Major broadcast networks covered Frist scandal but overlooked Frist's documented falsehoods

On September 26, after largely ignoring the issue, news broadcasts on all three major television networks devoted segments to the brewing scandal over the sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) of his stock in HCA Inc., the hospital chain founded by his father, just two weeks before a bad earnings report caused the stock price to drop sharply. But all three networks left out a significant angle, first reported on September 24 by The New York Times and the Associated Press: Frist falsely claimed in 2003 that he was unaware his qualified blind trusts included major holdings in HCA.

On September 23, the AP first reported that Frist received at least three notifications in 2002 of transactions involving HCA stock in his trusts. According to a September 24 AP article, just two weeks before a January 2003 interview in which Frist stated, “So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock,” his trustee had informed him that HCA stock had been transferred into one of his trusts. On September 24, The New York Times noted that, despite Frist's claim that he no longer knew whether he owned HCA stock, Senate ethics rules require the trustee of a qualified blind trust to notify the owner when all of a particular stock is sold. On September 27, The Washington Post also reported on Frist's January 2003 interview, noting that he stated, “It is illegal right now for me to know what the composition of those trusts are. So I have no idea.” But belying Frist's remarks, the Post reported, "[D]ocuments that he [Frist] and trustees submitted to the Senate indicate Frist had a general knowledge of his trust holdings -- including HCA and several other health organizations."

Although each of the September 26 evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC included coverage of the developing scandal, none reported Frist's false statements. In addition, a Media Matters for America review of news coverage of the Frist stock sale, including CNN and Fox News' evening news shows, has revealed similar lapses in reporting:

  • On the September 26 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs touched briefly on the Frist scandal, reporting that former Republican congressman and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Christopher Cox had recused himself from the SEC investigation into Frist's stock sale. But Dobbs did not report Frist's false statements.
  • On the September 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, anchor Brit Hume and Fox News congressional correspondent Brian Wilson reported on the Frist scandal and the September 26 public statement in which Frist defended himself against allegations of insider trading. Neither Hume nor Wilson noted Frist's false statements.
  • Articles in the September 24 and September 27 editions of the Los Angeles Times covered the Frist scandal in considerable depth but failed to report Frist's false statements.
  • In reporting on the Frist scandal September 24, September 26, and September 27 (subscription required), The Wall Street Journal failed to report Frist's false statements.