In the wake of revelations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) office carried out a political vendetta against a NJ Democrat by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, right-wing media have sprung into damage control mode to protect the prominent Republican governor, using any excuse to distract and deflect attention from the scandal.
On January 8, New Jersey's The Record reported that top aides within Christie's office coordinated in order to create "traffic problems in Fort Lee" by closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an alleged act of political retribution against the city's Democratic mayor after he refused to endorse Christie's re-election campaign.
Right-wing media have reacted by attempting to deflect criticism from Christie, praise Christie's handling of the scandal in contrast to perceived scandals in the Obama administration, or ignore the unfolding scandal altogether. That defense of Christie was exemplified in a January 9 editorial from The Wall Street Journal, in which the Journal argued that "Mr. Christie's contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama's handling of the tax agency's abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything," and concluded, "If Mr. Christie really didn't know about this cheap exercise in political payback, and nothing new emerges, the incident shouldn't interfere with the Governor's expected presidential run."
Which brings us to the Obama Administration, which quickly leaked to the media that the U.S. Attorney is investigating the lane closures as a criminal matter. Well, that sure was fast, and nice of Eric Holder's Justice Department to show its typical discretion when investigating political opponents.
This is the same Administration that won't tell Congress what resources it is devoting to the IRS probe, and appears to be slow-rolling it. It has also doubled down by expanding the political vetting of 501(c)(4) groups seeking tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS tax-exempt shop and took the Fifth before Congress, was allowed to "retire," presumably with a pension. Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller resigned under pressure but no other heads have rolled. Yet compared to using the IRS against political opponents
Following the example of the Journal and others, Media Matters has crafted a how-to checklist for conservative media covering the Christie bridge scandal:
Here are other examples of right-wing media appearing to follow this methodology:
Fox News praised Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the bridge scandal plaguing his administration as a "lesson in leadership" despite the many lingering questions surrounding his office's involvement in the story.
Gov. Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on January 9 amidst allegations that a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, NJ may have been orchestrated by his administration as political retribution. Christie has denied involvement for months, and the story exploded into a full-blown scandal on January 8 when emails and text messages published by a local paper suggested that Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority colluded to close access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create massive gridlock.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Christie's press conference, saying it "really indicated to many what leadership looked like after facing a crisis."
The Fox hosts went on to argue that the Obama administration could learn a lot from Christie's "brilliant" response:
Not all media was as taken with Christie's performance. In contrast to Fox, The New York Times' editorial board wrote that Christie's press conference left "plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer." According to The Times, Christie's "version of reality simply does not add up" and that until "full and conclusive investigation can restore public trust" Christie "has zero credibility":
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
The email documents released on Wednesday were heavily redacted. Why? And when will the full emails be made public?
Why did Mr. Christie insist that the traffic snarl was connected to a "traffic study," even after Port Authority officials denied there was any such study? Did he try to get the Port Authority to stop its own internal investigation of the problem?
NBC News had similar concerns, reporting that in the press conference Christie did not "resolve the mystery behind the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September" or why local officials working to investigate the jam "got no help," listing six "of the most pressing" questions that Christie left unanswered.
Politico reports today that The Senate Conservatives Fund has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" buying one of conservative radio host Mark Levin's books. According to FEC filings, the Fund has spent $427,000 since September 10th on copies of Levin's 2009 book Liberty and Tyranny.
The day a major scandal broke involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Fox News devoted scant coverage to the developing story. On January 8, Fox devoted less than 15 minutes to the New Jersey bridge closure scandal, compared to more than two hours each on CNN and MSNBC.
From the January 9 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Republican Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a serious scandal involving corruption and petty political retribution. How Fox News handles the story should provide a benchmark for the network's relationship with Christie and its commitment to continuing to bolster his career.
For months, allegations have been simmering that the Christie administration was involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ. As The New York Times explains, officials in Fort Lee have alleged that the closures, which "turned the town into a parking lot on the first day of school," were retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid.
New Jersey paper The Record reports today that despite public denials by Christie that the closure may have been politically-motivated, documents obtained by the paper suggest that "one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision":
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough's access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta--a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Among the email exchanges highlighted by The Record is one in which senior Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly contacted David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie's whom the governor appointed to an executive position at the Port Authority. In an email sent on August 13, 2013, roughly three weeks before Wildstein ordered the lane closures, Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it." (Wildstein resigned in December.)
In a separate exchange, Wildstein responded to a text message from an unidentified person saying that they "feel badly about the kids, I guess," by saying, "They are the children of Buono voters." (Barbara Buono was Christie's opponent in the November 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.)
