Hugh Hewitt | Media Matters for America

Hugh Hewitt

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  • Scott Pruitt’s dead-end loyalists

    Right-wing pundits out themselves as terminally dishonest enablers of corruption

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt has finally -- finally -- resigned as Environmental Protection Agency administrator after months of reporting on his increasingly farcical acts of corruption and petty grifting. The fact that Pruitt managed to stay in his job for as long as he did as evidence of his flamboyant venality accumulated speaks to President Donald Trump’s unique capacity to attract and protect corrupt officials. We’re not even two years into the Trump administration and already two Cabinet-level officials have been forced out because of ethics scandals and misuses of public funds. And that’s to say nothing of the interior secretary, the commerce secretary, the housing and urban development secretary, and Trump himself, all of whom are marinating in a toxic slurry of graft and malfeasance.

    But even for the shockingly corrupt Trump administration, the breadth, depth, and frequently absurd nature of Pruitt’s grift made him something special. His conduct is the subject of more than a dozen official investigations, and the inquiries will continue despite his departure from the EPA. Given what we already know about Pruitt’s conduct and the possibility that still more abuses will emerge, there would seem to be little upside to defending this cretin as he slinks out the door. But that’s precisely what Pruitt’s allies in the conservative media are doing, rallying around the most gaudily corrupt Trump official and pretending that Pruitt is the victim.

    We’ll start with radio host Hugh Hewitt, given that he’s an established accessory to the Pruitt corruption omniscandal. He tweeted his support for his “good friend and a very good man,” arguing that Pruitt had been unfairly “caricatured” by the now-familiar faceless conspiracy of liberals and reporters:

    Hewitt quote-tweeted Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, who insisted that the “lesson” of Pruitt’s scandal-plagued tenure and resignation is that “the left/media/organized greens” operate in bad faith by taking supposedly minor ethical lapses -- remember, there are over a dozen open investigations into Pruitt -- and turning them into a full-blown scandal:

    The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway also bemoaned the success of the assumed liberal media conspiracy against Pruitt and direly warned that it will have future successes against other corrupt senior officials:

    And, bringing up the rear in spectacularly stupid fashion, we have the Wall Street Journal editorial board (of which Strassel is a member) which attacked the “permanent progressive state” for cynically capitalizing on the “tragedy” of Pruitt’s corruption to force him out:

    Chalk one up for the swamp. The permanent progressive state finally ran Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, and the tragedy is that Mr. Pruitt gave his enemies so much ammunition.

    None of these defenses make much sense -- Strassel and the WSJ editors sort-of acknowledge Pruitt’s bad behavior but somehow still push blame off elsewhere -- and all of them presume the existence of an anti-Pruitt conspiracy to conveniently ignore the warehouses of evidence against Pruitt and the small cohort of Republican officials who’d called for his head. The only criticism they can muster against him is that he just wasn’t PR-savvy enough to deal with the phantom anti-Pruitt conspiracy.

    They’re making these transparently ridiculous defenses of Pruitt mainly to avoid facing some uncomfortable realities. When Pruitt’s scandals first started bubbling up, most of the people highlighted here wrote basically the same piece arguing that liberals were conducting a political hit on Pruitt because he was such an effective destroyer of environmental regulations. That argument has aged extremely poorly. Also, if they were to allow that Pruitt is corrupt, that would change how they’d have to talk about Trump, given that the president allowed such a prolific abuser of public trust to remain in office for months after he should have been fired. Indeed, most of them demanded that Trump stand by Pruitt. They won’t admit that they were wrong, so instead they’re casting Pruitt as a victim and blaming his downfall on a shadowy cabal of reporters and green activists.

