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.
A Colorado paper defended its conduct in a state legislative recall campaign by dismissing critics' conflict of interest charges while failing to provide adequate context of an email a newsroom executive sent to a senator involved in the recall.
Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a series of bills aimed at strengthening gun laws, including requiring background checks for private transactions and limiting the rounds of ammunition in magazines. Soon after the bills passed, local gun-rights supporters began a recall drive on four Democratic senators who supported the new laws. Two of the petition drives failed; however, Sen. Angela Giron (D) and State Senate President John Morse (D) will face a recall election slated for September 10.
On March 3, while the gun bills were still being debated in the legislature, Ray Stafford, general manager of the Pueblo Chieftain sent an email from his Chieftain account to Giron declaring his opposition to a package of bills seeking to strengthen the state's gun laws. In the email, in which he claimed the bills represented "a challenge to our Second Amendment," Stafford disclosed his position at the newspaper and said he was "responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom." Critics charged that this email was a threat to the senator due to the Stafford's top position at the paper.
In response to Stafford's actions, the paper's assistant publisher and vice president, Jane Rawlings, wrote that Stafford used his affiliation in the email "as a way of identification, as he still is fairly new to the area." Although Rawlings said that after "a careful review of The Chieftain's coverage" she found the paper provided balanced coverage, Morse said Stafford essentially "threatened" Giron with critical coverage and that Giron "was in the paper and on the front page for a week straight, including within pictures that weren't very flattering, almost deliberately." Morse's account has been corroborated by local television station, KDVR-TV.
From the May 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Fox's Lou Dobbs and Megyn Kelly attacked President Obama as "Nixonian" and claimed that he revealed his "inner Nixon" over scrutiny that the IRS applied to tea party groups, despite the fact that the president labeled the IRS's actions "outrageous."
Obama addressed concerns at a press conference Monday over reports that the IRS applied extra scrutiny to tea party groups. He vowed to hold the agency "fully accountable" and called the alleged misdeeds "outrageous." Pointing to those comments, Kelly asked if Obama's condemnation was forceful enough, while Dobbs compared Obama with President Nixon, stating, "This is an agency with an enemies list. This is Nixonian. This is a president whose inner Nixon is being revealed."
But Carl Bernstein, one of The Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, deflated the idea that the IRS targeting was comparable to Watergate in an interview with Politico:
'In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying 'Use the IRS to get back on our enemies,' said Bernstein, whose reporting helped lead to Nixon's eventual resignation. 'We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution -- we have no evidence of any such thing.'
The Wall Street Journal continued its questionable disclosure practices with Karl Rove by publishing a column in which Rove advocates that the Republican Party adopt a strategy that a group backed by him -- the Conservative Victory Project -- has been pursuing, without noting his role in the group.
In a May 1 Journal column, Karl Rove highlighted what he felt the Republican Party should do in order to win enough seats to gain the majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014. He argued that Republicans need to out fundraise Democrats and that Republicans need to nominate electable candidates:
Republican success will depend on having quality Senate candidates. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock self-destructed last fall, and other candidates squandered important opportunities.
Fundraising is important. Last year, Democratic Senate candidates outraised Republicans by $60 million (not including the Connecticut and Pennsylvania races with GOP self-funders). The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its GOP counterpart by an additional $20 million. Republicans won't make big pickups if there's a disparity like this in 2014.
The quality of GOP campaigns will matter as well. Republicans must go toe-to-toe with Democrats on ObamaCare, spending, deficits, the president's social agenda and, where appropriate, their opponent's character. But even done effectively, this won't be enough.
The Journal disclosed that Karl Rove "helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads," but did not disclose that he is reportedly involved with the Conservative Action Project -- an effort by conservatives to raise money to help nominate electable candidates, that The Hill reported is "being operated independent of" American Crossroads. A February 2 New York Times article described the Conservative Victory Project as an attempt to raise money in order:
[T]o recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.
The project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was "something God intended."
The Journal's past disclosure problems have been widely criticized. With Rove, the Journal for months failed to disclose Rove's affiliation with American Crossroads in columns in which he attacked President Obama and advocated for action that was being taken by his political groups. After current and former editorial page editors at major national and regional newspapers deemed the Journal's lack of disclosure "negligent," the Journal ultimately corrected this problem in September 2012.
Additionally, during the 2012 presidential election, the Journal had similar disclosure problems with numerous op-ed writers who were not identified as Romney advisers in pieces that criticized Obama or praised Romney. Editorial page editors also criticized this practice.
From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News contributor and Republican pollster Frank Luntz praised the ability of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to communicate without disclosing that both men were past clients of his.
During a Fox & Friends appearance on Wednesday, communications strategist Luntz claimed that "almost no politician is connecting right now" with voters because "the American people are so angry and frustrated with Washington." He then highlighted the supposed ability of Rubio and Ryan to connect with voters, highlighting real-time responses given by his focus group as Rubio talked about immigration and Ryan talked about federal debt.
Luntz claimed that the tone Rubio used in the remarks Luntz selected for the focus group is "why he is becoming one of the most popular politicians in America today." Luntz added that the Ryan remarks he selected for the focus group proved that Ryan "has this ability to transcend traditional partisan politics":
Luntz did not disclose that both lawmakers were formerly his clients. According to a January 2012 Wall Street Journal article, Rubio hired Luntz to help him craft his "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future" when he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives:
Mr. Rubio, a budding GOP activist in Miami when Mr. Gingrich unveiled the Contract With America in 1994, modeled his speakership on Mr. Gingrich's. He recruited Frank Luntz, who did polling work for the Contract With America, to help him craft his "100 Innovative Ideas." In a 2006 speech before the Florida House, Mr. Gingrich singled out Mr. Rubio, who was about to become the state's first Cuban-American speaker, as a potential national figure.
"Rubio's approach...came straight from the concept of the Contract," Mr. Luntz said, adding that Messrs. Rubio and Gingrich "shared a similar approach to governing."
And according to Federal Election Commission filings from the 2012 election cycle, Luntz received $45,000 from Ryan's congressional campaign for polling and consulting services.
Luntz previously praised Ryan in his capacity as CBS analyst while failing to disclose his financial ties to the Ryan campaign. Luntz also praised an American Crossroads anti-Obama ad during the 2012 presidential election without disclosing that Crossroads paid him for surveying and polling services.