The trial of several former News Corp. officials for their alleged involvement in hacking the voicemails of several prominent people, including British royalty, politicians, crime victims, and actors is in its second month. Among the developments: Actress Sienna Miller testified about her voicemail being hacked, a former News of the World reporter claimed officials knew about the phone hacking, jurors were told about executive cellphones going missing during the time of the hacking, and shown footage of one executive's spouse hiding a laptop in a parking garage.
Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz reneged on his promise to cover a new biography offering a harsh critique of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes on Fox's media show, #MediaBuzz.
On the January 19 edition of #MediaBuzz, Kurtz said he would cover the newly released book, New York writer Gabriel Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room, on the following week's show, saying:
First, a programming note. A biography of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes by a New York Magazine reporter has been getting plenty of media attention. We will talk about it, on next week's show.
But Kurtz did not report on the book as promised during his January 26 show, as Variety noted. Segments featured on the show instead included discussions of Glenn Beck's time at Fox News, media coverage of Wendy Davis' campaign for Texas governor, and the Chris Christie bridge scandal.
Fox News has attempted to discredit the Loudest Voice for more than a year, attacking Sherman personally and reportedly firing a top Fox executive for leaking information to the author. Ailes also cooperated with conservative journalist Zev Chafets' 2013 biography Roger Ailes, Off Camera, reportedly "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy."
A review of Sherman's book found that Fox was right to be worried; unlike Off Camera, Sherman's biography revealed an unflattering portrait of Ailes as a vindictive, paranoid partisan who uses his cable news network as a clearinghouse for Republican propaganda.
Media Matters has previously found that Kurtz has been giving his employer a pass since taking the position as Fox's media analyst last year. An analysis of Kurtz's television appearances and online columns during his first two months on the job found that he almost entirely avoided criticizing Fox News, including ignoring controversies related to the network that had been widely covered elsewhere.
Variety's Brian Lowry noted that Kurtz's failure to report on Sherman's Ailes biography once again calls his credibility into question:
For in-house media critics to have any credibility, they have to be willing to at least occasionally explore the shortcomings of their employers. And given all the coverage regarding Ailes' concern regarding the book and his alleged campaign against the author, Kurtz looked caught between the proverbial rock and hard place -- so much so that ignoring the book would have been preferable to creating the appearance of acting as Ailes' surrogate.
Nevertheless, to promise coverage -- as Kurtz did on air at the close of last week's program -- and then renege creates an impression of Kurtz as Ailes' lap dog. And it's not like there weren't ways to approach Sherman's biography in a skeptical manner, especially after New York Times critic Janet Maslin panned the book, providing some cover from one of the bastions of liberal media Fox News so regularly derides.
Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they are charging conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza with violating campaign finance laws. D'Souza has been a mainstay in the conservative media for years, and his outlandish theories have received heavy promotion from outlets like Fox News and prominent conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh.
Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
D'Souza made waves during the 2012 presidential election thanks to 2016: Obama's America, a shoddy "documentary" he made smearing the president as "anti-American." Though the movie was filled with nonsensical theories and inaccuracies, it became a surprise box office success thanks in no small part to hype by conservative media outlets.
Fox News and Fox Business repeatedly went to bat for D'Souza's movie, hosting him at least five times in the run-up to its wide release. (To give a sample of the tone of the segments, Lou Dobbs told his audience, "We've got a much better fate awaiting us if we just will simply awaken to what Dinesh is revealing in the wonderful movie, '2016,' August 10.")
In 2010, D'Souza was at the center of a firestorm for penning an article for Forbes magazine arguing that President Obama is animated by an "anticolonial" worldview imprinted on him by his father. In keeping with his usual scholarship, D'Souza's anticolonial theory was utter nonsense, but was nonetheless widely championed by major conservatives, including then-Fox contributor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, then-Fox host Glenn Beck (repeatedly), and Rush Limbaugh.
Though he has seemingly kept a somewhat lower profile recently, D'Souza is -- or at least was -- reportedly working on a sequel to Obama's America to release this year.
While it remains to be seen how D'Souza's conservative media allies will handle his indictment, Matt Drudge is already getting the conspiracy theory ball rolling, claiming the charges are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on Obama critics.
Fox News is now suggesting that minor contradictions in Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis' life story constitute a more important political "scandal" than accusations of corruption and political retribution by NJ Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
On the January 23 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott accused "op-eds and pundits [for] tearing into [Christie's] character," while ignoring the "political scandal in Texas." This scandal, according to Scott, was that Davis' life story had "holes" in it, partly because she didn't pull "herself up by her stilettos" and instead relied on some financial help from her second husband in order to attend law school:
Scott: The interesting thing about Wendy Davis is this story that has propelled her to state-wide stardom, maybe even national stardom. She says she was married at 19, teenage mother, divorced, lived in a trailer, made it through Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School, and now she is where she is today, a state senator and maybe the next governor of Texas. The problem is, there are some holes in that story.
