In 2014, conservative media outlets and personalities routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Media Matters looks back at some of the worst media scandals of the year.
The ethical mess that was Fox News in 2014 is perhaps best embodied by Scott Brown, the former senator turned Fox News contributor turned Senate candidate (again) turned Fox News contributor (again).
During his original run for the Senate in 2009 and early 2010, Brown could reliably count on Fox News for fawning coverage -- including hosts playing on-air with a shirtless Scott Brown "action figure."
After Brown lost his 2012 re-election bid to Elizabeth Warren (despite Fox's best efforts to smear Warren), the network quickly hired him as a contributor, celebrating the "out of the box thinking" Brown would bring to the channel. Within weeks of his hiring, it was obvious that Brown and Fox were teaming up to help set Brown up for the next act of his political career.
During his appearances in 2013, Brown was repeatedly asked about his potential candidacy for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat, afforded an opportunity to opine on a range of potential campaign issues, and given a chance to inoculate himself against the inevitable carpetbagger criticism he would face in trying to run for office in New Hampshire after previously serving as a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts.
In 2014, Brown seemed to carefully delay formal declaration of his candidacy in order to avoid being suspended by Fox News. The network, which eventually cut ties with him in March, gave Brown a platform to attack his eventual opponent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and continue to hone his messaging to Fox's massive audience.
Fox's attempts to get Brown back into the Senate didn't end with his contract. The network produced and aired a documentary featuring Bret Baier, its chief news anchor, called Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire. Brown's team found it so favorable that it repeatedly screened it for voters in the state, including in an event hosted at their campaign headquarters.
Fox News helpfully re-aired the special both nights on the weekend before the election, but it wasn't enough to help carry Brown across the finish line, as he lost his Senate bid.
Two weeks later, Fox News hired him back.
Conservative media haven't had the best luck in recent years when choosing which fringe protests or figures to elevate into the national conversation, often mistakenly tying themselves to extremism and bizarre conspiracy theories. In 2013, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and other conservatives helped promote a rally of truckers planning to clog the Beltway to protest the government. The protest -- which eventually fizzled -- turned out to have been organized in part by someone who thinks President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
This year, conservatives threw their weight behind a Nevada rancher fighting against the federal government over grazing fees, only to be burned when he was videotaped giving his thoughts on "the Negro." 2014 also featured an unhinged conspiracy about President Obama trying (and apparently failing) to spark a domestic Ebola outbreak and a staggering amount of outlandish comments from Fox News contributor Allen West.
Media Matters looks back at the year on the fringe.
Last night on his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly celebrated having "won the war" on Christmas. He continued the victory lap on NBC's Late Night, telling host Seth Meyers, "it's over, we won. Anybody can say Merry Christmas if they want to."
But if the War on Christmas is over, someone forgot to tell O'Reilly's colleagues at Fox Nation, who are warning readers this morning of the supposedly ongoing "War on Christmas":
Jesse Watters, a correspondent for The O'Reilly Factor, serves as a managing editor for Fox Nation.
Media outlets have been hosting former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to discuss race as it relates to crime and policing. But Giuliani, who stoked "racial divisions" during his time in office, has used these outlets to push "false" and "misleading" crime statistics.
After the Washington Post reported on the numerous steps Mike Huckabee is taking towards mounting a presidential run, Fox News announced that it was "evaluating his current status" as a contributor and planning to meet with him when he returned from an overseas trip. But Huckabee has returned from the trip and is back on-air at the network, hosting GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson's lobbyist to promote Adelson's "top" issue.
While Huckabee continues to use Fox News to bolster his political ambitions, the network has not offered a public update on his employment.
In a November 12 profile of Huckabee, Washington Post reporters Tom Hamburger and Robert Costa laid out the various ways Huckabee and his associates are gearing up for a potential presidential run. According to the Post, Huckabee and his team have been courting donors and GOP insiders, scheduling campaign planning meetings, and looking for a campaign headquarters.
Costa and Hamburger highlighted the "finesse" needed by Huckabee and his team to avoid losing his Fox News show, which Huckabee and his allies have repeatedly cited as important in keeping him visible to voters. According to "Republicans familiar with Huckabee's efforts," the Fox host designed his new political group "to allow him to retain his Fox News contract, since the group is not overtly political."
After the Post story was published, Media Matters called for Huckabee's suspension, citing the fact that the network had recently cut ties with Ben Carson -- another contributor who was publicly considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination -- and pointing out that Huckabee by any reasonable standard had provided just as much (if not more) evidence that he planned to enter the race.
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz tweeted that according to network executive Bill Shine, Fox News is "taking a serious look" at Huckabee's activities and "evaluating his current status."
