Fox News contributor Erick Erickson recently criticized potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for pitching products like survival food and shady diabetes treatments, decrying the types of ads Huckabee endorsed as a "plague on conservatives." But Erickson is a hypocrite -- his RedState website also cashed in on Huckabee's shady diabetes infomercial and has previously sold out readers to a wide range of hucksters and conspiracy theorists.
On March 15, The New York Times reported that former Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee had recently appeared in an "infomercial for a dubious diabetes treatment, in which Mr. Huckabee, who is contemplating a run for the Republican nomination in 2016, tells viewers to ignore 'Big Pharma' and instead points them to a 'weird spice, kitchen-cabinet cure,' consisting of dietary supplements."
Times reporter Trip Gabriel explained that the diabetes treatment -- a "Diabetes Solution Kit" from Barton Publishing -- is part of a wide series of shady ads Huckabee has placed in his email commentaries while he explores a presidential bid. (Huckabee also spent years using his celebrity as a Fox News personality to sell out his fans to scam artists.)
After laying out the types of pitches Huckabee has recently sent to his supporters -- including survival food ads and a "miracle cure for cancer hidden in the Bible" -- Gabriel writes that they are all "designed to pry open the wallets of small-donor conservatives, some of whom distrust mainstream sources of information."
The article then quotes influential conservative activist Erick Erickson lamenting the proliferation of these types of scams as a "plague on conservatives":
"This is a plague on conservatives," said Erick Erickson, the founder of the influential blog Red State, who has criticized ads for products and outside political groups that he calls "hucksters," which prey on conservatives.
While a radio or TV host might not be able to choose his sponsors, Mr. Huckabee can presumably pick who he sells space to on email commentaries. "I don't know that a potential presidential candidate should be running survival food ads," Mr. Erickson said.
While the Times gave Erickson a platform to contrast himself favorably with "hucksters," Erickson's own RedState site has repeatedly sold out its readers to the very same groups.
For example, RedState sent out a paid advertisement last month featuring the Huckabee diabetes infomercial that was the focus of the Times article:
Prior to Huckabee's involvement, Erickson's RedState had previously sent out at least three email pitches -- all featuring the subject line "1 Weird Spice That Destroys Diabetes" -- promoting Barton Publishing's "Diabetes Solution Kit."
RedState has also sent numerous pitches to its readers from "Food4Patriots," the survival food kit company the Times notes Huckabee has promoted.
When Politico noted in January that Erickson's email list had been rented to the "scam PACs" that he has repeatedly criticized, it quoted Erickson saying that he does not control who rents his list and that "and it horrifies me that the list sometimes get rented to some of these guys." (Salem Media company Townhall Media owns RedState and manages its email list.)
As Media Matters has documented, Erickson's RedState fans have also been sent sponsored messages about "Reagan's Secret Victory Over Cancer," "Obama's Deadly FDA Secret," "1 Weird Trick to KILL old age," and the "Obama scandal" that "WILL KILL MILIONS [sic]."
Bill O'Reilly has told inconsistent stories about a reporting trip he took to El Salvador during that country's civil war in the early 1980s. While O'Reilly has suggested on his radio show that he witnessed a "firefight" with "guerrillas all over the place" and "people just shooting everywhere," in describing what appears to be the same reporting trip in two of his autobiographies, O'Reilly makes no mention of these dramatic details. The alleged episode was also absent from the segment CBS News aired based on O'Reilly's reporting in the region.
O'Reilly has recently faced intense scrutiny for repeatedly embellishing his experiences as a reporter. The Fox News host has made dubious claims about witnessing deaths during a riot in Argentina, even though numerous other journalists present at the incident dispute that anyone was killed. He repeatedly said he "heard" the gunshot that killed a figure linked to the investigation of John F. Kennedy's assassination, despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. O'Reilly also suggested he "saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" while reporting in El Salvador, even though the incident in question took place months before he arrived in the country. He claimed to have seen "Irish terrorists kill and maim their fellow citizens" while reporting from Northern Ireland, another apparent falsehood.
