Fox, CNN Provide Minimal Coverage Of VA Governor's Donor Scandal

Fox News and CNN have devoted little time to reporting on the ongoing scandal involving Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) despite being the subject of an FBI investigation that could potentially result in federal criminal charges. CNN and Fox covered the scandal for a combined total of at least 12 minutes during the period between April 1 and August 2. By contrast, MSNBC covered the scandal for almost 3 hours in that same period.

VA Gov. Bob McDonnell Has Been Involved In An Ongoing Scandal Linked To A Major Campaign Contributor

McDonnell Family Benefitted From At Least $145,000 In Gifts From A Wealthy Businessman And Donor. A Washington Post report highlighted the gifts given to the McDonnell family by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., CEO of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc., which are part of a federal and state investigation:

A prominent political donor gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments.

The donor, wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also gave a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor's wife, Maureen, in 2011, the people said.

The money to the corporation and Maureen McDonnell brings to $145,000 the amount Williams gave to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012 -- funds that are now at the center of federal and state investigations.

Williams, the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc., also provided a $10,000 check in December as a present to McDonnell's eldest daughter, Jeanine, intended to help defray costs at her May 2013 wedding, the people said. [The Washington Post, 7/9/13]

March 30: Wash. Post Exposed “Close” Relationship Between McDonnell And Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. A March 30 report by The Washington Post exposed the relationship between Williams and McDonnell:

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, had about 200 guests to Virginia's historic Executive Mansion for their daughter Cailin's wedding in 2011. The menu included fresh poached jumbo shrimp, bruschetta topped with Virginia tomatoes and stuffed free-range chicken breast.

The $15,000 worth of fine dining came courtesy of Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of a company that has made major contributions to McDonnell's campaigns and that is the subject of a federal securities investigation.

The wedding gift, which was not disclosed by McDonnell, is just one element of the McDonnells' close relationship with Williams and his company, a relationship that has included rides on Williams's corporate jet, personal gifts to the first family and efforts by the governor and his wife to promote the company. [The Washington Post, 3/30/13]

April 29: FBI Began Conducting Interviews About Relationship Between McDonnell And Williams. An April 29 Washington Post article reported that the FBI began interviewing people with knowledge of the relationship regarding money received by the McDonnells from Williams:

FBI agents are conducting interviews about the relationship between Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor's daughter, according to four people familiar with the questioning.

The agents have been asking associates of the McDonnells about gifts provided to the family by Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and actions the Republican governor and his wife have taken that may have boosted the company, the people said.

Among the topics being explored, they said, is the $15,000 catering bill that Williams paid for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell's daughter at Virginia's historic Executive Mansion. But questions have extended to other, previously undisclosed gifts from Williams to Maureen McDonnell as well, they said.

The interviews, at which Virginia State Police investigators were present, began in recent months as an outgrowth of a federal investigation of securities transactions involving Star Scientific, which produces a dietary supplement called Anatabloc. The company disclosed that probe in a regulatory filing last month, saying it had received subpoenas from the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia. [The Washington Post, 4/29/13]

May 22: Richmond Prosecutor Announced Investigation To Determine If McDonnell Violated State Law By Accepting Gifts. According to a May 22 Washington Post article, a Richmond prosecutor began an investigation into “whether Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell violated state gift and disclosure laws,” which was initiated by the Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:

A Richmond prosecutor is investigating whether Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell violated state gift and disclosure laws -- a probe that was initiated by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II.

Cuccinelli (R) confirmed Wednesday that he asked Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring to conduct a review of McDonnell's annual economic disclosure forms last November. [The Washington Post, 5/22/13]

July 23: Gov. McDonnell Repaid More Than $120,000 In Loans To Williams And Apologized For “Gifts Scandal.” A July 23 article from The Washington Post explained that McDonnell repaid more than $120,000 in loans to Williams and “apologized for the first time for a gifts scandal”:

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Tuesday that he repaid more than $120,000 in loans to a businessman whose nutritional supplement he and his wife promoted, and he apologized for the first time for a gifts scandal that has consumed his final year in office.

“I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens,” McDonnell (R) announced via Twitter. “I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and confidence. I hope today's action is another step toward that end.” [The Washington Post, 7/23/13]

July 30: Gov. McDonnell Announced He Will Repay All Gifts From Williams. A July 30 Washington Post article reported that the governor announced he would return all gifts given to him by Williams and acknowledged for the first time that “he was not aware of everything that the Star Scientific executive had given to his family”:

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Tuesday that he will return all gifts from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and indicated for the first time that he was not aware of everything that the Star Scientific executive had given to his family.


With about five months left in his term, McDonnell is trying to move past the controversy even as it remains the subject of state and federal probes. It has consumed the administration since late March, when The Washington Post first reported that the governor and first lady had promoted Star's nutritional supplement about the time Williams paid the $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of one of the McDonnells' daughters.

Attention to the McDonnells' ties to Williams has grown since then, with The Post reporting that the Star executive also provided a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor, a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping trip for the first lady and a $10,000 engagement gift to another daughter. Investigators are also looking into whether Maureen McDonnell received free cosmetic dental work from a Richmond area dentist and jewelry from a state delegate, people familiar with the investigation have told The Post. [The Washington Post, 7/30/13]

August 3: Federal Prosecutors May Be “Focused On Trying To Build A Potential Criminal Case Against” McDonnell. A Washington Post article from August 3 highlighted the cooperation between Williams and federal prosecutors which suggests that the investigation is ongoing and prosecutors “are focused on trying to build a potential criminal case against him”:

A prominent political donor and his dietary supplement company have been cooperating for several months with federal prosecutors in a fast-moving public corruption investigation of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to three people familiar with the probe.

Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific, has turned over personal financial records and sat for interviews in which he provided firsthand accounts of luxury gifts and more than $120,000 given to McDonnell (R) and his family members since 2011, the people said.

Star has given prosecutors access to corporate records and offered information from other company officials. The three spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is in a sensitive stage.

The cooperation is an ominous sign for McDonnell, suggesting that federal prosecutors are focused on trying to build a potential criminal case against him.

McDonnell has not been charged, and prosecutors ultimately must determine whether they have the evidence to proceed against him. [The Washington Post, 8/3/13]

Despite Investigation, CNN And Fox Have Almost Completely Ignored McDonnell Scandal

CNN And Fox Covered McDonnell Scandal For A Total Of Approximately 12 Minutes Over Four Months. According to a Media Matters analysis of the coverage of the Gov. McDonnell scandal, from April 2 through August 2, CNN covered the McDonnell scandal for 9 minutes and 2 seconds while Fox covered the scandal for 3 minutes and 21 seconds. MSNBC covered the story for almost 3 hours:

CNN And Fox Did Not Cover McDonnell Scandal During Entire Month Of June. Throughout all of June, neither CNN nor Fox informed their viewers about important revelations in the McDonnell scandal. In early June, a Washington Post investigation concluded that records from the governor's mansion indicate that the McDonnell family spent taxpayer money on inappropriate items including body wash and dog vitamins. Later in the month, a separate Washington Post report found that McDonnell did not disclose a Rolex watch he received as a gift from Williams. [The Washington Post, 6/16/2013] [The Washington Post, 6/25/2013]


Media Matters searched internal video archives of all Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC recordings from 4/2/13 to 8/2/13 for the terms “mcdonnell” or “mcdonel” or “mcdonnel” or “mcdonell” or “macdonnell” or “macdonnel” or “macdonell” or “macdonald” or “bob mcdonald” or “governor mcdonald” or “robert mcdonald.” Only the amounts of time discussing the scandals were included. Repeated shows and teases were excluded.