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Newsmax's Rehab of Bernard Kerik Fails

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I've detailed how Newsmax has labored over the past several months to rehabilitate the reputation of former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik, giving him a regular column and publishing articles that whitewashed the corruption charges he was facing.

But all of Newsmax's efforts have gone for naught, undone last week as Kerik pleaded guilty to eight of those charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials during his ill-fated 2004 nomination to be Homeland Security secretary. The plea deal included a recommendation that Kerik serve 27 to 33 months in prison.

Until reality so rudely intruded, Newsmax's Kerik rehabilitation efforts were going full-bore.

The September edition of Newsmax's magazine featured an article hyperbolically titled "Bernie Kerik: The Trial of an American Hero." Newsmax thought so much of this piece that it reformatted the article and posted it on the website. But following the Newsmax pattern, writers Dave Eberhart and Jim Meyers hide facts in order to portray Kerik is the victim of "overzealous federal prosecutors."

Eberhart and Meyers allowed Kerik's attorney to criticize "government tactics in this case, especially the recent third indictment in a new jurisdiction, Washington, D.C." But they failed to accurately explain why those charges were filed in the first place, repeating a claim in an earlier article by Eberhart that the dismissal of certain charges in the New York-based indictment against Kerik "apparently irked the prosecutors, who decided on May 26 to open up the new indictment against Kerik in D.C., including charging him with crimes [Judge Stephen] Robinson had dismissed."

In fact those charges were dropped specifically so they could be filed in D.C. The judge essentially told prosecutors to do exactly what they did -- as Newsmax itself reported at the time.

Also as Newsmax has done before, Eberhart and Meyers obfuscated about what exactly Kerik is charged with doing, selectively citing specific charges that they feel can be easily rebutted. There's no mention, for example, of what the Washington Post described as a $250,000 loan allegedly granted to him on an interest-free basis by an Israeli businessman that Kerik allegedly failed to disclose on federal tax returns and when he was nominated to be Homeland Security secretary in 2004. There's also no mention of Kerik's alleged failure to report $500,000 in income to the IRS and falsely claiming tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions.

Eberhart and Meyers referenced an inquiry into "whether he aided a New Jersey construction firm in gaining city permits in return for a lowball price on the home work" without mentioning that, as the Post also reported, the construction firm in question was under investigation by four government agencies for ties to organized crime at the time it did the work for Kerik.

The writers also falsely suggested that one of the charges Kerik faces involves wiretapped phone conversations with then-local district attorney (and current TV judge) Jeanine Pirro, who "asked him to conduct surveillance on her husband, whom she suspected of marital infidelity. According to published sources, the tapes indicate Kerik had tried to talk Pirro out of the surveillance." But since Kerik apparently did nothing wrong, he was never charged in that particular incident, in which Pirro is the one who looked bad; the recordings came to light as part of the corruption probe of Kerik.

(Just as Newsmax enthusiastically touted Kerik's DHS nomination, it promoted Pirro's abortive 2005 Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton, declaring any and all unsavory claims against her -- and there were many, largely centering around her two-timing, out-of-wedlock-siring, tax-cheat hubby -- to be "old news" even though most people weren't aware of them.)

Eberhart and Meyers are much more interested in burnishing Kerik's credentials. For instance, they noted that "Kerik worked for the Interior Ministry in Baghdad training police recruits," but not that, as the Post reported, the stint "has been widely judged a failure" because Kerik abruptly quit after two months -- or, as Sen. John McCain put it: "Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months, and one day left, just up and left."

The writers cranked up the melodramatic aspect of Kerik's purported victimhood:

Today, Bernard Kerik is fighting for his innocence with a criminal guillotine hanging over his head. Cut off from most of his business and media access, his income has withered.

[...]

Despite depleting his entire personal wealth, Kerik is going into the final rounds a wounded, but not beaten, man.

In other words, Eberhart and Meyers weren't doing reporting, they were writing a hagiography -- which was the whole point of Newsmax's career rehab project.

Even the revocation of Kerik's bail after being accused of trying to taint the jury pool for his trial -- which resulted in him being put in jail -- didn't faze Newsmax, which responded with an Oct. 22 article by John Noble that played up Geraldo Rivera's assertion that Kerik "is a 'patriot' whose civil rights, including the right to a fair trial, are being trampled upon by an overzealous federal prosecutor and federal judge."

(It was only a few months ago that Newsmax was happily repeating Lou Dobbs' description of Rivera as "intellectually challenged.")

Noble was in full protection mode on Kerik, even blaming the reporter to whom a Kerik associate leaked confidential court papers for reporting the leak to prosecutors:

The brouhaha that landed Kerik in prison began in September, when one of his attorneys, Anthony Modafferi, who headed up Kerik's legal defense fund and advised him on an unpaid basis, sent an email to reporter Jerry Seper at The Washington Times.

