Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have another ally in the media: CBS News and Fox News analyst Frank Luntz. The Republican strategist and pollster has reportedly provided the Kochs with messaging advice while using his media platform to praise Koch advertising efforts as "powerful," "one of the best," and having "unlocked the key."
The Kochs "helped create a broad network of nonprofit groups that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics." During the 2012 elections, their network reportedly raised over $400 million for conservative causes. Politico's Ken Vogel reported today that the Koch brothers' network "has in many ways surpassed the reach and resources of the" Republican National Committee. The biggest Koch-affiliated group is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), "which spent $130 million in the midterms, with 550 paid staff" to target Democrats.
Mother Jones' Peter Stone reported that the Koch brothers have been using Luntz as a messaging consultant dating back to the 2010 election cycle. Luntz has "provided message advice for Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, the fundraising hub for the Koch network, for critical ad campaigns in Senate battleground states." Earlier this year, Luntz reportedly "popped up in at least two conference calls hosted by top Koch operatives with wealthy donors."
Stone noted Luntz praised an AFP political ad on Fox News after having helped craft their message, prompting a conservative operative to remark: "One hand is in [the Kochs'] pocket, while the other hand pats them on the back."
National Review wrote on March 31 of Luntz's influence on Koch messaging: "Luntz found that emotional appeals were more effective and that women were considered more credible than men on the [health care] issue. 'Women are more focused on quality of life and peace of mind,' Luntz says. This year, all of AFP's testimonial ads feature middle-class women speaking from their homes."
During media appearances, Luntz has attempted to portray himself as above the fray while failing to disclose his connections to the Kochs' political advertising. During an October 14, 2012, appearance on CBS' Face The Nation, Luntz complained about "awful" negative advertising: "It's also ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of all ads are now negative. And so all you are told is why your opponent is a fool, is incompetent, or worse yet, a liar. And so how are you supposed to then function as a democracy when ninety-seven percent of it-- and it's awful and it works." Luntz did not mention his own history with AFP's negative advertising.
The timing and nature of Luntz's work with AFP is murky. When reached by Mother Jones, Luntz "declined to discuss the details of his Koch work" and AFP similarly declined comment, making a full accounting of Luntz's financial connections with the Koch network difficult (The network largely operates within the shadow of difficult to trace "dark money"). During a December 2013 appearance on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Luntz claimed he was no longer working for AFP. Host Bill Hemmer said: "By the way, you used to do some work for this group a few years ago, and you're no longer affiliated with them, is that true?" Luntz replied: "That is correct." Luntz then went on to praise the ad's message.
Luntz joins a long roster of media figures who have connections with the Koch empire. At least 15 Fox News hosts and contributors have recently campaigned for Americans for Prosperity and its sister group the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Fox figures have in turn defended the Kochs on-air, dismissing criticism of them as "McCarthyistic," and "a form of social control." They've also praised Koch political efforts as "effective" and "devastating" against Democrats.
Luntz has offered effusive praise of AFP's advertising efforts during his TV appearances, repeatedly calling their ads one of "the best." The group, in turn, frequently highlights his appearances on its YouTube page. Below are four times Luntz touted AFP's political ads without disclosing his connections to the group.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple*, who writes a reported opinion blog on the media, criticized Post colleague George F. Will for praising a conservative advocacy group without disclosing his "out-and-out conflict of interest."
Will wrote a November 19 column endorsing the efforts of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which is fighting against increased Department of Justice oversight of private voucher schools in Wisconsin.
But as Wemple notes, the piece omitted "Will's connection to WILL." The Post columnist is a member of the board of directors at Wisconsin's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a nonprofit which granted WILL $500,000 in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant making decisions. Wemple correctly summarized Will's ethical lapse:
Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.
Will defended his lack of disclosure to Wemple, claiming, in part, that "I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything."
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler is standing by his blog claiming that the White House had erred in citing President George H.W. Bush's immigration data -- despite evidence discrediting his conclusions.
In his November 24 piece for The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog, Glenn Kessler examined claims that President George H.W. Bush used an executive action to protect 1.5 million undocumented immigrants. Kessler described the figure as a "round-ed up estimate" that the media adopted because many of the applicants included people who were not eligible to be legalized at the time due to pending applications or appeals. Kessler concluded that the White House had "seized on a single news report" to take the opportunity to highlight higher numbers and that even the Federal Immigration Commissioner, Gene McNary, claimed not to be factual.