UPDATE 2: CNN's Brian Stelter reported on Huckabee's status at the network and included a more extensive statement from Shine, who said the network plans to meet with Huckabee when he returns next week from overseas:
"We are taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee's recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status," Shine said in a statement to CNN. "We plan on meeting with him when he returns from his trip overseas."
It's time for Fox News to suspend Mike Huckabee's contract as he continues to take steps towards a 2016 presidential run.
A new Washington Post profile reveals that Huckabee is in the early stages of mounting a 2016 campaign, but doing so in a way that deliberately lets him keep his Fox News contract and weekly show. Huckabee's tightrope walk -- essentially running for office but avoiding directly saying so -- once again reveals the farcical nature of the network's relationship with contributors-turned-political candidates.
Last week, Fox severed the contract of contributor Ben Carson after he announced the release of a 40-minute biographical ad that was seen as the "opening salvo" in a 2016 campaign. Discussing Carson's suspension, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz said on his show that "a guy who is more or less running for president shouldn't be on a network payroll, which means Fox also faces a decision about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is openly weighing a White House run as well."
Kurtz is right: someone openly discussing a run for the White House "shouldn't be on a nework payroll," which is why Fox News needs to cut ties with Huckabee.
By any reasonable standard, Huckabee has provided just as much evidence he plans to run for president as Carson. In their November 12 article, Washington Post reporters Robert Costa and Tom Hamburger highlight how Huckabee is "reconnecting with activists and enlisting staff to position himself in a growing field of potential Republican presidential candidates."
According to Costa and Hamburger, Huckabee's presidential campaign groundwork includes taking an overseas trip with "more than 100 pastors and GOP insiders from early primary states"; using a political non-profit "as an employment perch for his political team"; looking for a campaign headquarters in Arkansas; holding "private meetings with powerful GOP financiers" to court their financial support; releasing a new book; and "planning two strategy sessions in December...to discuss timing, potential staffing, and an opening pitch to voters."
After spending years promoting his career, Fox News is pushing former employee Scott Brown across the finish line in his New Hampshire Senate race.
Both nights this weekend, just days before Tuesday's midterm elections, Fox is re-airing its documentary about health care reform in the state, Live Free or Die: Obamacare In New Hampshire.The special, which features Brown, first aired in August and was dismissed by the state's Democratic party as "a blatant attempt to prop up their former employee's campaign, full of half-truths and misleading rhetoric."
Brown promoted the initial airing on his Twitter feed, telling followers to "Tune into @FoxNews tonight at 10 to watch my discussion with @BretBaier on the 'ObamaCare in New Hampshire' documentary." The special is so favorable to Brown that his campaign has since screened it for voters.
His campaign website announced in late August that it was planning to hold a "special screening" of Live Free or Die for supporters. A campaign poster touting the event called the Fox special "The Documentary That Senator Shaheen Doesn't Want You To See." A week later, Brown invited people to his campaign's headquarters for a second screening.
Devoting significant airtime to a pro-Brown documentary shortly before the election isn't the only way Fox has been trying to give Brown a late boost.
Earlier this week Fox & Friends hosted Brown for an embarrassing interview. During the conversation, Brian Kilmeade told Brown that "both sides are saying you're one of the finest politicians that they've seen because you like people, and you like meeting them, and you'll have a few beers with them." Promoting one of the principle talking points of Brown's campaign, Steve Doocy claimed Brown's opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, "has been, essentially, a rubber stamp for Barack Obama."
Attempting to contrast Brown's behavior during his time in Senate, Doocy offered, "When you were in the U.S. Senate, you were not a rubber stamp, an automatic rubber stamp for George Bush's policies." Brown was forced to correct Doocy's bungled talking point, noting he didn't serve while President Bush was in office.
It was a strange mistake from Doocy, who should be well-acquainted with Brown's time in the Senate, considering Fox & Friends and the rest of the network went all-out to help get him elected during his run for a Massachusetts Senate seat in 2009 and 2010 (including Doocy and his co-hosts playing with a Scott Brown action figure on-air):
When Brown lost his 2012 re-election bid, he was quickly hired by Fox News as a contributor. According to the network, he was going to bring his "out of the box thinking" to the airwaves. It quickly became clear that Brown and Fox News were mostly teaming up to help prep the next stage of his political career.
Potential 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says his Fox News platform is helping him in the crucial primary state of Iowa.
A Huckabee profile from Real Clear Politics (RCP) documents the Fox host's recent trip to Iowa to support Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. According to reporter Scott Conroy, Huckabee was approached by several "Iowa Republican activists and volunteers" who told the Fox News host that they regularly watch his show.