    This flagrant intellectual dishonesty in defense of rampant corruption raises an important question: How long will the press tolerate and abet behavior like this? Strassel, Hewitt, Hemingway, and Journal editorial writers are Sunday show conservatives -- they appear as guests and panelists on mainstream news programs and they enjoy the respect of some elite journalists and news organizations. Already we’re seeing some stirrings of revulsion -- CNBC’s John Harwood asked if Hewitt “seriously believes” that Pruitt is a victim:

    There is no answer to this question that reflects well on Hewitt or anyone else making that argument. If they do believe that Scott Pruitt was victimized, then they’re either too stupid or too blinded by tribal loyalty to be taken seriously. If they don’t believe it, then they’re just lying to defend one of the most staggeringly corrupt politicians in recent memory. Either way, they’ve outed themselves as untrustworthy, bad-faith shills for a corrupt White House.

  • Hugh Hewitt has terrible takes on Trump's North Korea summit

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who never passes up the chance to carry water for President Donald Trump, spent the morning praising the president for his performance at the U.S.-North Korea summit on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

    First, Hewitt lauded Trump's empty claim during the press conference that North Korea's denuclearization will be verified, saying Trump "raised the bar far beyond the communique." But Trump's remarks effectively mean very little given that the agreement itself included only vague language for “complete” denuclearization rather than a firm commitment for complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization:

    He also concluded that Trump showed “candor” in admitting that he “may be wrong” about the possibility of denuclearization, even though Trump also mentioned that he likely will find another excuse rather than admitting he was wrong:

    Hewitt also seemed to credit Trump for talking about human rights even though, according to news reports, the issue was not expected to be raised during the summit. While Trump did respond to reporters’ questions about human rights and claimed he brought it up with Kim Jong Un, he was roundly criticized by people across the political spectrum for his effusive praise for the brutal dictator:

  • On MSNBC, Hugh Hewitt defends an anti-LGBTQ hate group and doesn’t disclose it’s his major radio sponsor

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During his most recent MSNBC program, host Hugh Hewitt defended the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in its fight with Amazon. But Hewitt did not disclose that ADF is a major sponsor of his radio programs.

    Hewitt has had prior conflict of interest problems on MSNBC. The network gave him a “verbal warning” last month after Politico revealed that he helped broker a meeting between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and lawyers at Hewitt’s law firm Larson O’Brien. MSNBC said that Hewitt, who frequently praised the EPA head on the network, will no longer discuss matters related to the EPA and Pruitt on its channel.

    Media Matters also previously reported that Hewitt used his MSNBC program to praise the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act. However, he didn’t disclose that one of his law firm’s clients is an oil and gas company that is currently litigating allegations it violated the environmental law.

    Hewitt’s latest conflict of interest problem revolves around the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which works domestically and internationally to prevent and roll back LGBTQ equality. ADF has supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing sodomy and Russia's so-called “gay propaganda” law. ADF recently defended the plaintiff in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, which was narrowly decided in its favor based on the particulars of the case (and which does not indicate how other similar cases should be resolved).

    Retail giant Amazon recently removed ADF from its Amazon Smile program, which allows customers to “donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.”

    During his June 2 MSNBC program, Hewitt interviewed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who criticized Amazon’s decision (McCarthy mistakenly called the group “the Alliance for Freedom”). Hewitt replied: “Yeah, Alliance Defending Freedom, old friends of mine. I’ve often spoken at their groups, and [you’re] right. They’ve been kicked off Amazon Smile. That’s wrong.”

    But Hewitt did not disclose that he has a financial relationship with ADF through radio sponsorships.

    ADF is a sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show. An advertisement for ADF currently appears on Hewitt’s website (under the title “Your Freedoms Are Under Attack”) that directs readers to an ADF donation page that features a testimonial from Hewitt. Here's a screenshot of the ADF donation page: 

    On October 30, 2017, Hewitt hosted Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and general counsel Mike Farris to discuss the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Hewitt stated during the segment: “ADF has been a regular feature on this show for many decades here, a great sponsor of the program. And more importantly, they’re my friends and I trust them, and I’ve been at many, many ADF gatherings over the years.”