Huffington Post politics and immigration reporter Elise Foley responded to Kessler's blog by pointing to congressional testimony from McNary from 1989 in which McNary affirmed that 1.5 million undocumented immigrants were covered by the policy.
Kessler updated his blog to note the discovery of McNary's testimony but failed to offer an apology or retraction for his oversights, instead doubling-down on his conclusions:
Update: in light of the discovery of McNary's testimony, we will assess whether this should be reduced to Three Pinocchios. In any case, the actual impact was far less than suggested in administration statements
Media outlets have since latched onto Kessler's piece as evidence that the Obama administration's citation of the number was inaccurate. The Washington Post's Charles Lane described the post's conclusions as "devastating," and Fox News' Chris Stirewalt used it to claim that President Obama was wrong in using the numbers as "a centerpiece" of his argument for an executive action on immigration.
CBS Evening News reported on the role of dark money -- spending on political campaigns by outside groups in which either no donors are disclosed or some donors are disclosed -- in key senate elections during the 2014 midterm elections without noting that conservative dark money spending far outpaced that of Democrats, giving viewers a distorted view of who benefited from this controversial spending in 2014.
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."
From the November 9 edition of Media Buzz:
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From the November 9 edition of Fox News' Media Buzz:
Fox News' Keith Ablow issued a defiant statement defending his cable news psychoanalysis of President Obama after being condemned by medical experts.
Here is a sample of the type of bizarre and offensive commentary offered by Ablow:
Yesterday the Associated Press reported on criticism of Ablow from other psychiatrists, including the past president of the American Psychiatric Association's statement that "it is shameful and unfortunate that he is given a platform by Fox News or any other media organization."
Medical experts contacted by the Associated Press condemned Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow for his ongoing cable news psychoanalysis of President Obama, his wife, and other figures.
Sharyl Attkisson refused to answer questions from Politico about the inconsistencies in her story of alleged government hacking into her computer. Instead, she once again lashed out at Media Matters.
Sharyl Attkisson is now claiming she doesn't know who was behind the hack of her computer, after writing in her book that her sources gave her "the name of the person responsible for my computer intrusions."
Attkisson's former employer CBS News confirmed in June 2013 that her CBS-issued Toshiba laptop was compromised by an unknown party. Attkisson has since claimed that the hack was conducted by a government agency. She has not produced evidence of this, but she claims the Department of Justice's Inspector General is currently investigating her personal Apple computer.
During a November 5 interview with HuffPostLive, Attkisson was asked "how much do you think that it really is the administration doing this to you, or people within the government spying on you because of your reporting?" In response, Attkisson claimed she had evidence of a "government tie," but did not know who or what organization had specifically conducted the cyberattack:
ATTKISSON: I can only tell you what the forensics shows. And I'm not a forensics expert. We've had three separate computer forensics exams by three different people that have showed highly sophisticated remote intrusion of my computers.
The forensics says that there was a government tie to this, because there was, as one of them said, proprietary software to one of the four federal government agencies. Doesn't mean I know who was on the other end or was it an organization or was it a person, a rogue person, I don't have the answer to those questions, I just know that there's that government tie.
But in her new book Stonewalled, Attkisson writes that a source gave her the name of the individual responsible:
On May 6, 2013, I make contact with an excellent source who has crucial information: the name of the person responsible for my computer intrusions. He provides me the name and I recognize it. I'm not surprised. It strikes me as desperate and cowardly that those responsible would resort to these tactics. That's all I can say about that for now.
Two paragraphs later, a source code-named "Number One" tells Attkisson that the inspector general's office "works for the people who did this to you." (In May 2013, the Justice Department said it had never compromised Attkisson's computers.)
Attkisson has also reversed herself on whether various technological problems she experienced in 2012 and 2013 were tied to the intrusion on her system. In the book, she suggested her phone, television, personal laptop, and cable systems had all malfunctioned due to the hacking by a government agency. But on November 4, she told radio host Don Imus that those "disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion."