With Christie widely considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Fox News' treatment of the scandal could provide a glimpse into the state of the network's relationship with the New Jersey governor, which has seemingly cooled off recently.
Fox News hosted former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to promote the importance of companies paying attention to cybersecurity without disclosing that Ridge heads lobbying and consulting firms that work on cybersecurity.
Ridge appeared as a guest on the January 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends. Co-host Brian Kilmeade asked him about "one of your real expertise ... what about cybersecurity as it compares to Al Qaeda?" Ridge responded that cybersecurity is a threat and "companies have to pay a lot more attention at the C-suite level to make sure that they are prepared to deal with it because it's happening every day."
Ridge heads several companies that work on cybersecurity:
Ridge is also the chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Security Task Force, which "is responsible for the development and advancement of Chamber policy related to homeland security and national security" including on "priorities related to cyber security."
Additionally, Ridge sits on the advisory board of TaaSERA, "a cyber security company" that "builds runtime behavior detection solutions used by the world's leading companies and government agencies."
The trial of former News Corp. employees for their role in the massive phone hacking scandal has already produced several noteworthy revelations, including the hacking of voicemails from the British royal family, a six figure contract between News Corp. and its phone-hacking private investigator, and more alleged phone hacking victims, including actor Jude Law.
Conservative media spend a lot of time and energy wringing money out of their followers. Between the conservative publications that use their email lists to scam subscribers with dubious health advice, and the conservative radio hosts who pitch precious metals to their listeners, and the symbiotic relationship that exists between right-wing pundits and conservative non-profits and activist groups, it's all but certain that at any given moment some overly credulous right-leaning Americans are throwing good money at bad investments.
Salon writer Alex Pareene has posited that "the conservative media movement exists primarily as a moneymaking venture." Indeed, conservative websites -- particularly conspiracy-minded ones -- offer a wide array of products inspired by their nonsensical jibbering. WND, for example, has an entire section of its online store devoted to selling products related to the Obama birth certificate conspiracy the site has been flogging for more than five years.
These sites hawk a staggering array of often-bizarre products, ranging from gear to protect you and your family from the ever-imminent Apocalypse, to playing cards featuring the members of the New World Order. All of it generously marked up. Right Wing Watch highlighted several gift options from conservative outlets "for the prepper in your family," including "a $150 bucket of black bean burgers" (with ketchup).
In the spirit of the season, here is Media Matters' Christmas (not holiday) shopping guide to right-wing websites.
Price: $1,499 from WND.com
WND has published dozens of articles over the years warning its readers of an impending attack on the U.S. -- possibly by Iran, North Korea, or Cuba -- with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that could leave "9 out of 10 Americans dead." This Faraday cage -- "manufactured specifically for WND" -- will ensure that "your electronics will survive" the devastating EMP attack, even if you don't.
It weighs a barely-there 55 lbs, and at the low price of $1,499, it only needs to protect 3 iPhones from an EMP attack (or one iPhone from three EMP attacks) in order to pay for itself. Be sure to supplement your Faraday cage with some "EMP Faraday Bags," designed with "desiccant pouches to remove humidity and a sliding bag clamp to ensure a tight Faraday cage seal."
"Super Male Vitality™"
Price: A steal at $69.95 (on sale from $89.97) from InfoWars
Super Male Vitality™ uses the "science of modern day technology" to keep you from losing "vitality, energy, sexual drive, and overall wellness." Alex Jones himself attests to the fact that Super Male Vitality™ is "literally an infusion of the highest quality sources and naturally derived essences."
So what goes into this magic science potion? There's "a ground vine with deep roots," various types of ginseng, "the common oat," and a tree bark that "has been described as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant."
You may think that paying $70 for a 2-oz. bottle of oats and ginseng is a bit excessive. But just listen to Alex Jones: "This product works so well for me that I actually had to stop taking it before I go on air or else I would want to do hours and hours of overdrive with complete focus."
Makes a great stocking stuffer alongside Fluoride Shield™, which protects you from the dangers of fluoride with the help of exotic, hard-to-find ingredients like tamarind and cilantro.
Keeping the Fox candidate machine moving right on schedule, the network featured Fox News host Mike Huckabee twice today to lob softballs at him about his possible plans to run for president in 2016.
This week, Huckabee spawned a flurry of news reports about his interest in making a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, telling The Washington Post that he is considering a run due to an increase in support "from places where I never got it before."
For years, Fox has helped potential Republican political candidates on their payroll stay in the limelight and reach out to a conservative audience while weighing runs for office. And with a possible Huckabee presidential run in the headlines, Fox News seems eager to help build buzz around its employee.
