Veteran journalists and media ethicists say Fox News failed to adequately respond to contributor Dick Morris' attempt to auction off a tour of Fox studios at a Republican fundraiser, with several calling for his suspension.
Earlier this week, Media Matters reported that Morris had been paid to speak at an event for the Republican Party of Lake County, Florida, and had auctioned himself off for the group's benefit as a personal tour guide for a visit to Fox News in New York.
Bill Shine, the network's executive vice president of programming, subsequently reached out to TVNewser to state that Fox had "reprimanded" Morris and that the tour had been canceled.
But the network has apparently taken no further action against Morris, a paid Fox contributor who has a long history of conflicts of interest related to his Fox appearances. The day after Shine told TVNewser Morris had been reprimanded, he appeared on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.
Fox's response drew criticism from news veterans and media critics, who argued that Morris' offense tarnished Fox's reputation and should have resulted in more severe punishment.
"What does it take to suspend Morris?" said David Zurawik, television critic for the Baltimore Sun. "To me, it is crazy that they don't either suspend him or kick him off the air for good. Is there anybody in the media you can think of who has less of an ethical compass? You have to ask yourself, why do they let him get away with this? He is really a sleazy operative."
Zurawik, who teaches media ethics at Goucher College in Baltimore and has previously defended Fox News from criticism, also questioned the impact on the network's credibility to continue having Morris on the air.
"The larger issue is I really do think this hurts Fox in this regard. They like to present Bret Baier as the face of who they are. Morris, I really think, in many ways is the face of Fox," Zurawik said. "He is a dirty political operative intensely partisan with a history of alliances that on a good day would be called sleazy. And yet they keep putting this guy on the network. I would urge people, don't think of Bret Baier, think of Dick Morris."
Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, also expected stiffer punishment for Morris.
Cumulus Media Networks sees the recent controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh as providing a "real opportunity" for its new Mike Huckabee radio program to succeed.
In a media conference call Monday, Cumulus Media, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Lewis Dickey was asked how the firestorm following Limbaugh's misogynistic attacks on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke would affect the company's earnings. Cumulus currently carries Limbaugh on 35 of its 570 stations.
In response, Dickey acknowledged that the advertiser exodus from Limbaugh's program has caused the company "logistical difficulties" as companies demanded that their ads be pulled from the show. But Dickey went on to say that the controversy would be "very helpful" to subsidiary Cumulus Media Networks in their effort to launch The Mike Huckabee Show, scheduled to debut April 2 in the same time slot as Limbaugh on 110 radio stations.
"There's obviously some pluses and minuses associated with all of this," said Dickey. "But on the plus side, it's going to really be very helpful to us with our new show launch."
Dickey first stated that the scrutiny of Limbaugh for his comments about Fluke - calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" - had affected Cumulus in a negative way.
The Cumulus CEO said that the company had "had some logistical issues, primarily in swapping out network spots in the ABC News casts that go in there." He added, "We've been working with our advertising partners on a very constructive basis to accommodate them wherever necessary."
So far, more than 100 advertisers have distanced themselves from Limbaugh and at least two radio stations have dropped his program since he first made the comments, despite two widely-criticized attempts at apologies.
Dickey, however, also seemed optimistic that Limbaugh's problems could be an opportunity for Cumulus's new Huckabee program, which he said was intended to compete directly with the radio giant.
"[W]e've also seen a real opportunity with this in the marketplace to talk about our new show that will compete head to head with Rush, which is the Mike Huckabee show," Dickey said. "And we're launching that next month and it will be positioned again with our affiliates as 'more conversation and less confrontation.'"
Rush Limbaugh's misogynistic comments about a Georgetown law student are affecting advertisers more than the usual controversial broadcast statements and may spark a long-term problem for the conservative host, according to journalists who cover radio and advertising.
Veteran radio observers credit the quick exodus of advertisers in recent days to the severity of Limbaugh's sexist rant and the ability of social media to force companies to comment on the controversy. These experts also tell Media Matters many major advertisers generally avoid commentators like Limbaugh, shrinking the pool of possible replacements.