Challenged on that reversal during her HuffPostLive interview, Attkisson claimed:
I was trying to explain, because there were so many people anxious without full information, and I understand, to try to discredit and poke holes and controversialize all of this. And, I had heard it said mistakenly that if all of that stuff was just normal miss-wiring, which I don't believe it was, then nothing really happened. And I was making the point that take all of that aside, that was just a symptom that I saw that had nothing to do with the forensics which proved the remote intrusions. That was just the thing that triggered me and my sources to say, "something is indeed probably happening to you, let's take a look." So even if you scoop those out, even if you want to say, I was holding my backspace key down or whatever they said, you have to look at the forensics from the three separate experts, and you really can't argue with that.
After Attkisson released a video she had taken that reportedly showed text from a Microsoft Word document on her laptop being erased, Media Matters asked computer security experts to review that video. Those experts said that rather than showing evidence of hacking, the video seemed to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key.
The epigraph of Stonewalled is "The truth eventually finds a way to be told."
Watch Attkisson saying she didn't know who was responsible for the hack on HuffPostLive:
Sharyl Attkisson is now claiming that the various technology problems chronicled in her book "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusions" into her computer, after she previously suggested her phone, television, personal laptop, and cable systems had all malfunctioned due to hacking by a government agency.
In June 2013, CBS News confirmed that then-reporter Attkisson's CBS News-issued Toshiba laptop was breached using what the network said were "sophisticated" methods. But Attkisson has taken this further, stating in her new book Stonewalled that unnamed sources have confirmed for her that an unnamed government agency was behind the attack, and that it also breached her personal Apple laptop and affected her other household electronics.
In a chapter titled "Big Brother," Attkisson highlights the warning of a pseudonymous "well-informed acquaintance" who is "connected to a three-letter agency" who tells her that the government is likely monitoring her due to her reporting on the Benghazi attacks. Attkisson writes that the "warning sheds new light on all the trouble I've been having with my phones and computers." She details a variety of ongoing technology problems she experienced at her home starting in the autumn of 2012, including strange sounds on her telephone (which unnamed sources tell her may be tapped), a television that "spontaneously jitters, mutes, and freeze-frames," a house alarm that repeatedly goes off at night, and a mysterious fiber optics cable cord that appears behind her house. Her Verizon FiOS system controls her internet, phone, and home security systems, which Attkisson suggests links these electronic malfunctions to her computer problems.
Now, Attkisson seems to be reversing the sinister suggestion that these electronic malfunctions are all the work of "Big Brother." In a November 4 interview on Imus in the Morning, Attkisson said that "all these disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion," suggesting instead it was a "gift" to experience these problems so that experts could find the legitimate hack into her computer (emphasis added):
DON IMUS: A big story out of all of this, apparently, is somebody is hacking your computer? Tell me about that.
ATTKISSON: It sounded very far-fetched at first, because the news hadn't come out yet about the government spying on Fox News reporter and confiscating personal records or phone records of Associated Press reporters and Ed Snowden so in that era, when I was having disruptions and things happening in my systems at home, I certainly didn't imagine the government was behind any of it but I had sources come to me and a couple of them, inside sources, say similar things, that I was probably being monitored because they had been seeing the work I had been doing on Benghazi and so on.
IMUS: Inside sources from CBS News?
ATTKISSON: No, from government-connected people and...
ATTKISSON: I don't want to say.
ATTKISSON: But they use very similar wording, two of them, in retrospect, they said something like the public would be shocked at the extent to which the government is spying on private citizens or monitoring private citizens and that kind of rang in my head especially when the second person used similar language, and just by coincidence all these disruptions happening in my electrical systems at home may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusions but it was enough to alert people that said something may be happening and it gave me the gift of being able to connect with someone who could do a forensic examination on my computer and discover apart from these disruptions in my house, they found forensic evidence of highly sophisticated remote intrusions into my home computer and my CBS laptop computer. In all I had three forensic exams done which all found evidence of the remote intrusions into these computers, not garden variety hackers, phishers, or that sort of thing.
As computer experts have noted, many of Attkisson's electronic problems may have non-suspicious causes. Security expert Robert Graham went through each example offered by Attkisson and concluded none were "credible" evidence of hacking -- instead, he thought they were likely the result of "common" problems like bad cables and old systems:
It's not that hackers can't cause these problems, it's that they usually don't. Even if hackers have thoroughly infested your electronics, these symptoms are still more likely to be caused by normal failure than by the hackers themselves. Moreover, even if a hacker caused any one of these symptoms, it's insane to think they caused them all.
Media Matters also asked several computer experts to review a video Attkisson has offered as evidence that her personal laptop was being tampered with. According to them, her computer "malfunction[ing]" was likely due to a stuck backspace key, not hacking by government agents.
