In Wash. Post, Kurtz failed to note "neutral" Bennett's campaign contributions to McCain, Romney

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In a Washington Post article about conservative radio hosts' opposition to Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, Howard Kurtz reported that Bill Bennett, "who is neutral in the race," has not "climb[ed] aboard the stop-McCain bandwagon." But Kurtz did not mention, as he did on his CNN program, that Bennett reportedly contributed more than $2,000 to McCain's campaign in December 2007 and to Mitt Romney's campaign in January, which raises questions about "whether Bennett can act as a neutral analyst in a race that still includes Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul," according to The Huffington Post.

In a February 5 Washington Post article about conservative radio hosts' opposition to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential bid, media critic Howard Kurtz reported: "Not all right-leaning hosts are climbing aboard the stop-McCain bandwagon." Kurtz continued: "Bill Bennett, the author and former Reagan administration official, who is neutral in the race, has resisted pressure from his listeners to back another candidate." But Kurtz did not note, as he did during the February 3 edition of his CNN program, Reliable Sources, that Bennett, who is a CNN contributor, gave money to McCain's presidential campaign in December 2007. Also, unlike in his Reliable Sources report, Kurtz's Post article ignored that, according to CNN, Bennett gave money to Mitt Romney's Republican presidential campaign in January. However, there are still two other Republican candidates to whom Bennett has not contributed: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul (TX).

On February 2, The Huffington Post reported that Bennett had given more than $2,000 in December 2007 to McCain's campaign, without disclosing that he had done so, and questioned "whether Bennett can act as a neutral analyst in a race that still includes Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul":

Last December, conservative author and CNN election analyst William J. Bennett gave over two thousand dollars to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, a fact that Bennett has not mentioned during any of his appearances on the network, according to a review of transcripts by the Huffington Post.

Moreover, after giving the donation, Bennett claimed on-air that he was neutral in the GOP race, even as he repeatedly dispensed advice to McCain on how he could win over doubtful conservatives.

Following Wednesday's GOP debate in Los Angeles, Bennett exclaimed on CNN that he "had three hours of calls this morning of people angry at me because I was defending John McCain."

"I don't have a candidate," he protested. "I haven't endorsed anybody."

In fact, on December 31, 2007, Bennett contributed the maximum primary amount, $2300, to McCain's campaign. [See Bennett's fundraising details on Huffington Post's FundRace.]

Informed of the donations, a CNN official said that Bennett also gave an unspecified amount to Mitt Romney's campaign in January 2008, which would not show up on the latest campaign filings.

Last month, Talking Points Memo reported that, for the duration of the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton backers James Carville and Paul Begala would no longer be appearing on CNN unless they were paired with a supporter of Barack Obama. The CNN official said Bennett's situation was different since he had given to more than one candidate.

Still, the donations raise serious questions about whether Bennett can act as a neutral analyst in a race that still includes Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul. Following protests of Carville and Begala's role on CNN, the network's political director Sam Feist said, "As we got closer to the voting, we made a decision to make sure that all the analysts that are on are non-aligned."

During the February 3 edition of Reliable Sources, Kurtz reported: "Bill Bennett, the conservative author and CNN contributor, is neutral in the Republican presidential race. The Huffington Post reports that he's given the maximum $4,600 to John McCain. Bennett says he's donated to Mitt Romney as well." The Huffington Post report originally claimed that Bennett had donated $4,600 to McCain, but has since updated its report with the following statement: "Note: Online fundraising databases have conflicting data on the level of William Bennett's contributions to Sen. McCain. A CNN official says that Bennett gave $2300, not $4600, so we are using that number until itemized general election receipts are available from the FEC."

Of Bennett's contributions, Kurtz stated: "It's hardly surprising that obvious partisans would give to candidates, but they should disclose that on the air and let viewers make up their minds." He went on to read from "a statement" he said he had "been given from CNN": "Bill Bennett continues to appear on our political panel because he has not endorsed a presidential candidate and is not advising any one campaign. He has made contributions to both McCain and Romney, but he has stated again and again he does not know who he will vote for." However, despite asserting that Bennett "is neutral in the Republican presidential race," Kurtz did not address the portion of the Huffington Post report that "raise[d] serious questions about whether Bennett can act as a neutral analyst in a race that still includes Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul."

From Kurtz's February 5 Washington Post article:

McCain's strategists have been quietly reaching out to commentators such as Hannity but don't believe the attacks are costing their candidate many votes, noting that McCain won Florida last week even though Limbaugh broadcasts from Palm Beach. But the campaign yesterday released a letter to Limbaugh from Bob Dole, saying McCain has been a loyal Republican on many issues and that "I proudly wore his POW bracelet bearing his name while he was still a guest at the Hanoi Hilton."

Not all right-leaning hosts are climbing aboard the stop-McCain bandwagon. Bill Bennett, the author and former Reagan administration official, who is neutral in the race, has resisted pressure from his listeners to back another candidate.

"In defending McCain on the grounds that he's a very strong conservative on some issues, I got a lot of flak," Bennett said. "I went an hour and 40 minutes before I got one person who was supportive. I have a center-right audience. A lot of it was very unreasonable. ... There are more centers of influence now because the party is fractured."

From the February 3 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: I want to deal with this late-breaking story, which was mentioned in The Huffington Post.

Bill Bennett, the conservative author and CNN contributor, is neutral in the Republican presidential race. The Huffington Post reports that he's given the maximum $4,600 to John McCain. Bennett says he's donated to Mitt Romney as well.

It's hardly surprising that obvious partisans would give to candidates, but they should disclose that on the air and let viewers make up their minds. Here's a statement I've been given from CNN.

"Bill Bennett continues to appear on our political panel because he has not endorsed a presidential candidate and is not advising any one campaign. He has made contributions to both McCain and Romney, but he has stated again and again he does not know who he will vote for."

On the Democratic side, two of CNN's top Democratic contributors, James Carville and Paul Begala, obviously support Hillary Clinton and have donated to her campaign as well. CNN decided a couple of months ago to have them only on the air with advocates for other Democratic candidates now -- that would be Barack Obama -- at least until the Democratic race is decided. That change makes sense and is long overdue.

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Howard Kurtz
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