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  • GOP payments, Trump venues, conflicts of interest: Fox figures’ speeches have been an ethical disaster

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Click here to access a PDF version of this report.

    For years, Fox employees have spoken at events for conservative groups and Republican Party organizations, using their cable news celebrity to help those organizations raise money and gain publicity.

    According to a new Media Matters analysis, Fox figures have taken more than $500,000 from Republican Party groups to speak at events. They have interviewed Republicans officials shortly after co-headlining events with them. And they have financially helped President Donald Trump by keynoting speeches on Trump properties.

    Here are five takeaways from an examination of speeches by Fox figures over the years:

    • Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Greg Gutfeld, Sean Hannity, Pete Hegseth, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro have received over $500,000 combined in speaking fees from Republican groups while working at the network.
    • Members of Fox's purported "news" division, such as anchor Shannon Bream and Fox News Senior Vice President of business news Neil Cavuto, have also headlined conservative events, including alongside Republican officials. In one instance, Bream spoke at a conference that also featured then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (whom she later interviewed on her program).
    • Fox News employees have spoken at events that have financially benefited President Donald Trump. For instance, Chris Stirewalt -- a member of Fox’s “news” division -- spoke at an event for the petroleum industry at Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. And Jeanine Pirro has done events in which the proceeds went to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
    • Republican groups paying Fox News hosts has unsurprisingly created numerous conflicts of interest. For instance, Pete Hegseth repeatedly interviewed then-Senate candidate John James after headling a fundraiser with the Michigan Republican; and Pirro interviewed Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the day after appearing with him at a fundraiser.
    • Three Fox News hosts -- Brian Kilmeade, Pete Hegseth, and Shannon Bream -- have cancelled speeches at conservative events this year following Media Matters reporting.

    (Media Matters obtained speaking fees through searches of various government campaign finance databases. The fees were either paid to the Fox figures or to their speaking bureaus.) 

    Here are more than 50 notable examples of Fox News speeches since 2007: 

    2007-2016

    November 1, 2007. Sean Hannity speaks at a fundraising event for the Alachua County Republican Party in Florida, reportedly receiving $75,000. The GOP group’s website stated at the time that Hannity would “broadcast the Sean Hannity half of Hannity and Colmes via satellite from the Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ. We had lobbied the powers that be that control such thing because it will greatly de-compress the day and the event. They informed us a few days ago that we got our wish. After the reception and during the main event, the reception hall at Canterbury Equestrian Showplace will get turned in to a mini TV studio. The[re] will be no audience in the reception hall, during Hannity and Colmes. … We will be broadcasting Hannity and Colmes on our big screens in the arena.”

    August 2, 2008. Fox News Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon says in a speech aboard a cruise for Hillsdale College that he lied repeatedly during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism." The remarks were unearthed by Media Matters three years later and caused major embarrassment for the network.

    April 15, 2009. Fox News hosts Neil Cavuto, Greta Van Susteren, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity attend tea party rallies across the country, with the network labeling them “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” Beck and Van Susteren are no longer with the network, but Cavuto, in addition to hosting programs on Fox News and Fox Business, “oversees business news content for both networks” as its senior vice president and managing editor of business news.  

    March 23, 2010. Hannity keynotes a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP group stated that it “raised over $7 million” for the annual event.

    April 15, 2010. Hannity plans to broadcast his Fox News program from a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati but Fox News executives force him to abandon his plans. The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported on the event, and Media Matters added additional reporting and criticism before Hannity’s appearance was cancelled. Though Fox News executives were reportedly angry with Hannity, the Times later reported, “While there have been post-mortem discussions about the incident, it does not appear that they have resulted in any serious disciplinary measures taken against any staffers involved.”

    September 25, 2010. Tucker Carlson -- then a Fox News contributor -- reportedly speaks at an event hosted by the Moore County Republican Party in North Carolina, receiving $10,000.

    March 29, 2011. Carlson speaks at a fundraising event for the Lane County Republican Party in Oregon, receiving $23,500.

    May 25, 2011. Then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris speaks a fundraising event for the Oakland County Republican Party in Michigan. He would later treat GOP donors to a tour of Fox News and tapings of Lou Dobbs Tonight and Hannity.