    In November 2017, Hewitt’s Facebook page included an ad for ADF. Hewitt’s donation pitch stated, in part: “Right now, a generous group of Ministry Friends has decided to match your gift to provide a strong legal defense for Christians trying to live out their faith. Will you help today? Visit: www.ADFlegal.org/hewitt.”

    ADF is also a significant sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s Townhall Review, a weekend recap program that Hewitt hosts. Hewitt has said on recent programs that Townhall Review has a "partnership" with ADF. Ads for ADF also appear on Townhall Review's website

    Hewitt also criticized Amazon for its ADF decision during a segment that appeared on Townhall Review. Hewitt stated on May 22: “I’ve partnered with ADF for over a decade now. That’s why I was disturbed to learn that they have been removed from Amazon’s Smile program. … ADF -- see them online at ADFlegal.org -- is donor supported, so they could very much benefit from that income stream.”

    Hewitt’s ADF conflict of interest mirrors what Fox News has allowed Sean Hannity to do on his Fox News program regarding his radio sponsors.

    MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment from Media Matters.

  • Right-wing media’s latest pathetic attempts to smear Google as leftist radicals

    The two latest conservative “scandals” about Google actually have innocuous explanations, but that’s never stopped right-wing media from making dishonest “censorship” claims before, and it won’t now either

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives are using a pair of stories about Google search results to pile onto their claims that the tech company is intrinsically biased against conservatives. This claim is farcical nonsense, and it fits perfectly into a right-wing pattern of playing technology companies for fools with misleading or completely false accusations. 

    On May 31, Vice reported that Google search results for the California Republican Party listed “Nazism” as the party’s ideology in the knowledge panel, a section on the right side of the search page that quickly summarizes basic information on search queries. Then, on June 1, Vice also reported that the knowledge panel for North Carolina State Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican, featured an image of her with “BIGOT” written at the bottom in red letters. Google has corrected both of these issues with its knowledge panels, which are automatically populated with information from a number of sources, some of which, like Wikipedia, anybody can edit any time. 

    Right-wing media predictably cry that Google has an anti-conservative bias

    Conservative media are using these stories to smear Google as a left-wing operative determined to take down Republicans. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade repurposed an argument from the Hoover Institute’s Niall Ferguson to suggest that Silicon Valley was upset at the Trump campaign’s prolific use of social media during the 2016 election and was trying to tilt the midterm elections for the Democrats. Fox’s Stuart Varney lied about the Trudy Wade image, falsely claiming that “a Google staffer put a ‘bigot’ sign” on Wade’s photo. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said the California Republican Party search result showed that “evidence is mounting that conservative voices are either being suppressed” or “being falsely depicted as hateful extremists” on Google. And Breitbart News scandalized Wikipedia’s relationship with the knowledge panel, claiming that Wikipedia allegedly has a pro-CNN bias. 

    Members of Congress even got involved in the reactionary pile-on. House intelligence committee chairman and all-around embarrassment Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox Business that “we [would] have to move obviously to hearings on these issues” if Google continued to “get involved in politics” and “censor conservatives and Republicans.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested to MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt that Google lied when it blamed the “Nazism” search result on Wikipedia, because he had “looked at Wikipedia” earlier “and it didn’t say ‘Nazism’” anywhere. 

    The right wing’s claims of bias are dishonest bullshit 

    As Google explained at the time, Nazism appeared in the California Republican Party knowledge panel because Google pulled the information from the party’s Wikipedia page, which had been “vandalized,” meaning it was deliberately incorrectly updated. Wired magazine reported that Wikipedia edit logs confirm that a user falsely edited the page to show “Nazism” as a core belief for the state party and that the note went undetected on the site for a week. It appeared on the Google knowledge panel because the search engine automatically “scrapes” Wikipedia to populate the feature. The edit logs might explain why McCarthy didn’t see “Nazism” on the page when he looked: The story broke on May 31 and he tweeted about it the same day, but Wikipedia had removed the “Nazism” claim from the California Republican Party page the day before

    Similarly, with Trudy Wade, Google removed the “bigot” image from her knowledge panel as soon as the issue was brought to its attention, but the search engine told her that she needed to ask the owner of the image to “take down or update the content” in order to completely remove it from search results. Wade complained during an appearance on the Sunday, June 3, edition of Fox & Friends Weekend that the image was still up, Matt Comer -- a North Carolina LGBTQ activist who first posted the image -- tweeted that Wade never contacted him, suggesting she is more interested in media hits than in actually getting the image removed.