Sharyl Attkisson's new book attempts to cast the former CBS News reporter as an intrepid reporter fighting against intractable barriers. But the book's sloppy inaccuracies and absent context reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts.
Attkisson resigned this year after two decades at CBS and promptly launched a media tour attacking her former employer for supposedly protecting the Obama administration from her reporting. Her new book has been published and promoted by conservative interests, who clearly see this narrative as a confirmation of their worldview that the "liberal" media is biased against them.
But Attkisson doesn't portray herself as a conservative folk hero pitted against "liberal bias." In fact, she sees that kind of rhetoric as distracting "from the real issues," and the real reasons she left CBS. Instead, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington is meant to confirm her place in the pantheon of nonpartisan journalists, who will "follow a story wherever it leads, no matter how unpleasant, no matter whom it touches or implicates." In her account, Attkisson is one of the few reporters who have been trying to hold the Obama administration accountable by investigating its supposedly scandalous behavior in the face of "forces" who seek to protect the White House.
Attkisson organizes the book around her coverage of four major news stories -- the botched law enforcement Operation Fast and Furious, the bankruptcy of a few green energy companies that had received federal funding, the Benghazi attacks, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, Healthcare.gov -- which she casts as symbolic of her desire to investigate administration failures. But Attkisson claims her efforts were repeatedly stymied by CBS.
Attkisson's claims of the opposition she faced at CBS News are difficult to confirm, as they rely on private conversations and anonymous sources. (The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has been attempting to identify and reach out to some of them, but has received few confirmations.) But her account inflates those supposed scandals by hiding key facts in favor of pushing conservative talking points -- the sort of behavior that led CBS officials to fear that she was "wading dangerously close to advocacy" in her reporting.
Attkisson was one of the first reporters to cover Operation Fast and Furious, under which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents allowed firearms to be trafficked across the U.S. - Mexico border, hoping to follow the guns to high-level Mexican drug cartel targets. ATF lost track of the guns, some of which ended up at crime scenes in Mexico, while others were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Stonewalled details Attkisson's role in reporting the story, for which she won an Emmy. However, her book also floats a number of debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the botched operation, while promoting the 2012 Department of Justice Inspector General report that undermines those same theories.
For instance, Attkisson falsely suggests that her reporting proved Attorney General Eric Holder was lying about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Holder testified under oath that he was unaware of the operation until it became public knowledge in early 2011, but Attkisson claims Holder was aware several months earlier:
Unfortunately for Holder, it wasn't long after his testimony that we obtained internal documents showing he was actually sent weekly briefings on Fast and Furious as early as July 2010, ten months before. The briefings came from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center and from Holder's own Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
However, the Inspector General report found that Holder did not personally review those reports, and that those reports did not refer to the agent's major failure to stop the firearms from crossing the border. The report went on to completely exonerate Holder, placing the "primary responsibility" for Fast and Furious on the ATF's Phoenix field office and the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's Office. Even House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acknowledged that he has "no evidence" or even a "strong suspicion" that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics.
Attkisson calls the Inspector General report "scathing" while acknowledging that its findings contradicted some of her reporting. Nevertheless, she misleadingly concludes by blasting the press for accurately exonerating Holder, accusing them of a "generous interpretation of the facts."
Attkisson goes on to attack the Obama administration's electric vehicle initiative, a part of the Department of Energy's clean energy loan program. She focuses on several failed companies that received federal funds, including Fisker Automotive and A123, and falsely claims their eventual bankruptcies were representative of the entire program:
Were these failed enterprises alone among an overwhelming body of successful green energy initiatives funded by tax dollars? No.
This is false. Despite conservative media's fixation on the few beneficiaries of clean energy loan programs that failed, such as Fisker and Solyndra -- and despite Attkisson's previous error-ridden report on what CBS called "new Solyndras" -- 98 percent of clean energy funds went to successful ventures:
Attkisson criticizes the media for a double standard when covering the bankruptcies, insisting that journalists gave President Obama a pass that they wouldn't have afforded President Bush -- all while insisting that she would have covered each president fairly (emphasis added):
Imagine a parallel scenario in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney personally appeared at groundbreakings for, and used billions of tax dollars to support, multiple giant corporate ventures whose investors were sometimes major political campaign bundlers, only to have one (or two, or three) go bankrupt. At a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. During a presidential election. When they knew in advance the companies' credit ratings were junk. News headlines would have been relentless with images of Bush and Cheney smiling and waing at one contrsuction-start ceremony after another, making their invalidated claims about jobs and untold millions...contrasted with images of empty plants and boarded-up warehouses. And I would have been proposing those stories.
