Earlier this year, Newsmax took sides in a big way in the Republican primary for Florida governor.
As I detailed, Newsmax not only endorsed Bill McCollum over Rick Scott, its news coverage was heavily skewed in favor of McCollum and against Scott, repeatedly pointing out that Scott, while he headed the hospital firm Columbia/HCA in the 1990s, was involved in what one Newsmax article called "the largest ripoff of taxpayers in the history of Medicare and Medicaid," which resulted in the company paying $1.7 billion in fines. On top of that, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and Newsmax columnist Dick Morris hosted a fundraiser for McCollum, which Newsmax failed to disclose to its readers.
Well, never mind. Bygones are bygones and all that.
In an Oct. 19 editorial, Newsmax pulled a complete about-face and endorsed Scott. Newsmax stated that the "Republican voters spoke -- and they chose businessman Scott," asserting that "the outcome of this governor's election will have a direct impact on the 2012 presidential race. For the Republicans to defeat President Obama, it is crucial for the GOP to hold on to the Florida governorship in 2010."
The editorial contained no reference to what it previously described as "the largest ripoff of taxpayers in the history of Medicare and Medicaid," stating that Scott was "former CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain." Never mind that Newsmax's endorsement of McCollum just two months earlier stated that "Scott has refused to answer in-depth questions about his role at Columbia/HCA" and was "forced out of the company after nabbing a $310 million golden parachute," adding: "Either he was incompetent and knew nothing of the massive fraud under way at his own company, or he was indeed complicit in the crime."
Newsmax had telegraphed its flip-flop in an Oct. 13 article by Jim Meyers attacking Scott's Democratic opponent. headlined "Who Is Alex Sink?" Meyers asserted that Sink, currently the state's CFO, has "a woeful record of acting as steward over public and private financial institutions." But those attacks were misleading; Meyers appeared to blame Sink for the fact that "audits dating back to 2000" warned of "risky, unregulated investments" by the state employee pension fund, even though Sink had not been elected to the CFO position until 2006.
Meyers repeated a claim by the Scott campaign that the bank Sink used to work for "was investigated and fined millions of dollars for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission." But the lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the bank has stated not only that Sink had no role in the alleged fraud, she "didn't know anything about it."
Unmentioned by Meyers was the Medicare fraud committed under Scott that Newsmax used to be so indignant about.
Newsmax made a concerted effort to shove that down the memory hole for the remainder of the race, as it engaged in its usual pattern of skewing its "news" coverage in favor of Scott and against Sink with headlines like these:
- Rasmussen: Scott Now Leads Sink in Fla. Gov Race
- Stemberger Backs Rick Scott
- Maurice Ferre Endorses Scott in Florida
- Schlafly Endorses Rick Scott
- McCollum Endorses Rick Scott
- Alex Sink Fires Staffer after Debate Gaffe
- Alex Sink Caught Lying Twice About Cell Phone
- Jeb Bush: Rick Scott 'Right Guy at Right Time'
None of these articles mention Scott's link to massive Medicare fraud.
Newsmax also did an Oct. 25 interview with Scott. Instead of bringing up the Medicare fraud, interviewer Ashley Martella lobbed softball questions and uncritically described Scott as a "former health care industry executive." The accompanying article non-iroinically described Scott as a "successful businessman" -- something it would never have called Scott two months ago.
Newsmax did another short interview with Scott on Nov. 1, the day before the election. Like her colleague, interviewer Kathleen Walter made sure not to bring up the Medicare fraud.
Newsmax followed the McCollum template of its support for Scott, right down to making an undisclosed donation to the candidate.
The American Independent reported that Newsmax donated $100,000 to Let's Get to Work, a 527 group solely associated with Scott. Newsmax did not tell its readers about this donation, ,just as it failed to tell readers about the fundraiser Ruddy hosted for McCollum.
This once again raises the question of journalistic ethics. As ConWebWatch has previously stated, if Ruddy consistently skews coverage in favor of candidates to whom he has donated without disclosing those donations, there's little reason to take Newsmax seriously as a news source.
And if Newsmax is so beholden to the Republican machine that it will direct money and support to a nominee it bitterly opposed and spent money to fight in the primary, there's even less reason to take it seriously.
* * *
Meddling in the Florida governor's race was not the only behind-the-scenes campaign activity Newsmax was involved with during the midterm elections.
As originally reported by Media Matters, Newsmax apparently hosted the website for Dick Morris' Super PAC for America, which he threw together in early October in order to solicit unrestricted contributions -- with a goal of raising $20 million -- to help Republicans win 100 House seats.
The WHOIS file for the superpacforamerica.com domain posted at the domain registrar, GoDaddy.com, originally showed an email address for administrative and technical purposes that went to Newsmax, and the phone number listed as a contact was registered to Newsmax. The person originally listed as the administrative and technical contact, Cleta Mitchell, is an attorney representing numerous conservative groups and candidates, including Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle. Further, the PAC's website displayed the same blue "N" favicon (icon that appears in the browser's URL line) that Newsmax's main website also displays.
(The domain's WHOIS file now displays different contacts, and the Newsmax favicon no longer shows up on the Super PAC website. The current contact, Nancy Watkins, is linked to for a Tampa accounting firm that specializes in, among other things, "Federal & State Election Law Compliance & Reporting.")
It's yet another ethical issue for Newsmax. If it's working so closely with political action committees that it's hosting their websites, how can it possibly be trusted to report the news fairly.
(A version of this article appears at ConWebWatch.)
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