Defending his comments about Northern Ireland and the nuns in El Salvador, O'Reilly and a spokesperson have implausibly claimed that when boasting of having seen these events, he merely meant he had seen images of them.
O'Reilly has also apparently been inconsistent in describing another of his supposed "combat" experiences, this time regarding a reporting assignment for CBS News in El Salvador.
Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977. O'Reilly's claim is implausible and contradicted by his former newsroom colleagues who denied the tale in interviews with Media Matters. A police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death further undermine O'Reilly's story.
George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian emigre who befriended Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and testified before the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy assassination. On March 29, 1977, the same day he was contacted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he committed suicide at his daughter's home in Florida. At the time, O'Reilly was a reporter for Dallas' WFAA-TV who regularly reported on stories related to the Kennedy assassination.
O'Reilly has bizarrely inserted himself into de Mohrenschildt's story, claiming in books and on Fox News that he was outside the house seeking to interview de Mohrenschiltd at the time of his death. O'Reilly is under heavy criticism and scrutiny for his false claims about his 1982 Falklands War reporting.
O'Reilly's implausible tale was first flagged by Jefferson Morley in a 2013 post for his website JFKFacts.org. Morley has worked as an editor for The Washington Post, Salon.com, and Arms Control Today, and is a visiting professor at the University of California, Washington Center.
New interviews with former O'Reilly colleagues who say he wasn't in Florida on the day of de Mohrenschildt's suicide and documents obtained by Media Matters bolster Morley's reporting.
In his 2012 best-selling non-fiction book Killing Kennedy, O'Reilly writes on page 300 that as a "reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt's daughter's home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian ... that reporter's name is Bill O'Reilly."
O'Reilly repeated the tale for the Killing Kennedy audiobook.
The Fox News host repeated the tale while promoting his book and movie special on Fox News. During an October 2, 2012, appearance on Fox & Friends, O'Reilly claimed he "was about to knock on the door where [de Mohrenschildt] was, his daughter's house, and he blew his brains out with a shotgun." O'Reilly replayed the clip of his 2012 appearance during a November 30, 2014, O'Reilly Factor special before Fox News' airing of the Killing Kennedy film.
Numerous pieces of evidence contradict O'Reilly's claim that he "heard the shotgun blast" that killed de Mohrenschildt.
In comments to Media Matters, two of O'Reilly's former colleagues at WFAA say that his version of events is a lie.
"Bill O'Reilly's a phony, there's no other way to put it," said Tracy Rowlett, a former WFAA reporter and anchor who worked at the station with O'Reilly. "He was not up on the porch when he heard the gunshots, he was in Dallas. He wasn't traveling at that time."
Byron Harris, a reporter at WFAA for the past 40 years, agreed that O'Reilly had not traveled to Florida for the story and accused him of stealing his reporting on de Mohrenschildt's suicide from a newspaper.
According to Harris, O'Reilly "was in Dallas. He stole that article out of the newspaper. I guarantee Channel 8 didn't send him to Florida to do that story because it was a newspaper story, it was broken by the Dallas Morning News."
Both Harris and Rowlett said O'Reilly never mentioned having been present for the gunshot during his time at WFAA.
"I don't remember O'Reilly claiming that he was there. That came later, that must have been a brain surge when he was writing the book," Rowlett said.
Harris further pointed out that WFAA "would have reported it as some kind of exclusive -- and there was no exclusive -- if O'Reilly had been standing outside the door."
O'Reilly's claim of having been present when de Mohrenschildt shot himself was also missing from his 1992 Inside Edition report on documents relating to the Kennedy assassination. During that report, O'Reilly told viewers, "moments before he was to be interviewed by House investigators, de Mohrenschildt blew his brains out with a 20-gauge shotgun."
In comments to Media Matters, Jefferson Morley said O'Reilly's claim of being present for the gunshot is "just not true" and speculated that it was "just part of the pattern, to embellish the story and make it a sexier story."
