Fox News contributor Dick Morris treated a group of Republican donors to a tour of Fox News and tapings of Lou Dobbs Tonight and Hannity. Participants in that December 2011 visit, which has not been previously reported, were being rewarded for donations they made to their local Republican party at a fundraising dinner Morris headlined earlier that year. In March, Morris was reprimanded by Fox for similar conduct related to a separate GOP fundraiser he headlined.
On December 14, Michigan's Oakland County Republican Party (OCRP) posted a short video of a party donor with Sean Hannity on its Facebook page and wrote that the party member "was part of the group of donors we arranged to visit Fox News in New York."
A separate posting on OCRP's Facebook page described the Fox-GOP donor visit in more detail, writing that it was "absolutely awesome" and an "exceptional opportunity." The post said that Morris "himself came down to greet us. After brief introductions he escorted us up to the studio where Lou Dobbs was broadcasting live. We were all introduced to Mr. Dobbs and stood quietly just off camera while he did a live segment with Dick Morris."
The donors also discussed politics with Sean Hannity in the green room and "went to Sean's set where he taped a segment with Dick."
The post concluded of the Fox News tour: "What an amazing time. It would not have been possible without your efforts and of course attending the fantastic OCRP Lincoln Day dinner as a member of the prestigious 400 Club." (The 400 Club is a fundraising membership level ($400) for the party.)
Morris, along with the late Andrew Breitbart, were guest speakers at the OCRP's May 25, 2011, Lincoln Day Dinner. Attendees paid $75 for a general admissions ticket or $500 to attend a VIP reception with Morris, which included a copy of his book and a "premiere photo op." There was also a reception for 400 Club members. Republicans hold annual Lincoln Day Dinners as fundraisers for their party organizations.
OCRP Executive Director Dennis Pittman, who helped organize the Lincoln Day Dinner, told Media Matters that the Fox News tour was one of the perks given to "better donors."
"We send people on different little excursions and like little perks that we give out," Pittman said. "We've had people go on cruises with dignitaries and VIPs. We've had little small, private meetings with vice presidential candidates, you know, that aren't announced publicly. But, you know, some of our better donors get to go. That's what that is."
Asked about Morris' involvement in arranging the tour, Pittman, who said he did not attend the tour, replied: "He hooked me up with a number to call to arrange something. This was like a year and a half ago."
The Fox-GOP donor visit appears to have occurred on December 5, 2011, the only date that month in which Morris was on both Lou Dobbs Tonight and Hannity. Coincidentally, Morris acknowledged on that edition of Hannity that he had received money from several Republican presidential candidates to rent out his email list. Morris' admission came after Media Matters criticized him for praising several of those candidates on Fox while pocketing money from them, and just a few hours after the Associated Press questioned him and Fox News executive vice president of programming Bill Shine about the ads.
Fox News previously reprimanded Morris in March after he auctioned off a Fox News studio tour during a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Lake County (FL) as part of its March 9 Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner. Shine told TVNewser in response to the Florida event: "The tour will absolutely not take place nor would something like that have ever taken place if we were aware of it." TVNewser added that it was "told Morris apologized profusely and knows this was a major mistake."
Media Matters has documented how Morris has frequently crossed media ethics lines during his employment at Fox News, including regularly promoting candidates and groups on-air with whom he is financially connected.
In April 2010, Fox News executives prevented Sean Hannity from taping his show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event which charged admission and had "all proceeds" benefiting that organization. Executives were reportedly "furious," but The Los Angeles Times noted that "[w]hile there have been post-mortem discussions about the incident, it does not appear that they have resulted in any serious disciplinary measures taken against any staffers involved" -- a pattern that repeated itself with Morris' soft "reprimand."
Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik told Media Matters in March following the revelation of the auctioned tour: "What does it take to suspend Morris?" He added: "To me, it is crazy that they don't either suspend him or kick him off the air for good. Is there anybody in the media you can think of who has less of an ethical compass? You have to ask yourself, why do they let him get away with this? He is really a sleazy operative."
Emails to Dick Morris and Fox News were not returned as of posting time.
The Oakland County Republican Party's Facebook post on its Fox News tour:
The trip to New York was absolutely awesome.
We all arrived at the News Corp building where Dick Morris himself came down to greet us. After brief introductions he escorted us up to the studio where Lou Dobbs was broadcasting live. We were all introduced to Mr. Dobbs and stood quietly just off camera while he did a live segment with Dick Morris.
After a few minutes of shooting we were escorted out and up to meet none other than the 'Great American' Sean Hannity. What a great guy. We had a wonderful time getting to know him and Dick Morris as we sat in the green room having a nice discussion regarding many issues. We then went to Sean's set where he taped a segment with Dick.
We learned a lot. It was so amazing watching how a 'live' show actually can be many pieces placed on the live show at the right time just like a puzzle.
Sean was such a gentleman. After the taping he took the time to actually get to know us. Talk to Bob. Sean almost had him married before he left NY. My favorite moment was when I sat with Sean on his set posing as if in a dramatic discussion for a photo. (A short video clip of this is forwarded separately). What an amazing time. It would not have been possible without your efforts and of course attending the fantastic OCRP Lincoln Day dinner as a member of the prestigious 400 Club.
Thank you guys for this exceptional opportunity and your efforts.
The brief video of Hannity interacting with a Republican donor on the OCRP's Facebook page:
A flyer for the OCRP's 2011 Lincoln Day Dinner:
Hannity-Fox News tour photo via the Oakland County Republican Party's Facebook page.