Ethics

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  • The Hill is a dumping ground for anti-net neutrality pieces backed by undisclosed telecom money

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI



    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    Writers backed by telecommunications money who are looking to attack current net neutrality rules have found an easy venue to place op-eds and hide their funding: the editorial page of The Hill.

    In 2015, the FCC enacted net neutrality rules that protect consumers by prohibiting “internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use.” In a gift to the telecom industry, Republican chairman Ajit Pai last month unveiled his plans to undo those open-internet rules.

    The telecom industry has heavily funded organizations that seek to turn public and lawmaker opinions against those Obama-era rules. The sector’s lead trade and lobbying groups include NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, CTIA, and Broadband for America.

    The Hill, a D.C.-based outlet that caters to Capitol Hill, has become a favorite dumping ground for telecom-backed opinion pieces that benefit their corporate funders. Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack told Media Matters in a May 26 email that “oped writers sign official forms that require them to disclose any such funding and/or conflict of interests.” After Media Matters sent him a list of op-eds that had undisclosed conflicts of interest, Cusack said the publication would look into the matter. A follow-up question on the status of that review has not been answered as of posting.

    Media Matters has documented other instances in which the media have failed to disclose conflicts of interest in the debate over net neutrality rules.

    Here are eight recent examples of The Hill running anti-net neutrality pieces without disclosing the telecom financing behind the writers. (Funding searches were conducted through the Center for Public Integrity's Nonprofit Network tool.) 

    Harold Ford Jr., honorary chairman of Broadband for America, wrote a May 24 opinion piece praising Pai for trying “to repeal burdensome public utility regulations.” Broadband for America is backed by telecommunications companies like AT&T and associations such as CTIA and NCTA. Ford’s limited liability company received $345,000 in consulting fees from Broadband for America in 2014, according to the group’s IRS 990 form.  

    Theodore Bolema and Michael Horney, who work for the Free State Foundation, wrote a May 15 opinion piece pushing for “light touch regulation of broadband.” The piece positively cited CTIA. Free State Foundation has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.

    Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, wrote a May 10 opinion piece headlined “American innovation is the winner as the FCC tackles net neutrality” that specifically praised telecom companies. Citizens Against Government Waste has received funds from NCTA.

    Paige Agostin, a senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, wrote a May 5 opinion piece praising Pai for issuing “a welcome response to an all-too-typical exercise in regulatory overreach.” Americans for Prosperity has received funds from NCTA.

    Thomas M. Lenard, a senior fellow and president emeritus at the Technology Policy Institute, wrote an April 28 opinion piece which praised Pai and defended internet service providers against concerns over content blocking. Lenard’s group states on its website that its supporters include AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and NCTA. The group has received funds from NCTA and CTIA, according to its 990 forms.

    Jonathon Paul Hauenschild, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Task Force on Communications & Technology, wrote an April 28 piece attacking the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. ALEC has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.     

    Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), wrote an April 27 opinion piece praising Pai for helping to eliminate “harmful regulation." IPI has received funds from NCTA and MyWireless.org (now ACTwireless), which is a project of CTIA.

    Doug Brake, a senior telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), wrote an April 27 opinion piece praising Pai for “moving in the right direction” with his net neutrality plans. The ITIF has received funding from NCTA and CTIA.

  • Wash. Post didn’t disclose that writer who penned positive piece about Trump's Saudi trip is paid by Saudi government

    Why does the Post embarrass itself by publishing lobbyist Ed Rogers?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    The Washington Post allowed contributor Ed Rogers to praise Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia without disclosing that he’s a lobbyist for the Saudi Royal Court. The Post has repeatedly allowed Rogers to promote his lobbying clients’ interests without disclosure.

    Rogers is the chairman of the BGR Group, a leading Washington, D.C., lobbying group. BGR is part of a vast network of American lobbying and public relations firms that work for the Saudi government. The Post itself has reported on Rogers’ role in promoting Saudi interests. An April 2016 article stated that Rogers “did not immediately return a request for comment” about his lobbying work for the Saudi government and that “Rogers is a contributor to the Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog.”

    Rogers and BGR signed an agreement letter with the Saudi Royal Court on August 24, 2015, to “provide public relations and media management services for The Center [for Studies and Media Affairs at The Saudi Royal Court], which includes both traditional and social media forums.” The contract is worth $500,000 per year.

