Will Fox allow Bill O'Reilly to help Newsmax sell its financial products?

The right-wing website Newsmax has enlisted Fox News host Bill O'Reilly to headline its upcoming “Economic Crisis Summit.” Previous Newsmax “summits” have not been “summits” at all, but rather thinly disguised infomercials in which Newsmax stoked viewers' fears of economic collapse to drive sales of its financial-services products.

O'Reilly to headline Newsmax's “Economic Crisis Summit”

Newsmax highlights Fox News affiliation of “Premier Guest” O'Reilly. A June 3 email sent to Newsmax's mailing list exhorts readers to sign up to view its June 17 “Economic Crisis Summit,” a webcast which promises “Powerful Solutions for Uncertain Times.” The email identifies O'Reilly as the summit's “Premier Guest” and states that the summit's “esteemed panel” will be “led by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Dick Morris.” The email further states that O'Reilly “has been warning Americans of the dangerous economic policies being pushed by Obama and Congress.”

Summit will discuss “real solutions” people “can take to ensure their wealth is safeguarded.” The email describes the summit as follows:

On June 17, an esteemed panel led by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Dick Morris, along with global investor Jim Rogers and Newsmax CEO and Editor in Chief Christopher Ruddy, will convene to discuss inflation, higher taxes, our fragile economy, and real solutions that average Americans can take to ensure their wealth is safeguarded and positioned to prosper in an uncertain future.

The email further states that under President Obama “major inflation” and tax increases are inevitable and states that the panel will “discuss these threats to your wealth.”

Newsmax's previous “Summits” were actually infomercials for its financial products

“Early Warning Wealth Summit” pushes Newsmax's “Money Matrix Insider” scheme. On February 25, Newsmax aired an “Early Warning Wealth Summit” webcast hosted by 2008 Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root and featuring Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, Morris, “International Currency Expert” Sean Hyman, and Robert Wiedemer. The ultimate goal of the webcast was to promote what it called the “Money Matrix Insider” -- a method of investing in foreign currency exchange markets. Newsmax provided further details on the offer in a web page (PDF) carrying Hyman's byline, which stated that “Christopher Ruddy is so confident in the rewards to be had from this legal caper, that he put $1.5 million of his company's money 'on the line' to make this opportunity available to you.” Newsmax is charging $1,495 for the “Money Matrix Insider” package -- described as a $1,000 discount off the regular “membership price” -- apparently operated by Hyman, which includes instructional DVDs, tips and alerts, and access to a “vast, password-protected Web site [where] you will be delivered members-only articles, weekly videos and audio commentary, the track record, and the ability to ask [Hyman] questions or suggest topics to be discussed in weekly commentaries.” The web page touted the importance of being “one of the first 1,000 to order today” at the discounted price. The page touted a “Potential Reward” of "$137,000 (or more) Legally in Your Pocket in the Next Year Alone!"

“Emergency Dollar Summit” also apparently tied to “Money Matrix Insider” scheme. An October 2009 email from Ruddy touted a November 5, 2009, “Emergency Dollar Summit” webcast with Steve Forbes. An email by Ruddy sent after the webcast references the prospect of a $137,000 “payout” in the next year. Ruddy's email urges readers to click on a link “now” in order to view the webcast; the link now goes to promotional materials for the “Money Matrix Insider.”

“A Call to Arms” webcast touted “Million Dollar Secret Code” scheme. On May 7, 2009, Newsmax hosted “A Call to Arms,” a “national internet webcast” in which Ruddy invited viewers to pay $1,295 for a package including a year's worth of stock tips from Ruddy's “chief financial adviser.” Ruddy wrote (PDF) that the “Million Dollar Secret Code” he promoted in the “Call to Arms” webcast is based on the stock-picking of analyst David Frazier, whom Ruddy called his “private financial weapon.” Ruddy stated that he was investing $1 million of Newsmax's money in the promotion, adding, “David believes he can bring a 50% to 70%-plus return over the next 12 months to this $1 million.” The promotion would provide “About 36 Massive Profit/Minimum Risk Plays,” in which "[y]ou will be given guidance about exactly what to buy, at what price, and how much. David Frazier will provide you with all of the research and analysis behind each recommendation. And you will get a 48-hour head start on me, before I can buy the exact same stock recommendations."

O'Reilly previously downplayed his economic credentials

O'Reilly on May 25: “I'm not an economist.” On the May 25 edition of his Fox News show (accessed from the Nexis database), O'Reilly stated: “I have a sheet here that says here are the good things about the economy and there are some. And here are the bad things about the economy. I'm not an economist, but I think it could go either way right now.”