Jim Cooper, executive editor of Adweek, said that Limbaugh's comments were "so offensive" that he could have impaired his ability to attract advertisers in the long term. "He could have a problem with brands being associated with his show. They don't want to have any sort of rub off, to be associated with anyone seen as so bold or obnoxious or cruel to that woman, it is pretty off the charts."
Cooper also acknowledged that it was surprising for ads to continue being pulled even after Limbaugh's two attempts to address the controversy since Saturday.
"It seems a little bit more extreme because what he said was so extreme," Cooper said of the advertiser reaction. "I don't think most brands, unless they have a political bias, are going to want to be part of this. It is so offensive to a massive part of his audience. No brand is going to want to be saying, 'sure we are behind his comments.'"
Limbaugh has drawn attention in the past week for his vicious and repeated attacks on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who recently testified before congressional Democrats about the problems caused when young women lack access to contraception.
The popular conservative radio host unleashed a barrage of critical comments at Fluke last week, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute," and demanding: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 29 advertisers had said they would exclude, suspend, or pull their business from Limbaugh's radio show, which is syndicated by Premiere Radio, a division of Clear Channel Communications.
Dick Morris's failure to disclose his financial ties to political entities he writes about for The Hill brought sharp criticism from journalism veterans and news ethicists, one of whom accused the Fox News analyst of breaking an "ethical commandment."
The top editor of The Hill, meanwhile, declined to admit that the newspaper or the columnist had done anything wrong, even as media critics called out the paper's failure to police Morris's column.
In a statement to Media Matters, Hugo Gurdon, the editor-in-chief of The Hill, said:
Our comment pages publish opinion pieces from people on the left and the right who are active in partisan politics. We're confident that our readers know this, but we will continue to make additional disclosures where we think this is necessary.
Asked to elaborate further on Morris's specific actions and whether the paper would subject his work to greater scrutiny in the future, editors at The Hill did not respond.
At issue are several instances identified by Media Matters in which Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant, wrote columns for The Hill, but failed to disclose his financial ties to some subjects of the columns.
In one column earlier this month, Morris attacked "RINO Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.)" for supporting the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The column did not disclose that Morris had headlined a September 2011 fundraiser for Lugar's Republican primary opponent, Richard Mourdock. The Mourdock campaign had also rented Morris's email list in July 2011 for a donation solicitation, which featured an appeal from Morris.
Morris's practice brought criticism from Howard Kurtz on his CNN Reliable Sources program Sunday.
After reading a comment from Gurdon in which the Hill editor said that the paper's readers "are being kept well-informed" about their columnists' potential conflicts of interest, Kurtz commented that those readers "should be kept a little more well-informed."
WashingtonPost.com is standing by the decision to allow Glenn Beck to write a column for its On Faith blog in spite of his history of offensive comments and violent rhetoric, according to the site's top editor, Sally Quinn, who defended running the piece because readers know "who he is and what he is."
"When you run somebody like that, people already come to it knowing who he is and what he is," Quinn told Media Matters. "He represents a certain segment of society and he's got a following."
She also said it was On Faith that reached out to Beck, seeking his take on a religious issue for the site, which bills itself as a "Conversation on Religion and Politics."
Asked why the website would seek a view from a commentator with Beck's record, Quinn said, "He represents a huge segment of society and actually I thought that he had a sort of a unique take on the situation. We don't only run people we agree with or disagree with. We like to get all points of view. I didn't see that there was anything offensive about the column or controversial."
Beck's column was posted February 19 and attacked President Obama for announcing that rules promulgated under his health care reform law would give women access to health care plans covering contraception at no additional cost. Beck responded by declaring, "we are all Catholics now."
Beck also wrote:
This is why Americans are offended by the ruling from the White House that would force church-run institutions to pay for birth control and morning-after pills, which are tantamount to abortion. The so-called compromise is no compromise - under government-approved health insurance plans that the church pays for, abortifacients would be covered. Sin by proxy - that's the compromise.