The suggestion that she pulled herself up by her stilettos and made it through Harvard Law School doesn't exactly jive with the fact that her husband, her then-husband, paid for it all, then as soon as it's all paid for, she left him, and he got custody of the two girls.
Michael Barone, a Fox News contributor, argued during the segment and in a Washington Examiner piece that Christie's record as governor of New Jersey was being scrutinized by media "because he might be a successful presidential candidate," and that Davis should come under similar media scrutiny for these details of her life because her run for governor could potentially "turn Texas blue," a move which would have national significance.
But the reason to scrutinize Christie's record is not that he might run for president. It's that he has been accused of corruption and petty political retribution in his position as the current governor of New Jersey. At no point during the segment did either Scott or Barone delve into the details of "Chris Christie's problems," but they are far more than minor contradictions in a timeline of life events.
Christie has admitted that his administration caused a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, in what is alleged to have been political payback against a local mayor. Though the governor claimed he was unaware of his staff's actions, and later removed two top aides, his administration was subsequently accused by a different mayor of holding Hurricane Sandy relief funds hostage for political reasons.
There are at least three separate legal investigations examining the accusations launched against the Christie administration.
In contrast, Davis is not currently under investigation for possibly abusing the power of her office as state senator. There are some small, legitimate questions about her presentation of her life story, but those questions have been blown out of proportion by conservative media, who have launched an absurd and often sexist campaign against her. Right-wing radio hosts and Fox contributors have implied she is an unstable and unreliable mother, unfit for public office, and have attacked her for defying gender norms by leaving her spouse to pursue her career (a move many male politicians have made, with little media fanfare).
Scott's sexist joke about Davis' stilettos is just the latest example of these demeaning attacks, and furthers the network's desperate attempt to bury the Christie scandal by deflecting attention to unrelated stories.
Fox has previously attempted to compare Christie's scandal to the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and to the IRS scandal, in which bureaucrats largely based in Cincinnati allegedly devoted inappropriate scrutiny to conservative groups. The network also devoted less than 15 minutes of coverage to Christie on the day the scandal broke, and mentioned the revelations about Hurricane relief only once the day they emerged.
Fox News ignored growing evidence of a culture of political retribution in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office while instead attacking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for keeping an "enemies list" -- in reality, a list of endorsements Clinton sought in 2008 -- something Fox's own senior political analyst described as "perfectly reasonable," and dismissed as "not a huge deal."
Thousands of e-mails released last week revealed examples of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration exacting political retribution from a list of those people whom the governor or his aides believed had crossed him in some way. According to The Star-Ledger, a circle of Christie staff and allies appears to have taken political retribution to a new level when it conspired to send the borough of Fort Lee into traffic chaos by closing lanes to the world's busiest bridge." And a new Wall Street Journal report detailed how Christie allegedly treated Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D) by cutting him off from state administrators after Fulop declined to endorse Christie in the gubernatorial election.
In a segment on Fox's America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum neglected to report those updates in the Christie scandal, choosing instead to juxtapose Christie's problems with a report that ran in both Politico Magazine and The Hill that detailed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign and its efforts to gain lawmakers' endorsements. Both the original report and Fox News labeled the list of endorsements as "Hillary's Hit List."
Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume compared the Politico report to the Christie Scandal, claiming it "raises to some extent the question [about Clinton] you're now hearing raised about Chris Christie," asking whether or not she "fostered a climate" that encouraged aides to seek political retribution. Despite Hume's direct comparison, the reports regarding Christie detail numerous incidents of alleged abuse while the Politico report mentions no actual allegations of political retribution, only that the Clinton campaign tracked its political endorsements -- an act that Hume himself described as "perfectly sensible" and "not a huge deal."
When news of the Christie scandal originally broke, Fox News largely ignored it - an omission that CNN media critic Brian Stelter said may have been due to political considerations and Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' role as "Republican kingmaker" who "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie." When it did cover the scandal, Fox pointed to Christie's handling of the scandal as a "lesson in leadership" while attacking Clinton and President Obama for their handling of what Fox perceives as similar scandals.
Hume attributed competing media organizations' coverage of Christie to political bias, explaining that "journalists look at a story and if it's somebody they don't particularly care for or whose politics they don't agree with -- when that person slips up it just seems, as they look at it, like a bigger story." Ironically, that explanation may explain Fox News' focus on Clinton.
Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
From the January 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the January 10 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Conservative radio host Mark Levin claimed in a C-SPAN interview that "no groups buy my books" but at the time he said that, the Senate Conservatives Fund PAC had been doing so for months.
Appearing on C-SPAN's Book TV on January 5, Levin responded to a caller's accusation that outside organizations purchase his books and give them away in order to push them higher on bestseller lists by claiming that "no groups buy my books," and described the accusation as a "lie."
