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Newsmax Gave Bill McCollum Much More Than an Endorsement

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On Aug. 9, Newsmax ran a rare editorial endorsement of a candidate -- Bill McCollum, running in the Republican primary for Florida governor against Rick Scott. The race, the editorial noted, "has become one of the nastiest fights in modern political history," but "It is a battle that McCollum deserves to win."

Unmentioned in the editorial was the fact that Newsmax had contributed to the nastiness by slanting its coverage of the race in favor of McCollum and against Scott.

Also unmentioned: Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy was doing more than endorsing McCollum -- he hosted a fundraiser for McCollum's campaign.

I obtained a copy of the invitation to the June fundraiser at a Boca Raton hotel, which was sent out on the mailing list of Dick Morris, who hosted the fundraiser with Ruddy. Admission was a $100 donation, with a special $300 "VIP Reception" featuring a "VIP Photo-Op With Dick Morris."

Ruddy has yet to disclose his participation in this fundraiser -- or any monetary donation to McCollum that presumably accompanied his hosting it -- to his readers.

This is not the first time Newsmax has skewed news coverage to a candidate Ruddy has financially supported. In 2003, Newsmax published an article laudatory of then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) -- who a few years later would be caught up in a sex scandal and forced to give up his seat -- two days after Ruddy donated $1,000 to Foley's campaign, going on to promote Foley in several subsequent articles.

(Ruddy later disclosed that he was donating to Joe Lieberman's 2006 Connecticut Senate re-election campaign, though he never disclosed how much -- according to the blog My Left Nutmeg, more than $12,000. Lieberman went on to be featured in a 2007 cover story for Newsmax's magazine.)

Meanwhile, one didn't need such disclosure or even an editorial endorsement, to know whose side Newsmax was on. It had been praising McCollum and bashing Scott for weeks before the editorial's appearance:

  • A May 23 article was headlined "McCollum: Rick Scott Linked to Healthcare 'Fraud'."
  • A June 24 article by Jim Meyers carried the headline "Fla.'s Rick Scott Invested in Firm With Ties to Illegal Aliens."
  • A June 27 article highlighted "Rick Scott's role in the largest ripoff of taxpayers in the history of Medicare and Medicaid."
  • A July 7 article, headlined "Steve Forbes: Why I Oppose Rick Scott," noted that "Forbes cited Scott's role in the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history and even questioned his business competence, suggesting Scott was not even qualified to run a 'lemonade stand.'"
  • A July 14 column by Quin Hillyer, reproduced from the Washington Times, carried the headline "McCollum Is the Real Conservative in Fla. Race" and asserted that Scott "got rich in questionable ways."
  • A July 15 article is headlined, "Dick Morris Slams Rick Scott, Says Can't Be Trusted." In the accompanying video, Morris said that Scott "fleeced and robbed the federal government and the taxpayers, through his company, of1.7 billion and got300 million as a parachute, a golden parachute, from that company."
  • On July 21, Newsmax touted Morris' endorsement of McCollum. Neither this article nor the previous one mentioned that Morris participated in a fundraiser for McCollum.
  • An Aug. 2 article by Jim Meyers carried the headline "McCollum Wins Big Endorsements, Scott's Link to Fraud Cited."
  • An Aug. 4 article promoted a "hilarious new Web TV ad video" by McCollum attacking Scott was "drawing heavy traffic on YouTube as it goes viral."
  • An Aug. 5 article was headlined "Rick Scott's Firm Sued 10 Times, Candidate Described as 'Ruthless'."

After the endorsement, Newsmax's bias continued:

  • An Aug. 9 article on how Morris "wrote a letter to Floridians ... pressing the need to elect state Attorney General Bill McCollum as the Republican candidate for governor in the state's primary election." This article also failed to disclose Morris' role in the McCollum fundraiser.
  • An Aug. 10 article on Michael Reagan's endorsement of McCollum.
  • An Aug. 11 article headlined "Rick Scott Refuses to Release Lawsuit Deposition."
  • An Aug. 11 article by Meyers highlighting a "media event" in which McCollum "proposed a tough new law aimed at curbing illegal immigration that he said would go further than a bill signed into law in Arizona."
  • An. Aug. 13 article featuring a poll showing McCollum leading Scott, which began, "Money may not be able to buy Rick Scott the governorship of Florida after all."
  • An Aug. 17 article highlighting an endorsement of McCollum by a state group.
  • An Aug. 17 article highlighting an ad attacking Scott, followed by an Aug. 18 article highlighting a different anti-Scott ad.
  • An Aug. 18 article by Meyers touting McCollum's lead over Scott in one poll.
  • An Aug. 20 article by Meyers headlined "Rick Scott Wants Subpoena Quashed."
  • An Aug. 20 interview with Morris, who explained "why he thinks Bill McCollum will win not only the Republican primary against Rick Scott on Tuesday, Aug. 24, but also the general election." Again, Morris' fundraising for McCollum was not noted.
  • An Aug. 21 article headlined "Rick Scott Took 5th Amendment 75 Times."
  • An Aug. 22 column by Steve Forbes headlined "You Can't Trust Rick Scott."
  • An Aug. 22 endorsement of McCollum by Mike Huckabee.
  • An Aug. 23 article attacking an ad by Scott, headlined, "Scott's Ad Distorts Truth About McCollum and Greer."

For all of Newsmax's biased coverage and Ruddy and Morris' undisclosed financial aid, however, McCollum lost the Aug. 24 election to Scott. This prompted an Aug. 26 column by Ruddy presented as a letter to his readers:

I want to drop a note to you all about the recent Florida election.

I was honored to join Bill McCollum on election night in Orlando. Bill did not win, but in my book, he did not lose, either.

When you fight a good fight against a candidate with an overwhelming bank account, and you don't have the establishment media in your corner, it is an uphill battle.

As Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, the credit always goes to the "man in the arena" fighting for what he believes in against the odds.

Bill was that man in the arena.

As you know, Newsmax rarely endorses candidates in primary elections. However, I found Bill to be a man of remarkable integrity who has a tremendous record of service to his country.

I am glad Newsmax supported him and befriended him during this campaign.

I also am glad I befriended Bill's supporters and his campaign team, who were excellent, extremely responsive, and hard working.

Ruddy did much more than "join Bill McCollum on election night in Orlando," and Newsmax did much more than "support" McCollum. But Ruddy does not seem interested in telling his readers about it.

In the wake of his failed bid for Newsweek magazine, Ruddy has announced expansion plans for Newsmax, adding approximately 20 editorial employees in the next year and a half, mostly in its New York and Washington offices. But Ruddy seems to have forgotten about certain journalistic basics -- like disclosure and fairness. Without that, credibility is harmed.

If Ruddy consistently skews coverage in favor of candidates who whom he has donated without disclosing those donations, there's little reason to take Newsmax seriously as a news source.

(This article originally appeared at ConWebWatch.)