Obama's birth control policy has broad support from Catholic hospitals, colleges, and charities, and recent polls show a majority of Catholics believe employers should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception at no additional cost.
The decision to give Beck space came in spite of Beck's repeated condemnation by Jewish groups for offensive comments, as well as his history of violent rhetoric. It also follows his departure from Fox News last year.
Veteran journalists and media ethicists -- including a former CBS News Washington bureau chief -- are criticizing CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson for accepting an award from Accuracy in Media, a conservative group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories.
Attkisson is scheduled to accept the award in person Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Several longtime news experts contend Attkisson is hurting her own credibility and that of CBS by participating in the event.
"If you go out and you've received an award from any organization with an agenda, then any reader of your work or viewer of your work has a right to question your impartiality or your fairness," Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, told Media Matters in an interview. "I don't think journalists should accept awards from either right-wing or left-wing, conservative or liberal organizations, or from any other organized group that has an agenda. We're not supposed to have an agenda. By accepting those awards or appearing, you are raising questions about your own dispassion. We have enough of those questions already about journalists."
Ed Fouhy, a former long-time CBS News producer and one-time Washington bureau chief for the network, called Attkisson a "pawn."
"Sharyl Attkisson is making a mistake in accepting an award from A.I.M. By doing so she becomes just another pawn in the ideological chess games being played with such intensity in Washington," Fouhy stated. "Her acceptance helps to legitimize A.I.M., a fringe group, whose sole agenda is and has been for many years, to undermine the credibility of the mainstream media, fueled by the donations of millionaire conspiracy theorists."
Fouhy, also a former CBS News vice president, then noted A.I.M's past efforts against the network dating back many years:
"Reed Irvine, founder of A.I.M., and his political heirs have long made CBS News a special target in their fevered attempts to propound the myth of the liberal media. Going back to Watergate days, A.I.M. has relentlessly tried to intimidate and harass CBS News journalists. Ms. Attkisson may not be aware of that history but she should know that accepting awards from groups with political agendas, whether of the right or the left, is a bad idea."
Former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu's dual career as a contributing op-ed writer for The Boston Globe and an advisor to a lobbying firm is raising ethical questions.
A review of Sununu's columns reveals that they have not contained disclosures about his ties to lobbying giant Akin Gump, where he serves as a "senior policy advisor." Indeed, Sununu has written about issues related to Akin Gump's lobbying without disclosing his role in the firm.
Several CNN on-air journalists are criticizing Dana Loesch's recent comments supporting the U.S. Marines who allegedly urinated on the dead bodies of Taliban forces.
Loesch, a CNN contributor, made the comments during her radio show Thursday. Among other things, Loesch said of the incident: "I'd drop trou and do it too."
Such views brought sharp criticism from some CNN on-air reporters.
"I can't imagine someone really thinking that, it is so outrageous," said one CNN reporter who requested anonymity. "I think she is trying to garner attention to herself, and that is sad. If that is what she truly believes, she has issues. If you look at that video, I don't care who you are, your stomach should turn.
"The problem with these contributors is they aren't under the same guidelines journalists are, and CNN journalists are. We have very clear ways of doing business. When you have these people we bring in to spice up our airwaves, it is going to happen. It is concerning, obviously."
Another regular CNN journalist added: "I am of the school of thought, 'Why aren't we putting people who are knowledgeable on the air?' I'll just say 'Ewww.' I think it's in poor taste."
A third CNN journalist who has been reporting on the story said Loesch is misguided in thinking that defending the Marines' alleged actions amount to being supportive of the military.
"If she is thinking that she is somehow supporting the military, any source in the military will tell you she is not," the journalist said. "It is so distasteful for the military. It is a black eye. Clearly, everyone I've talked to said that is not acceptable."
At least one regular CNN political contributor took issue with the comments and with CNN's handling of Loesch and other right-wing contributors:
"What's interesting is how the kid gloves are applied to outlandish comments made by the likes of Erick Erickson or Dana Loesch and how it has a negative impact on the CNN brand," said the contributor, who also requested anonymity. "There really is no pushback or no real conversation that says, 'Look, you make these kinds of comments or you write these kinds of wild, crazy stuff, that's just not what we're about.' It simply doesn't happen. I think there is fear of saying anything to them because they are Tea Party folks, and there has been a clear effort on the part of our political team to court that whole Tea Party thought process, if you will."
