about his possible plans to run for president in 2016.
This week, Huckabee spawned a flurry of news reports about his interest in making a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, telling The Washington Post that he is considering a run due to an increase in support "from places where I never got it before."
For years, Fox has helped potential Republican political candidates on their payroll stay in the limelight and reach out to a conservative audience while weighing runs for office. And with a possible Huckabee presidential run in the headlines, Fox News seems eager to help build buzz around its employee.
Interviewing Huckabee on Fox & Friends Saturday, co-host Tucker Carlson said that "the question everyone was asking this week" was whether Huckabee planned to run in 2016. Huckabee answered that he is "open" to the idea of a run, but that he has not yet made up his mind and is instead focused on the 2014 midterm elections and hoping the GOP can take over the Senate.
The segment allowed Huckabee plenty of room to try out lines that would fit comfortably in a stump speech.
Scott Brown has some more company among Fox News employees publicly toying with runs for political office while still working for the network.
According to The Washington Post, Fox host Mike Huckabee "might be willing" to take another shot at securing the Republican presidential nomination. Huckabee told the Post that he is considering making a run in 2016 due to the encouragement he is getting "from places where I never got it before," including "business, people some would maybe call the establishment."
In an apparent attempt to drive home his seriousness about a possible run, Huckabee reportedly showed the paper a private poll "which he said was commissioned by supporters who are urging him to run again, which indicated he has the potential to make a strong showing in both Iowa and South Carolina." Huckabee joins John Bolton, who started teasing a potential 2016 run early this year, and Scott Brown, who seems on the verge of running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, as Fox employees cashing a paycheck while openly considering runs for office.
The revolving door of Republican politicians and Fox News contributors is nothing new.
As evidence grows that former Republican Senator Scott Brown is going to run for Senate in New Hampshire, he continues to cash a paycheck from Fox News, where he's currently employed as a contributor. Brown is just the latest in an ever-expanding roster of conservative Fox employees who have used a job at the network to set up a run for political office.
Fox hired Brown in February after his failed re-election bid for the Massachusetts Senate seat he won after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. The network had been perhaps his biggest champion during his successful 2010 senate run, allowing Brown to plug his fundraising website on-air while hosts and contributors fawned over him.
Since taking the Fox job, Brown has repeatedly dropped hints that he might consider challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in 2014. According to National Journal, while Republican leaders in the state previously dismissed Brown's supposed interest in running as a "fallen political star desperate for attention," they have "begun taking Brown seriously." Though he is scheduled to give a speech at the New Hampshire GOP's holiday fundraiser later this month, Brown continues to play coy about whether he has made up his mind about a run.
At Politico, media reporter Dylan Byers explains that the best indication of whether Brown is serious about running is whether Fox News severs his contract, as they did in 2011 when former employees Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were in the early stages of mounting presidential bids. (More recently, Fox terminated former contributor Liz Cheney's contract when she formally announced her run for the Senate in Wyoming.)
Until such time as Fox ends his contract, Brown will operate in an ethically dubious grey area. It benefits him to delay a formal declaration of any kind so that he can continue to utilize his Fox platform, while both Brown and the network reap rewards from the related "will he or won't he" attention. As Byers explains, "you can rest assured that he'll use the Fox News platform to prove his conservative bonafides to Granite State voters." And in recent weeks, Brown has done just that.
Fox News has reportedly paid a former PR executive at the company "approximately $8 million in hush money" after firing him this summer.
Brian Lewis, a former executive vice president at Fox News, was fired in July amid reports that he had been giving information about the company to Gabriel Sherman, a New York magazine contributing editor working on a (likely unflattering) biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Citing an unnamed network executive "with knowledge of the negotiations," Gawker reports today that Lewis was paid roughly $8 million by the network as part of a settlement.
As Gawker lays out, when Lewis was abruptly fired, Fox cited "vague 'financial irregularities" as the reason for the move, prompting Lewis' lawyer to attack the network for "telling lies." In an August statement to Gawker, Lewis' lawyer essentially threatened that his client might reveal harmful information about Ailes and the network.
According to the anonymous Fox executive quoted by Gawker -- who suggested that the settlement number would have been much higher if Lewis had significantly damaging information about Ailes -- the claims of "financial impropriety" leading to Lewis' firing were "complete bullshit."
As suspected, the network was reportedly livid about Sherman's forthcoming book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How Roger Ailes and Fox News Remade American Politics, which has driven a wedge in the network's public relation's team.
Tomorrow night, CNN will feature the odd spectacle of its employee S.E. Cupp interviewing Glenn Beck, her boss at The Blaze, where she also serves as a contributor.
According to an article on The Blaze promoting the interview, "It is likely the two will discuss Beck's latest book, 'Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America,' the creation of TheBlaze and current events."
Considering Cupp's relationship with Beck, it's unlikely he's due for a primetime grilling on CNN. In the event she wants the interview to be more than an exercise in self-promotion, Media Matters came up with a handful of questions for Cupp to ask Beck:
According to a tweet from Cupp, her CNN interview with Beck has been rescheduled due to the ice storm in Texas.