He added, "It is what these guys all do, they inject themselves into a dramatic situation. O'Reilly was chasing this story, but he wasn't there, he made it sound like he was more on the scene than he was, it was show business."
O'Reilly has written about his time at WFAA as being extremely contentious. In his book The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life, he writes that he was "twenty-six going on ten in the worldliness department" when he joined WFAA and describes his colleagues as "ambitious, aggressive journalists battling each other under the strong thumb of an unsympathetic management." O'Reilly concedes that he made "every possible political mistake" when he got to the station, including "mouth[ing] off to the producers" and making "stupid comments in the newsroom."
His admitted abrasiveness clearly made an impression on his former colleagues.
According to Rowlett, "It was my experience with O'Reilly that he was less than an honest reporter, generally. He was the most disliked person in our newsroom. He wasn't to be trusted, he was all about Bill O'Reilly, he wasn't about the news."
Harris painted a similar picture of O'Reilly, saying he was "often not a truthful person" and claiming the Fox News host "was just a jerk, nobody liked him. He was always tooting his own horn."
A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office death investigation report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide, a 19-page document that extensively details interviews with numerous relevant parties, makes no mention of O'Reilly. The March 1977 report was posted online by Marquette University Professor John McAdams, who confirmed the document's authenticity to Media Matters and said that a student obtained the original report from the office as part of a class project and gave it to him.
Gaeton Fonzi, as the New York Times wrote in a 2012 obituary, was "one of the most relentless investigators on the House Select Committee on Assassinations" regarding Kennedy's death. Fonzi's memoir and personal recordings show that O'Reilly could not have been in Florida at the time of de Mohrenschildt's death.
Morley also obtained phone conversations between Fonzi and O'Reilly on March 29, 1977, from Fonzi's widow which the former Post editor says show that O'Reilly "certainly did not hear de Mohrenschildt's demise with his own ears. When the fatal shot rang out, O'Reilly was in his office at the WFAA studios in Dallas, Texas, more than 1,200 miles away. The confirmation comes from O'Reilly himself."
Morley wrote that in the tapes O'Reilly says "he has been trying to run down the story by telephone from Texas" and O'Reilly later states he's coming down to Florida to investigate the suicide further. He concludes: "O'Reilly's utterances prove that he was not knocking on George Mohrenschildt's doorstep as he now melodramatically claims. The truth is more prosaic. O'Reilly got a tip on a hot story, worked his sources to confirm it, and rushed to the scene."
The Associated Press' March 30, 1977, report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide quoted Palm Beach County Sheriff's Lt. Richard Sheets stating of the death: "At the time of the shooting, he was alone in the house except for two maids who said they did not hear the shot." The AP report, obtained via the Nexis database, makes no mention of O'Reilly's alleged presence outside the home.
Bill O'Reilly's claims about his 1982 Falklands War reporting have been disputed by numerous journalists who covered the events for CBS News, NBC News, and CNN, as well as an Argentine historian.
John Ellis, first cousin of potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, is an executive at Fox Business Network, Politico reported. Ellis made headlines for his controversial role heading Fox News' decision desk during the 2000 election, when the network was the first to call Florida for another Ellis cousin, George W. Bush. Ellis also once recused himself from political commentary due to his "loyalty" to George Bush.
Even with possible presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson now off the Fox payrolls, the Fox empire has ongoing potential ethical conflicts surrounding its 2016 presidential coverage.
In The Loudest Voice In The Room, Gabriel Sherman's 2014 biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, Sherman reports that Ellis was hired in 2013 as a vice president of programming for Fox Business. Politico noted Ellis' role in a February 3 post that included a Fox spokesperson's statement that Ellis "has no involvement with political news, of any kind, for either FOX Business or FOX News Channel." (According to the spokesperson, Ellis' title is "vice president of program development.")
