The Baltimore Sun cut ties with their conservative blog after learning of the blog's potential unethical behavior, a Sun spokesperson said Monday.
"The Baltimore Sun's editorial independence is among our most fundamental values and we have a strict separation between advertising and the content we produce," Sun Director of Marketing Renee Mutchnik told Media Matters in a statement explaining the paper's separation from the bloggers.
Late last year the Sun inked a deal with the conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for baltimoresun.com as well as a weekly op-ed page in the paper's print edition. In a November op-ed, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent explained that their blog was "the premiere source for conservative news and opinion in Maryland" and that he and his colleagues would now have "the opportunity to advance conservative, limited government ideas to a larger audience." While the bloggers would continue to operate their private blog, they would also write content for a Red Maryland blog on the Sun's website.
But questions over the bloggers' ethical behavior surfaced last week when a rival conservative blogger posted what he claimed was an email he received from friends outlining a pitch from Red Maryland urging Republican candidates to advertise on the bloggers' radio show to "get the message out to like-minded conservatives in your upcoming primary election." The email claimed that Red Maryland would use all "our platforms at BaltimoreSun.com, RedMaryland.com, and the Red Maryland network" to introduce candidates to the public, suggesting that candidates who paid for the ads could also expect favorable coverage from the bloggers in their roles as paid contributors to the Sun.
Red Maryland did not dispute the authenticity of the email but denied the conservative rival's pay-to-play accusation in a March 7 blog post on their original website, stating that they had provided platforms to candidates since the site's founding to give these candidates media attention and statewide audiences. However, Red Maryland also formally acknowledged that Newgent, who wrote for both Red Maryland's original site and in the Sun, has been paid by Larry Hogan, a Republican gubernatorial candidate Red Maryland has endorsed:
First, we've never claimed to be "objective." We wear our biases openly on our sleeve, always have. You've always known where Red Maryland was coming from. Newgent has repeatedly disclosed his work for Change Maryland and the Hogan for Governor Campaign. He has performed research work for both organizations. Hardly a "political favor."
After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
If the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is any indication, conservative media won't be abandoning their scandal-mongering about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi any time soon. Though conservatives' conspiracies about the assault on U.S. diplomatic facilities have fallen apart under scrutiny, many CPAC attendees are upset with mainstream outlets for not being aggressive enough on the story.
"I would say the media isn't pursuing information about Benghazi enough, including FOIAs, trying to interview people who ... the government doesn't want interviewed and has discouraged from being interviewed and not in general doing due diligence," said John Fund, a conservative columnist at National Review. "I would compare the lack of follow through unfavorably to scandals such as Abu Ghraib and even Guantanamo."
Larry O'Connor, editor of Breitbart.com, offered a similar view when asked if Benghazi is being covered enough. "I see stories from Sharyl Attkisson at CBS News and Bret Baier's Special Report that I don't see other outlets covering."
Mainstream outlets have devoted significant coverage to the Benghazi story, if not always in the manner that those pushing the scandal would prefer. In December, The New York Times published an exhaustive six-part series on Benghazi which debunked several myths propagated by the conservative media. The fact-finding out of Congress also hasn't backed the scandal narrative; in January, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan report stating that there was no attempt by the Obama administration to cover up the attacks and pointing out that no "stand down" order was given to the military.
Those facts aren't stopping the conservative media.
"We have still not gotten a great answer as to why the military did not respond when one of our embassies is attacked," said John Solomon, editor of The Washington Times. Regardless of what Solomon considers a "great answer," the various aspects of the military response the night of the attacks have been widely detailed.
TownHall.com editor and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich largely blamed the administration for reporters' difficulties covering the story, saying, "It is difficult for reporters to cover an issue when the government is not giving answers."
Support for more Benghazi investigations did not only come from media figures at CPAC. With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receiving massive attention over her potential run for the White House in 2016, conservatives clearly see Benghazi as a way to damage her possible candidacy.
During a speech, Sen. Mitch McConnell claimed media were "trying to fix Benghazi for Hillary" by not repeating the right-wing myths about the attacks.
There was also a Breitbart News-sponsored panel just a block away from the CPAC venue where participants claimed a cover-up exists, but offered few specifics.
Fox News host Mike Huckabee denied responsibility for shady email pitches sent to subscribers to his email list, telling Media Matters that he is "simply a conduit to send messages" and "can't always vouch for the veracity" of the promoted products.