Huckabee reportedly cited his platform at the network with helping put him in a "very good place to be" as he decides whether to throw his hat in the ring for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, explaining that it has helped increase his visibility and name recognition in Iowa because he has "been in these people's homes every week":
As a driver shuttled him between events, Huckabee told RealClearPolitics that his work on Fox has put him in a "very good place to be" politically as a self-imposed decision date looms in the early spring of next year.
"When I came up here eight years ago, nobody knew who I was," he said. "I had to spell my name. They didn't recognize me, and that was true all over the country. And now I come back, and I've been in these people's homes every week."
Huckabee isn't the first Fox employee/politician to credit their role at the network with helping their political aspirations. In July, former Fox News contributor turned Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown told Fox News Radio that being on the network "really charged me up" to run for office. When he was running for president in 2012, former Fox News contributor Rick Santorum pointed to his Fox role as having "been big" because it "helped folks remember who I am."
Fox continues to allow its employees to publicly weigh runs for office while remaining on the network payroll. As Conroy points out, Huckabee's Fox News show gives him "hundreds of hours of free advertising that hits some of the most reliable Republican voters," which is "the kind of media exposure that any of the more frequently talked about GOP contenders can only dream of."
During the run-up to the 2012 Republican primary in 2010, Media Matters calculated that Fox News had essentially gifted its five employees that were considering running with roughly $55 million in free advertising. Huckabee was by far the biggest beneficiary, with about $31 million worth of free airtime.
Though Huckabee declined to run in 2012, Conroy reports that "the consensus among many plugged-in conservatives in his orbit is that he is already determined" to enter the 2016 race.
Fox News contributor Allen West claims followers of the Islamic State are using the "progressive socialist tactic of 'trolls'" to harass members of the military.
In an October 9 post to his website, the former Republican congressman highlighted reporting from Fox News about Islamic State sympathizers harassing military personnel and their families online. According to West, the online supporters "learned" from progressives how to "flood a website or Facebook account with vile and insidious comments."
He continued, arguing that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is using the "exact same tactics" as Media Matters and the progressive website Daily Kos:
It normally begins with some leftist central command, such as Media Matters or Daily Kos, to issue a call of attack -- and the mindless lemmings follow, normally completely devoid of any knowledge or understanding of a topic. It is the leftist progressive tactic of instilling fear, coercion and intimidation. And ISIS is following suit, using the exact same tactics.
As Media Matters explained when a Washington Post piece floated West as the new head of the Secret Service, West has a constantly expanding list of incendiary commentary, including:
Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow claims that the Obama administration is not taking forceful enough action to combat the Ebola crisis because the president may think "we should suffer along with less fortunate nations."
In an October 9 column for Fox News, Ablow looks to answer "Why Obama is allowing Ebolaphobia to spread." According to Ablow, the Obama administration and the CDC could help quell the public's fears about the virus, but have lacked the necessary "steady stewardship." Ablow prescribes implementing a travel ban on countries affected by the virus -- something many experts disagree with -- but thinks the president refuses to do so because "he sees himself as a citizen of the world and sees Americans as having infected others with our deadly economic policies for a long time, thereby inflicting untold suffering on developing nations," which would make it "profoundly unfair" for America to cut itself off from countries "we have preyed upon."
He continues, arguing that Obama "may literally believe we should suffer along with less fortunate nations":
I believe the president may literally believe we should suffer along with less fortunate nations. And if he does, that is a very dangerous psychological stance from which to confront Ebola.
Let me say this plainly, as a psychiatrist who has studied this president only from a distance: In order for President Obama to keep thinking of himself as the leader of the world -- and not just the free world -- it may be that our boundaries must remain porous, allowing illegal immigrants and, potentially, even diseases to flow through them.
Ablow concludes his column by suggesting that the president's refusal to believe in America's greatness is putting the country at risk of an Ebola outbreak:
The toll of having a president who seems to see America as having no particular manifest destiny may be seen in the spread of ISIS abroad. And it could be seen, God forbid, in not mounting a sufficient immune defense here at home, to Ebola. Saying so, even at the risk of offending some or many, is the first step (here taken) to make it not so.
Ablow regularly asserts that Obama hates the United States, claiming at various points that the president "wants America to dissolve"; that Obama does not have "Americanism in his soul"; and that "he's got it in for this country."
Ablow has also repeatedly engaged in lazy, bizarre psychoanalysis of the president. After Obama's 2013 State of the Union address, Ablow wrote that the speech was the "psychological projection of an abandoned boy's vision." (Ablow has cited the president's parents having "abandoned" him as the motivation behind numerous things the president has said and done.)