Former Republican Senator Scott Brown's latest appearance as a Fox News contributor exemplified the ethically murky middle ground between being a potential political candidate and a news commentator.
Since his initial hiring by Fox News in 2013, there has been widespread speculation that Brown would return to politics and mount a run for Democrat Jeanne Shaheen's Senate seat in New Hampshire. Both Brown and Fox have mutually benefited from the publicity surrounding his potential run, and have discussed his possible candidacy during his appearances on the network (including his first appearance on-air after renewing his contract last month).
If Brown wants to keep his contributor status, he needs to walk the tightrope of repeatedly toying with the idea of running while not actually taking formal steps to declare his candidacy (in the past, Fox has severed the contracts of contributors once they have filed the requisite paperwork).
Earlier this week, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted that she was told it is "certain" that Brown is going to run, prompting Brown to deny the report, telling Politico, "I will make my decisions in due course."
As Brown continues to delay his decision, Fox News is happy to help bolster their employee's potential candidacy. Brown sounded like a candidate today during an appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto, where he attacked Shaheen and Senate Democrats. He also attempted to prove his New Hampshire bona fides in the wake of carpetbagger criticism.
Cavuto wondered whether Obamacare would be Brown's "issue" if he chose to run, prompting Brown to reply that "it's no secret" he's thinking of getting into the race before launching into speech about "dysfunctional" Washington and how we "need to fix it."
Cavuto raised the attacks on Brown as a possible "carpetbagger" were he to run in New Hampshire, since he was previously senator in Massachusetts. Brown called the attacks "laughable," adding "people know that I have long and strong ties to New Hampshire, you know, going back generations" and explaining he has been a resident for "a couple of months."
Brown then turned to the "real issue," which was attacking his possible opponent Jeanne Shaheen for joining Democrats in having "rammed" health care reform through Congress.
Pressed by Cavuto for when he planned to make his decision -- and whether he would make any announcement on Cavuto's show -- Brown was coy as usual, explaining that "I'll make an announcement sooner rather than later."
In the meantime, Fox is willing to hand him a paycheck while he practices potential stump speeches.
Conservative Newsmax Media is reportedly set to launch its own 24-hour cable news channel in June. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, "NewsmaxTV" will position itself as a "kinder, gentler" version of Fox News.
Ruddy tells Bloomberg that the channel's goal "is to be a little more boomer-oriented, more information-based rather than being vituperative and polarizing." That Ruddy sees an opening for a conservative outlet that is less aggressively partisan than Fox is a good indication of how far to the right that channel has veered during the Obama administration. It's also somewhat surprising, given Ruddy's personal history.
Last week, Fox News invited discredited conspiracy theorist Kathleen Willey on air to smear Hillary Clinton. Willey has for years spread outlandish conspiracies about the Clintons, including suggesting that they may have been behind the death of her husband and former White House aide Vince Foster.
During the interview Fox host Megyn Kelly pointed out that "detractors" say Willey is a "dishonest person," and that "there's no direct evidence tying the Clintons" to some of Willey's more outrageous allegations. But the fact that Willey is dishonest and lacks evidence for her smears merely highlights the folly of giving her a platform in the first place.
Fox News has had similar lapses in judgment when hosting other conspiracy theorists and smear artists in the past. Among others, Fox has hosted a person who thinks the Obama administration may have "orchestrated" the Benghazi attacks; a guest that believes the president and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person; a blogger that thinks Obama's father isn't Obama's father; a contributor that once wrote a column arguing Rep. Gary Condit had Chandra Levy killed by a gay Caribbean motorcycle gang; and someone who thinks the president "bears traits that resemble the Antichrist."
Below is an admittedly incomplete list of the least credible guests the network has ever hosted. People that just missed the cut include a self-proclaimed prophet who warned that the Antichrist "will employ precisely the same methods" as President Obama and the author of the birther tomes Where's The Birth Certificate? and Where's The Real Birth Certificate?
Update: After bizarre series of events, Brown has reportedly renewed his contract with the network. Though a Fox spokeswoman told the Boston Globe Brown was "currently out of contract," Brown responded this morning by telling the Washington Post that report was actually inaccurate. The Post now has a statement from Fox executive Bill Shine saying their previous agreement merely expired last week and the end of Brown's contract was "purely administrative."
Brown is now free to resume using the network to help bolster his political future (Brown has also invited speculation that he'll run for president in 2016). According to the Post, he will appear on Fox & Friends tomorrow.
After using the platform for the past year to help revive his political career, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is "currently out of contract" with Fox News.
A Fox spokesperson told the Boston Globe yesterday that Brown is no longer under contract, but declined to say whether the move was due to Brown exiting in order to run for Senate in New Hampshire or if his contract had merely expired.