Huckabee is part of the conservative movement's attempts to cash in on their followers by renting out their email lists to suspect sources. Fox News contributor Scott Brown was recently forced to disown a quack doctor after he sent a sponsored email touting the doctor's dubious Alzheimer's disease cures. Huckabee also sent emails promoting the doctor.
During a press conference held at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, Media Matters asked Huckabee about shady sponsored emails he's sent with his name on it, such as the Alzheimer's disease emails.
Huckabee shrugged off responsibility for the emails, saying "You are supposed to read the disclosure and the disclaimer that is a part of the messages. We are simply the conduit to send messages, these are sponsored and I can't always vouch for the veracity."
Huckabee's sketchy sponsored emails extend beyond questionable medical cures. He recently sent a sponsored email touting the stock recommendation of a financial analyst who was fired from Fox News for ethical violations.
Just because Gov. Chris Christie, who was notably banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, spoke at the event Thursday doesn't mean he is the conservative media's new darling.
While the New Jersey governor drew loud applause from the audience during his address, which focused on Republicans pushing for their ideas not against their opponents, right-wing media voices at the conference say that won't translate to support if he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Some pointed to his well-known embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy in the lead-up to the 2012 election, which may have played a role in the decision by CPAC organizers not to invite him last year. Others declared him insufficiently opposed to gay marriage to garner their support.
"I don't think he will be the nominee anyway," said Tim Constantine, a conservative radio talk show host. "There are ups and downs, it's the nature of politics that he will be knocked down. Chris Christie is the right guy for Republicans in a Northeast state, but not nationally."
Tea Party News Network's Scottie Nell Hughes agreed. She said he is hurt by the George Washington Bridge scandal, but was not her choice even before that.
"It hurt him completely," she said of the bridge controversy. "He is not going to get the conservative vote. It wasn't a non-issue, it was politics."
Hughes said the media coverage of the scandal does give Christie some sympathy, but not enough to overcome opposition within the right-wing movement. "If I am going to put him up against [Wisconsin governor] Scott Walker, I am going to take Scott Walker," she said, adding that Christie "is not going to get the vote. The [GOP] establishment has left him."
Several media commentators said they were surprised that CPAC had invited Christie and found no difference in his electability or conservative credentials since last year.
"You would think it would be the other way around," said Jon Moseley, a conservative talk radio host at Philadelphia's WNJC-AM, suggesting that Christie should be less palatable to CPAC in the wake of the bridge scandal. "A lot of people perceive it as an endorsement, they should not."
Rusty Humphries, the veteran talk radio host and newly-minted columnist at The Washington Times, also said inviting Christie was a mystery. "Would I have invited him? No. He isn't conservative. He is an establishment guy."
Breitbart News' John Sexton called CPAC "a refuge for" Christie. "I think last year he was more electable," Sexton added. "I don't think right now anybody is supporting him."
Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge was a no-show at a Benghazi discussion panel Thursday co-hosted by Breitbart News, despite having been listed as a participant.
Moderated by newly-minted Breitbart News columnist and Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney, the panel was held just blocks from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington. The discussion was part of "The Uninvited," a national security forum co-hosted by Breitbart News featuring many speakers that "were not invited to CPAC."
Titled, "Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up," the panel included Retired Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch, and Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a security officer who was killed during the Benghazi attacks.
Herridge did not respond to a request for comment on why she declined to join the panel, or why she had agreed to participate in the first place given the title of the discussion and the planned co-panelists. Boykin, for example, has a long history of making inflammatory comments about Islam; in 2003 President George W. Bush criticized him for saying Islamic extremists worship "an idol" and hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation."
Even with Herridge absent, she did receive support from the panel and Gaffney, who said her work on Benghazi made her a "truth-teller par excellence." He said she had informed the panel she could not make it due to unspecified work demands.
Gaffney and the other panelists offered few specifics on what Benghazi elements had been covered up. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee review released in January concluded there was no "cover-up" surrounding the attacks.
"This Benghazi thing is not just about four dead Americans, it's not just about a cover up, it's not just about the things that are circulating in the media, it is about our national security," Boykin claimed, calling on Boehner to hold a bipartisan investigation. "A major ethos in America has been violated."
Boykin and the others claimed that more support should have been given to U.S. forces in Benghazi, but again offered no details on how or why they were not.
"What I really care about is why there was no effort to go to these people and be there when they needed us," Boykin claimed. "That is egregious, that is unacceptable, that is not the America I served for and fought for."