    March 9, 2012. Morris speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Lake County in Florida and auctions off a personal guided tour of Fox News' New York studios for GOP donors. Fox News “reprimanded” Morris following Media Matters’ report.

    February 7, 2013. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County at Mar-A-Lago, FL, receiving $12,500. Trump introduced Ingraham.

    July 1, 2014. Media Matters releases a report documenting 15 Fox News hosts and contributors who have campaigned in the past few years with two political organizations created and heavily funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The Fox employees include current Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, Laura Ingraham, Charles Payne, and Dana Perino.

    February 21, 2015. Jeanine Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee, receiving $20,000.

    May 4, 2015. Ingraham speaks at an event for then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn became a senator in 2019.

    February 11, 2016. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois, receiving $12,500.

    March 20, 2016. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County at Mar-A-Lago. Trump, who was the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination then, also spoke at the event.

    May 5, 2016. Brian Kilmeade speaks at an event for the Queens Village Republican Club in New York.

    May 13, 2016. Carlson -- then a co-host on Fox & Friends Weekend -- speaks at an event for the Republican Party of Arkansas, receiving $23,500.


    Photo from the Republican Party of Arkansas' Facebook page

    2017

    January, February, and March: Jeanine Pirro receives a “speaker’s fee” payment of $5,000 each month, for a total of $15,000, from the New Jersey Republican State Committee for an unspecified event.

    January 26. Pete Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Brazos County in Texas, receiving $5,000.

    February 18. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Kent County Republican Committee in Delaware, receiving $12,000.

    March 4. Lou Dobbs speaks at a fundraising event for the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee in Florida, receiving $25,000.

    March 9. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Erie County Republican Committee in New York, receiving $7,579.34.

    March 13. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Georgia Republican Party, receiving $15,000.

    March 20. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth in Pennsylvania, receiving $5,284.

    March 31. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Bonneville County GOP in Idaho, receiving $14,000.

    April 21. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Snohomish County Republican Central Committee in Washington, receiving $5,547.60.  

    July 28. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Arkansas, receiving $15,000.

    July 29. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Larimer County Republican Party in Colorado, receiving $5,000  

    September 21. Host Greg Gutfeld speaks at a fundraising event for the Washington State Republican Party, receiving $36,609.41.

    October 8. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Volusia County Republican Party in Florida, receiving $20,000.

    October 13. Cavuto speaks at an event for the conservative and Koch-funded Washington Policy Center alongside Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    October 17. Ingraham speaks at a “campaign kickoff event” for then-Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R) in Arizona. The New York Times reported, “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun.”

    October 21. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the California Republican Party, receiving $20,000.

    November 2. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Montgomery County Republican Women's PAC in Texas, receiving $6,500.

    November 9. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Alachua County Republican Party in Florida, receiving $15,000.

    December 6. Hannity speaks and accepts an award at a United in Purpose luncheon hosted by Ginni Thomas at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

    2018

    January 18. Pirro speaks at an event for the Trumpettes USA club at Mar-a-Lago. The Washington Post reported that “the event followed the format of a Palm Beach charity ball — without the charity. [Trumpettes co-founder Toni Holt] Kramer was clear that the money would all go to the president's club.”

    February 8. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois, receiving $13,250.

    February 17. Gutfeld speaks at an event for the Morris County Republican Committee Fundraiser at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, reportedly receiving $30,000.

    February 23. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, receiving $10,600.

    March 5. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News’ politics editor who “helps coordinate political coverage across Fox platforms,” gives a keynote speech at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) spoke at the gathering the following day.  

    March 16. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Kern County Republican Central Committee in California that also features then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Pirro, who received $25,000 for speaking at the event, would interview McCarthy the following the day on her Fox News program without disclosing the payment.

    May 17. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Benton County Republican Central Committee in Washington, receiving $8,500.

    May 24. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Livingston County Republican Party in Michigan with then-Republican Senate candidate John James. Hegseth, who received $10,239.55 for the engagement, would later interview James on Fox & Friends Weekend on July 28, September 9, October 14, and October 28, without disclosing his financial conflict of interest.