    Rogers used his Washington Post space to write a May 16 piece praising Trump’s then-upcoming overseas trip as a “good idea” and an opportunity to “begin a reset even if relief is only temporary.” He added that “the American public responds positively to seeing their president meeting with world leaders, reassuring them of our leadership abroad, and coming to agreements on matters of global importance. Trump’s meetings in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican are opportune settings for this administration to make a bold statement to the world that the United States is stronger and more committed than ever to leading.”

    The Post column did not disclose that the Saudi government has paid Rogers and his company. The piece was syndicated to The Plain Dealer, Chicago Tribune, and The Kansas City Star, according to a Nexis search.

    Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt disputed Media Matters’ criticism in an email, stating: “The post was not about Saudi Arabia in any way but was a very general look at the political implications of foreign travel.” BGR Group did not reply to a request for comment. 

    Hiatt told Media Matters in April that if Rogers “lobbies for a specific client or specific issue and then writes about that specific client or issue, I think readers should be made aware, and I’m confident Ed agrees.” 

    Media Matters has documented numerous instances over the years in which the Post failed to properly disclose Rogers' clients when a piece aligned with their lobbying interests. These disclosure failures include topics such as the environment, military spending, and Wall Street

    This post has been updated with Hiatt’s comment.

  • Report: Trump Associates Helped Former Fox Chief Monitor And Undermine Adversaries

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Stephen Bannon, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone
    Stephen Bannon, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone

    Politico Magazine reported that figures within President Donald Trump’s inner circle, Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon, helped former Fox News chief Roger Ailes monitor and smear his adversaries, a practice Ailes engaged in for years.

    Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who now serves as Trump's chief strategist, has a history of using his online platform to launch smear campaigns against his political opponents, including helping Breitbart staffer Peter Schweizer push the widely debunked Clinton Cash. Breitbart has also proved to be combative without Bannon at the helm, even going after Trump’s son-in-law to defend Bannon.

    Stone, a long time Trump ally and former campaign staffer has a history of racist, misogynistic, and conspiratorial commentary. Stone is also under investigation for possible ties to Russia after law enforcement and intelligence officials “intercepted communications” between Stone and Russian officials.

    Ailes left Fox News in 2016 after Gretchen Carlson and several other women who worked there said he had sexually harassed them. While at the network’s helm, Ailes had a history of spying on his employees and smearing his adversaries.

    According to a Politico Magazine report Stone “was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on [New York magazine’s Gabriel] Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy” while Bannon “coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.” From the May 14 Politico Magazine report:

    The network of operatives allegedly used by Ailes and other Fox executives to monitor and demean perceived threats also extends to Trump’s inner circle, according to several people with knowledge of those relationships. Trump’s longtime confidant Stone, a veteran practitioner of political dark arts, was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, according to three people familiar with the arrangement.

    “Stone would just write public articles when Ailes told him,” one of those people explained. In a March 2015 article for the Daily Caller, Stone accused Ruddy of being “in bed with the Clintons.” In an April 2015 piece for the publication, Stone attacked Ruddy for criticizing a Fox News special about the Clintons.

    [...]

    Stone said that his paid work for Fox consisted of writing Ailes “a shitload” of strategy memos about attracting more libertarian viewers and that his broadsides against Ruddy were motivated by anger over Ruddy’s donations to the Clinton Foundation, not monetary inducements.

    Ailes’ lawyer said her client was unaware of any paid work performed by Stone. “Roger doesn’t know anything about payments to Mr. Stone, and believes the allegations are untrue,” she wrote in an email.

    But three people familiar with the arrangement said Stone was also paid to keep tabs on Sherman as he worked on his biography of the Fox News chief. Stone said he was not paid to monitor Sherman but instead was motivated by friendship to act as a liaison between the two. “I would try to keep the two of them from killing each other because they’re both friends of mine,” he said. “They became obsessed with each other. It was really unhealthy. I think Gabe’s a great journalist. I think Roger Ailes is a genius.”

    The network of allies Ailes employed to neutralize threats also extends into the White House itself, according to three people familiar with the situation who said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.

