FOX News has repeatedly hosted representatives of USA Next, a conservative lobbying group formerly known as the United Seniors Association (USA), who have come on the network to attack the AARP, a chief opponent of President Bush's plans to privatize Social Security. Among USA Next's claims articulated on FOX are that the AARP is "the world's largest left, liberal lobbying organization in the world" that is "definitely against traditional values." USA Next's chairman and chief executive, Charles W. Jarvis, and its national chairman, entertainer Art Linkletter, have appeared on FOX News three times in the past ten days. But despite the fact that the group has spent millions of dollars to support Republican candidates and policies, was founded and is currently led by prominent Republicans, and is advised by Republican consultants, FOX News did not identify USA Next as Republican -- or even conservative -- in any appearance by Jarvis or Linkletter.
Founded by conservative activist Richard Viguerie, USA was among several advocacy groups he set up to "bombard the elderly with tens of millions of solicitations, generating millions of dollars in fees for his private companies," according to a November 12, 1992, New York Times report. USA's "board and executives consist entirely of direct-mail experts and people active in conservative causes," the Times reported, and noted that the organization had been criticized by members of both parties for "preying on vulnerable old people with statements that distort the problems facing Social Security and Medicare, especially by exaggerating the threat to current retirees."
In 1995, USA worked with discredited Republican pollster Frank Luntz to craft a controversial memo on Medicare that referred to older Americans as "pack-oriented" and "susceptible to following one very dominant person's lead," according to a July 13, 1995, Washington Post article, which called USA "an organization that is more sympathetic to the Republican plans than most others."
The Center for Responsive Politics describes USA as an organization that "has ties to the Republican party. Its president and CEO, Charles Jarvis, once worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Other staff and board members worked as lobbyists for the Republican Party, are former GOP congressmen, or worked for conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family."
In its guise as a seniors' organization, USA has lent support to a multitude of Republican initiatives. According to a March 16, 2001, Dallas Morning News report, USA launched a $2 million radio ad campaign in support of President Bush's tax cuts. An April 19, 2002, USA press release titled "Seniors Deplore Senate Loss of ANWR Vote" expressed the group's "disappointment and dismay at the Senate's vote against" drilling for oil in Alaska. A June 4, 2003, USA press release "urged House Democrats and Republicans to join together to pass H.R. 760, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban of 2003." USA has also consistently made pointed political attacks on Democrats; its press releases (which are no longer available on USA's website) have such titles as "Seniors See Senator Daschle as Roadblock to Economic Recovery," "Democrats Doom Prescription Drugs for Seniors," "Senate Democrats Still Putting Politics Over People," and "Estrada Vote a Sign of the Great Liberal Deathwish?"
USA's current incarnation, USA Next, has maintained its Republican ties. As Media Matters for America has noted, the New York Times reported on February 21 that USA Next hired consultants who previously worked with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (now Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) to "orchestrate attacks" as part of USA Next's $10 million campaign against the AARP. According to the Times, one consultant is Chris LaCivita, who earned more than $30,000 advising the Swift Boat Veterans' media campaign attacking Senator John Kerry. Media Matters has previously detailed how Tom Synhorst, chairman of the political strategy firm DCI Group, for which LaCivita has worked, was connected to a smear campaign against Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during the 2000 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. The Times article also reported that USA Next "has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets -- the company was paid more than $165,000 -- and Regnery Publishing," publisher of the anti-Kerry book Unfit for Command, co-authored by Swift Boat Veterans co-founder John E. O'Neill. The group is "seeking to hire" Rick Reed, a partner at a firm paid more than $276,000 to do media production for Swift Boat Veterans, according to the Times article.
Additionally, a May 2004 Washington Monthly article identified USA as "a soft-money slush fund for a single GOP-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals," noting that, "during the 2002 elections, with an 'unrestricted educational grant' from the drug industry burning a hole in its pocket, the group spent roughly $14 million -- the lion's share of its budget -- on ads defending Republican members of Congress for their votes on a Medicare prescription-drug bill." Other estimates vary, but all suggest that USA spent significant amounts on targeted advertising in support of Republicans during the 2002 congressional elections. A June 5, 2003, Associated Press article reported that USA "was the nation's biggest spender on political TV ads, paying nearly $9 million for ads mainly supporting Republican candidates," and the Center for Responsive Politics noted in December 2003: "Last year, the group reportedly spent $17 million to run political ads in tight congressional races." The Center for Responsive Politics also noted that USA "made $66,000 in PAC contributions during the 2002 election cycle, all to Republicans."
On February 23, journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall also pointed out that BBB Wise Giving Alliance, an information bureau for nonprofit organizations, noted that USA is affiliated with the O'Neill Marketing Company (OMC). Marshall noted: "Apparently, it's a very tight affiliation," since the address of both is 3900 Jermantown Road in Fairfax, Virginia. According to OMC's website, its other clients include the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican Governors Association, and the Republican National Committee. On the February 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Jarvis claimed USA Next has "no connection at all now" to OMC; a statement on the OMC website, posted in response to "recent press coverage of United Seniors Association, (now USANext)," claims that OMC "has no relationship with USANext, does not provide list-marketing services to them and has not done so for many months."
On February 16, Jarvis appeared on FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, where host Bill O'Reilly introduced the organization as "an alternative senior group to the AARP." Jarvis attacked the AARP, stating: "The problem is, there's never been a tax increase they didn't love, there's never been a tax cut they didn't hate, and they are definitely against traditional values." Asked if his organization is conservative, Jarvis denied it:
JARVIS: No, we are basically a free-market alternative to AARP. Whereas we're the healthy, wealthy and wise organization, they're the tax, tax and spend organization.
O'REILLY: All right. So you're more smaller government, self-reliant. É Well, we're glad you came in because we want the folks to have a choice. They can check you out. They know what the AARP is, and then they can make a decision, and that's -- you know, we report, you decide. That's perfect, right?
The next night, Linkletter appeared on FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, where co-host Sean Hannity introduced him as "a strong advocate for seniors, as the national chairman of the United Seniors Association." On February 18, Linkletter was a guest on FOX News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, where he was introduced as "One senior [who] says it's [President Bush's Social Security proposal] a grand idea." During the interview, Linkletter contradicted Jarvis's assertion two days earlier that USA Next is not conservative, describing the group as "very conservative." And on the February 24 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, FOX News general assignment correspondent Major Garrett referred to USA Next as simply "a special interest group." (Linkletter was also a guest on the February 7 edition of Your World, though no transcript of his appearance is available.)
By contrast, on CNN or MSNBC, each time anchors or reporters have mentioned USA Next or interviewed Jarvis, they made the group's political affiliation clear to viewers. On February 21, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann summarized the New York Times report on USA Next's hiring of the Swift Boat Veterans' consultants and referred to the organization as "a conservative lobbying group." On February 22, CNN Inside Politics host Judy Woodruff noted a USA Next online attack ad that included a photo of a soldier with a large red X over it and a photo of two men kissing with a large green check mark, accompanied by the caption "The REAL AARP Agenda"; Woodruff described USA Next as "a conservative lobbying group formerly known as the United Seniors Association." The next day, when Jarvis appeared on Inside Politics to discuss the ad, which he claimed was intended as a test "to find out if the blogs would overreact to the ad," Woodruff identified USA Next as a "conservative lobbying group." During Jarvis's appearance on MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews introduced him as "chief executive of USA Next, a lobbying group that supports President Bush's Social Security plan."