But the program that started the Fisker loans -- called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program -- did begin under Bush.
In fact, Fisker itself was approached by the Bush administration and encouraged to apply for the loan, and they were in charge when the application was filed. Attkisson does not mention this context in her description of Fisker; instead, all she offers is a brief note that she had broadly investigated "the backgrounds of some troubled green ventures that benefited from federal tax dollars, whether under Bush or Obama."
Attkisson hides basic facts to suggest the Obama administration is trying to cover up the truth about September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
She narrates a moment in November 2012 when she attempted to find a photograph of President Obama on the night of the Benghazi attacks as a way to account for his "actions that night." Conservative media, and Fox News in particular, have repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of various administration officials the night of the attacks.
Attkisson claims the White House isn't being forthright about the President's whereabouts, which she characterizes as suspicious and politically motivated, given that "tax dollars pay to have a professional photographer cover most every aspect of the president's work life."
A photo of the president in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks has been available on the public White House Flickr account since October 11, 2012, three weeks before Attkisson claims she started looking for a photo.
The photo depicts Obama meeting with Denis McDonough, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Vice President Joe Biden, then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew. The existence of the photo has been repeatedly documented. Attkisson apparently did not know about the photo at the time, but she does not attempt to reconcile the facts now.
Attkisson criticizes her CBS bosses for not letting her repeatedly report on theoretical security problems the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchange website faced -- while hiding key testimony that confirmed there had been no security breaches.
Attkisson highlights the closed-door House Oversight Committee testimony of Teresa Fryer, a lead cybersecurity official on the project, who Attkisson holds up as "a knowledgeable insider" whose testimony is worth trusting as a "current, sitting, senior manager." Fryer testified that there had been two high-risk security findings on Healthcare.gov "after it went live October 1" (emphasis original), which Attkisson claims is a "bombshell" and reveals that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has misled journalists when they confirmed that "all fears about security risks in the past never came to pass."
What Attkisson fails to note is that during her testimony Fryer also explained there had been "no successful breaches" of the website; the "several layers of security" in place had performed as expected. The two findings Fryer mentioned were simply red flags -- they did not result in any real security failures, according to Fryer herself.
Attkisson notes that according to HHS one of the findings was a "false alarm" and the second was fixed, but insists "that may or may not be true. No proof is offered." She insists until evidence is produced it's simply the government's "side of the story," and derides media figures who accept the HHS "claims." She does not mention that Fryer made the exact same claims.
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.
A Media Matters analysis of newspaper coverage of anonymously donated "dark money" in three battleground states shows that secret money's growing influence on elections has not necessarily translated to more awareness in the media. While some news outlets are reporting on the influence this new influx of money is having on politics, others are merely providing a platform for dark-money groups to further their causes.
The term "dark money" is used to describe organizations that do not disclose the identity of at least some of their donors and that use money from these anonymous donors to fund political ads, mailers, and staff to try to influence voters and policymakers. Even spending by these groups may be shielded from disclosure, depending on the type of ad they run. Dark-money groups focus heavily on specific policy outcomes and try to connect candidates to their desired outcome through advertising. These groups protect their donors by never officially endorsing a candidate and by limiting their political activity. This allows them to be classified as "social welfare" organizations under the tax code, which means they do not have to disclose their funding.
Spending by dark-money groups in this election cycle is nearing the $200 million mark and is expected to spiral even higher before Election Day. Much of the spending by these groups is focused on influencing Senate races in key states. Media Matters reviewed newspaper coverage in three states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado) to see how they are covering this influx of anonymous outside funding. The results show large discrepancies in the quality of the coverage of dark-money groups, with some papers doing a significantly better job than others.
Of the three states analyzed, North Carolina's newspapers provided the best overall coverage of dark money influence. North Carolina's Senate race is expected to set a new record for outside spending, with $55.7 million spent so far, even without counting the non-disclosed money. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, the two largest papers by circulation in the state, went beyond reporting the existence of the groups and attempted to report which outside groups were spending money on which ads -- something these groups often fail to do themselves. The North Carolina papers also reported on how dark-money groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are using their influence to lobby for specific policies, such as the group's successful campaign to block a special legislative session on economic development.