    In the weeks before the release of Sherman’s biography, 2014’s “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Bannon huddled inside a Fox News conference room with Ailes, Ailes’ personal attorney Peter Johnson Jr., pollster Pat Caddell and former Fox journalist Peter Boyer to discuss discrediting the book, according to two people familiar with the meetings. (None of the participants would comment on the record.) True to form, Bannon advocated an all-out “go to war” approach during these sessions, while Boyer advised a hands-off approach, according to one of those people. Bannon described the resulting attacks on Sherman as “love taps,” according to an acquaintance he later told about the meetings.

    There is no indication that Bannon was paid to do this, though at the time he enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Fox, which promoted his conservative documentaries. Ailes’ lawyer said that Breitbart’s coverage of Sherman was taken of its own initiative. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

    [...]

    Bannon has also collaborated with Jim Pinkerton, a former Fox News contributor who for years authored the anonymous blog “The Cable Game” to tout Fox and attack its rivals on behalf of Ailes.

  • "Oh, Boy": Media Matters Bill O'Reilly Ad In The Hollywood Reporter

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    One week after Fox News was forced to fire Bill O’Reilly after advertisers boycotted his show because of reports of serial sexual harassment, Media Matters for America released its first ad emphasizing that companies must be mindful about where they spend their advertising dollars. This ad is running on page 67 of issue 13 of The Hollywood Reporter.

    The ad features a picture of a forlorn-looking Bill O’Reilly with text that reads: "Harassment, hate, and bigotry are bad for business. Know what you’re sponsoring, and avoid the next crisis."

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.  

  • The White House’s Favorite Misogynistic Rape Denier Is Coming To Friday’s Press Briefing

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Internet troll Mike Cernovich, who has previously been promoted by persons within and close to President Donald Trump’s administration, announced on Twitter on April 24 that he had been approved for a “press pass” to visit the White House on April 28.

    In a since-deleted tweet, self-proclaimed “new right” leader Cernovich sent a message to President Donald Trump telling him that “some very dishonest people” at the White House “pulled my press pass,” warning that the action “will not go over well.” Hours later, during a live broadcast on YouTube (which has subsequently been removed) in which he ranted against the administration for denying him access, he told his audience that he just discovered his press pass has been approved. Cernovich followed up with a tweet:

    Cernovich’s presence at the White House comes as no surprise given the praise and access to information given to fringe and far-right outlets by White House officials. For example, Cernovich seemingly received special access to information involving the widely debunked smear that Susan Rice improperly unmasked Trump campaign staff under investigation and advance information that Trump would strike Syria. In addition, Cernovich has received praise from those close to Trump including Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who both amplified Cernovich.

    In this case, while it appears that Cernovich received a day pass, not a permanent press pass like the ones given to credentialed journalists, Cernovich’s appearance at the White House, and most likely at the press briefing, reflects a larger pattern of outspoken Trump supporters and defenders getting increased access.  A similar pass was given to The Rebel Media’s Lauren Southern, who grew to fame as an “alt-right” media personality who denied rape and demonized minorities. The Trump White House briefing room has also become a hotbed for fringe pro-Trump media writers such as The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Lucian Wintrich, who flashed an “alt-right” hand signal inside the briefing.

  • Fox’s New Evening Lineup Is O’Reillyism Without O’Reilly

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Bill O’Reilly, the king of cable news, has fallen. He was a victim of his own monstrosity. The network that had willingly written large checks on his behalf to make the women he had sexually harassed go away withdrew its support after the payments were revealed and his show’s advertisers ran for cover.

    The O’Reilly Factor was the linchpin in an evening lineup that was once the most stable in the industry. But in less than a year, O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, and Megyn Kelly have all left or been shown the door, along with the man who hired them, former Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. The only remaining host from the 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time block the network was rolling out a year ago is Sean Hannity.

    Removing O’Reilly gave the network’s top executives the opportunity to dramatically reshape their network’s programming. But the new evening lineup, which debuts tonight, presents as much of the status quo as possible -- O’Reillyism without O’Reilly. The result will test whether hosts actually matter at Fox, or whether the network’s audience will sit for any pro-Trump conservative put in front of them.

    Since Fox’s inception in 1996, O’Reilly has been the anchor of the network’s ratings and the keystone of its “fair and balanced” mantra with his so-called “No Spin Zone.” After an undistinguished career as a broadcast newsman, O’Reilly used his position at the newly launched Fox to reimagine himself (falsely) as a son of working-class Levittown, Long Island, who was looking out for “the folks.” His show became the platform for his “culture warrior” mentality, presenting the average American as under constant attack by never-ending waves of elitist secular progressives who hate Christianity and traditional American values and want to reshape the country in the image of Western Europe.

