Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • Why Won't CNN Answer These Questions About Corey Lewandowski?

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    CNN and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign are unsuccessfully attempting to defuse the explosive new details surrounding ongoing payments from the campaign to former campaign manager and current CNN commentator Corey Lewandowski.

    As reported by The Washington Post, Trump’s recent campaign filing disclosed that Lewandowski “was paid $20,000 in August by the campaign for what it described as ‘strategy consulting’” through his firm Green Monster Consulting. The Post also reported that “CNN has said previously that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski and his consulting firm were ‘severance’ for his employment by Trump.” However, as explained by the Post, “the description used by Trump’s campaign in the filing -- ‘strategy consulting’ -- also suggested that Lewandowski is playing a more active and current role in the campaign than ‘severance’ would suggest.” Responding to the allegations, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks maintained that Lewandowski is “no longer involved in the campaign [and] continues to receive monthly severance payments.”

    Hicks’ statements on Lewandowski’s role and CNN’s ongoing employment of someone who is still being paid in some form by the campaign leave several unanswered questions: Where is the money for severance documented, given that the Trump campaign filings call payments to Lewandowski “strategy consulting,” the same term that they used to describe his work while he was employed by the campaign for the last year and a half? Has Lewandowski been double dipping -- i.e. taking money from the Trump campaign for work while also receiving severance? Was CNN aware that Lewandowski was still receiving "strategy consulting" payments from the campaign? Most significantly, why hasn’t CNN suspended Lewandowski already -- or, better yet, fired him?

    As The New York Times noted, the fact that in its most recent FEC filing the Trump campaign listed the August payment “as ‘strategy consulting’” raises “questions about whether [CNN] in effect has a Trump campaign strategist on its payroll.” Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out a similar issue on Twitter, writing that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski “in AUGUST” appears to be “awfully long after his firing for him to be collecting old fees” and that he couldn’t “remember any [other campaigns] paying severance to fired staff.” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple also raises the question of why Lewandowski is still receiving severance months after being let go from the campaign. Wemple quotes an employment lawyer suggesting the payments may be spread out as a way to “muzzle or control” Lewandowski:

    A look at the timeline reveals that Lewandowski’s firing from Camp Trump occurred on June 20, or nearly three months ago. That’s a protracted severance-paying period, no?

    It sure is, says employment lawyer Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP. “The vast majority of severance agreements that we’ve negotiated are lump-sum payments,” says Katz, especially if the firms have the financial wherewithal to pay them. So structuring the severance payments over a number of months could be the approach of a cash-starved organization.

    There’s another motive, however. “It is not uncommon to string them out as a way to muzzle or control the person who’s receiving the funds,” says Katz.

    It's not just the recent filings in which Lewandowski was paid for “strategy consulting." According to Trump's FCC filings, Lewandowski has received the same type of payment for “strategy consulting” since April 1, 2015 -- before and after he was reportedly fired by the campaign and before and after he began his employment with CNN. It appears Lewandowski has never been paid directly by the Trump campaign, but instead those uninterrupted funds went to the firm registered to him.

    As reported by the Post in August, this isn’t the first time the Trump campaign’s FEC filings did not seem to match how CNN explained -- and justified -- Lewandowski’s employment and the continued payments he was receiving from the campaign. On August 21, the Post noted in passing that FEC filings showed “Lewandowski received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 – two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator.”

    But the Post’s new report based on the new FEC filings highlights something different -- and far more damning.

    The July 6 disbursement to Lewandowski’s firm reported by the Post in August was a payment for the 2016 primary -- and could technically be for campaign work done in June, before he was a CNN employee. The newly discovered August 11 payment to Lewandowski is a “strategy consulting” disbursement for the 2016 general election, while Lewandowski was being paid by CNN to shill for Trump -- almost a full two months after he was supposedly fired by the candidate.

    So is Lewandowski being paid three times? Twice by the campaign, once by CNN, and all for the same job?

    Lewandowski will reportedly be on CNN later today. If neither the network nor the campaign can explain these discrepancies and answer basic questions about this ridiculous conflict of interest, maybe he will.

  • Before Lewandowski, CNN Said Contributors Getting “Paid” By A Campaign “Would Not Be Permitted”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    CNN’s decision to continue employing Corey Lewandowski, who is being simultaneously paid by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, clashes with its own years-long stated policies. The network has previously said that a person being "paid" by a campaign “would not be permitted to be a CNN contributor.”

