Numerous conservative media outlets are scamming their followers with paid promotions for dubious marijuana stocks. In one instance, a promoted stock had its trading temporarily halted and was part of an FBI-investigated pump-and-dump scheme. In another, fine print acknowledged the promoters had "a direct conflict of interest" that would "negatively" affect "your shares."
Erick Erickson's RedState, Dick Morris, Newsmax, Townhall, and Human Events have all recently pushed the shady investments.
Readers who took the financial advice would have made a bad call as the stocks have plummeted. For example, conservatives sent sponsored emails recommending a company called MediJane at an entry point of $0.85. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.03. Dick Morris sent a sponsored email promoting Cannabis-Rx, Inc. on April 14, when it was trading at around $1. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.17.
Politico recently reported that pot companies "are a new vehicle for stock scammers promising big returns," prompting federal and state agencies to investigate stock manipulations. Scrutiny is focusing "on pump-and-dump schemes, which involve attempts to inflate a company's share price and then sell, or dump, the stock before unsuspecting investors get wise to the scheme." The schemes are more likely to target "penny stocks," which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defines as "a very small company that trades at less than $5 per share." Penny stocks are traded over-the-counter instead of on formal exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange.
The SEC issued an investor alert in May warning that "fraudsters" are using penny pot stocks "to lure investors with the promise of high returns." It cautioned that red flags include "E-mail and fax spam recommending a stock" and "SEC trading suspensions" -- both characteristics of the conservative-promoted stocks.
These shady stock promotions are part of a larger trend of conservatives scamming their followers for profit. Fox Business host Charles Payne was paid to promote now virtually worthless penny stocks. Tobin Smith sent paid promotions for stocks that ended up tanking; he was eventually fired from his position at Fox News for the practice. And Fox News host Mike Huckabee sent sponsored emails touting Smith's recommendation of Gray Fox Petroleum (GFOX); GFOX's price has since tanked and is now trading at a near 52-week low.
Below is a look at two recent marijuana stocks that conservative media promoted to followers.
National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of "double voting" -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
Conservative pundit Dick Morris, who wrote 2005's Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race and predicted Mitt Romney would win the 2012 election in a "landslide," now wants you to trust him with your retirement savings.
According to a July 30 press release, Morris is working with Retirement Media Inc. "to educate seasoned investors on how to protect their savings with safe alternatives outside of the stock market." Morris is headlining several events in the next few months where attendees will "hear market predictions from him." The event's website includes a video featuring "A Special Message from Dick Morris" in which Morris warns of people preying on "suckers."
Why anyone would voluntarily listen to "predictions" from Morris is unclear. Morris has a history of comically wrong political forecasting, incorrectly gave credence to warnings of a 2013 stock market crash, and has sent numerous pitches through his email newsletter promoting penny stocks which subsequently tanked and are now virtually worthless.
The former Fox News pundit -- whose tenure was marked by a pattern of ethical misdeeds -- became a national laughingstock after the 2012 election for his enthusiastic prediction that Mitt Romney would win in a "landslide." Other failed Morris predictions included his statements that "it's very possible" Obama would drop out of the race, that Donald Trump was "going to run" for president and "he could beat Obama," that Herman Cain would "overcome" sexual misconduct allegations, and Republicans would "win 10 seats in the Senate" in 2012.
Fox News finally let Morris go in February 2013. He was eventually hired by Philadelphia radio station WPHT for an afternoon program despite having "no ties to Philadelphia save for a few long-ago political consultancy gigs." Morris still makes regular appearances on Fox News -- he has appeared on Hannity eight times this year, according to a Nexis search.
Morris' previous warning of a stock market crash proved wildly wrong. On August 7, 2013, he posted a piece headlined, "Prediction Of A Crash In Next Two Weeks." Morris wrote that Jim Fitzgibbon "predicts a massive drop in the stock market and the economy this month that will continue, with brief spurts upward, until the end of the year and beyond. His track record in predictions is extraordinary." Morris concluded: "This is not a paid ad. It is my heartfelt wish that you hear what he has to say and take it seriously." The stock market did not crash -- in 2013, the Dow Jones and S&P 500 posted their biggest percentage gains since 1995 and 1997, respectively.