In the wake of revelations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) office carried out a political vendetta against a NJ Democrat by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, right-wing media have sprung into damage control mode to protect the prominent Republican governor, using any excuse to distract and deflect attention from the scandal.
On January 8, New Jersey's The Record reported that top aides within Christie's office coordinated in order to create "traffic problems in Fort Lee" by closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an alleged act of political retribution against the city's Democratic mayor after he refused to endorse Christie's re-election campaign.
Right-wing media have reacted by attempting to deflect criticism from Christie, praise Christie's handling of the scandal in contrast to perceived scandals in the Obama administration, or ignore the unfolding scandal altogether. That defense of Christie was exemplified in a January 9 editorial from The Wall Street Journal, in which the Journal argued that "Mr. Christie's contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama's handling of the tax agency's abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything," and concluded, "If Mr. Christie really didn't know about this cheap exercise in political payback, and nothing new emerges, the incident shouldn't interfere with the Governor's expected presidential run."
Which brings us to the Obama Administration, which quickly leaked to the media that the U.S. Attorney is investigating the lane closures as a criminal matter. Well, that sure was fast, and nice of Eric Holder's Justice Department to show its typical discretion when investigating political opponents.
This is the same Administration that won't tell Congress what resources it is devoting to the IRS probe, and appears to be slow-rolling it. It has also doubled down by expanding the political vetting of 501(c)(4) groups seeking tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS tax-exempt shop and took the Fifth before Congress, was allowed to "retire," presumably with a pension. Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller resigned under pressure but no other heads have rolled. Yet compared to using the IRS against political opponents
Following the example of the Journal and others, Media Matters has crafted a how-to checklist for conservative media covering the Christie bridge scandal:
Here are other examples of right-wing media appearing to follow this methodology:
Fox News praised Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the bridge scandal plaguing his administration as a "lesson in leadership" despite the many lingering questions surrounding his office's involvement in the story.
Gov. Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on January 9 amidst allegations that a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, NJ may have been orchestrated by his administration as political retribution. Christie has denied involvement for months, and the story exploded into a full-blown scandal on January 8 when emails and text messages published by a local paper suggested that Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority colluded to close access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create massive gridlock.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Christie's press conference, saying it "really indicated to many what leadership looked like after facing a crisis."
The Fox hosts went on to argue that the Obama administration could learn a lot from Christie's "brilliant" response:
Not all media was as taken with Christie's performance. In contrast to Fox, The New York Times' editorial board wrote that Christie's press conference left "plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer." According to The Times, Christie's "version of reality simply does not add up" and that until "full and conclusive investigation can restore public trust" Christie "has zero credibility":
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
The email documents released on Wednesday were heavily redacted. Why? And when will the full emails be made public?
Why did Mr. Christie insist that the traffic snarl was connected to a "traffic study," even after Port Authority officials denied there was any such study? Did he try to get the Port Authority to stop its own internal investigation of the problem?
NBC News had similar concerns, reporting that in the press conference Christie did not "resolve the mystery behind the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September" or why local officials working to investigate the jam "got no help," listing six "of the most pressing" questions that Christie left unanswered.
Politico reports today that The Senate Conservatives Fund has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" buying one of conservative radio host Mark Levin's books. According to FEC filings, the Fund has spent $427,000 since September 10th on copies of Levin's 2009 book Liberty and Tyranny.
The day a major scandal broke involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Fox News devoted scant coverage to the developing story. On January 8, Fox devoted less than 15 minutes to the New Jersey bridge closure scandal, compared to more than two hours each on CNN and MSNBC.
From the January 9 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Republican Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a serious scandal involving corruption and petty political retribution. How Fox News handles the story should provide a benchmark for the network's relationship with Christie and its commitment to continuing to bolster his career.
For months, allegations have been simmering that the Christie administration was involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ. As The New York Times explains, officials in Fort Lee have alleged that the closures, which "turned the town into a parking lot on the first day of school," were retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid.
New Jersey paper The Record reports today that despite public denials by Christie that the closure may have been politically-motivated, documents obtained by the paper suggest that "one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision":
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough's access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta--a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Among the email exchanges highlighted by The Record is one in which senior Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly contacted David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie's whom the governor appointed to an executive position at the Port Authority. In an email sent on August 13, 2013, roughly three weeks before Wildstein ordered the lane closures, Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it." (Wildstein resigned in December.)
In a separate exchange, Wildstein responded to a text message from an unidentified person saying that they "feel badly about the kids, I guess," by saying, "They are the children of Buono voters." (Barbara Buono was Christie's opponent in the November 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.)
With Christie widely considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Fox News' treatment of the scandal could provide a glimpse into the state of the network's relationship with the New Jersey governor, which has seemingly cooled off recently.