Erick Erickson's email list subscribers have received a bizarre array of pitches from conspiracy theorists and dubious practitioners warning of the impending death of millions of Americans and promising "cures" to cancer, Alzheimer's, and aging.
Politico's Ken Vogel recently reported how the conservative movement has been infected by "scam PACs," which "critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them." One of the favorite avenues for these sketchy schemes is the email list of Fox News contributor Erick Erickson's RedState.com.
Vogel wrote that Erickson is a frequent critic of dubious PACs, yet RedState's list has promoted many of their efforts. Erickson told Vogel he does not control who rents his list, "and it horrifies me that the list sometimes get rented to some of these guys."
In addition to dubious PAC emails, RedState has sent sponsored missives about "Reagan's Secret Victory Over Cancer," "Obama's Deadly FDA Secret," "1 Weird Trick to KILL old age," items to "hoard" to protect your family from starving, and the "Obama scandal" that "WILL KILL MILIONS [sic]."
RedState is owned by Salem Media company Townhall Media, which manages RedState's email list. According to them, the dedicated RedState emails reach 265,000 subscribers. Other Salem properties include Townhall.com, Human Events, and HotAir.com. Many emails sent to RedState's list also went to the lists of those sites.
Below are six shady products and pitches RedState has sent to Erickson's email list in recent months.
Politico's Ken Vogel today examined how "the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them." Media Matters has similarly found that conservative media is infected with scams, touting cancer "cures," dubious financial companies, reverse mortgages, and fringe penny stocks.
Vogel noted the financial stakes of the proliferation of these shady groups:
A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million -- 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs. POLITICO's list is not all-inclusive, and some conservatives fret that it's almost impossible to identify all the groups that are out there, let alone to rein them in.
Vogel explained that Fox News contributor and influential conservative activist Erick Erickson is a frequent critic of these dubious PACs, yet the email list bearing his website has nonetheless promoted some of their efforts. Erickson told Vogel he does not control who rents his list, "and it horrifies me that the list sometimes get rented to some of these guys."
Media Matters has previously documented how conservatives have scammed their followers. Erickson, for example, was caught sending a plagiarized email (from Ann Coulter) endorsing a newsletter which purported to reveal a "secret" system to become "instant millionaires."
Here are 11 recent examples of how conservatives have been scamming their followers:
Over the weekend, Mike Huckabee kicked off the 43-city tour for his latest book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, which attempts to reintroduce the former Arkansas governor and Fox News host to the Republican primary electorate as he ponders a run for president in 2016. The "folksy" tome is reportedly filled with "references to mama, good ol' boys and Bibles" and other culture war staples, but light on "policy specifics."
Huckabee was hired by Fox after failing to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He frequently used his eponymous program to bolster his own political ambitions, announcing his own possible presidential run on his final broadcast.
Media Matters looks back at Huckabee's worst media moments below (originally published here).
While discussing President Obama's birth certificate in February 2011, Huckabee repeatedly and falsely claimed President Obama grew up "in Kenya." Huckabee claimed that upbringing explains why Obama's worldview is "very different than the average American ... his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."
Amidst widespread derision over his remarks, Huckabee went into damage control mode and offered a series of increasingly dishonest explanations for the comments. His defense didn't wash with many observers, including conservative columnist George Will.
Fox News is reportedly releasing a new "primetime 'historical' special series" produced by Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly, who has written a series of books focused on the deaths of prominent historical figures, has been criticized by historians and critics for shoddy scholarship and ahistorical claims.
Capital New York reporter Alex Weprin writes today that Fox is planning to launch the O'Reilly-produced Legends and Lies in April. Per Fox News, the show will "recount the tales of the greatest characters of America's Wild West, including Jesse James, David Crockett, Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid" and air on Saturday and Sunday nights. Weprin explains that it "will feature interviews with historians and descendants of the people in question, paired with special effects and archival photos."
O'Reilly, with co-author Martin Dugard, has released a series of popular history books in recent years, titled Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, Killing Kennedy, and Killing Lincoln. But Fox News giving O'Reilly a historical show comes after years of criticism of his previous work in the genre.