An easy way to lose money is to listen to stock advice sent through Morris' email list. Morris has regularly sent sponsored emails for penny stocks -- risky micro-cap stocks that often lack transparency and a long track record -- from dubious compensated stock pitchers who promise to "potentially double or triple your money" and turn "$2,000" into "$132,000." Many of the stocks promoted through DickMorris.com have become virtually worthless. Here are just five examples since 2013 (current stock prices as of posting):
Last week, Fox News invited discredited conspiracy theorist Kathleen Willey on air to smear Hillary Clinton. Willey has for years spread outlandish conspiracies about the Clintons, including suggesting that they may have been behind the death of her husband and former White House aide Vince Foster.
During the interview Fox host Megyn Kelly pointed out that "detractors" say Willey is a "dishonest person," and that "there's no direct evidence tying the Clintons" to some of Willey's more outrageous allegations. But the fact that Willey is dishonest and lacks evidence for her smears merely highlights the folly of giving her a platform in the first place.
Fox News has had similar lapses in judgment when hosting other conspiracy theorists and smear artists in the past. Among others, Fox has hosted a person who thinks the Obama administration may have "orchestrated" the Benghazi attacks; a guest that believes the president and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person; a blogger that thinks Obama's father isn't Obama's father; a contributor that once wrote a column arguing Rep. Gary Condit had Chandra Levy killed by a gay Caribbean motorcycle gang; and someone who thinks the president "bears traits that resemble the Antichrist."
Below is an admittedly incomplete list of the least credible guests the network has ever hosted. People that just missed the cut include a self-proclaimed prophet who warned that the Antichrist "will employ precisely the same methods" as President Obama and the author of the birther tomes Where's The Birth Certificate? and Where's The Real Birth Certificate?
While Fox News contributor and former Sen. Scott Brown ended his financial relationship with the conservative website Newsmax after the company sent his email list controversial solicitations, National Review and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) tell Media Matters they will continue to let Newsmax send dubious ads to their own email lists.
Newsmax previously used both outlets' email lists to send advertisements plugging the same questionable doctor that caused Brown to sever relations with the company this week.
Brown cut ties with Newsmax on February 5, hours after the media began reporting on a missive the company had sent his political email list trumpeting the Alzheimer's disease cures of Dr. Russell Blaylock. In the email, Blaylock linked fluoridated water and flu vaccines to Alzheimer's and excessive exercise to Parkinson's disease.
In recent years, several prominent conservative outlets and personalities have sent Newsmax-sponsored emails to their followers pushing Blaylock's questionable medicine. In addition to Brown, National Review, and CBN, similar email ads have been sent through Newsmax from Dick Morris, Mike Huckabee, and Herman Cain. Newsmax frequently advertises for dubious health and financial products.
When asked about the questionable claims made in Blaylock's ads and the decision of Sen. Brown to terminate his relationship, National Review Publisher Jack Fowler told Media Matters he had no plans to end his magazine's Newsmax agreements.
"We have a relationship with Newsmax and that's all I'm going to say," Fowler said in an interview Thursday. "I can't speak for what Scott Brown does or doesn't do. I don't know who he has had a relationship with or whatever, but we have a relationship with Newsmax and that's it."
Asked if he had concerns given the questionable elements of Blaylock's claims, Fowler said, "Have a good day."
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Christian Broadcasting Network, also defended the Newsmax/Blaylock email ads, describing Blaylock as a "qualified medical professional" and stating that "it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments." But he also pointed out that CBN includes a disclaimer in each email that states CBN does not endorse the products.
CBN attempts to vet all potential advertisers based on multiple criteria including pending legal complaints or conflicts, general business practices and also to make certain that there is no offensive material. CBN also evaluates potential advertisers and products based on their compatibility with the online environment we strive to create and the shared common faith values with our website users.
Regarding Dr. Blaylock, he is a retired neurosurgeon and an author with a very large following. As an M.D. he is certainly qualified to weigh in on the tragic disease of Alzheimer's.
As it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments - case in point: the use of vitamin supplements - CBN does not, and will not, attempt to validate medical opinions from qualified medical professionals in determining whether an advertisement is appropriate.
CBN includes a disclaimer in every sponsored email stating that the content is a paid advertisement and that it is not an endorsement by CBN. We feel our viewers can determine for themselves whether the content is valuable or not. We have not received a single complaint about this advertisement.
Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee did not respond to inquiries from Media Matters, while a spokesman for Herman Cain declined comment via email.