The Colorado newspapers' coverage of dark-money activity proved to be far less extensive than that of the North Carolina newspapers, producing just 13 stories since July 15. Colorado's Senate race is also poised to break records in outside spending. The Denver Post's coverage did not go into depth the same way North Carolina's newspaper coverage did, but it did highlight efforts by groups like Americans for Prosperity to influence voters with their door-to-door outreach.
Colorado's second biggest paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, produced few reports on dark money during the period analyzed. However, a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News produced a report that covered many of the complexities of dark money. The article discussed outside spending by both conservative and liberal groups and explained the difficulty of tracking dark-money donors and the impact of their donations:
"Nonprofit political groups do not have to disclose donors," Viveka Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics said. "So we could only identify organizations that filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms) and that wouldn't include individuals or corporations, so there are still a lot of donors or donations no one would know about."
[Sheldon] Adelson, the Koch Brothers and many other politically active billionaires and multimillionaires across the political spectrum are able to maintain privacy and give endless funds after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
"TV ads are number one, the overwhelming most important tool in winning one of these campaigns," Ciruli said.
In New Hampshire, dark-money groups have spent at least $4.3 million in the Senate race -- overwhelmingly in support of the Republican candidate, as of September 8. This subject has seen poor coverage from the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. While the paper mentioned dark-money groups in 11 articles, and another five articles mentioned the groups and specific policies, the paper's coverage mostly provided a platform for groups like AFP to spread their message and did not explain the groups' attempt to influence policy decisions or the Senate race. For example, in a September 30 article, the paper gave AFP state director Greg Moore a platform to attack the state's budget situation and blast the Affordable Care Act, something the group has also done in its advertising against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, blamed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act for much of the shortfall in the two-year budget plan.
"The legislature gave the administration $57 million from the last, fiscally-responsible budget to spend, and expected that surplus to last for the entire, two-year budget, but Governor Hassan took her eyes off the ball and spent even more," Moore said. "Keeping within the budget takes strong executive action and discipline, but we aren't seeing that right now in Concord."
While the use of dark-money groups is not one sided, conservative groups are far more likely to use this route to shield wealthy donors and ensuing spending. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, in this election cycle, "Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican nonparty expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 32 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats." This is not a new trend for conservative supporters, as spending by nondisclosing groups has clearly favored Republican candidates over the past four election cycles:
The problem with dark-money groups, as the Brennan Center's analysis noted, is that "the lack of transparency in the majority of outside spending in competitive races leaves voters unable to evaluate the political messages they see" and that these groups "threaten to make a mockery of contribution limits and their prophylactic effect on corruption and influence buying." This sentiment was echoed by University of Louisville political science professor Laurie A. Rhodebeck in the Los Angeles Times, saying that the flood of dark-money spending is "detrimental to voters because if they don't know who is behind the money, they can't judge whether to trust the ad or not."
The scale of the problem is considerable. The Boston Globe reported on October 22 (emphasis added):
The impact is visible online and on television. One of every 16 television ads in US Senate races from January 2013 through August were paid for by a single group, Americans for Prosperity, according to the nonpartisan investigative Center for Public Integrity and advertising tracking service Kantar Media. AFP serves as a nonprofit advocacy arm of the political network backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Brennan Center found that during the 2012 election, "three-quarters of outside expenditures were made after September 30, and one-half were made in just the last three weeks of the campaign." This suggests that newspapers in these key battleground states still have the opportunity to report on how dark money is influencing their elections.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top newspapers (by circulation) in three highly contested states. The papers analyzed were North Carolina's News and Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer, New Hampshire's Union Leader, and Colorado's Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Concord Monitor, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, was excluded because it is not in the Nexis database. The search term "((outside or independent or nondisclos! or non-disclos! or undisclosed or dark or secretive) w/5 (money or expenditure or spending)) or (Americans for Prosperity) or (Crossroads GPS) or (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or (Patriot Majority USA) or (Concerned Veterans for America) or (Freedom Partners)" was used to search for reports on dark-money spending from July 15, 2014, when the Federal Election Commission's quarterly report was released, through October 24. While dark-money groups do not have to disclose all spending to FEC, as other groups do, this date aligns closely with the increase in outside spending.