Farrell of Judicial Watch went one step further, accusing Boehner of having "guilty knowledge" of the Benghazi attacks, but (of course) offering no specifics or proof.
"We can't let this one slide away as just another scandal," Farrell said. "We will not let it go. We will pursue this until we find answers."
This week, Media Matters accidently broke the news to The Washington Times that longtime conservative columnist Frank Gaffney no longer plans to write for the paper.
To rewind a bit: earlier this week, Breitbart News announced that Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and a former Reagan official, would be bringing his column to the conservative website after having published "some 1,300 weekly columns over the past twenty-five years at the Washington Times."
According to Breitbart News, Gaffney's weekly column was "terminated within days of the release of a letter" he had signed alongside "influential national security practitioners." The letter in question was sent to the American Conservative Union (ACU) in support of Gaffney's charge that conservative activists Grover Norquist and Suhail Kahn are closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In comments to Media Matters, Gaffney said that his departure resulted from the Times seeking to cut his column from weekly to monthly, which he hinted was linked to the release of the letter.
"One thing happened and then the next thing happened and I leave it to others to judge if it was a punitive action or whether it was just coincidental," Gaffney told Media Matters Thursday. "I am going to be writing for the Breitbart News Network. The arrangement that [was] announced for my writing [monthly] for The Washington Times is really not satisfactory to me."
He said that he would not be writing for the Times, stating, "I want to write a weekly column and I'm happy that whatever the reason for this decision I'm going to have a considerably larger audience at Breitbart than I had at The Washington Times. I've got an arrangement with Breitbart and I will be taking the fullest advantage of that, I wish the Times well."
When initially contacted by Media Matters about Gaffney on Wednesday, Times editorial page editor David Keene praised his "well-researched" work and said that while he was unaware Gaffney was planning to write for Breitbart, the paper would still welcome his writing as long as it was "exclusive." When Media Matters spoke with Keene again today after talking to Gaffney, the news that Gaffney planned to leave the paper apparently came as a surprise.
"We're sorry to lose him but wish him well," Keene told Media Matters. "I guess he's notifying us through you and we appreciate your willingness to serve as his intermediary on this."
The uproar began February 18 when Gaffney's CSP released the newest salvo in its years-long campaign to attack Grover Norquist and ACU board member Suhail Khan for their supposed association with the Muslim Brotherhood. The group sent a letter to ACU board member Cleta Mitchell signed by "influential national security practitioners" including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA Director James Woolsey.
The letter criticized the ACU's ties to Norquist and Khan and included a 45-page report detailing claims against them, which listed 87 alleged "facts" about Norquist and Khan it claimed were signs of their "assault on the right."
In addition to serving as the Times editorial page editor, David Keene also serves on the ACU board.
While Ted Nugent's reference to President Barack Obama as a "subhuman mongrel" has received strong criticism from all corners of the media and political landscape, two major organizations with key ties to Nugent -- the National Rifle Association (NRA) and The Outdoor Channel -- have yet to weigh in on the controversy.
Nugent is an NRA board member and perhaps the group's most-well known public advocate. He serves as a spokesman for the Outdoor Channel, where he also hosts a hunting show. Last month, Nugent told Guns.com that President Obama is a "subhuman mongrel" and argued that he and other liberal politicians should be punished for treason.
The offensive remark drew new attention this past week after Nugent was scheduled to appear at a campaign event with Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
Since then, Nugent and Abbott have received harsh reactions from numerous Republican leaders, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Rick Perry. Other media critics, including Howard Kurtz of Fox News and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, have also condemned the language.
Nugent offered a disingenuous, half-hearted apology for his comments during an appearance today on conservative Ben Ferguson's radio show.
Despite their close ties to Nugent, neither the NRA nor The Outdoor Channel have weighed in on the matter. Media Matters has contacted The Outdoor Channel twice in the past week about the situation with no response, while the NRA did not respond to a request for comment today.
The NRA has consistently supported Nugent and chosen not to criticize him in the past for other offensive and racist comments. The Outdoor Channel has also been approached by Media Matters about other offensive Nugent comments and made clear it has no interest in criticizing the rocker.
The lack of action from the two organizations raises the question of whether they approve of Nugent's offensive commentary.
At the very least, their lack of action indicates an apparent lack of understanding about why Nugent's words are sparking objections, and at worst a lack of concern about how his views hurt their public image.