    Furthermore, Paul Blest at Splinter News followed the money and found -- shockingly! -- that Google actually likes Republicans, especially Rep. McCarthy. For the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, political donations to Google’s PAC were split roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats; in fact, Republicans got a bit more in 2016 than Democrats did. Additionally, McCarthy was one of the Google PAC’s “biggest recipients” in 2016 and got $10,000 in 2016 and another $5,000 in 2018 so far.

    Dishonest bullshit is the right wing’s trade, and business is booming

    As Media Matters has documented for over a decade, right-wing media outlets are expert traders in bullshit, and that trend has not slowed in the age of social media. Most recently, this trend has manifested itself with pro-Trump websites claiming the algorithmic changes at Facebook are censoring their content -- a charge pro-Trump social media figures Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson are leading, while occasionally betraying their profound ignorance

    However, users across the political spectrum have seen their Facebook page views decline since the platform rolled out new rules against fake news and hate speech. In Diamond and Silk’s specific case, the drop in their video views was not even as significant as that of the left-leaning MSNBC prime-time program The Rachel Maddow Show, which “has a much larger [Facebook] page and is the most popular cable news program in the country.” 

    None of these facts have remotely slowed down Diamond and Silk’s quest to gain attention for their invented grievance. They push their deceit on Fox News and the network actively helps them spread lies about so-called “censorship.” They even brought their perjurious carnival show to the U.S. Congress. Republicans repeatedly asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about this alleged “censorship,” and the focus on the two vloggers took time and attention away from more serious issues Zuckerberg perhaps should have discussed with elected leaders.

    Compounding this problem is Google’s reliance on unaccountable third parties for its knowledge panels and search results, including, when it comes to Wikipedia, volunteer labor. While most Wikipedia users likely engage with the site in good faith, vandalism clearly remains a problem and those problems can sometimes trickle out into the larger world. Among conservative circles, there have been and continue to be active movements around astroturfing -- or falsifying the origins of -- online debate. In 2014, BuzzFeed News uncovered “Operation Lollipop,” an organized effort by users of far-right image boards and men’s rights websites to impersonate feminists and start fights among real activists. Then, on June 4, BuzzFeed News also reported on a far-reaching effort from similar extremist websites to flood comment sections on Disqus with hate speech in order to dominate the conversation and recruit new bigots. There is too much bad faith online for Google to be so reliant on the honor system.

    The simple truth about right-wing media and alleged censorship on social media is that fake news, conspiracy theories, and online harassment are all more prevalent in conservative circles than in others. So if conservative media spaces are feeling the impact of policy changes meant to combat such misinformation more harshly than others (if they are indeed feeling such an impact), then perhaps it’s right-wing audiences and content creators who are abusing the platforms, not the other way around. 

  • In the wake of mass shootings at schools, conservatives blame everything but guns

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE, SANAM MALIK & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After nearly every school shooting, right-wing media scramble to find reasons why guns should not be blamed for gun violence.

    After 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, pro-gun proselytizers in the conservative media sphere insisted that gun safety laws would not have prevented the shooting and instead pointed to other aspects of American culture that they said required reform. Here are some of the excuses right-wing pundits offered for the May 18 shooting:

    In February, after the school shooting in Parkland, FL, claimed 17 lives, conservative media took the very same approach:

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce claimed that talking about firearms doesn’t get to the “core issue” of “the human condition.” She and the hosts of Fox & Friends also blamed drugs, virtual reality, and video games for the shooting.
    • Radio host Michael Savage tweeted that “liberal judges and the ACLU” were to blame.
    • Fox guest Lou Palumbo blamed “the media, the entertainment industry,” and “the lack of parenting.”
    • Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson blamed “Leftist-run schools” and falsely claimed that the shooter was linked to antifa.
    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham blamed “mental illness”and “broken or damaged families” for the shooting on her show.
    • The Gateway Pundit suggested that the shooter supposedly being a registered Democrat was a factor. (He was not actually a registered Democrat; the blog was forced to correct the story.)
    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter blamed the FBI’s Russia probe for the shooting, tweeting, “The FBI was too busy trying to undermine the president to bother with doing it's (sic) freaking job.”
    • The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson suggested that the shooting was related to the shooter growing up without a father.
    • Liberty One TV’s Joe Biggs (formerly of Infowars) tweeted that the FBI was “too busy chasing Trump/Russia nothing burgers” to have prevented the shooting.
    • Pamela Geller falsely claimed that the shooter was connected to antifa and Islamic terrorist groups.
    • Laura Loomer shared a fake photo of the shooter and speculated that he was a “radical leftist” with potential ties to antifa and Islamic resistance groups.
    • Infowars claimed that the “MSM” (mainstream media) was “already covering it up” that the shooter was likely a “Democratic voter” and had clothing “similar to the style worn by ISIS fighters in Syria.”

    But as others have pointed out, most of the phenomena listed above are also present in other countries that don’t experience nearly as much gun violence as the United States does.

  • Hugh Hewitt used his MSNBC gig to praise efforts to weaken a law that his firm’s client is accused of violating

    After the Pruitt scandal, another Hugh Hewitt problem at MSNBC

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hugh Hewitt repeatedly used his employment at MSNBC to praise the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act, calling it one of the “accomplishments” of President Donald Trump's first year in office. But Hewitt and MSNBC did not disclose that one of his law firm’s clients is an oil and gas company that is currently litigating allegations it violated the environmental law.

    Hewitt hosts a weekend MSNBC program and contributes to the network’s other programming. He is also a syndicated radio host and partner at the law firm Larson O’Brien.

    Hewitt's status at Larson O’Brien presents numeorus potential and existing conflicts of interest for his media employment. The firm stated in a May 5, 2017, press release that it will be opening a Washington, D.C., office and that it “is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” The press release touted Hewitt’s relocation to the Washington area as a reason for the firm to “have a permanent presence in the District.”

    Hewitt has recently come under fire after Politico reported on his role in brokering a meeting between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and lawyers at Larson O’Brien; the meeting was concerning the efforts of firm client Orange County Water District to get the EPA to devote resources to cleaning up a polluted site in the district. The publication also noted that Hewitt has been a staunch defender of Pruitt on MSNBC.

    In a statement today, MSNBC said that “Hewitt disclosed several times to MSNBC viewers that he has a friendship with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and also that Hewitt’s son works for the agency." The network said Hewitt at some point stopped discussing “EPA-related matters on MSNBC” and it gave Hewitt a “verbal warning” after it learned about the Orange County Water District meeting.

    However, Media Matters has found another ethical problem with Hewitt’s MSNBC commentary regarding a different client of his law firm.

    Larson O’Brien, which was formed in 2016, states that its practice areas include “environmental and water rights.” One of its prominent clients has been HVI Cat Canyon Inc. (HVI-CC), which was formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Inc.

    In June 2011, state and federal agencies -- including the EPA -- accused HVI-CC of violating provisions of the Clean Water Act by having “illegally discharged crude oil and produced water from its oil and gas production facilities in Santa Barbara County during 21 spills between June 2005 and December 2010. The spills resulted from ruptured storage tanks, corroded pipelines and overflowing injection ponds. Oil from each of the spills flowed into nearby waterways.” Since then, HVI-CC has been involved in years of litigation concerning the oil spills.

    In 2015, the Obama administration strengthened the Clean Water Act by enacting the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, with then-President Barack Obama stating that it “will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.” FoxNews.com wrote that “the case against HVI got a boost when” Obama signed that rule.