    O’Reilly became the incandescent exemplar of white male rage at the rising tide of diversity, feminism, and modernity. And the ratings -- and money -- rolled in, with his success breeding imitators.

    Fox’s executives were not ready to lose O’Reilly -- earlier this year, they signed him to a new deal through 2020 with a raise to an annual salary of $25 million, in full knowledge that The New York Times was investigating the network’s sexual harassment payouts. They were betting that his high ratings, which spill over to the benefit of the rest of the evening’s programming, would be difficult to retain with only the other personnel they had under contract.

    Tucker Carlson, Jesse Watters, and Eric Bolling, the three hosts who will benefit the most from the shakeup, built their careers at Fox by imitating the same “culture war” racism and misogyny O’Reilly helped weave into the network’s DNA. Like O’Reilly, each has gained attention during the presidential campaign and the early days of Donald Trump’s administration as stalwart supporters of the president.

    Where each rising Fox star's O’Reilly imitations fall short, however, is in their ability and skill in grounding their commentary as coming from a working-class “man of the people.”

    Carlson, who spent virtually his entire life living among the elite, is the son of a U.S. ambassador and former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the stepson of a scion of the Swanson frozen foods empire. He has hosted shows at two other networks and remains known for the bow-tied prepster image he cultivated at CNN.

    While Bolling grew up without Carlson’s privileged background, he evinces an on-air contempt for the working class rooted in his previous career as a commodities trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where he eventually became a member of its board of directors. And Watters, who spent his career as an O’Reilly minion, conducting ambush interviews of the leading Fox host’s various perceived enemies, bills himself as a “political humorist,” not a commentator.

    None of the three has O’Reilly’s on-air presence or skill. But Fox’s hope is that aping O’Reilly is enough to keep his audience on board.

    Fox’s promotion of three white, male, grievance-mongering Trump sycophants is no accident. The network had other options available. Executives could have given a show to Dana Perino, a more substantive conservative who has been much more skeptical of Trump. They could have tried to pivot to airing more hard news by promoting one of the reporters who contribute to the flagship news program Special Report.

    They could have even tried to bring someone in from outside the network, though admittedly it’s hard to imagine that journalists are banging down the doors to join a network mired in a year-long series of sexual harassment reports.

    No, instead, Fox doubled down on pro-Trump racism, sexism, and xenophobia because that is what the network wants to put on its airwaves. Its executives are priming the resentment pump because they think O’Reillyism will keep their audience coming back for more.

    Without O’Reilly, we will now be able to see whether Fox’s audience is stable and willing to keep watching no matter who hosts the network’s programs, or whether O’Reilly’s talent was the key factor in retaining his viewers.

    If the network’s ratings stay the same, -- or even improve -- it should be cold comfort for Fox’s executives. They kept O’Reilly around, even though they knew about the many reports that he was sexually harassing his colleagues, because they thought he was essential for the network’s ratings. If that turns out not to be the case, they enabled a predator for no reason at all.

    Images by Sarah Wasko.

  • With Tax March Looming, Watch Fox’s Absurd Defense Of Trump Hiding His Tax Returns

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Donald Trump broke with decades of precedent in 2016 by refusing to release his tax returns in the midst of his presidential campaign, a stubborn refusal he has maintained since taking office in January. On April 15, the day tax filings are traditionally due, Americans will march in over 100 cities around the country to demand that the president fully disclose his tax and financial records. Before the Tax March, take a look at some attempts by Trump's team of Fox News sycophants to defend his unprecedented refusal to disclose his tax returns.

  • Mainstream Outlets Are Normalizing Trump's Impeachable Offense

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    During the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, broadcast evening news shows and Sunday political talk shows devoted a total of just over 10 minutes to discussing the allegation that Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by receiving foreign government payments. The scant reporting that did address this issue failed to mention that such conduct is an impeachable offense. 

    Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause, creates a broad prohibition on federal officeholders, including the president, receiving payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. It reads: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

    The provision is much broader than a ban on receiving bribes. According to legal experts, even “fair market value transactions that result in any economic profit or benefit” count as an emolument, because the Founding Fathers wanted a “prophylactic” rule aimed at preventing even the appearance of corruption.

    A president’s violation of the clause is an impeachable offense.