As the consequences for 60 Minutes' botched story on Benghazi continue to unfold, it's unclear whether the apparent charlatan at the center of that report will face punishment from the publisher of his book.
After the October 27 segment aired, it was revealed that Dylan Davies, the supposed eyewitness featured in the story, had given conflicting accounts of his actions the night of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and announced after an internal review that correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan would be taking a leave of absence from 60 Minutes.
But the 60 Minutes segment wasn't the only publicity boost CBS Corporation gave to Davies' story. Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions released The Embassy House, a book featuring Davies' dubious account.
While Threshold pulled the book from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, the publisher has not revealed any action it plans to take against Davies to recoup costs or damages from his apparent lies. Requests for comment have been ignored.
But book publishing veterans, including several attorneys who handle such cases, said Threshold's options are clear according to traditional author agreements. They admit, however, that the publisher may have trouble actually collecting any damages.
"One of the important elements in a book publishing contract is a clause called representations and warranties, a list of promises and guarantees that an author makes to the publisher. These are very standard -- the customary assurances that the author gives is that the work is original and does not infringe on copyright," said Jonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles. "Some publishers are smart enough or have lawyers who are smart enough to include additional assurances that the book is true, accurate, and based on sound research."
Kirsch added, "If you had a contract where the representation and warranties clause didn't include these assurances, the publisher would be in a more exposed position. If they do include that assurance then the publisher can sue for breach of contract. At the very beginning of the book contract it says that the book is a work of fiction or non-fiction. If the contract characterizes it as a work of non-fiction or an autobiography or an historical account, there is an implication that it is true and the publisher can sue on that account."
Mike Huckabee's Fox News program uses a mirror placed next to the program's studio audience in order to make it appear as if far more people are in attendance.
According to a new report in Politico, Republican Senator Rand Paul recently sat down with Fox News chief Roger Ailes and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Politico explains that Paul, who is often listed as a likely contender in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, met separately with the two men as he "has been working to smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
During the 2012 presidential cycle, Fox News essentially hosted the Republican primary, and Paul's jockeying for the support of Ailes and Murdoch is evidence that Fox's role as the gatekeeper of the Republican party hasn't changed.
The Politico report also points out that both Murdoch and Ailes have "historically had a good relationship with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie," another likely player in the 2016 Republican primary. Indeed, in 2011, New York magazine reported that Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and strongly encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination in 2012. Ailes certainly wasn't alone at the network in swooning over Christie -- Fox personalities fawned over the New Jersey governor for much of 2010 and 2011.
But as Politico lays out, Christie's relationship with the network may have soured after he "embraced President Barack Obama immediately after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey," shortly before the 2012 election:
Murdoch tweeted at the time that "while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years." Christie, according to The New York Times, called Murdoch just before the election and made his case for needing support after the hurricane, but the media titan told the governor that he needed to reiterate his support of Romney. Christie eventually did.
Fox hosts have also been notably less ebullient about Christie following the 2012 election. Sean Hannity announced on his radio show in January that, "to be blunt, yes, I am disappointed in Governor Christie." The Five co-host Eric Bolling lectured Christie on Fox's airwaves, advising him to "act like a Republican" and stop praising Obama over Sandy.
As recently as this morning, Fox Nation was posting commentary from Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes deriding Christie as a "RINO" and mocking his "schoolgirl crush" on Obama.
While people outside the Fox empire are seeking the support of Ailes and Murdoch, several of its employees are already stoking speculation about running in 2016, including Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Allen West, Scott Brown, and Ben Carson.
From the October 27 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Newly released transcripts of secretly recorded comments by a News Corp. executive reveal that the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the company over the past few years could cost the firm $1.6 billion, much more than has previously been disclosed.
The reputation of News Corp. and its founder and head, Rupert Murdoch, have taken a hit from the now-acknowledged illegal practices of the company's News of the World and The Sun newspapers, which include generating stories by paying off law enforcement officials and hacking into the cellphones of celebrities, crime victims, politicians and others. Numerous News Corp. employees are currently on trial on charges relating to those crimes.
In his forthcoming book on News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reports several fascinating stories about the mogul's expansive media empire.
Among the stories highlighted in Murdoch's World: that Fox News' public relations shop used an elaborate series of fake accounts to post pro-Fox comments on websites critical of the network; that the same PR department has resorted to ruthless tactics to take revenge on critical reporters; that News Corp's CEO tried to suppress damaging reporting about the phone hacking scandal from running in the Wall Street Journal; and that a New York Post columnist was merely "chastised" for directing a racial slur at a colleague.
Fox's ruthless PR department: Taking revenge on reporters and using sock puppet accounts on critical websites
Folkenflik highlights numerous anecdotes about the aggressive tactics of Fox News' PR department, which punished reporters that upset the network.
For example, when New York Times media reporter Timothy Arango was working on a story about CNN's solid ratings in 2008, he was reportedly first asked by Fox to run in full a "vitriolic" statement about CNN that the conservative network had provided him. After he bristled at the suggestion, Arango -- a former News Corp employee that had worked for the New York Post from 2002 to 2006 -- claims he received an ominous threat from Fox suggesting he would be attacked personally for his story.