The Globe reports that in December, the network said that Brown's contract would be terminated if he "authorized an exploratory committee to be formed for a run." Fox News has previously been happy to keep employees that were publicly considering political runs under contract indefinitely, like perennial will-they-or-won't-they quasi-candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. Though Brown has repeatedly stoked speculation that he might challenge Democrat Jeanne Shaheen for her Senate seat -- including relocating to New Hampshire, speaking at GOP events in the state, and teasing a new website with a campaign-ready slogan -- he has yet to take any formal steps towards mounting a run, so his exit from Fox comes as something of a surprise.
During his last Fox appearance, Brown joined Lou Dobbs on his Fox Business show on February 10, spending several minutes railing against the current state of Congress and the government. Near the end of the conversation, Dobbs awkwardly transitioned to ask, "what's new in New Hampshire?" Brown responded that he and his family "love it. It's obviously a wonderful state." He added, "We'll see, I have a lot of decisions to make, and you've just nailed it in terms of what the issues are, and it's very frustrating. And I think you need good people down there, we'll just see who it is." Dobbs closed the segment by telling Brown, "the country is watching, and I know New Hampshire is."
Brown's last two columns for FoxNews.com read a lot like stump speeches. In a column published on February 12, he announced, "we get to replace the members of Congress in 2014 that have been enabling the president's unpopular agenda." His February 14 column -- headlined "GOP can once again lead as the part of fiscal responsibility" -- highlighted that "21 Democratic-held Senate seats are up for grabs" in November and touted how "Republicans of all political stripes share a commitment to fiscal responsibility and less government spending."
Regardless of whether he actually runs for Senate in New Hampshire, Brown's relationship with Fox News is symptomatic of the network's central role in Republican politics.
(Image from Jackson's 2010 video, "There's a Communist Living in the White House)
When former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson announced this week that she will be seeking political office in Tennessee, it capped perhaps the most bizarre recent career in fringe conservative media.
After appearing on SNL in the 80's, Jackson had largely faded from public view until she reshaped herself in recent years as a tea party activist and conservative bomb-thrower. Her proclamations that Obama is definitely a communist and possibly the Antichrist sparked something of a second career, leading to a stint as a columnist for conspiracy website WND, a web-TV series, occasional Fox News interviews, and regular appearances at conservative and tea party events.
This week, Jackson "filed to run as an independent candidate for a seat on a county commission outside Nashville, Tenn."
A year ago this week, The New York Times reported that Karl Rove was teaming up with "the biggest donors in the Republican Party" to create a new political group to "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts." A year later, the group is essentially dormant, having apparently done no fundraising and holding less than $200 cash on hand. What happened?
The Times report in early February 2013 announcing the formation of the Conservative Victory Project was big news in political circles. Rove's two other major political groups -- American Crossroads and its sister organization Crossroads GPS -- had proven to be fundraising juggernauts during the 2012 election cycle, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite the fact that the Crossroads groups were largely ineffective at winning elections in 2012, Rove's apparent fundraising acumen meant that a new group was likely to be a heavy hitter in the world of political groups.
But according to recent filings with the FEC, Conservative Victory Project had $179 cash on hand as of December 31. The group brought in only $10,798 in the second half of 2013, and every dollar came from American Crossroads (its meager spending has all been on mundane things like legal and bank fees and computer support).
The fact that 2013 was mostly an off year for elections may have contributed to the lack of activity surrounding Conservative Victory Project (as it surely did for the Crossroads groups, whose fundraising decreased drastically compared to 2012). But other factors are almost certainly at play -- after all, the group intended to play an active role in GOP primaries around the country this year and rolled out with the help of a major New York Times article last February, a decidedly strange move if it intended to then sit on the sidelines for almost a whole year.
Rove, who has served as a Fox News contributor for several years, has had a historically rocky relationship with some of his fellow conservative media colleagues. The announcement of Conservative Victory Project, which right-wing personalities viewed as a betrayal of the tea party and conservative principles, caused the tensions to boil over.
Following the announcement Thursday that conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza has been charged with violating federal campaign finance laws, his allies are claiming that the move is evidence of a conspiracy by the Obama administration to silence its critics.
D'Souza has been a fixture in conservative media circles for years, and his laughable 2012 documentary 2016: Obama's America became a surprise critical success thanks in part to the support of his media allies. Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate (reportedly Wendy Long).
Matt Drudge tweeted that the indictments against D'Souza and former Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on "Obama critics."
In a panicked video headlined "Emergency: Obama Launches Purge" posted on his YouTube channel last night, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told viewers that "America is going over the edge," adding, "I actually am scared." According to Jones, the charges against former Gov. McDonnell are "trumped up garbage" (for what it's worth, conservatives like Byron York disagree, labeling the details "ugly, sordid, damning").