Interviewing Huckabee on Fox & Friends Saturday, co-host Tucker Carlson said that "the question everyone was asking this week" was whether Huckabee planned to run in 2016. Huckabee answered that he is "open" to the idea of a run, but that he has not yet made up his mind and is instead focused on the 2014 midterm elections and hoping the GOP can take over the Senate.
The segment allowed Huckabee plenty of room to try out lines that would fit comfortably in a stump speech.
Scott Brown has some more company among Fox News employees publicly toying with runs for political office while still working for the network.
According to The Washington Post, Fox host Mike Huckabee "might be willing" to take another shot at securing the Republican presidential nomination. Huckabee told the Post that he is considering making a run in 2016 due to the encouragement he is getting "from places where I never got it before," including "business, people some would maybe call the establishment."
In an apparent attempt to drive home his seriousness about a possible run, Huckabee reportedly showed the paper a private poll "which he said was commissioned by supporters who are urging him to run again, which indicated he has the potential to make a strong showing in both Iowa and South Carolina." Huckabee joins John Bolton, who started teasing a potential 2016 run early this year, and Scott Brown, who seems on the verge of running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, as Fox employees cashing a paycheck while openly considering runs for office.
The revolving door of Republican politicians and Fox News contributors is nothing new.
As evidence grows that former Republican Senator Scott Brown is going to run for Senate in New Hampshire, he continues to cash a paycheck from Fox News, where he's currently employed as a contributor. Brown is just the latest in an ever-expanding roster of conservative Fox employees who have used a job at the network to set up a run for political office.
Fox hired Brown in February after his failed re-election bid for the Massachusetts Senate seat he won after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. The network had been perhaps his biggest champion during his successful 2010 senate run, allowing Brown to plug his fundraising website on-air while hosts and contributors fawned over him.
Since taking the Fox job, Brown has repeatedly dropped hints that he might consider challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in 2014. According to National Journal, while Republican leaders in the state previously dismissed Brown's supposed interest in running as a "fallen political star desperate for attention," they have "begun taking Brown seriously." Though he is scheduled to give a speech at the New Hampshire GOP's holiday fundraiser later this month, Brown continues to play coy about whether he has made up his mind about a run.
At Politico, media reporter Dylan Byers explains that the best indication of whether Brown is serious about running is whether Fox News severs his contract, as they did in 2011 when former employees Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were in the early stages of mounting presidential bids. (More recently, Fox terminated former contributor Liz Cheney's contract when she formally announced her run for the Senate in Wyoming.)
Until such time as Fox ends his contract, Brown will operate in an ethically dubious grey area. It benefits him to delay a formal declaration of any kind so that he can continue to utilize his Fox platform, while both Brown and the network reap rewards from the related "will he or won't he" attention. As Byers explains, "you can rest assured that he'll use the Fox News platform to prove his conservative bonafides to Granite State voters." And in recent weeks, Brown has done just that.
Fox News has reportedly paid a former PR executive at the company "approximately $8 million in hush money" after firing him this summer.
Brian Lewis, a former executive vice president at Fox News, was fired in July amid reports that he had been giving information about the company to Gabriel Sherman, a New York magazine contributing editor working on a (likely unflattering) biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Citing an unnamed network executive "with knowledge of the negotiations," Gawker reports today that Lewis was paid roughly $8 million by the network as part of a settlement.
As Gawker lays out, when Lewis was abruptly fired, Fox cited "vague 'financial irregularities" as the reason for the move, prompting Lewis' lawyer to attack the network for "telling lies." In an August statement to Gawker, Lewis' lawyer essentially threatened that his client might reveal harmful information about Ailes and the network.
According to the anonymous Fox executive quoted by Gawker -- who suggested that the settlement number would have been much higher if Lewis had significantly damaging information about Ailes -- the claims of "financial impropriety" leading to Lewis' firing were "complete bullshit."
As suspected, the network was reportedly livid about Sherman's forthcoming book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How Roger Ailes and Fox News Remade American Politics, which has driven a wedge in the network's public relation's team.
Tomorrow night, CNN will feature the odd spectacle of its employee S.E. Cupp interviewing Glenn Beck, her boss at The Blaze, where she also serves as a contributor.
According to an article on The Blaze promoting the interview, "It is likely the two will discuss Beck's latest book, 'Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America,' the creation of TheBlaze and current events."
Considering Cupp's relationship with Beck, it's unlikely he's due for a primetime grilling on CNN. In the event she wants the interview to be more than an exercise in self-promotion, Media Matters came up with a handful of questions for Cupp to ask Beck:
According to a tweet from Cupp, her CNN interview with Beck has been rescheduled due to the ice storm in Texas.