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  • Fox News has ignored Whitefish’s $300 million no-bid contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have each aired 15 segments on the contract

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    News reports have raised numerous questions about the $300 million contract that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a relatively inexperienced then-two-person firm based in Montana, to rebuild power lines in Puerto Rico. Members of Congress from both parties have called for investigations into the contract. Mainstream media outlets, including MSNBC and CNN, have given the story widespread coverage, but as of midday on October 27, Fox News had yet to even mention the Whitefish contract.

    Reports detail controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy, a two-person Montana firm, to help restore power in Puerto Rico

    E&E News first reported on Whitefish Energy Holdings’ contract with PREPA in stories on October 6 and October 9. E&E News revealed that PREPA decided not to take advantage of a mutual aid program among 1,100 electric companies that could have helped to quickly restore power on the island, where about 75 percent of residents still have no electricity. Instead, PREPA awarded a contract to the Montana-based firm, which at the time had only two full-time staffers. From the October 6 article:

    The American Public Power Association, based in Washington, confirmed today that the troubled Puerto Rico public utility that serves more than 3 million people on the island has decided not to request assistance from the group of 1,100 U.S. electricity companies standing ready to help.

    The association coordinates mutual aid disaster assistance for U.S. public power companies, which include the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). "The request for help was not activated," said group spokeswoman Meena Dayak. "We do have people who are ready to help."

    Nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity customers remain without power. Instead of activating a mutual aid arrangement that might have speeded up recovery time, the utility turned to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small contractor based in Montana, to coordinate outside help. The utility has given no explanation for that decision.

    In the following days, Utility Dive, The Weather Channel, and Montana Public Radio also published stories on Whitefish’s questionable contract. On October 19, Whitefish put out a press release announcing that the contract was worth $300 million, which was followed by additional reports by The Associated Press and The Washington Post. The contract, which is nearly 300 times larger than Whitefish’s next-largest project and the largest restoration contract in Puerto Rico, granted Whitefish an initial payment of $3.7 million for “mobilization of personnel and equipment” and allows Whitefish to charge hourly rates for workers' time that NPR described as "eye-popping."

    A leaked copy of the contract also revealed that it bars government agencies from auditing or reviewing “cost and profit elements” of the deal and prevents PREPA from making "any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work."

    Whitefish Energy has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump campaign donor

    The Post reported on October 23 that Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski know one another, and that Zinke’s son worked for the company during one summer. Post reporters wrote that “Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico” and “Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved,” but they also reported that Techmanski had reached out to Zinke’s office after procuring the contract.

    On October 24, Buzzfeed reported that Joe Colonnetta, the head of HBC Investments, one of Whitefish Energy’s major funding sources, had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, but stated, “It’s unclear whether Colonnetta, who did not respond to a request for comment, has specific connections to Whitefish, or whether his stake in Whitefish Energy is simply a business investment.”

    The revelations about PREPA’s contract have attracted widespread media coverage, as have a Twitter spat between the company and the mayor of San Juan, and the connections between Whitefish and Zinke. In the wake of this press coverage, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for investigations into the contract.

    Yet Fox News has remained silent about the controversial contract, even as the other major cable news networks have covered it extensively.

    Fox News has yet to cover Whitefish story, while Fox Business hosted Whitefish spokesman to defend the contract

    Media Matters reviewed cable news coverage of the Whitefish story from October 6, the date of the initial report on Whitefish’s contract, to noon ET of October 27 and found that Fox News had not aired a single segment on the story.

    During that period, the Fox Business Network aired just two segments on the story. The network first mentioned the contract during a headline rundown on the October 25 episode of FBN:am, in which the hosts expressed surprise that a company of Whitefish’s size received such a large contract.

    The second segment was on the October 27 episode of Mornings with Maria. Guest host Megan McDowell, Fox News correspondent Lea Gabrielle, and Republican strategist and former Trump surrogate Erin Elmore interviewed Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce. The five-and-a-half-minute interview included softball questions such as: “What do you say to these investigations? Are they warranted?”, “When did the company hire you?”, “What are the facts that you think aren’t being reported?”, and “How well and how is Whitefish financed for this?”

    Fox Business has a track record of uncritically providing a platform for companies to respond to negative press coverage.

    CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish contract

    Fox News’ lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the other major cable networks’ extensive coverage of the controversial contract. Between October 6 and noon ET of October 27, CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 30 segments on the Whitefish story.

    MSNBC aired 15 segments on Whitefish’s contract with PREPA, including an interview with Luce on the October 27 episode of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle that was much more hard-hitting than Fox Business' interview with Luce. Unlike the Fox Business hosts, anchor Ruhle asked Luce how Whitefish won the contract, as well as how Whitefish justifies contract provisions that bar government audits and that prohibit PREPA from making claims for delayed work, adding, “How does that serve the people of Puerto Rico and the American people?”