Pointing to the supposed persecution of D'Souza, Jones claimed that the administration is engaged in much worse behavior and warned, "The issue is here, they can find a mistake in your checking account and claim that it was fraud or wire fraud. They can do it to anybody." According to Jones, "this is like Nazi Germany" and "once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I."
The description posted on Jones' YouTube channel explains that this is an "Emergency Alert!!!," adding "This is it, we are in deep shit! If they get away with this they will come for all of us, that's how it works!!!" D'Souza has appeared on Jones' program to promote his movie.
In his new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman lays out how Fox hired journalist Peter Boyer after Boyer published an Ailes-friendly profile in The New Yorker.
According to Sherman, Ailes "was pleased" with the profile, while neighbors in Ailes' New York hometown -- who were feuding with the Fox head -- "felt Boyer got spun." A year and a half later, after a stint at Newsweek, Boyer was snapped up by Fox News and added to their investigative reporting team.
Boyer's role in Sherman's book was highlighted earlier this week by Gawker, which took aim at New York Times book critic Janet Maslin's "inexplicably hostile takedown" of the Ailes biography. According to Gawker, Maslin has "maintained a 30-year friendship with" Boyer, a fact they contend should have been disclosed in her review, given Boyer's role in Sherman's narrative. (The Times responded that Maslin's relationship with Boyer was "completely irrelevant".)
So who is Peter Boyer? While he carried an impressive resume to Fox News (18 years at the New Yorker, stints for PBS, NPR, the NY Times and others), he also has a history of friendly treatment of prominent conservatives.
Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they are charging conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza with violating campaign finance laws. D'Souza has been a mainstay in the conservative media for years, and his outlandish theories have received heavy promotion from outlets like Fox News and prominent conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh.
Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
D'Souza made waves during the 2012 presidential election thanks to 2016: Obama's America, a shoddy "documentary" he made smearing the president as "anti-American." Though the movie was filled with nonsensical theories and inaccuracies, it became a surprise box office success thanks in no small part to hype by conservative media outlets.
Fox News and Fox Business repeatedly went to bat for D'Souza's movie, hosting him at least five times in the run-up to its wide release. (To give a sample of the tone of the segments, Lou Dobbs told his audience, "We've got a much better fate awaiting us if we just will simply awaken to what Dinesh is revealing in the wonderful movie, '2016,' August 10.")
In 2010, D'Souza was at the center of a firestorm for penning an article for Forbes magazine arguing that President Obama is animated by an "anticolonial" worldview imprinted on him by his father. In keeping with his usual scholarship, D'Souza's anticolonial theory was utter nonsense, but was nonetheless widely championed by major conservatives, including then-Fox contributor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, then-Fox host Glenn Beck (repeatedly), and Rush Limbaugh.
Though he has seemingly kept a somewhat lower profile recently, D'Souza is -- or at least was -- reportedly working on a sequel to Obama's America to release this year.
While it remains to be seen how D'Souza's conservative media allies will handle his indictment, Matt Drudge is already getting the conspiracy theory ball rolling, claiming the charges are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on Obama critics.
Last year, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik revealed in his book on Rupert Murdoch that the Fox News PR department created an elaborate series of fake commenter accounts to write "pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of articles other outlets published about the network.
According to a new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, the network's online subterfuge went even further.
In The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine journalist Gabriel Sherman reports that Roger Ailes was behind the creation of a blog called "The Cable Game" (TCG), which was used to attack Fox rivals like CNN and critics like Media Matters founder David Brock. According to Sherman, Ailes tapped Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton -- who worked with Ailes on the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and was later chosen to co-author Ailes' now-abandoned autobiography -- to help write the posts.
A Media Matters review of TCG -- which became defunct more than a year ago but is still partially available through the Internet Archive -- finds laughably over-the-top praise of Ailes and other Fox personalities alongside vicious, often petty attacks on Fox rivals and perceived enemies. The blog's criticism frequently echoed Fox's own public attacks.
TCG regularly featured inside baseball content about the media that went far beyond what the casual media observer would know, much less care about. The blog cited sources inside Fox News, which it used to rebut criticism of the network. TCG was written under the pseudonym "The Cable Gamer," and posts claimed the author was a woman.
The site was promoted on Fox News in at least four separate instances: three times by Pinkerton and once by Bill O'Reilly. Pinkerton gratuitously promoted the site on Fox News Watch on July 16, 2005 -- a major promotion for an anonymous blog that had launched less than two weeks prior (July 8, 2005, with a post that asked, "is anyone cooler than Brit Hume?").