    June 28. Hannity speaks at a Manhattan Republican Party event honoring him.

    June 30. Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes speaks alongside Republican officials at a fundraising event for the Fayette County Republican Party in Tennessee. Starnes has also worked as an anchor and reporter for Fox News Radio.

    July 2. Hannity participates in campaign rallies for two Florida Republicans: gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and congressional candidate Rep. Matt Gaetz.

    August 11. Shannon Bream speaks at the conservative Steamboat Institute’s 10th Annual Freedom Conference & Festival and praised the recently passed GOP tax bill and said that Trump has been “rolling back regulations that we've heard from businesses, from the IRS to the EPA, have made it tougher for them to survive and be profitable in America.” Bream made the remarks despite stating that she’s “in the news division” and doesn’t “have an opinion publicly.” Then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also appeared at the conference; Bream interviewed Zinke on her show in November.

    October 10. Pirro speaks at an event for Scott Wagner for Governor (R) in Pennsylvania, receiving $35,000.

    November 5. Hannity and Pirro both appear and speak at a campaign rally with Trump ahead of the midterm elections. The network responded by falsely claiming it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.”

    2019

    January 17. The Williamson County Republican Party in Tennessee announces that “Brian Kilmeade will not be speaking at” its February 16 “Reagan Day due to scheduling conflicts.” Media Matters had earlier that month criticized the Fox & Friends host for agreeing to participate in the partisan fundraiser.

    January 24. The Bridgeport Republican Town Committee in Connecticut announces that Pete Hegseth will no longer be speaking at its April 25 fundraiser “due to circumstances beyond our control.” The cancellation came a day after Media Matters reported on the event.

    February 23. Pirro again headlines a Trumpettes USA party at Mar-a-Lago that benefits Trump’s club, as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported.

    March 22: The James Madison Institute announces that Shannon Bream has cancelled her speech at its April 3 fundraiser. Media Matters had previously reported on the event, noting that Bream belongs to Fox’s “news” division yet was scheduled to speak at the fundraiser for the Koch-linked group alongside Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    May 31. Fox Nation host and Fox News contributor David Webb is scheduled to emcee a fundraising event for the Belknap County Republican Committee in New Hampshire. Webb has also emceed the committee’s events in previous years.

  • Fox News figures salivate over Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    On February 5, President Donald Trump gave his 2019 State of the Union address. It was filled with misinformation and anti-immigrant bigotry, often sounding similar to Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. While mainstream news outlets fact-checked the many lies and misleading claims in the speech, Fox News figures heaped enthusiastic praise on Trump’s address, calling it “one of the best speeches I've ever heard in terms of reaching across the aisle,” gushing that "the president delivered, I think, a message of unity,” claiming "Trump is going to be recognized as one of the greatest presidents of our generation, if not the greatest,” and more:

  • Fox News downplays Khashoggi's murder: “Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world”

    Fox host Neil Cavuto:It is a reminder how this one journalist death, tragic though it is, has disproportionately skewed the picture”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News contributor Jonas Max Ferris downplayed the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by arguing that Saudi Arabia “is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world” and touting the country’s investments in U.S. businesses.

    In response, host Neil Cavuto acknowledged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, has engaged in oppressive practices against critics. But he also downplayed Khashoggi's murder, saying, “It is a reminder how this one journalist death, tragic though it is, has disproportionately skewed the picture.”

    Khashoggi, who was critical of the Saudi government, was killed during a visit to a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey earlier this month. After initially claiming that Khashoggi had left the consulate after his October 2 visit, the Saudi Arabian government has now acknowledged that he was killed, implausibly claiming that he died after a fight broke out inside the diplomatic facility.

    Reacting to those developments, Ferris argued that “investors know Saudi Arabia isn’t really the enemy” and that “Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world” during the October 20 broadcast of Cavuto Live:

    JONAS MAX FERRIS: They’re turning their oil revenue slowly into an investment fund of epic proportions that keeps Silicon Valley -- it’s one of the major sources of cash --

    NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): And we want to be part of that.

