By Eric Hananoki
Media Matters for America
Last December, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson interviewed New York Yankee Derek Jeter and, as the New York Times wrote, "lavished praise on the Yankee shortstop." At no point did Fox News disclose to viewers that Carlson’s husband is Jeter’s agent.
Afterward, Fox News reportedly told the Times that a disclosure should have been made, and a network source claimed management was "stunned" by the way the interview was handled.
Yet on matters weightier than baseball, Fox News has consistently shown it has little interest in asking its on-air talent to disclose their financial interests in the topics they discuss.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that Glenn Beck has been doing "live-read" advertisements on his radio program — which is not produced by Fox News — for FreedomWorks. On Fox News, Glenn Beck prominently featured the organization and its president in an October show. Beck never mentioned his financial connections with FreedomWorks. Video of the appearance, along with a "partner with Glenn Beck" promotion, is currently featured on the front page of FreedomWorks’ website
Beck’s help for radio sponsors doesn’t stop there. As Media Matters’ Zachary Pleat noted, Beck has done paid radio ads for Food Insurance, and turned those radio ads into monologues for his Fox News show about rising commodities prices (without the explicit pitch for the company).
Beck’s had practice doing this radio-to-television shilling: As Media Matters documented last year, Goldline International has an "exclusive" sponsorship deal with Beck’s radio program. While Goldline sponsors advertisements on his radio program, Beck tells Fox News viewers to invest in gold to "protect" themselves from a possible economic collapse. (Such radio sponsorships are reportedly appropriate for Fox News hosts, though being a "paid spokesman" and getting paid individually by a company is not.)
Fox News contributors also directly discuss and promote their clients on-air. Take the cases of Fox Newsers Doug Schoen and Frank Luntz. On October 15, Schoen criticized the Democrats’ strategy of making a campaign issue out of U.S Chamber of Commerce’s funding sources. On October 6, Luntzapplauded an ad by the Chamber and said the group has "done some of the best advertising across the country."
At no point did Fox News mention that Schoen and Luntz work for — and presumably are paid by — the Chamber. Luntz’s website touts the Chamber as one of his clients.
The Schoen/Luntz situation isn’t unique. In April of 2009, for instance, Fox News military analyst Tom McInerney — last seen raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate — criticized the Obama administration’s decision to procure only four more F-22 fighters. At no point did Fox News disclose that McInerney may have had a financial reason to be upset about the F-22 decision: he reportedly served as a consultant for the Northrop Grumman Corp., which is a major subcontractor on the F-22.
During the health care debate, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News – and elsewhere – to criticize the public option and regulation of insurance companies. Fox News and other media outlets have neglected to mention that Gingrich runs and reportedly profits from the Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit organization that receives annual membership fees from several major health insurance companies. In other words, Gingrich was speaking against policies that would have hurt companies that were paying his group.
Fox News contributor Rick Santorum appeared on the network repeatedly to discuss health care reform without disclosing that he serves on the board of directors for Universal Health Services, a Fortune 500 health care company headed by Republican and public option opponent Alan B. Miller. Fox News contributor Andrea Tantaros also repeatedly discussed health care reform on the network. Her corporate biography states that she is a "Vice President with Sloane and Company where she specializes in crisis communications, healthcare, and public affairs clients." (The firm’s website does not specifically state which clients Tantaros works with.)
The disclosure problem extends to Fox News guests. In March, America Live‘s Megyn Kelly hosted a "fair and balanced" debate that featured Chris Wilson, who trashed health care reform and was identified as a "GOP pollster and strategist." At no point did Kelly point out that Wilson polls for companies that would be affected by the health care bill he criticized. Fox News also failed to disclose the conflicting interests of anti-healthcare reform interviewees Frank Donatelli, Mary Grealy, and former Sen.-turned Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America lobbyist John Breaux (D-LA).
And there can be no conversation about conflict-of-interest problems without mentioning Fox News contributor Dick Morris. In at least two Beck-like schemes, Morris has received financial paymentsfrom GOP-aligned groups advertising on his email newsletter, and then repeatedly promoted and fundraised for those two groups on Fox News without disclosing the payments.
Fox News was "stunned" about Jeter and Carlson, but is apparently unconcerned about Morris. In 2008, questions were raised about Morris promoting the National Republican Trust PAC, which has paid him at least $24,000. Fox News offered no response to a reporter’s inquiry, instead deferring questions to Morris.
Unfortunately, while Fox News may have some of the most prominent conflict-of-interest disclosure problems on television, concern shouldn’t be limited just to them. Media Matters has regularly called out non-Fox News outlets for similar failures, and the Times article noting the Fox & Friends conflict also reported on disclosure failures by NBC’s Today.
In February, The Nation found that since 2007, "at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials — people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests — have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them."