    Business interests were unsurprisingly opposed to the rule, and on February 28, 2017, Trump signed an executive order that set in motion the rollback of WOTUS with the goal of replacing it with a more industry-friendly rule. Environmentalists have responded by arguing that the administration's moves are efforts to weakened the landmark Clean Water Act.

    On March 16, 2017, Larson O’Brien filed a motion asking a district court to permanently halt the case against HVI-CC in light of Trump’s executive order regarding WOTUS. (Litigation regarding the case is ongoing.)

    In other words, Hewitt’s law firm has had a financial connection -- both through its practice area and with a specific client -- to the Clean Water Act. But those conflicts of interest haven’t stopped Hewitt from using his MSNBC platform to praise the weakening of the law through the rollback of WOTUS.

    During the September 29 edition of MTP Daily, Hewitt defended ethics questions about Pruitt by praising his work on the water rollback: “Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.”

    During the December 22 edition of MTP Daily, Hewitt cited the rollback of the water rule as an accomplishment, stating: “So, the president's numbers are horrible, but the accomplishments of this year, especially when it comes to [Supreme Court Justice] Neil Gorsuch and 12 appeals court judges, the EPA rollback of the Waters of the United States rule, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Accord and, most importantly, defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, there's a lot of reframing going on.”

    During the April 2 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat, Hewitt defended questions about an apartment Pruitt rented at below market rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist by stating: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States, which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Hewitt did not disclose his law firm’s work related to the Clean Water Act in any of those appearances.

    MSNBC did not return a request for comment from Media Matters for this piece.

    Media Matters also documented that The Washington Post repeatedly allowed Hewitt to write columns praising Pruitt without disclosing that Hewitt’s law firm does work before the agency. He also referenced the water rollback, writing on March 1, 2017: “Trump’s repeated calls in many places for regulatory reform had been foreshadowed earlier Tuesday with an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and its new and very able director, Scott Pruitt, to move quickly to roll back the ruinous, overreaching ‘Waters of the United States’ rule of the Obama years.” Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters on May 8 that Hewitt would no longer write about Pruitt.

  • The Washington Post's Hugh Hewitt problem

    Hewitt’s firm represents “clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post repeatedly allowed Hugh Hewitt to write columns praising Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt without disclosing that Hewitt’s law firm does work before the agency. Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters that Hewitt would no longer write about Pruitt. 

    Hewitt is a conservative radio host who also works as a host for MSNBC and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Off air, he is a partner at the law firm Larson O’Brien.

    That law firm position presents numerous potential and real conflicts of interest for Hewitt’s media roles. Larson O’Brien stated in a May 5, 2017, press release that the firm will be opening a Washington D.C. office and “is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” The press release touted Hewitt’s relocation to the Washington area as a reason for the firm to “have a permanent presence in the District”:   

    Larson O’Brien is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Larson O’Brien partner Hugh Hewitt recently relocated to the Washington area where he hosts an award winning radio show during the morning drive-time hours. “With Hugh moving to Washington and our significant client work in the Capital, it made sense for us to have a permanent presence in the District,” said Stephen Larson.

    Politico reported on May 7 that Hewitt brokered a meeting between Pruitt and lawyers at Larson O’Brien concerning efforts of the firm’s client Orange County Water District to get the EPA to devote resources to cleaning up a polluted site in the district. From the report, which is based on “emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club”:

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Politico noted that Hewitt has been a vocal defender of Pruitt on MSNBC. Several journalists have criticized MSNBC for the blatant conflict of interest; The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro tweeted: “Um, it's not okay for a cable news contributor to ask the EPA administrator for favors like this and still be on TV talking about him. At. All. CC: @MSNBC.”

    Hewitt’s conflict of interest problem has also extended to The Washington Post, which repeatedly allowed Hewitt to praise the EPA and Pruitt in opinion columns for the paper.