    FERRIS: Of course we do, which is why in some ways the president’s not being diplomatic, which is possibly good. The end of the day, investors know Saudi Arabia isn’t really the enemy. Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world, believe it or not. If you go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is a very excellent site with a database, it’s almost 1,000 journalists killed since 1993. It’s only one in Saudi Arabia and that was by Al Qaeda in 2004.

    Ferris cited a database maintained by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to claim that Saudi Arabia is a safe country for journalists. While he is correct that the database includes the murder of only one journalist in the country, in 2004, Ferris failed to note that Salman has ratcheted up oppression of journalists leading up to Khashoggi being targeted for murder.

    CPJ -- which has called Saudi Arabia’s explanation for Khashoggi’s death “ridiculous” and said that the government “lied to the world” -- has documented the oppressive conditions journalists work under in Saudi Arabia.

    As CPJ explained in an October 6 statement about Khashoggi, “Saudi Arabia's repression of journalists has intensified since Crown Prince Salman rose to power as the apparent heir to the king last year. CPJ recently documented a steadily increasing number of bloggers and journalists detained in unknown locations without charges since the start of what Saudi authorities term an anti-corruption campaign in September 2017.”

  • Fox Business keeps casting doubt on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

    Fox Business, the only media organization that hasn’t pulled out of a high-profile Saudi conference, is muddying the waters around possible Saudi involvement in a journalist’s disappearance

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On October 3, The Associated Press reported that Saudi Arabian journalist (and U.S. permanent resident) Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was missing. The disappearance drew significant media attention through October 11, when the Turkish government claimed to have audio and video proof that Khashoggi was assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate. 

    As evidence of Saudi involvement grew, many big media organizations have pulled out of the Saudi-planned Future Investment Initiative conference -- except Fox Business. Fox Business personalities have made suspect comments about Khashoggi’s disappearance, sowing confusion about possible Saudi culpability and downplaying the seriousness of the assassination if the Saudi government is guilty. 

    On the October 15 edition of Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast, John Hannah, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that even if the Saudi government did murder Khashoggi, “diplomatically, we have got to maintain the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship at the same time as we express real displeasure with what the Saudis have done here.” 

    Host Neil Cavuto later floated a bizarre conspiracy theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance may have been “hatched by the Turks to get at the Saudis, to embarrass them, to put them in a position.”

    On Fox News’ Outnumbered, after senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano commented that “there’s no way [Khashoggi] is going to be assassinated without the highest levels of the Saudi government authorizing it,” Fox Business host Melissa Francis chided Napolitano for “assuming that the Saudis did it," noting that "we don’t necessarily know that.” Francis suggested that the alleged murder might not be “what it appears to be” because “it was so obvious, and there are so many quieter ways to dispose of someone.”

  • Decades of Trump family tax fraud doesn’t bother conservatives who demanded Obama be “vetted”

    The tax swindler president gets a pass from the right

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    One of the dominant narratives about Barack Obama in conservative media and Republican politics hinged on the idea that no one knew who America’s first black president really was. This notion that Obama was hiding his true self found countless avenues of expression -- obsessions over his college transcripts; fine-toothed parsing of personal anecdotes related in his books; sinister insinuations about the childhood years he spent in Indonesia; dimwitted conspiracies about who actually wrote his autobiography; equally stupid conspiracies about his biological father; still dumber conspiracies about the famous black men who could be his “real” father; and bad-faith efforts to impute to Obama the politics of every controversial figure he encountered in his public life. The current president’s ascent in Republican politics began with a bigoted smear campaign to demonstrate that Obama had covered up his true place of birth.

    The unstated political intent behind all this aggressive and frequently deranged probing into Obama’s past was to leverage racial anxiety and portray Obama as foreign, un-American, and dangerous. The stated justification was that America needed to break through the political persona Obama had created and understand who the “real” Barack Obama was.

    “All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America? In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?” then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain said in a 2008 campaign speech.  “He’s been elected president,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity said shortly before Obama’s inauguration. “My question is: Do we really know the real Barack Obama?” Conservatives were singularly obsessed with debunking Obama’s self-told origin story and exposing the true “radical” they already had convinced themselves was hiding behind it.