    MSNBC also aired a segment on the October 24 episode of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson that featured one of the authors of the October 23 Washington Post story, Aaron Davis, who explained, “Whitefish Energy … has never done anything quite on this scale, or even remotely close to this scale. And now they have, according to the company yesterday, 280 employees and subcontractors working in Puerto Rico. Now compare that to the day after Hurricane Irma came through Florida, and there were 16,000 utility workers who were at the border of Florida waiting to come in under a mutual aid agreement. We don’t think it could have been that many waiting on a boat ready to get into Puerto Rico, but there could have been, according to many people we talked to, thousands. And there wasn’t.”

    CNN also aired 15 segments that mentioned Whitefish's contract, including a report on the October 25 episode of CNN Newsroom in which correspondent Rene Marsh discussed the details of the contract and noted similarities between statements issued by Whitefish and Zinke’s office.

    CNN also ran an on-the-ground report by correspondent Bill Weir that first aired on the October 19 episode The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer -- and was aired on the network seven additional times -- that featured a brief interview in which Weir asked Techmanski how his company won the contract and who initiated the contact between Whitefish and PREPA.

    UPDATE: After the original timeframe of the study and publication, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier aired a brief report on the Whitefish story on October 27 that focused on the White House and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's claims to have had "nothing to do with" Whitefish being awarded the contract to help rebuild the electrical grid in Puerto Rico. Fox News Tonight also aired a segment on the story late the same night.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “Whitefish” or “white fish” in coverage (4 a.m. to midnight ET) on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business Network from October 6, the date of the initial story on Whitefish’s contract, to noon of October 27. The interview that first aired on CNN’s Situation Room was subsequently aired seven more times and was counted as eight segments.

  • MSNBC hosts offer a perfect cable news template for covering Trump’s tax cut charade

    Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle dismantle arguments that Trump plan will benefit the economy

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In response to the release of a new Republican tax proposal, three consecutive segments hosted by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle offered a perfect example of how cable news ought to cover President Donald Trump’s tax agenda.

    The September 27 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle opened with the co-hosts breaking down the entire Trump tax cut plan. Velshi argued that proposed income tax changes were “a little smoke and mirrors” and would have no “meaningful effect on prosperity” for most Americans, additionally explaining how Trump’s proposal to eliminate the estate and alternative minimum taxes -- which would result in massive tax giveaways to the Trump family -- “is a boon for the wealthy.”

    When Velshi explained Trump’s proposal to cut corporate tax rates, Ruhle interjected that Trump’s own companies (along with “law firms and hedge funds”) would benefit from the changes. Velshi concluded that the plan “overwhelmingly supports those who are higher earners” while Ruhle argued it is simply “disingenuous” to claim the middle class would benefit from Trump’s plan:

    The hosts then brought in CNBC correspondent John Harwood to discuss the tax plan, where he, too, stressed that the Trump plan “is simply not a tax proposal that is geared toward the middle class” and reminded viewers that Trump’s strategy resembles the failed tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush. Obama administration press secretary Josh Earnest joined the conversation, concluding the segment by noting that none of Trump’s rally goers are motivated by reduced taxes for the rich and corporations:

    After thoroughly dismantling the Trump administration’s tax agenda, the program turned to conservative policy analyst Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), who also noted that the plan, as it stands today, would be unlikely to fulfill Trump’s promises of increased economic growth and would end up adding to federal budget deficits. At the end of the segment, Earnest once again noted the “internal inconsistency” at play when Trump, after recently arguing the rich don’t need a tax cut, proposes a plan that gives them one:

  • MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle is obsessed with a Republican talking point about Jon Ossoff

    At least 21 congressional representatives also live outside the districts they were elected to represent

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle has obsessed over a right-wing talking point about Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff's decision not to establish residence in the 6th district where he is running in a June 20 special election. However, as The Washington Post has noted, at least 21 congressional representatives live outside of the districts they represent and Ossoff grew up in the 6th district before moving a few miles away.

    For months, Republicans and right-wing media attacked Ossoff for living just outside of Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and during the race it has become a major talking point, with outside groups running ads against him. President Donald Trump also tweeted similar attacks on the days of the primary election in April and the special election in June:

    During an interview on CNN in April, Ossoff made it clear that he intends to move back to the 6th congressional district where he “grew up” once his fiancee finishes medical school. But Ruhle has repeatedly raised this Republican talking point during interviews with him and during discussions of the race.

    During a June 16 interview, Ruhle noted that this line of attack had been used by Ossoff’s Republican opponent and acknowledged his reason for living outside the district. But she still pressed him on it, asking: “Why don’t you just move, at this point? I mean, you want to get this job, to me it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, why wouldn’t you just move so you could represent the district that you’d be governing?”

    She brought up this GOP talking point again the morning of the election in a panel discussion, saying, “This is one I just can’t get over -- if you think about what people are going after him over -- the president tweeting about it this morning. This is resolvable. He just needs to get a house in the district.” And just minutes later, Ruhle again grilled Ossoff about his address, demanding to know why he just doesn’t move (emphasis added):

    STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Jon, I know you said it earlier, every vote counts. It is all about voter turnout. And I asked you the other day, but it's extraordinary, one of the main points that Karen Handel and even President Trump has pushed against you is something that's very easy to solve: where you live. And if you get elected you're going to be spending the majority of your time in Washington. And while people respect across the board your desire to support your fiancee, she is in medical school, she walks to work across the street at 4 a.m., you're going to be getting a job that has you on a plane living in another part of the country most days of the week. With every vote counting, with every point counting, why not move, sir?