    Trump’s recently filed Federal Elections Commission report revealed that Lewandowski received $20,000 for “strategy consulting” in August through his company Green Monster Consulting LLC. CNN hired Lewandowski as a paid contributor in late June after he was fired from the Trump campaign. The new payment from Trump renewed criticism of CNN for continuing to employ the Trump insider, who is reportedly still advising the Republican nominee.

    The Trump campaign has claimed the disbursements are for “monthly severance payments,” but a spokesperson did not respond to a New York Times question about “why the payments were not described as severance to the F.E.C.”

    CNN’s defense of its Lewandowski employment clashes with its own stated policies toward contributors over the years.

    In 2011, the New York Daily News raised questions about whether Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher could simultaneously work for President Obama’s campaign and CNN. The news network responded by stating that if a contributor gets “paid” by a campaign, that person “would not be permitted to be a CNN contributor”:

    Belcher did not respond to requests for comment, but a CNN spokeswoman tells us the pollster is currently "not being paid by the Obama campaign. If he were," she added, "he would not be permitted to be a CNN contributor."

    Presumably, Belcher will cease to appear on CNN when his work for Obama's campaign begins.

    In 2010, Media Matters documented that the Republican National Committee paid $12,000 to CNN contributor Alex Castellanos for “consulting.” Castellanos said he returned the payment because it went against “CNN's preference and policy.”

    In October 15, 2009, the Republican National Committee paid $12,000 to CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, a payment that apparently violated CNN's stated policy. When contacted last week by Media Matters, Castellanos said he was initially unaware of the payment and returned it last year when he "found out."

    "I was not aware of the payment because ours is a large business and an employee who handles and processes payments for me dealt with the RNC transaction," Castellanos said.

    "CNN's preference and policy is that I don't work for the RNC or political candidates. When I found out that I was being paid by the RNC, I returned it," Castellanos said. "I wish I could keep it. I would like to add to the economic recovery."

    The New York Times reported at the time that CNN said contributors could continue working for the network as long as they weren’t getting paid by candidates or political parties:

    Mr. Castellanos, who previously drew criticism from Democrats for owning a firm that produced advertisements for the Chamber of Commerce and health insurance companies, was named this week as an image consultant for the Republican National Committee.

    On Tuesday, a CNN spokeswoman said the appointment would not disqualify Mr. Castellanos for working as a paid commentator because his job for the R.N.C. was an unpaid position. The spokeswoman, Edie Emery, said CNN had allowed Democratic political advisers like Paul Begala to continue working as long as the jobs they did for the party or candidates were unpaid.

    In July, CNN temporarily suspended its contributor contract with Donna Brazile after she became the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. Brazile is reportedly being compensated by the DNC for serving as interim chair.

    CNN is overturning years of precedent by employing Lewandowski -- yet another reason the network should cut ties with him immediately.

  • CNN Shouldn’t Suspend Corey Lewandowski. The Network Should Fire Him.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    It’s long past time for CNN to cut ties with former Donald Trump campaign manager and current Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski.

    Earlier today, Mediaite reported that according to its sources, CNN had suspended Lewandowski. A CNN spokesperson has told media reporters that this is not true, though some CNN staff apparently believed that it was.

    CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski has been widely criticized as an ethical morass from the start. Media ethicists and journalists have been condemning CNN for months.​

    Here’s what we know is happening right now:

    Corey Lewandowski is getting paid by Donald Trump.

    Corey Lewandowski is advising Donald Trump.

    Corey Lewandowski is getting paid by CNN to talk about Donald Trump.

    CNN and the Trump campaign both refer to the payments Lewandowski continues to receive from the Republican presidential nominee as “severance” rather than payment for “services rendered.” But according to the Trump campaign’s own filings, the payments are for “strategy consulting,” and Trump’s spokesperson says they will continue through the election.

    As of yesterday, CNN’s president was still defending this stain on CNN’s reputation.

    This is unacceptable.

    CNN should cut ties with Lewandowski immediately.

  • Huffington Post: CNN's Zucker Continues To Defend Hiring Of Corey Lewandowski

    Zucker Acknowledges Knowing That Lewandowski Was Receiving Payment From Trump Campaign While Working As Paid Analyst On CNN

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN CEO Jeff Zucker defended the hiring of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid CNN political analyst while also noting he was aware of the former aide continuing to receive payment from the campaign at the time of his hiring.