    Now here we are in 2018 and Donald Trump, who benefited more than any other Republican politician from telling grotesque lies about Obama’s background, is president of the United States, having successfully campaigned on his own mythology as a business genius and self-made billionaire. That mythology was always based on grandiose lies and relied heavily on intense secrecy and media credulity. This week it was ripped to shreds by a New York Times investigation into the Trump family’s wealth which found that Donald Trump was heavily dependent on dubious -- and often fraudulent -- financial support from his real-estate developer father, Fred Trump.

    The true Donald Trump is a child of privilege whose wealth was always secure. He was disastrous as a businessman, but he was singularly effective in devising schemes (in collaboration with his dad) to conceal those failures with complex and inventive forms of tax fraud. The Donald Trump who markets himself as a business phenom is actually a spectacular failure who so values personal wealth and the outward appearance of success that he would commit fraud and even attempt to railroad his ailing father into altering his own will.

    This is precisely what conservatives were warning would happen with Obama: A president’s facade was shorn away to reveal something far more sinister, with dire implications for our political system. And early indications are that the right couldn't care less.

    Fox News has spent the day since the Times story dropped spinning it as positive for Trump, arguing that the illegal behavior described in the story actually shows that Trump is -- in the words of Neil Cavuto -- “pretty clever.”

    Sean Hannity, who aired a series of programs in the run-up to the 2008 election purporting to expose “The Real Barack Obama,” brushed off the Times’ deconstruction of Trump as a “slander” cooked up by Democrats who “think they're losing the vote on Judge Kavanaugh.” Breitbart News, which committed itself to a much-publicized (and often hilariously inept) “vetting” of Obama in 2012, limited its coverage of the Times story to publicizing Trump’s attacks on it.

    Such hypocrisy is to be expected, I suppose, but it’s still wild given all the dire warnings conservatives sounded about what a secret radical president would mean for U.S. policy. The situation we now face is that a sitting president with a long-standing record of fraud and tax evasion is responsible for overseeing the IRS and directing tax policy. The Times article describes the intricate, intra-familial schemes the Trumps devised so Fred Trump could line the pockets of his children without paying taxes. Are we just going to assume that similarly fraudulent arrangements do not exist between Donald Trump and his children, one of whom is a senior official in his White House?

    The potential for corruption is staggering, and it hovers menacingly above all the acts of official corruption we already know about. And yet, few on the right seem invested in loudly asking “who is the real Donald Trump?” I guess it would be pointless anyway; we know the real Donald Trump is a fraud and a tax cheat, but they just don’t give a damn.

  • The small chorus of pro-Trump figures defending his disastrous presser with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of Trump’s fiercest media allies are standing behind him, even as many of his loyalists defect.

    During a July 16 press conference with his Russian counterpart, Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, calling his denial “extremely strong and powerful.” His shameful performance garnered sharp rebukes from intelligence community veterans, Democrats, Republicans, and even friends of Trump who have defended the president through some of his most egregious slip-ups.

    Nonetheless, a group of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media rejected the overwhelming consensus and defended the president:

    • Fox's Jeanine Pirro: "What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?"
    • Fox host Sean Hannity praised Trump for being "very strong at the end of the press conference."
    • Infowars host Owen Shroyer on the press conference: "It just kept getting better in time."
    • Conservative radio host Mark Simone: “The whole idea of a summit is to make peace. That’s what he was doing there.”
    • Fox host Laura Ingraham admonished “mass hysteria” in reaction to the press conference and downplayed Trump’s performance as involving an “unfortunate word choice.”
    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson attacked media for their reactions to the press conference and said it seems like politicians critical of Trump’s actions toward Putin and Russia “seek increased conflict with Russia.”
    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “A day after the media/Democrats/NeverTrump meltdown over Trump-Putin summit, they're still wrong, the world's still here, and the future is bright.”
    • Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering: “Remind me, did Obama forcefully confront Putin for” the 2014 attack on a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over Ukraine?
    • The Washington Times boosted comments from former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), current host of the web show Liberty Report, who categorized Trump’s meeting with Putin as “significant diplomacy.”