For example, in an opinion piece for CNN's "Belief" blog, Notre Dame New Testament and early Christianity professor Candida Moss argued, "The Holy Spirit may have inspired 'Killing Jesus,' but he didn't fact-check it." According to Moss, O'Reilly botches several things in the book, leading her to conclude, "It's entertaining, but it's historical fan fiction, not history."
In 2011, controversy erupted after Ford's Theatre announced that O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln would not be sold at the theater's museum bookstore (it was available in the gift shop, however) after a reviewer identified a series of mistakes in the book. According to Rae Emerson, an employee of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, Killing Lincoln was not fit for the museum bookstore due to "lack of documentation and the factual errors within the publication."
Killing Lincoln was also criticized in University of New Hampshire professor of history Ellen Fitzpatrick's review for The Washington Post:
"Killing Lincoln" also resurrects an old canard debunked long ago by serious historians: that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was involved in the plot to kill Lincoln, in the hope that he might ascend to the presidency. There is no credible evidence to support such an assertion, nor do O'Reilly and Dugard provide any. (In fact, "Killing Lincoln" offers no direct citations for any of its assertions. In a three-page summary under the heading "Notes," the authors assure readers that they have consulted "hundreds" of sources; they list the secondary sources they have relied on.)
The authors acknowledge that although "clues . . . point to Stanton's involvement . . . no concrete connection has ever been proven." In the next sentence, however, they conclude "circumstantially, he was involved" -- a rhetorical conceit that enables the authors to have it both ways. In fact, they repeatedly raise the discredited theory, hinting broadly that Stanton might have betrayed his president, hastening a downward spiral of events that changed the nation "forever." The purported consequences of Lincoln's death are never really elaborated upon.
O'Reilly defended Killing Lincoln on his Fox News show, copping to "four minor misstatements" in the book, but nonetheless attributing the criticism to "the forces of darkness." In an interview with USA Today addressing his critics, O'Reilly claimed, "These guys toil in obscurity their whole lives, and a punk like me comes along and sells 2 million copies. They're not happy."
Last year, several historians and biographers of General George S. Patton objected to O'Reilly's theory -- published in Killing Patton and repeated by O'Reilly while promoting the book -- that Patton had been assassinated by the Soviet Union. (Historians mostly agree that Patton died as a result of complications from a car accident.)
As Mitt Romney is reportedly considering a third presidential run, several conservative media figures are calling foul, labeling the idea "too stupid" and suggesting another Romney bid would be "preposterous."
After repeatedly claiming he was done with running for president, last Friday Romney apparently reversed course, telling a group of Republican donors in New York City, "I want to be president." Since then, Romney's team has reportedly been working "to reassemble his national political network."
As part of his efforts to kickstart another run, Romney reportedly reached out to several conservative media figures.
According to The Washington Post, he recently invited Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham to his ski home to discuss "politics and policy," and also made phone calls to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich and Fox News contributor Scott Brown. In a subsequent appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, Ingraham initially told viewers that between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Romney, her support would "probably be a tie between Romney and Walker." Pressed by O'Reilly, she added, "I'll just say Romney because he's been through the grist mill before." (Ingraham explained that Romney had made her and her daughter "cocoa and soup" when she visited his ski house.)
During an appearance on Fox News' Your World, Brown said that when Romney recently called him, "I encouraged Mitt to run." Brown told Fox News viewers that Romney "was right" on a variety of issues and that he "absolutely" wants Romney to join the race.
But not everyone in the conservative movement is as supportive.
In an article for the New York Times, reporter Jonathan Martin writes that despite the "excitement among his loyalists in the Republican donor class" for another Romney run, "interviews with more than two dozen Republican activists, elected officials and contributors around the country reveal little appetite for another Romney candidacy."
Romney also faces a hurdle in several prominent conservative media figures and outlets that are less than enthusiastic about the idea of another Romney run.