    JON OSSOFF: Well, Steph, voters just aren't asking me this question. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to improve our local economy, voters are asking me what I'm going to do to ensure they have access to health care. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to bring greater accountability to Washington. Folks here in Georgia’s 6th district care about how their representation is going to impact their daily lives. And frankly, if this is the best argument my opponents have against me, I'm feeling pretty good about the outcome tonight. I grew up in this community, as you mentioned I live a couple of miles down the road to support my fiancee while she finishes medical school. I’m running to serve my hometown in Congress and I want to make them proud.

    RUHLE: But, Jon, since the special election where you were at 48.1, things have only moved to 48.8 with 50 million bucks under your belt. So voters care about a lot. If you look back on this and things are that tight, wouldn't you say to yourself, just get an apartment in the district, this race counts so much?

    OSSOFF: Well, if voters were raising that as a serious concern, Steph, maybe I would. But voters care about how policy and how representation is going to impact their daily lives. They know I grew up in this community, they know I grew up in the 6th district, they know why I'm a couple miles south of the line. It's just not a major issue in the race. I'm focused on delivering representation that will serve our local economy, that will serve the daily needs of the people I hope to represent. And I'm offering a fresh voice to bring that kind of service to the 6th district.

    Ruhle’s obsession with this GOP attack against Ossoff is undermined by data showing at least 21 members of the House of Representatives live outside of the districts they represent. The Washington Post published an analysis on June 20 that found “that at least 5 percent of [House members] live outside their districts” (emphasis added):

    There’s no legal reason he should have to live in the district he hopes to represent; the Constitution mandates only that members of the House live in the state they are going to represent. That said, it’s generally considered politically advantageous to actually be a resident of the area you hope to represent.

    If elected, Ossoff wouldn’t be the only member of Congress living in Georgia’s 5th District. There’s also Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who represents the district. But a review of vote registration records by The Washington Post suggests that Ossoff would be the third member of Congress to make his home in the 5th. According to voter data provided to The Post by the political data firm L2, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) is also registered to vote in the district, instead of the 13th District that he represents.

    In fact, The Post identified 20 members of Congress who are registered to vote outside of the districts they serve. In some cases, it’s clearly a function of redistricting. Four members of the House from southern Florida, for example, live outside of the districts they represent, but that’s likely because the Florida Supreme Court redrew the district boundaries at the end of 2015.

    In total, we identified the records for 395 members of Congress, matching names and birthdates to voter files.

    [...]

    The broader point, though, is a simple one: Should Ossoff win the run-off in the 6th District in June, he will hardly be the only member of Congress to live outside of his district.

  • Trump Claimed He Saved American Jobs At Ford, But The Company Is Reportedly Shedding Thousands

    Ford May Lay Off 10 Percent Of Global Workforce, Highlighting Problematic Media Promotion Of Trump’s Empty Jobs Boasts

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Reports are circulating that American auto giant Ford Motor Co. plans to cut up to 10 percent of its global workforce in a bid to boost the company’s profits and its share price, with a focus on cutting nonunion salaried workers in North America and Asia. The news is potentially devastating for thousands of American workers and reveals another empty boast from President Donald Trump, who previously enjoyed a flood of positive press when he took personal credit for job creation at the company.

    On May 15, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford CEO Mark Fields plans to shrink his company's global workforce by roughly 10 percent as part of a “drive to boost profits and the auto maker’s sliding stock price.” The Journal noted that such heavy job cuts at a company with 200,000 employees around the world, “half of which work in North America,” could “trigger a political backlash at the White House” for a president who “has repeatedly pointed to auto makers like Ford as examples of companies adding U.S. jobs.” The initial report was soon corroborated by Bloomberg, CNBC, CNNMoney, Reuters, and the Detroit Free Press, with some reporting that thousands of nonunion salaried employees in the U.S. might face layoffs. Many reports discussed the political fallout such a move could create for a Trump administration that has routinely claimed unfounded credit for spurring job growth at Ford and other companies in the U.S. On the May 16 edition of MSNBC Live, CNBC reporter Dominic Chu explained that the cuts would likely target administrative and managerial positions throughout the company as Ford tries to squeeze its workers:

    In the past, Trump has promoted reports of job creation at Ford and other companies by shoehorning himself into fawning press reports of business decisions he had little or nothing to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, SoftBank.) Trump even falsely took credit for Ford canceling a planned factory expansion in Mexico, but the company later broke ground on a new Mexican factory expansion at a different location.

    After months of allowing themselves to be misled by Trump’s false tweets and rants, reporters finally appeared to have caught on; they largely downplayed Trump’s role in a March 28 investment agreement between Ford and the United Auto Workers union, which he heralded on Twitter. Unfortunately, much of the damage from the earlier glut of insipid coverage has been done. American companies are not making business decisions based on Trump’s rhetorical flourishes, but millions of news viewers still erroneously think of the president as a sort of “dealmaker-in-chief.”