    Hewitt himself referenced his work on issues related to the EPA in the Post. On January 4, 2017, he wrote: “I’ve worked for real estate developers on huge projects for three decades. My law practice was built on helping them figure out and comply with complex statutory and regulatory regimes and knowing how the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked.”

    The following are instances in which the Post allowed Hewitt to discuss the EPA without disclosing his conflict of interest:

    • On January 19, 2017, Hewitt praised President Donald Trump’s nomination of Pruitt, writing, “Discount the rhetoric. ... Pruitt’s not a ‘climate denier.’”
    • On March 1, 2017, Hewitt wrote: “Trump’s repeated calls in many places for regulatory reform had been foreshadowed earlier Tuesday with an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and its new and very able director, Scott Pruitt, to move quickly to roll back the ruinous, overreaching ‘Waters of the United States’ rule of the Obama years.”
    • On July 4, Hewitt wrote that Pruitt has become one of “the domestic policy stars of the Trump administration.”
    • On August 19, Hewitt called Pruitt and several other Trump administration officials “committed reformers” who “are in strong and stable positions now as staffing of political appointees accelerates.”
    • On September 19, Hewitt praised the Trump administration and Pruitt for “pursuing ambitious and much-needed rollback agendas.”
    • On February 22, Hewitt wrote: “The United States is out of the one-sided Paris accord while open to steps toward genuine protection of the climate. The EPA is refining its rulemaking process in ways that rule-of-law conservatives hope will conform the agency’s new rules to the designs and ends Congress intended for them, reversing the warped power grabs of the administrative state they had become.”

    The Post did not disclose that Hewitt’s firm works on issues related to EPA regulations in those pieces. The paper has also not been consistent in disclosing that Hewitt’s son works for the EPA. According to his LinkedIn page, James Hewitt joined the agency in July 2017. Hewitt's July 4 and September 19 columns disclosed that connection while his August 19 and February 22 columns did not.

    In an email to Media Matters, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote: “I was disturbed to learn this morning that Hugh Hewitt had intervened with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on behalf of Hewitt’s law firm as he was writing about Pruitt in a column for The Washington Post. Hewitt, who has not written about Pruitt since September, has agreed not to write about him going forward and has assured us that similar incidents won’t occur in the future.”

    The Washington Post also employs megalobbyist Ed Rogers as a contributor despite countless conflicts of interest relating to Roger’s lobbying firm. Over the years, the Post has repeatedly allowed Rogers to tout his clients’ interests without disclosure.

  • Politico details Pruitt's seeming quid pro quo relationship with MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with lawyers seeking to prioritize the cleanup of a water district in Orange County, CA, at the behest of MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt, one of Pruitt’s staunchest media defenders, according to a Politico story published May 7. The lawyers worked for the same firm, Larson O'Brien, as Hewitt. “Six weeks after that meeting, ... the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address,” Politico reported. Media Matters has noted Hewitt’s full-throated defense of Pruitt amid a litany of scandals and controversies, including his exorbitant travel and ethically dubious condo lease, on MSNBC and his radio show, which Pruitt has appeared on at least a dozen times, according to Hewitt. The story also noted that Hewitt’s son James works in the EPA’s press shop. The Washington Post had reported in April that Pruitt used an obscure provision in a water-safety law to hire James, among others.

    From Politico:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

    [...]

    In many cases, the people whose advice Pruitt is heeding could be useful supporters for him in a future race for U.S. senator or president. They include GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who — as POLITICO reported in March — persuaded Pruitt last year to take a meeting with an Israeli water purification company called Water-Gen that later won a research deal with the EPA.

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”

  • The right-wing media figures defending Sean Hannity’s relationship with Michael Cohen

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures are jumping to defend Fox News host Sean Hannity after it was revealed that Hannity has been a client of longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. Hannity’s defenders are suggesting that he has “been victimized” by the revelation of his name, claiming that he “wasn’t engaging” Cohen “as a lawyer,” and even arguing that Hannity possibly “did not know he was a client of Michael Cohen."

  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."