With their conspiratorial, knee-jerk claim that New York Times' lengthy investigation into the Benghazi terror attack of 2012 was really an elaborate effort to aid Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in three years -- to "clear the deck" as Chris Wallace put it -- right-wing journalists seem to have mistaken the newspaper of record for one of their own conservative "news" outlets. It's the right-wing media, not the Times, that has a record of peddling purposeful misinformation for purely political reasons.
David Kirkpatrick's Times series, "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," undercut a number of favorite right-wing Benghazi talking points. Among them, the Times debunked claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the terror attacks -- a central tenet of the Benghazi hoax that conservatives have deployed to attack President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and others for engaging in a "cover-up" of the attack.
Since its publication, far-right commentators have have rushed to engage in lazy speculation about what motivated the Times to investigate Benghazi (aside from the fact that far-right voices have demanded for more than a year that news organizations like the New York Times investigate Benghazi).
But when the Times came to the 'wrong' conclusions and Fox News and friends needed to explain to their loyal customers why the year-long Benghazi tale they've been telling had been demolished by the Times, critics announced the story was all part of some vast, left-wing conspiracy.
The allegation is pure conjecture, though. Conservatives don't, and can't, cite any sources inside the Times who confirm the sprawling claim of a Clinton cover-up because there's zero evidence to bolster the allegation. Instead, the fact that the Times never mentioned Hillary Clinton in its Benghazi report simply confirms that the report was all about Hillary Clinton. And the fact that a Times editor pointedly denied the report was about Clinton simply confirms that the report was all about Clinton. (See how that convenient, closed loop works?)
Conservatives have become so used to the idea that their own outlets are, and should be, used to advance political agendas that they've convinced themselves that's how reputable news organizations go about gathering and disseminating information.
In this case, conservatives have convinced themselves, without being weighted down by facts or evidence, that senior editors at the Times assign long-term investigative pieces based on how the predetermined outcome of the reporting will benefit Democratic politicians, and specifically Democratic politicians who might run for president in 2016. It's journalism as political cover. Or, pretty much the opposite of how the trade is actually practiced.
The notion is pure fantasy, not to mention insulting, and reveals a complete lack of understanding of how journalism functions in a democratic society. The Fox and Republican assumption is that journalists act as unpaid advisers and advocates for politicians and that their work revolves around advancing a partisan agenda. Why do they think that?
Because that's how conservatives behave. And they're often quite open about it.
The Republican National Committee voted this morning to ban NBC News and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates in 2016. On paper, the vote was to protest plans by NBC and CNN to produce, respectively, a miniseries and a documentary on Hillary Clinton. But there's a whole lot more undergirding this move to exclude these outlets from the Republican debates. The long-standing animus toward the "liberal media" among conservatives has morphed into outright paranoia, and it came to a head during the 2012 campaign when George Stephanopoulos asked a debate question about contraception.
Here's what happened. Rick Santorum talked about contraception a lot during his 2012 presidential campaign. He railed against "the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea" in an October 2011 interview with an evangelical blog. He told NBC's Today on December 29 that contraception "leads to lot of sexually transmitted diseases, it leads to a lot of unplanned pregnancies." On January 2, 2012, just a few days before participating in a Republican debate co-hosted by ABC News, Santorum was asked by then-ABC reporter Jake Tapper about his belief that states should be able to ban contraception. "The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," Santorum said.
Then, at the ABC/Yahoo News debate on January 7, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney if he shared Santorum's belief "that states have the right to ban contraception." Romney responded: "George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception." Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose.
From all corners of the conservative media came accusations that George Stephanopoulos, in asking about contraception, had "coordinated" with Team Obama to lure the Republican candidates into some sort of trap on birth control. Much of the speculation was driven by Dick Morris, which should have been a pretty big red flag in terms of reliability. The theory rested on the assumption that the contraception issue just came out of nowhere, which, of course, is not true -- Santorum was asked about it just five days before the debate by one of Stephanopoulos' colleagues.
In the latest edition of his daily video commentary, Dick Morris pleaded with Rush Limbaugh to "stop losing the elections" for Republicans by opposing efforts to reform immigration.
Morris, formerly of Fox News, backs the current bipartisan proposal to reform the immigration system, pitching it to his conservative viewers as a good way to eat into the Democratic Party's success with Latino voters.
Discussing the proposal's "path to citizenship" Morris notes, "it delays the path to citizenship by a good, long time which gives the Republican Party a long time to deal with the Latino vote."
