Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • Media Experts Rip CNN For “Profoundly Disturbing” Lewandowski Hiring

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a nondisparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”

    Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorussaying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.

    “CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a nondisparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”

    Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.

    “Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?” 

    Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.

    “In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”

    Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Mediasaid hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”

    He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”

    For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a nondisparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”

    Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”

    Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a nondisparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”

  • CNN Reported This Week That New Hire Lewandowski Likely Signed A Non-Disparagement Agreement With Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Corey Lewandowski, who was fired on Monday from his position as campaign manager for Donald Trump, has been hired by CNN. The network reported earlier this week that Lewandowski likely signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevents him from disparaging the campaign in any way, throwing into question the type of commentary he will be paid to offer as a political commentator. 

    After Lewandowski gave an interview with CNN's Dana Bash about his exit from the campaign in which he lauded Trump, the network's senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, reported, "Anyone who works for the Trump campaign signs a nondisclosure agreement, so he cannot disparage or anything like that at all, not that he might be inclined to. I was struck during his interview with Dana how positive he was."

    Bash told Lewandowski during the interview in question that "somebody tuning in to watch this might be thinking that they're on another planet because you're making it seem like everything was really great, and I get that that's your instinct because you've been so loyal to him, but it just doesn't make sense in a logical way."

  • Is Trump’s Campaign Just Another Conservative Con? And Should The Press Cover It That Way?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    "Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich. With no thought of winning elections.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, 2012.

    Stunned reporters this week have been unrelenting in depicting Donald Trump’s campaign as one whose wheels have not only come loose, but whose doors and windows have also flown off the hinges.

    Journalists, who are fascinated by fundraising totals and are forever stressing their importance in terms of judging campaign strength, were gobsmacked to learn Trump has just over $1 million in his campaign coffers after raising just $3.1 million in May.

    The total is unbelievably paltry for a major party nominee,” reported The Huffington Post, which labeled Trump’s recently released campaign finance report a “dumpster fire.” By comparison, four years ago Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $23.4 million in May. And by comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $4.5 million in just one day of fundraising this month.

    Donald Trump’s May fundraising totals are disastrously bad,” announced a Washington Post headline.

    But it’s not just Trump’s finances. It seems with every important campaign measurement -- staffing, get out the vote, communications, etc. -- Trump not only languishes; he barely competes.

    It's certainly possible, given Trump's history and lack of political experience, that his campaign's problems stem largely from basic incompetence. But something else might be in play here.

    Republicans have been staging modern White House campaigns for decades. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but the party always manages to build an apparatus and support system that’s designed to compete on the national stage. So why would that formula suddenly elude Trump? Why would this nominee not to be able to pull off Campaign 101 as the calendar readies its flip to July?

    Just as importantly, why is Trump’s campaign pouring so much money into paying Trump’s own companies for goods and services?

    Why would Trump, whose campaign is in crisis at home, set aside two days this week to fly to Scotland to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a golf resort? The answer, of course, is that Trump owns the luxury golf club.

    Do the two red flags of Trump’s seeming unwillingness to commit resources to genuinely compete for the White House, combined with his desire to fill his companies’ own coffers, suggest that his campaign is actually some sort of large-scale scam or con? And if it is, is that how the press should cover his campaign and drop the assumption that the Trump run represents a traditional GOP march toward the White House?

    It’s true that journalists are aggressively detailing his campaign’s many shortcomings. But most of the coverage suggests Trump and his team just haven’t mastered the campaign game, or that Trump’s simply too mercurial, which is causing trouble for him.

    But if the whole endeavor turns out to be more focused on bolstering Trump’s brands and launching his future media career than mounting a serious campaign, shouldn’t that be reflected in the real-time coverage?

    The crass self-dealing isn’t a new trend in the conservative movement. Media Matters has documented for years how fundraising scams remain a constant on the right, with high-profile media and political figures cashing in.

    Ben Carson’s presidential campaign this year nicely captured the grifter angle as the candidate plowed a huge percentage of his fundraising donations into paying for more fundraising.

    It sure looks like Carson's campaign is a self-perpetuating machine in which money is raised to pay mostly for more money being raised — and the people doing the direct mail and phone calls are making out quite nicely,” noted The Week’s Paul Waldman last year. (This, while Carson gave lucrative paid speeches during the presidential campaign season.)

    Trump now seems determined to further that dubious GOP tradition.

    When Trump flies, he uses his airplane. When he campaigns, he often chooses his properties or his own Trump Tower in New York City, which serves as headquarters. His campaign even buys Trump bottled water and Trump wine,” the Associated Press recently reported.

    His campaign has been writing very large checks to Trump’s TAG Air, Trump Tower Commercial, the Trump Corporation, Trump’s private Mar-a-lago Club, Trump National Doral and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, according to the AP. And "Trump's relentless product branding while on the campaign trail" might also be boosting the bottom lines of companies like Trump Ice, his bottled water company.

    But again, it’s not just the obvious self-dealing within the Trump campaign that raises doubts about the possibility of a con. It’s also Trump’s refusal to mount an actual, physical campaign operation. “Trump essentially has no campaign at this point,” The Washington Post reported on June 20.

    For instance, Trump has not aired any general election ads in eight key battleground states.

    And speaking of swing states, Trump hasn’t been to the important swing state of Ohio since March, while Hillary Clinton made two Buckeye stops in the span of eight days this month. "Democrats say they now have 150 full-time employees on the ground in Ohio" working to help Clinton and state-level Democrats win their races. But “Trump doesn't have a campaign operation in Ohio,” CNN recently reported.

    In May, Trump had just 69 paid staffers in total, compared to Clinton’s 685. Trump’s entire communication outreach effort seems to consist of Hope Hicks, “who is essentially the lone media contact for reporters,” MSNBC reported.

    Ground game? Last week in Phoenix, Trump’s rally drew approximately 4,500 supporters to an arena that accommodates 15,000. As for Trump’s field organization, it consists of “a patchwork of aides, some paid, some retained on a volunteer basis and many left over from the Republican primaries,” according to CNN.

    It would be one thing if Trump crassly touted and boosted his myriad businesses while running a muscular presidential run. But to try to cash in while running an at-times-invisible campaign certainly raises doubts about his pursuit.

    If the whole thing is built to be a con, shouldn’t the press say so?

  • Fox News Figures Back Contributor Newt Gingrich As Trump’s Running Mate

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Fox News figures are praising network contributor Newt Gingrich as a “great choice” for Donald Trump’s running mate. They have touted Gingrich -- the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to be punished by the House for ethics violations -- as “a genius,” “a conservative with bona fides,” and someone who would “bring tremendous stability, tremendous gravitas, incredible intellect,” and “judgment experience.”  

  • Inside The Industry Manufacturing The Lies You Hear Every Day

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”

    I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.

    The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?

    Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.

    The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.

    And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?

    Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.

    Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?

    It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.

    The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.

    The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”

    What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.

    You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?

    They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.

    That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.

    That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.

    You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?

    Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.

    My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.

    Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?

    I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.

    Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.

    Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?

    Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.

    How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?

    I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.

    You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.

    Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.

    People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.

    Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?

    The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.

    Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?

    The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.

    What is the way to counter this?

    Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.

    If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.

    Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.

    How are these liars making money doing this?

    Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.

    What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?

    How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.

  • 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."