    According to legal experts, Trump’s retention of an ownership interest in the Trump Organization as president means that he has been violating the Constitution since the moment he took the oath of office. Indeed, just two days after the inauguration, the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit in federal court “to stop President Trump from violating the Constitution.” A press release about the suit notes that the president “is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.” (Other presidents have avoided violating the clause by placing their assets into an independently controlled blind trust, something Trump has refused to do.)

    In what should serve as a prompt for investigative journalists, the exact nature of the emoluments Trump has received is unclear in many instances due to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. As Emoluments Clause expert Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor who is a lawyer on CREW’s lawsuit, explained in The Washington Post, while some emoluments Trump is receiving are known -- including rent paid by the Qatari state airline at a Trump property, licensing fees paid by several foreign countries for rights to the TV show The Apprentice, and construction permits granted by the Indian government -- the full extent of his violations is unknown because “Trump hasn’t disclosed any information about his finances.”

    In spite of Trump’s secretive business dealings, two concrete new violations emerged during the first month of his presidency.

    According to a February 9 report from Politico, “A lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at Donald Trump’s Washington hotel after Inauguration Day, marking the first publicly known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he became president.” The article notes that the payment “raises questions about whether it represents a violation of the foreign emoluments clause.”

    Politico quoted Obama ethics attorney Norm Eisen, who described the payment as part of a “systemic problem,” and constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, who said, “This example is bound to be one of a vast stream of instances.” Both Tribe and Eisen are lawyers on CREW’s lawsuit.

    Then The Associated Press reported on February 14 that Trump was set to score an “unlikely” legal win in China by way of a “trademark for building construction services” following “a decade of grinding battle in China's courts.” According to the report, the legal victory “could signal a shift in fortune for the U.S. president's intellectual property in China. At stake are 49 pending trademark applications -- all made during his campaign -- and 77 marks already registered in his name, most of which will come up for renewal during his term.” (China announced the trademark two days after AP’s article.)

    As the AP report aptly noted, “Trump's foreign trademarks have raised red flags with ethics lawyers across the political spectrum who say they present grave conflicts of interest and may violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.” (Indeed, a post at the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog concluded that the trademark grant qualifies as an emolument received by Trump.)

    The nation’s leading news programs have insufficiently covered a story about a president openly taking actions that not only violate the Constitution but also are grounds for impeachment.

    CBS Evening News, ABC World News Tonight, and NBC Nightly News have each devoted a single segment to foreign payments to Trump.

    A January 20 CBS Evening News segment didn’t mention the Emoluments Clause explicitly, but it included an interview with George Washington University law school professor Steven Schooner, who explained how Trump can profit from foreign governments via the Trump Organization.

    ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News each devoted brief segments on January 23 to CREW’s lawsuit.

    In total, the issue was covered for just over seven minutes on broadcast nightly news between January 20 and February 20. None of the segments mentioned violating the Emoluments Clause is an impeachable offense:

    Sunday political talk shows provided even less coverage. During the January 22 broadcast of ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos directly asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about Trump and the Emoluments Clause. During the January 29 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked White House chief of staff Reince Priebus why Muslim-majority countries with business ties to Trump were left out of Trump’s travel ban, although the Emoluments Clause was never directly cited. CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union all failed to discuss the issue.

    Sunday show coverage of the issue totaled just under four minutes, with no discussion of how the offense is grounds for impeachment:

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN for "emoluments," "emolument," "Trump Organization," "Trump Hotel," Trump w/10 “trump international hotel,” Trump w/10 impeach, Trump w/10 constitution, Trump w/10 "conflict of interest," Trump w/10 conflicted, Trump w/10 payment, Trump w/10 “foreign payment,” and Trump w/10 divest. We identified segments that mentioned foreign payments to Trump in the context of conflict-of-interest questions and/or the Emoluments Clause directly, and then counted those segments for time in iQ media.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • 10 Times Media Figures Demanded The Recusal Of An Attorney General

    Meanwhile, Calls Grow For Attorney General Jeff Sessions To Recuse Himself From An Investigation of Trump's Ties To Russia

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    On March 1, the news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during Trump’s campaign, for which he was an official surrogate, despite his assurance to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions is currently overseeing investigations into Russian connections with Trump’s campaign. During the 2016 campaign, media figures were quick to call for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s recusal from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server after Lynch met with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac.