Fox Whitewashes Ensign Ethics Scandal

››› ››› MELODY JOHNSON

After the release of the findings of the Senate Ethics Committee's hearing on former Senator John Ensign (R-NV), which determined that Ensign may have broken various laws in order to cover up an extramarital affair, Fox News largely ignored the story. All of the network's primetime opinion shows, as well as its morning opinion show Fox & Friends, completely neglected to report on the story.

Fox News Largely Ignores The Senate Ethics Committee's Findings On "The Matter Of Senator John E. Ensign"

Fox News Opinion Shows The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record And Fox & Friends Failed To Cover Report On Ensign's Alleged Wrongdoing. A Nexis search* conducted by Media Matters of Fox News primetime opinion shows for May 12 including The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and On the Record, returned no results for mentions of Ensign or the Senate Ethics Committee's report. A review of the May 13 broadcast of Fox & Friends yielded a similar result. [Lexis-Nexis, accessed 5/13/11]

Only Special Report and The Fox Report Covered The Ensign Scandal. Two of Fox News' news programs did cover the Ensign scandal: Special Report and The Fox Report. For instance, Special Report briefly covered the story by simply noting:

BAIER: The Senate Ethics Committee has referred the case of former Republican Nevada Senator John Ensign to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. The committee says its investigation revealed Ensign's actions following his affair with a political aide may have broken federal law and Senate rules. Ensign's lawyer says he is confident the Justice Department will find his client complied with the law. Ensign resigned May 3rd.

The Fox Report's coverage of the Ensign scandal covered the story in greater detail. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 5/12/11 accessed via Nexis, The Fox Report, 5/12/11]

Senate Ethics Committee: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign" Broke Numerous Laws

The New York Times: "Report Urges U.S. To Consider Charging Ensign." A May 12 New York Times article reported the findings of the Senate Ethics Committee noting that the Committee found that as Ensign "sought to manage the fallout from an affair with the wife of one of his former senior aides," Douglas Hampton, Ensign "may have lied under oath"; his staff "deleted incriminating e-mails"; and, that Ensign potentially "violated federal law by allowing" Hampton to lobby his office in violation of a "one-year lobbying ban." In addition, the Times reported that "Ensign may also have violated federal law by asking his parents to make what the Ethics Committee believes was an illegal $96,000 severance payment to the Hamptons, the report said." [The New York Times, 5/12/11]

Boxer: "Ensign's Actions Were So Brazen And Improper That Had He Not Resigned...He Might Have Been The First Senator Expelled In Nearly 150 Years." The Times summarized Senate Ethics Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) comments, writing, "Mr. Ensign's actions were so brazen and improper that had he not resigned last week he might have been the first senator expelled in nearly 150 years." [The New York Times, 5/12/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign" Pressured Donors, Constituents To Hire Hampton And Violated One-Year Lobbying Ban. A report on the findings by the Senate Ethics Committee on Ensign revealed that "Senator Ensign facilitated Mr. Hampton's unlawful post-employment lobbying by pressuring contributors and constituents to hire Mr. Hampton even though he had no public policy experience or value as a lobbyist other than access to the Senator and his office." The report added that "[f]or example, when a prominent Nevada constituent declined to hire Mr. Hampton, Senator Ensign instructed John Lopez, his Chief of Staff, to 'jack him up to high heaven' and inform the constituent that he was 'cut off' from Senator Ensign and could not contact him any longer." In addition, the report indicated that there was "credible evidence" that Ensign knowingly violated a one-year lobbying ban that prohibits Senate employees from lobbying their former colleagues for one year following the termination of their Senate employment. [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign And His Parents Made False Or Misleading Statements To The Federal Election Commission." The Senate Ethics Committee report asserted that a "$96,000 payment to Mr. Hampton, Ms. Hampton, and two of their three children from the Ensign Family Trust Fund, made at the time the Hamptons were terminated from the Senator's employ, constituted a severance payment, and Senator Ensign's affidavit to the Federal Election Commission ('FEC') that the payment was not severance is false." [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That A Portion Of The $96,000 Payment Constituted An Unlawful And Unreported Campaign Contribution And Violated Federal Law." The Senate Ethics Committee report asserted that "[t]he part of the payment that was severance to Ms. Hampton constitutes an excessive and illegal campaign contribution pursuant to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 ('FEC') because it exceeded the $2,000 limit for authorized political committees and the $5,000 limit for other political committees. The payment, as well as the failure to report the payment, are violations of federal civil and criminal law. The part of the payment that was severance to Mr. Hampton would also constitute an improper unofficial office account as it was a payment from a private person, in this case the Ensign Family Trust Fund, to defray official expenses." [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign Permitted Spoliation of Documents and Engaged in Potential Obstruction of Justice Violations." The Senate Ethics Committee report asserted that "Senator Ensign deleted relevant documents and files after he knew they were likely to be subject to a legal claim and before and after formal notices to retain all documents relevant to the Preliminary Inquiry were issued." The report added:

Senator Ensign's Gmail account, which the Senator generally used instead of his official Senate email account and was thus not backed up on the 6 Senate server, was deleted and replaced on October 1, 2009. Consequently, this important account was not available to be reviewed by the Committee's information technology vendor.

Additionally, the evidence establishes that Senator Ensign deleted at least 5 relevant documents after an October 21, 2009 document retention notice issued by the Committee, including a document that directly contradicted the Senator s assertion that the payment to the Hamptons was not severance. There is no evidence that the Senator took any steps at any time to alter his email deletion practices or to ensure that his office was retaining his emails pertinent to the matters at issue in the Preliminary Inquiry. [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign Discriminated on the Basis of Sex and Engaged in Improper Conduct Reflecting Upon the Senate by Terminating the Hamptons Employment Because of the Affair." The Senate Ethics Committee report asserted that "Senator Ensign engaged in and continued an extramarital affair with Ms. Hampton, an employee of the Senator s campaign committee and his leadership PAC, even though it was unwelcome to her, and then determined that the affair made it impossible for either of the Hamptons to continue working for him." The report went on to say that "Senator Ensign had enormous power over the Hampton family at the time of the affair. He controlled the sole sources of income for both Mr. and Ms. Hampton, provided tuition and other financial assistance to the family, and had maintained a very close personal relationship with the family for years." [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "There Is Substantial Credible Evidence That Senator Ensign Violated His Own Senate Office Policies." The Senate Ethics Committee report asserted:

Senator Ensign violated his own Senate office policies, including, among others, policies regarding fraternization and sexual harassment based on his affair with Ms. Hampton.

The Senator engaged in conduct that would have been the basis for termination of one of his own employees pursuant to the Senator's written office policies. It is reasonable to conclude that a violation of the Senator sown office policies serious enough to warrant termination also constitutes improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate. [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

Report: "The Special Counsel Recommends Referrals To The Department Of Justice And The Federal Election Commission." According to the Report of the Preliminary Inquiry into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign:

The Special Counsel respectfully submits that the Committee should refer under Section 2(a)(6) of S. Res. 338 and Rule 7(a) of the Committee s Supplementary Procedural Rules of the matters outlined herein to the Department of Justice for further investigation and consideration of whether criminal prosecution of Senator Ensign is warranted for aiding and abetting a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 207, or conspiring to violate that statute, for making false statements, for obstruction of justice, and for violations of federal campaign laws. The Special Counsel further submits that the Committee should also refer of this matter to the FEC to review its prior findings regarding Senator Ensign and his campaign and determine whether further investigation of potential violations of federal campaign laws is appropriate. [Report of The Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Senator John E. Ensign, 5/10/11]

* A Nexis search of Fox News transcripts from 5/12/11 for the term "Ensign" yielded this result. In addition, Media Matters reviewed the May 12 edition of The Fox Report and the May 13 edition of Fox & Friends for coverage of the Ensign ethics scandal.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.