    Lewandowski, who is still currently receiving severance from the campaign was hired by CNN as a political commentator in June. Since joining CNN, Lewandowski has used his platform to relentlessly defend Trump, including defending his attacks on a Gold Star family, claiming Trump’s solicitations of foreign donation are legal, and reviving Trump’s birther conspiracy theory.

    Further complicating CNN’s ethical dilemma, Lewandowski has admitted to traveling with the Trump campaign and is reportedly advising Trump in preparation for the upcoming debates.

    In a September 20 article, The Huffington Post highlighted Jeff Zucker's continuing defense of Lewandowski, and despite knowing at the time of his hiring that Lewandowski was still receiving severance from the Trump campaign while CNN is paying him for his analysis. According to the Huffington Post article:

    Lewandowski, who presumably can’t speak candidly about the Trump campaign due to a non-disclosure agreement, was flowing with praise for his former boss right out of the gate.

    In mid-July, CNN began to disclose that Lewandowski was still receiving severance from the Trump campaign during his on-air appearances, though the network didn’t explain why it began doing so then.

    At Tuesday’s town hall, Zucker said the network was aware of Lewandowski’s severance from the start of his employment.

    [...]

    Zucker has a long history with Trump given that he ran NBC during the launch of Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice.” The veteran TV executive faced criticism early in the 2016 election for the attention CNN paid to Trump, who now rarely appears on the network and routinely bashes it as favoring Hillary Clinton.

    CNN, which already employed several prominent conservative commentators, added several pro-Trump pundits this cycle, including Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany and Scottie Nell Hughes. Zucker publicly praised Lewandowski as having “done a really nice job” in an August interview that ran the same day the Republican operative revived Trump’s toxic birtherism.

    CNN host Jake Tapper, who moderated Tuesday’s employee town hall, also emphasized that many of the network’s stable of conservative pundits were Trump critics and that it’s important to have people on air representing the views of the tens of millions of Americans expected to vote for the Republican nominee.

    For information on Media Matters’ petition for CNN to cut ties with Lewandowski, please click here.

  • Sunday News Shows Omit Coverage Of Trump Foundation Investigation, Conflicts Of Interest

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Sunday morning political news programs neglected two major news stories that raise ethical questions about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s family charity and his business interests, including reports that Trump’s charitable foundation is under investigation by the New York Attorney General and the conflicts of interest the Trump Organization would raise in a Trump presidency.

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a September 13 CNN interview that his office is investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns that it “engaged in some impropriety” as related to New York charity laws. The investigation launched amid reports from The Washington Post that Trump spent money from his charity on items meant to benefit himself, such as a $20,000 oil painting of himself and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, and also recycled others’ contributions “to make them appear to have come from him” although he “hasn’t given to the foundation since 2008.”

    In Newsweek’s September 23 cover story, Kurt Eichenwald reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization, Eichenwald reported, has been “largely ignored” by media, yet would cause “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions a president Trump would make. Eichenwald’s report explains that the Trump Organization’s enterprise includes “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals,” and “reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with major national security decisions and negotiations required by the presidential elect.

    Yet none of the Sunday morning political news shows dedicated substantial coverage to either report on September 18.

    NBC’s Meet The Press briefly alluded to reports that the Trump Organization could pose conflicts of interest without mentioning the Newsweek report directly. Host Chuck Todd asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway whether Trump would offer an “explanation of how he will wall off his business so that there are not even illusions or any sort of cloud that would hang over foreign policy decisions and his international business dealings.”

    But ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CBS’ Face the Nation all completely ignored the stories about Trump’s foundation and business empire, even though each featured interviews with Trump surrogates who could have been asked about them. Meet the Press did not reference Trump’s foundation.

    Journalists have been criticized for the “double standard” in the ways they cover Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, cable news programs devoted 13 times more coverage to Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis as The Washington Post’s reporting about the Trump Foundation. This week, both the Trump Foundation and Trump Organization stories were given short shrift by the broadcast news programs in favor of coverage of Donald Trump’s Dr. Oz stunt.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters conducted a SnapStream search for any coverage of both reports on Sunday morning political news shows including: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face The Nation, NBC’s Meet The Press, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union. The search was conducted using search terms “Newsweek,” “Eichenwald,” “Trump Organization,” “Fahrenthold,” “Trump Foundation,” “Trump Charity,” and “Charity.” 

  • Media Host Trump Adviser Boris Epshteyn On Russia Without Disclosing His Business Ties

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Media outlets have been hosting Donald Trump senior adviser Boris Epshteyn, who has used the platform to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin from criticism and to claim that the Clintons, not Trump, have “been way too cozy with the Russians.” Outlets have failed to disclose during discussions about Russia that Epshteyn has financial ties to the former Soviet Union, which include consulting for “entities doing business in Eastern Europe” and moderating a Russian-sponsored conference on "investment opportunities in Moscow.” 