"The danger is always the negative impact on your whole political coverage," the contributor added. "Because clearly you want there to be a point of view, but there is a difference between a point of view and being so far off the rails it defies logic."
George Will's practice of citing groups funded by a conservative foundation -- without disclosing that he is a paid board member of that foundation -- brought sharp criticism from media ethicists and journalism veterans who say such a lack of disclosure is a breach of journalistic ethics.
"Is there a problem here? Of course," said Ed Wasserman, Washington and Lee University journalism professor and a Miami Herald columnist. "Even though he is a committed conservative guy with strongly held principles, you still have the right to read his commentary as something that is independently arrived at rather than a reflection of a nexus of relationships and entanglements that he is embedded in."
Will was elected to the Bradley Foundation board in 2008 and received the Bradley Prize in 2005. A Nov. 19, 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the Bradley Foundation revealed Will received $250,000 for the Bradley Prize and still receives $43,500 annually as a board member.
Media Matters reviewed Will's columns from mid-2008 to the present and found at least a dozen instances in which he has promoted conservative groups that have received money from the Bradley Foundation without disclosing his connection to the foundation. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and National Affairs quarterly.
Among the examples is an April 23, 2009 column citing the Heritage Foundation, in which Will writes: "The [Department of Education] could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools."
Media Matters found one column in which Will's Bradley Foundation ties were disclosed. In an August 20, 2009 column, he cited the Institute for Justice, which received Bradley Foundation funding. Will's connection was noted at the end of the piece.
The disclosure initially incorrectly stated that Will was on the board of the MacArthur Foundation, rather than the Bradley Foundation. It said: "The writer is a member of the board of the MacArthur Foundation, which provides some funding for the Institute for Justice."
The error was later corrected at the end of a subsequent column to read: "George F. Will is a member of the board of the Bradley Foundation and not the MacArthur Foundation, as was disclosed in a recent column on threats to freedom of speech."
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff expressed regret for paying columnists on multiple occasions to write articles favorable to his clients.
During a recent interview with Media Matters while promoting his new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist (WND Books 2011), Abramoff said in the past he would find columnists who agreed with his positions and pay them to "place" articles in newspapers.
"Normally what that means in a lobbying context is that you have a friendly writer who is somebody that the major papers are willing to publish and you get them to focus on your issue and write a piece about it," Abramoff said in a phone interview, later adding, "It just happened when it had to happen. When it did, we would find somebody who agreed with us, a writer, and we'd usually pay them to do it, but they would be in charge of getting it placed. And that probably still goes on. I can't imagine it doesn't go on."
Abramoff said he paid for columns on maybe a half-dozen occasions in several major newspapers. He also said the newspapers themselves were likely unaware of the financial arrangement.
He said the media "was a tool in lobbying, and that's the way lobbyists view the media. That you try as best you can to keep them out of your hair, use them where you can to spin your issue, and otherwise keep them at a distance."
Abramoff also stressed that the writers paid to push his agenda were always columnists or op-ed writers, never reporters:
"I'd find a writer who was sympathetic to the issue, I wouldn't approach a writer who disagreed with me or was neutral. I'd find somebody who was passionate about this and we'd try to get them focused on it, get them some money if they needed money or they wanted to be paid for it," Abramoff explained. "A lot of these writers write for pay, they write columns and get paid by their papers. ... So we would pay them, and their job would be to get the article placed. Rather simple. It didn't always work, by the way. They weren't always able to get them placed. But generally they could."
Asked if he ever tried to pay a news reporter to write something sympathetic, he said, "Nah. Most of the time we stayed away from reporters. Lobbyists don't like to hang out with reporters, at least lobbyists who are prudent."
Abramoff confirmed two specific monetary relationships involving writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara, who were quoted in a 2005 BusinessWeek story as having been paid by Abramoff.