This week's release of 27,000 emails linking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to his staff's illegal engagement in political activities while he was Milwaukee County executive did not occur through the generosity of state officials, but through the diligence of journalists.
The emails and hundreds of court documents made public under court order Wednesday came about after a five-month battle in which several news outlets, led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, joined forces to demand access to public records.
The emails, including those from private accounts, revealed that some of Walker's staff were discussing and illegally performing campaign work on county time and in county offices in 2009 and 2010. They were discovered through a Milwaukee County District Attorney investigation dating back to 2010 that has already resulted in the convictions of six county staffers.
The investigation was conducted under Wisconsin's so-called "John Doe" provision, a special secret inquiry that strictly limits information that can be revealed during the proceedings and even after their completion. Among the findings was the existence of a secret email router in the county executive's office that allowed staffers to send and receive emails through private accounts not monitored by the county's regular email system.
The county staffers targeted in the probe included Walker's former chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a single count of felony misconduct in public office and was sentenced to six months in jail. When she appealed her conviction last year, The Journal Sentinel sought to gain access to the emails, which had been sealed by the court during the investigation and subsequent appeals.
The newspaper's effort to obtain access dates back to August 9, when Editor Martin Kaiser submitted a public records request to the current Milwaukee County executive seeking access to the emails.
When Kaiser's letter received no formal response, lawyers for the Journal Sentinel filed a motion on September 18 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court requesting that the district attorney be ordered to return the emails and other related documents to the county executive, who would then be required to make them available as public records.
"Ordinarily government communications, whether by email or paper or any other form, are presumed public under our public records law," said Robert J. Dreps, the newspaper's attorney. "These were never available for request under the public records law because their existence wasn't even known until they were swept up as part of this criminal investigation."
On September 27, the judge hearing former Walker staffer Rindfleisch's appeal ordered that numerous documents from the original John Doe investigation, including private emails from Rindfleisch's accounts, be released to the appeals court.
The Journal Sentinel followed two days later with a letter to the judge urging that those records not be sealed so that the newspaper can gain access if its motion is granted. On October 3, Rindfleisch filed a motion to seal the documents in her appeals case, including the emails.
Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who has already served time in prison for corruption, is under new scrutiny regarding his second career as a talk radio show host.
A federal investigation is underway into allegations that the afternoon drive time host on Hartford's CBS Radio affiliate WTIC-AM and former GOP rising star received hidden financial support from one of the 2012 candidates for Connecticut's 5th Congressional seat, Republican Lisa Wilson Foley, and did not disclose it on the air as he attacked her primary opponent.
The Hartford Courant reports that Rowland recently hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to represent him in the case. At issue are allegations that Rowland became a "consultant" for nursing homes owned by Foley's family while also appearing on his radio show to "pummel Wilson Foley competitor Andrew Roraback. Some Republican leaders were startled at Rowland's testy campaigning to gather delegates for Wilson Foley."
The $30,000 payment Rowland apparently received from Foley's nursing homes may not only be a legal problem if it's found to violate campaign disclosure laws, but it's also a media ethics issue as it was reportedly not disclosed by Rowland or the station on the air.
"If in fact he's on the payroll for a candidate or a political cause and is not disclosing that, he is misusing the public trust by using a radio station to advocate for a candidate or a position there," said Harvey Jassem, a communications professor at the nearby University of Hartford. "That's, in my view, unethical. Part of the issue here is the radio station itself, which appears to be a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. He is entitled to promote his point of view, but if he is taking money to favor one cause or candidate over another then he has a responsibility to share his incentives, that he could be personally profiting from the public trust of public airwaves."
Richard F. Hanley, director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT., agreed.
"It certainly is an issue to have a host who had political connections in a way that were not public to continue to host," Hanley said. "It is up to CBS Radio to make these decisions to keep him a host or have him clarify his political consultancy to keep him on the air, and let the audience decide if there is a personal ideology to the guests and the audience."
WTIC did not respond to requests for comment and Rowland could not be reached Wednesday morning.
Wilson Foley and Roraback were vying for the GOP congressional nomination in 2012 along with other candidates that included former FBI agent Mike Clark and real estate developer Mike Greenberg.
The Register-Citizen of Torrington reported in 2012 that two complaints were filed with the Federal Election Commission related to the allegations, including one that specifically cited Rowland's radio show activities as a potential violation of FEC regulations.