Though the email was clearly marked confidential, Seper, according to a letter from the federal prosecutor, forwarded the verbatim email he received from Modafferi to the New York City Department of Investigation.

The city department, in turn, turned over the email to the federal prosecutor, suggesting it detailed privileged information that should not have been released publicly.

Is Noble really saying that Seper should not have reported the violation that Modafferi's apparently illegal release of court-sealed information represents? We thought the boys at Newsmax were all law-and-order types.

Noble went on to editorialize that Kerik faces "a laundry list of charges, many trivial" and based on "flimsy evidence."

Newsmax followed up with an unbylined Oct. 25 article featured more ranting from Rivera that Kerik was the victim of a "cynical ploy by a runaway judge." The article also noted:

Joining Rivera was famed security expert Richard "Bo" Dietl, a former NYPD detective who said that revoking Kerik's bail was a "travesty" of justice.

"They should do the right thing - let the man go home, let the man go to trial,'' said Dietl. "If he's guilty, then they should prove that he's guilty. Don't do this to this man. You're destroying this man and his family. He was an American hero."

But, as the New York Post reported in September, Dietl has been accused by "Gambino crime family rat John Alite" of having "fed information to the mob and took part in crimes including drug dealing, armed robbery and murder." Alite is "expected to be the prosecution's star witness at the upcoming racketeering and murder trial of mob scion John 'Junior' Gotti." Dietl denied the allegations: "For this punk to say I took a penny from Richard Gotti, he's a f---- liar. ... I want to be put on the stand. I want to tell the guy to his face he's a f--- liar. My reputation is on the line."

Denied or not, Dietl hardly makes for the ideal character witness for Kerik -- and a particularly ironic one as well, considering that one of the charges against Kerik was accepting $250,000 in renovations to his apartment from a company accused of having ties to organized crime.

When news of Kerik's plea deal broke, Newsmax surprisingly played it straight. A Nov. 4 article by Jim Meyers stated that "is expected to accept a plea bargain agreement on federal corruption charges that would put him behind bars for at least 27 months, according to published reports."

It is rather difficult to put a positive spin on that. And Meyers wasn't as honest as he should have been, failing to note that Kerik is a Newsmax columnist or Newsmax's rehabilitation campaign on his behalf. Meyers also didn't note, as the New York Post did, that his prison time under the reported plea bargain is "more than double the time he would have faced if he'd done the same thing two years ago."

Newsmax went with an Associated Press story on Kerik's court appearance in which he entered his guilty pleas.

Kerik thus becomes the latest idle columnist at Newsmax. Longtime writer John L. Perry hasn't published a thing since Newsmax was forced to yank his column advocating a military coup against President Obama.

Newsmax's rehabilitation efforts, however, appear to be expanding. It has picked up another disgraced conservative to rehabilitate: Ralph Reed.

Reed, the longtime evangelical leader and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, was tarnished by his association with scandal-ridden lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who hired Reed to lobby on behalf of an Indian tribe in Mississippi to stop tribes in neighboring states from opening casinos that would compete with those of the Mississippi tribe. The Washington Post reported that Reed had received at least $4.2 million from Abramoff to mobilize Christian voters against the casinos. Those revelations played a role in Reed getting crushed in a 2006 Republican primary for Georgia lieutenant governor.

But as with Kerik, Reed's political humilation and links to a corrupt lobbyist are all water under the bridge as far as Newsmax is concerned.

Newsmax's Reed rehabilitation appears to have begun with a June 24 article touting Reed's new advocacy group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is "aimed at using the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters." This was followed up with a July 20 article (and accompanying interview with Newsmax's video operation) touting Reed's claim that "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings can actually help Republicans in upcoming elections."

By August, Reed was writing columns for Newsmax and awarded a slot on Newsmax's "blog" page, complete with bio. Needless to say, neither of those previous articles nor his Newsmax bio mention Reed's ties to Abramoff nor his ignominious 2006 defeat in Georgia.

Reed, however, seems eager to use his Newsmax slot to discredit himself. In his Sept. 13 column, Reed claimed that President Obama's speech on health care reform contained "falsehood after fib after misrepresentation after distortion about both his plan and his opponents' opposition to it" -- even though Reed himself was making falsehood after fib after misrepresentation after distortion.

All in all, not an auspicious debut as a rehabilitation subject. Interestingly, he has not published a column at Newsmax since Sept. 21.

Reed better hope he quickly gets the full whitewash treatment Newsmax gave Kerik -- at least until reality sets in.

(A version of this column originally appeared at ConWebWatch.)