Directly addressing Limbaugh's opposition to the proposal, Morris asks him, "What is your alternative?"
Morris goes on to implore Limbaugh to "stop losing the elections for us" by "insisting on some objective standard of purity" on the issue. Instead, Morris tells Limbaugh to focus on "what's practical" in order to "focus on the changes that are taking place in the country, and deal with them."
From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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Dick Morris is working with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on a new television advertisement that will include Preibus seeking to attract Latino voters, Morris revealed during an appearance in New York City Thursday.
Speaking at the Poli Conference, a political consulting event for Latin American campaign professionals, Morris said the ad will feature Priebus reaching out to "those Latin Americans who've come to the United States to help us build our country, to help harvest our food, to help make our economy work and [Priebus'] message is 'welcome, we need you, you're making our country younger, more prosperous, harder working and we need you for the future.'"
According to Morris, the ad will make use of "that concept of reflecting back to people their own value and their own worth. In the advertisement he [Priebus] says, 'we honor our ancestors who took covered wagons to settle the west and brave the Indians, but you are the new pioneers, you are the new people in America doing that.' And I think that is a very, very interesting thing to do in a campaign."
Republican Party Spokesman Ryan Mahoney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ad. Asked about when it might run or where, Morris declined to offer more details.
Morris' work with the Republican National Committee is noteworthy given the implosion of Morris' stature and credibility following the 2012 election and his now infamous prediction of a "landslide" victory for Republican Mitt Romney. After the election Morris was effectively banned from appearing on Fox News, where he worked as an on-air contributor until the network declined to renew his contract in early February. Morris also brings with him a host of ethics problems -- Morris' group Super PAC for America reportedly spent significant amounts of money renting Morris' own email list in the months before the election, allowing him to simply pocket money raised by the group.
Former Fox News commentator Dick Morris says he still "love[s]" the network and expects to return to its airwaves.
In February Fox confirmed that it had declined to renew Morris' contract. The network had benched him from bookings for several months following his repeated on-air prediction of a Mitt Romney "landslide" in the days leading up to Romney's defeat.
During a March 14 appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just south of Washington, D.C., Morris told Media Matters, "I love Fox, you know. You come and you go in this business, I'll come again."
Asked if he thought he would return to the network in the future, Morris said, "Sure, probably."
Dick Morris, cut loose from Fox News after years of embarrassingly wrong political analysis, is still gainfully employed by The Hill, which continues to publish his weekly column. The very public battering Morris took following the 2012 election has done nothing to improve the quality of his commentary, and his most recent Hill column demonstrates as much. Headlined "Latinos could be GOP allies," the column is based on a Republican-funded push poll conducted by a pollster whose work in the 2012 Mexican presidential election distinguished itself with near-Dick Morris levels of inaccuracy.
"A new poll taken by Mexico's leading public opinion researcher shows that U.S. citizens of Latino descent are potentially strong allies of the Republican Party," writes Morris. The poll, as Morris acknowledges, was "organized and funded by John Jordan of Jordan Winery, a prominent Republican donor," but that's really the least of its problems. The questions asked, as quoted by Morris, are so over-the-top and one-sided that it's no real surprise the results are so favorable to the GOP:
By 59-34 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that "Democrats are closer to the leaders we had in Latin America, always giving handouts to get votes. If we let them have their way, we will end up being like the countries our families came from, not like the America of great opportunities we all came to."
By 78-16 percent, U.S. Latinos agreed that Latino immigrants must "not go the way some have gone into high unemployment, crime, drugs, and welfare.
They must be more like the hard working immigrants who came here and worked their way up without depending on the government." More important, when asked which party most shares this sentiment, they chose the Republicans, by a margin of 45-29 percent.
By 47-31, Latinos agree that Republicans would do more to "strengthen churches so they can help the poor and teach values of faith and family." By 89-8, they think that "too many people depend on the government and its handouts. That way of thinking is very bad and leads to lifetimes of unemployment, poverty, and crime." And, by 45-37, they believe the Republican Party is more likely to share their view than Democrats are.
The poll's methodology does little to enhance its credibility. It combined telephone and in-person interviews conducted over the course of an entire month, January 15 to February 15. What's the problem with having a poll in the field that long? Something big could happen that might alter the opinions of the population being sampled -- like, say, the president of the United States laying out an immigration reform plan.
From the February 17 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the February 10 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the February 7th edition of Current TV's The Bill Press Show:
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