The morning Arango's story ran on the front page of the Times' business section, he was contacted by a writer for the now-defunct gossip website Jossip. That site later anonymously published a hit piece on him, including revealing that a recent medical leave he had taken "may have been a stint in rehab":
This time, he said, [Fox News' Irena] Briganti warned him: They're going to go after you personally. On March 5, 2008, Arango's story, headlined "Back in the Game," ran on the front page of the Times business section, and it was featured prominently on the paper's website. That morning, he received a call from a blogger with Jossip, a now-defunct gossip site. Arango knew what lay in store but did not return the call.
The unbylined story on Jossip said Arango had just returned from a two-month medical leave that "many allege may have been a stint in rehab." The Jossip posting utilized every element of Arango's past coverage at the Post and Fortune magazine to draw a portrait of a craven reporter in unsuccessful pursuit of on-air reporting jobs at cable channels. It referred to "blowjob pieces about CNBC execs" written, the blog claimed, when Arango was hustling for a job at the network.
Arango braced for the slam about rehab because he had indeed returned a few days earlier from an extended medical leave to address his substance abuse. Arango kept silent, expecting a wave of disgust from his own newsroom. It never materialized. Bill Keller, then the executive editor at the Times, emailed Arango a note of encouragement: We don't take that kind of bullshit seriously. Keep your head up. [Murdoch's World, pp 72-73]
Folkenflik also writes about an incident involving fellow Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff. Wolff reportedly told Folkenflik that he was approached by Murdoch's staff with a request to "change the date when Murdoch met his third wife, Wendi Deng," whom Murdoch married "just weeks" after he finalized his divorce from his previous wife. After Wolff refused, his book received "scant coverage in any News Corp properties," though the New York Post eventually published seven pieces in the span of a month invoking an affair Wolff had been having with a colleague:
As Wolff tells the story, Murdoch wanted the timing of his involvement with Deng out of the book, but it stayed in. The Man Who Owns the News, received scant coverage in any News Corp properties. And Wolff also criticized [New York Post editor Col] Allan by name on cable television for the racially charged cartoon. Soon an article appeared on the gossip website City-File, and then another surfaced on the better-known Gawker, alleging that Wolff was having an affair with a younger colleague - a woman just a year older than his daughter. The Post pounced, citing, of course, the reporting of others. Over the course of the month, the Post published seven pieces invoking the affair and publishing another cartoon by Delonas, unfairly depicting the couple, in the words of Wolff's girlfriend Victoria Floethe, as "a thirteen-year-old girl in bed with an eighty-year-old." By the end of the coverage, Wolff had moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and the tabloid was running pieces about a legal fight the soon-to-be divorced couple were having with Wolff's mother-in-law. [Murdoch's World, pp 49-50]
Folkenflik explains that after some negative attention in 2008, "Fox pulled back on some of its most aggressive tactics."
As Media Matters has previously highlighted, lashing out at critical reporters isn't the only way Fox's PR shop seeks to shape public opinion. Folkenflik reports in the book that the network's staffers set up a series of fake accounts to post comments to articles that were critical of Fox:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked. [Murdoch's World, pg. 67]
From the September 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
In an apparent reversal, CNN now says that Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich is not actually violating network standards by failing to disclose his PAC's financial relationship with politicians discussed on the program.
Rick Davis, CNN's Executive Vice President of News Standards and Practices, issued a statement to Media Matters saying the network is "clarifying" its ethics policy, and that Gingrich is "not in violation" of network rules:
We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host's political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.
Davis' statement appears to be at odds with earlier comments he had made about the network's guidelines for Gingrich. In an interview with Media Matters earlier this month, Davis said that if Gingrich, who serves as honorary co-chair for the American Legacy PAC, "is helping fund a candidate and that candidate's on the show, or being discussed on the show, of course he'll disclose that. Disclosure is important when it's relevant."
However, as Media Matters reported, Gingrich hosted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on the first episode of Crossfire's revival, and discussed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on September 24, without disclosing that his PAC had donated to the campaigns of both Republicans.
Gingrich also praised Cruz on CNN outside of Crossfire. Several hours after Media Matters first reported on Gingrich apparently violating network rules, he appeared on the September 25 edition of Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees and again appeared to cross the line. Gingrich said Cruz is "proving to be a pretty clever guy" and "there are an awful lot of Republicans who'd rather at least see someone with the guts to fight than just be told automatically let's surrender." Gingrich and CNN did not mention his PAC's ties to Cruz.
Issues with Gingrich and his PAC aren't limited to CNN disclosure problems. Mother Jones raised significant questions about whether Gingrich is fronting a "dubious PAC" since "most of the money flowing into American Legacy PAC is benefiting vendors and consultants who have long been associated with Gingrich" rather than actual candidates.
Fox News and CNN have devoted little time to reporting on the ongoing scandal involving Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) despite being the subject of an FBI investigation that could potentially result in federal criminal charges. CNN and Fox covered the scandal for a combined total of at least 12 minutes during the period between April 1 and August 2. By contrast, MSNBC covered the scandal for almost 3 hours in that same period.