  • ABC World News Tonight Ignores Report On New Investigation Into Trump Foundation

    CBS And NBC Devote Segments To The Breaking News Story

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    While broadcast news programs on NBC and CBS covered reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating whether Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s charitable foundation complied with laws governing charities in New York, ABC’s World News Tonight failed to report on the development. 

    On September 14, Schneiderman told CNN his office is investigating The Donald J. Trump Foundation over concerns that the charity may have “engaged in some impropriety” regarding New York state non-profit regulations.

    Reports of the Attorney General’s investigation followed a series of reports by The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold that stated Trump’s charity appeared “to have repeatedly broken IRS rules,” contained little of Trump’s own money, and occasionally purchased things “that seemed to benefit only Trump.” Fahrenthold also reported that Trump’s charity had been “retooled” to “spend other people’s money” on things such as a $20,000 portrait of Trump and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, therefore allowing “a rich man to be philanthropic for free.”

    NBC and CBS both included segments about Schneiderman’s inquiry during their September 14 evening news programs, but ABC neglected to include the report in its network’s programing.

    Media have brushed aside revelations about the Trump Foundation to devote airtime to hyping questions about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton

  • CNN's Lewandowski Reportedly Getting More Involved With Trump Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN contributor and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has “reengaged with” Trump’s presidential campaign “more broadly” in recent weeks, according to a new Politico report, providing yet more evidence that CNN’s contract with him is an ethical nightmare that must end.

    Since Lewandowski was hired by CNN in June, media ethicists and journalists have strongly condemned CNN's decision repeatedly.​ Lewandowski is still on the Trump campaign payroll, and CNN anchors frequently introduce him by noting that he continues to receive severance from his former employer. He reportedly speaks to Trump “almost every day” and has even traveled with the campaign. He has also been reportedly helping Trump prepare for the presidential debates. It is because of these extensive ethical breaches that CNN should cut ties with Lewandowski.

    According to a September 14 Politico report, Lewandowski “has reengaged with [Trump’s] operation more broadly, listening in on morning conference calls and conferring regularly with campaign CEO Stephen Bannon and deputy campaign manager David Bossie.” According to the report, “critics see a conflict of interest between Lewandowski’s engagement with the campaign and his new gig as a paid commentator on CNN.” The piece quotes an “activist involved in the campaign” who claims that Lewandowski “‘is doing his job as a CNN correspondent to get insider information just like anyone in the journalism business’” and that “‘Corey’s a journalist now.’” From the report:

    Lewandowski was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in June after manhandling a reporter and in the face of concerns that he encouraged the candidate’s reckless statements. He was effectively replaced by Paul Manafort, his chief rival in Trump’s orbit, who himself resigned under fire on Aug. 19.

    Lewandowski declined to comment.

    But now, with the departure of Manafort and the installation of a regime much friendlier to him, Lewandowski’s engagement with the Trump campaign appears to once again be on the rise, not just in the swing state of New Hampshire but also nationally.

    Even in exile, Lewandowski maintained a close relationship with Trump. But in recent weeks, with the absence of a leadership team actively committed to boxing him out, he has reengaged with the operation more broadly, listening in on morning conference calls and conferring regularly with campaign CEO Stephen Bannon and deputy campaign manager David Bossie — an old friend who persuaded Trump to hire Lewandowski last year — according to Republicans close to the campaign.

    [...]

    The Trump campaign emphasizes that Lewandowski has no decision-making authority, and those who work with Lewandowski describe his role as informal and advisory. “He weighs in particularly on issues that involve Trump directly,” said an activist involved in the campaign. “Where he should be going and not going. What he should comment on and not comment on.”

    While critics see a conflict of interest between Lewandowski’s engagement with the campaign and his new gig as a paid commentator on CNN, the activist, at least, took the opposite view. “Corey is doing his job as a CNN correspondent to get insider information just like anyone in the journalism business,” said the activist. “Corey’s a journalist now.” A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment.

    [...]

    In early September, not long after the meeting with Biundo, a state-level campaign official said he was warned that Lewandowski was listening in on the regular morning conference call that includes communications and political staffers.

    “His name is popping up more and more and more,” said a Republican official who works with the campaign. “He was not around, and then all of a sudden he was around again.”