O'Reilly on November 5, 2008: “I'm not an economist.” On the November 5, 2008, edition of his show (accessed from the Nexis database), in response to Dick Morris' suggestion that the market dropped 500 points that day because Obama -- who had proposed increasing capital gains taxes -- won the presidential election the previous day, O'Reilly stated: “But nobody has cap gains. All the wise guys, everybody in the market has lost a tremendous amount, which you can balance any future gains against. But you may be right. I'm not an economist.”

O'Reilly on July 6, 2001: “I'm not an economist.” On the July 2, 2001, edition of his show (accessed from the Nexis database), in response to Fox correspondent Brenda Buttner's assertion that Alan Greenspan should cut interest rates more agressively, O'Reilly stated: Well, he's not going to cut them again until August. Well, I guess he could in-between, but it smacks of desperation. See people are scared. This is what's happening in my opinion. Now I'm not an economist, but I tell you, on Neil Cavuto, I kicked his butt last fall. He said this was a blip. He was absolutely wrong. We called it. We said that Greenspan was strangling the economy with high interest rates. That people were going to stop capital spending and they did."

O'Reilly on March 22, 2001: “I'm not an economist.” On the March 22, 2001, edition of his show (accessed from the Nexis database), O'Reilly told Neil Cavuto: “I'm not an economist. I'm not going to tell you here is how you get out of [the recession]. What I am going to tell you is we don't get any information from the Fed chief. He won't talk to us. He won't talk to you. He won't explain what he does.”

Media experts have criticized Newsmax's schemes

Harvard media expert Jones: Newsmax is “quasi-journalism mixed with promotion.” Media Matters' Joe Strupp reported that Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, said when asked about Newsmax's schemes, “This kind of site is calculated to look like news. But it is in fact, pushing products. ... It is quasi-journalism mixed with promotion.”

Journalism professor Steffens: Newsmax using “age-old story of doomsday prophecy and urging the masses to protect themselves.” Strupp reported:

Marty Steffens, a business and financial journalism chair at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, stated: “Hyperinflation is just the latest scare tactic, evoking images of people having to load up cash in wheel barrels to buy groceries. It's highly unlikely hyperinflation will ever happen, but by playing on fears, it can drive sales of books or pamphlets with advice. It's an age-old story of doomsday prophecy and urging the masses to protect themselves.”

Fox has previously been forced to rein in personalities' unethical behavior

With Beck's Goldline ties under fire, Fox stresses network prohibition on “endorsing products.” After Media Matters reported that Fox host Glenn Beck was listed as a “Paid Spokesman” for Goldline International and had repeatedly used his television show to plug gold as a way for his audience to “protect” themselves from the possible economic collapse of the U.S. dollar and economy, The New York Times reported on December 13, 2009:

Joel Cheatwood, the senior vice president of development for Fox News, said the network's legal department had recently sent a letter to Mr. Beck's representatives “seeking clarification” about his work for Goldline.

“They sent back word that he is not a paid spokesman,” Mr. Cheatwood said, adding that it would be “problematic without question” if Mr. Beck did have a position as a paid spokesman for a product.

Fox News released a statement outlining its official policy about such issues: “Fox News prohibits any on-air talent from endorsing products or serving as a product spokesperson.”

Fox News stressed that it was not aware that Mr. Beck was listed on the Internet as a paid spokesman. But he definitely was, until very recently. On cached editions of the Goldline Web site over the last week to 10 days, a photograph of Mr. Beck was accompanied by an asterisk which led to a line at the bottom of the site that read: “paid spokesman.”


Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Mr. Beck, said the host should never have been listed as a “paid spokesman” because he did not receive separate fees beyond the sponsorship for that or any other work he did for the company.

Before he moved onto Fox News, however, Mr. Beck appeared in a video on the Goldline Web site extolling the virtues of gold. And Mr. Beck routinely reads Goldline ads on the radio, a practice Fox said was acceptable under its guidelines.

"[F]urious" Fox executives respond to criticism by pulling Hannity from a paid Cincy tea party event. On April 13, Media Matters highlighted Fox host Sean Hannity's plan to tape his April 15 show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event which charged admission and had “all proceeds” benefiting the organization. Hannity's planned appearance, which was promoted on 18 different editions of his Fox News program, elicited criticism from news and broadcast veterans who questioned the ethics of raising money for a political organization during a production of a Fox News show. On April 15, hours before the program was to tape, reportedly “furious” Fox News executives yanked Hannity, requiring him to do his show from his New York studio.