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Media Ethics

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  • “The Empire strikes back”: Right-wing media defend Alex Jones after Infowars is banned from several major platforms

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.

  • 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.”

  • Hannity’s disclosure hypocrisy

    When ABC News was caught in a disclosure scandal, Hannity went nuts

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Media Matters

    Sean Hannity is the perfectly crystallized representation of Trump-era punditry. Much like the president he slavishly devotes his entire programming schedule to deifying, Hannity is aggressively dishonest, unencumbered by anything remotely resembling a principle, and eager to rigorously impose harsh standards of conduct on his enemies that he would never dream of applying to his allies or himself. And, as with Trump, Hannity thrives despite his toxic, corrupt behavior because he operates within the poisonous world of conservative politics where the myopic pursuit of power and wealth are the only things that matter.

    That brings us to yesterday’s revelation that Hannity was the mystery client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Hannity never disclosed his relationship with Cohen, even as he railed against the FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office last week, calling them a declaration of “legal war on the president” and part of an “overreaching witch hunt.”

    This lack of disclosure comes nowhere close to being the worst abuse Hannity has committed, but it does help illustrate how Hannity exploits his utter lack of accountability and holds himself to a far laxer standard of conduct than he holds other media figures to.

    For example, in May 2015, the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos had donated money to the Clinton Foundation and “had not previously disclosed it to ABC viewers, despite taking part in on-air discussions about the Clinton Foundation and its controversial relationship with foreign donors.” ABC News and Stephanopoulos recognized this as a breach of journalistic ethics (made all the more thorny by Stephanopoulos’ previous work as a Clinton campaign and White House staffer) and it was covered as such by the media. Stephanopoulos made a public apology to viewers, and the network acknowledged that he had broken rules about charitable giving by “failing to disclose it when covering the recent reports about the foundation.”

    Hannity went wild with this story. “A major scandal developing tonight surrounding ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos who was forced to apologize earlier today over a huge conflict of interest after it was revealed that he donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation from 2012 to 2014,” Hannity crowed at the opening of his May 14, 2015, show. After quoting the “embattled anchor’s” apology for failing to disclose his donations on air, Hannity responded with a snide: “Gee, George, you think?”

    Hannity interviewed the Free Beacon reporter who broke the story, kicking off his questioning by calling Stephanopoulos “such a hack” and asking: “How could he possibly have not known that he should reveal this? Do you believe that?” Hannity questioned whether ABC News “really did an investigation” and suggested that “George Stephanopoulos coordinated perhaps with the Clinton campaign here.”

    “He didn't think to disclose this? I don't buy it for one minute!” Hannity continued later in the program. “I think he thought he'd get away with it and didn't disclose it. And I think ABC News is going to take a credibility hit,” he said, adding: “This goes to the credibility of a news organization.” Hannity closed the show by asking viewers: “Should George Stephanopoulos be punished by ABC News, and if so, what should that punishment be?”

    Now let’s contrast the mocking attacks on Stephanopoulos’ lack of disclosure (and the attendant claims that the credibility of Stephanopoulos’ employer rested on how harshly it treated him) with Hannity’s self-serving and determinedly opaque explanation for why he neglected to disclose his own relationship with Michael Cohen.

    “For hours and hours, the media has been absolutely apoplectic and hyperventilating over some breaking news that I was listed in court today as a client for longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen,” Hannity said at the beginning of his April 16 show, offering himself as the wrongly maligned victim. When his own guest, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, lightly chided Hannity for not disclosing his ties to Cohen “when you talked about him on this show,” Hannity refused to hear it. “If you understand the nature of it, professor -- I’m going to deal with this later in the show,” he shot back. “I have the right to privacy. … It was such a minor relationship.”

    When he finally did roll around to addressing the Cohen situation (at the end of the program) Hannity was by turns defensive and evasive, and he offered as little information as he possibly could. After once again slapping the media for its “wild speculation” and for going “absolutely insane” and providing “wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of yours truly,” Hannity claimed that he’d never paid Cohen and had only “occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen … about legal questions I had, or I was looking for input and perspective.” Despite his earlier claim that he had in fact paid Cohen because he “definitely wanted attorney-client privilege,” Hannity insisted that “my discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

    That was it: a vague excuse that offered no concrete details as to the extent of their relationship (Hannity said he sought Cohen’s advice on real estate-related matters) packaged in a wounded attack on the media for even covering it. Hannity, meanwhile, is as deeply immersed in Trump’s world as one can be without actually being a Trump employee and/or family member, but all those unseemly (and unethical) ties to the president apparently have no significance to this supposed non-story.

    Fox News (which, by Hannity’s standard, has its credibility on the line) has been silent on the Cohen issue, and there’s little reason to believe it will take any action against Hannity given that the network has already let him get away with stoking insane murder conspiracy theories. Network executives seem to be perfectly content to let Hannity tell whatever story he wants, and if it turns out later on that he lied, they won’t care about that either. Hannity, like Trump, thrives on lies, flagrant hypocrisy, corruption, and the promise of never facing serious consequences for anything he does.