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Sen. Collins Relying On Trump Advisers Gingrich And Rove

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been trying to publicly distance herself from President Donald Trump while she runs a difficult reelection campaign. But on her email list, Collins and her campaign have frequently turned to Fox News contributors and Trump advisers Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove for fundraising help.

Collins is running for reelection in Maine, where Trump is badly trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in polling. She has received scrutiny over her support for major Trump policies, including her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

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NBC Commentator and GOP Shill Hugh Hewitt Is Paid By Trump Campaign

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

NBC's Meet the Press hosted right-wing radio host and NBC News commentator Hugh Hewitt, who talked up President Donald Trump's reelection chances and touted his "sort of powerful energy on conservative media" for Republicans this week after being released from the hospital. In addition to the absurdity of hosting a dishonest shill like Hewitt, host Chuck Todd did not disclose that Hewitt has a financial tie to Trump's campaign: Last month, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee twice rented Hewitt's newsletter to raise money.

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Georgia GOP Nominee Greene Circulated Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Video

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Less than two years ago, right-wing commentator and Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene shared an anti-refugee video and claimed that "this is what the UN wants all over the world." The Greene-promoted video features anti-Muslim propaganda, quotes an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier saying that "Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation" and, as one reporter wrote, "implies that Jews are at the heart of a project to destroy Europe as we know it."

The video, which originated on the far-right message board 8chan in 2015, has been celebrated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Greene is heavily favored to win her race in Georgia's 14th Congressional District. She has expressed support for the violence-linked QAnon conspiracy theory, which the FBI has labeled a potential domestic terror threat. Conspiracy theories researcher Mike Rothschild has written that "anti-Semitism has been part of the fabric of QAnon since the conspiracy theory first launched" in October 2017.

Greene has also pushed conspiracy theories about 9/11, the killing of Democratic staffer Seth Rich, the mail bombs sent around the time of the 2018 midterm elections, and Pizzagate.

Politico reported in June that Greene posted Facebook videos in which she expressed "racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic views," including stating that "there is an Islamic invasion into our government offices right now" and that "you saw after midterm elections what we saw so many Muslims elected."

Greene has the support of leading Republicans and has been "invited to attend President Trump's acceptance speech Thursday evening at the White House."

Media Matters found that before running for Congress, Greene promoted a video that attacked Muslims and refugees and pushed anti-Semitic messages.

On December 9, 2018, Greene shared a link to a video along with the comment: "This is what the UN wants all over the world with the UN Global Migration Compact to be signed Dec 10-11 in Morocco. But I'm still banned on my fb pages from going live, for using the term 'illegal invaders', apparently that's hate speech!"

Her link was to a 19:32 minute video called With Open Gates: The Forced Collective Suicide of European Nations. As reporter Philip Kleinfeld wrote in Vice when it began circulating in 2015, the video "is designed to scare people about the supposed menace of refugees" by using "a mishmash of comically fake and out-of-context footage, bad subtitling and Islamophobic propaganda." He wrote of the racist start of the video:

The video begins with the narrator claiming the other side of the refugee crisis is "how it will change Europe". What follows is a montage of selectively chosen footage designed to present refugees and migrants as violent and dangerous. Some of it is genuine footage from the past 12 months, but a lot of it has absolutely nothing to do with the current crisis. It's just a collection of random footage of people that aren't white in circumstances that aren't stated.

Kleinfeld also noted that the video relies on anti-Semitism to make its points, including using a video clip that was "taken out of its original context and spliced into an anti-refugee film" to imply "that Jews are at the heart of a project to destroy Europe as we know it." He wrote:

The message of the video ratchets up the anti-refugee rhetoric to a whole new ideological level, making Britain First look comparatively PC. About nine minutes in, it quotes former BNP leader Nick Griffin saying that an "unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation".
It ends with a quote from Barbara Lerner Spectre, the founding director of the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, who says, "Europe is not going to be the monolithic societies they once were in the last century. Jews are going to be at the centre of that." She's talking about Jews playing a role in making Europe a more tolerant and diverse place. But taken out of its original context and spliced into an anti-refugee film, it implies that Jews are at the heart of a project to destroy Europe as we know it. This is an anti-Semitic trope claiming that immigration is part of a Zionist/Jewish plot to destroy the white race – something the far-right likes to call "white genocide".

Griffin, a racist and Holocaust denier, also states in that clip that the supposed alliance of "leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists" has a "deliberate aim of breeding us out of existence in our own homelands."

The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the video, writing in 2015 that it "uses selective footage of African and Muslim refugees and immigrants to depict them as creating mayhem and destruction throughout Europe." It added that With Open Gates also attempts to give "fuel to anti-Semites who blame Jews for non-white immigration to Europe":

"With Open Gates: The Forced Collective Suicide of European Nations," a virulently anti-refugee propaganda video widely circulated on the Internet has received over four million views on YouTube over the last two weeks. The video uses selective footage of African and Muslim refugees and immigrants to depict them as creating mayhem and destruction throughout Europe.
The video ends with a clip of the founder of a Jewish cultural institute in Sweden, who claims that Jews support efforts to promote multiculturalism in Europe. This segment of the video gives fuel to anti-Semites who blame Jews for non-white immigration to Europe. The statement that accompanied the posting of the video on YouTube blames "Zionist interest" for destroying Europe "from the inside."

The ADL also wrote that "the racist video originated on 8chan, a controversial Internet discussion forum whose 'Politically Incorrect' subforum is notorious for racist and anti-Semitic language," and that it was also extolled by the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer and the white supremacist websites Vanguard News Network and Stormfront. BuzzFeed News' Joseph Bernstein wrote in February 2017 that the video "received some 4 million views in late 2015 before being taken down by YouTube over a copyright claim." He added that it was "first circulated by white supremacist blogs and chans" and "gained social steam until it was picked up by Breitbart, at which point it exploded." And The New York Times wrote in November 2018 that With Open Gates "drew praise from prominent neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and was broadly condemned by anti-hate groups."

Florida GOP Supports Bloodthirsty Bigot Loomer For Congress

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The Republican Party of Florida recently expressed its support for right-wing commentator and congressional candidate Laura Loomer, who has described herself as a "proud Islamophobe," has said that she didn't "care" about the anti-Muslim mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has stated that she's in favor of "more" migrant deaths.

Loomer won the Republican nomination in Florida's 21st Congressional District on August 18. The district is represented by Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel, who is heavily favored to win the race in November.

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The Right-Wing Outlets That Promoted Bannon’s Fraudulent ‘Border Wall’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Florida veteran Brian Kolfage, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, and two others "orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors" who supported their online crowdfunding campaign effort to construct a barrier on the U.S. southern border, according to an indictment federal prosecutors unsealed Thursday. The group had relied on credulous coverage and support from right-wing media outlets and personalities to drive more than $20 million in donations.

In December 2018, as President Donald Trump prepared to shut down the federal government in hopes of obtaining funds to build his long-sought border wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin suggested that the president's supporters instead crowdfund its construction. "Let the people who support the wall pay for it -- directly and voluntarily," Goodwin wrote.

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QAnon Republican Visited Capitol, Urged Muslim Members To Retake Oath With Bibles

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Republican congressional candidate and right-wing pundit Marjorie Taylor Greene is a bigot both on and offline.

In February 2019, she visited Capitol Hill -- her likely future place of employment -- and filmed herself unsuccessfully trying to interrogate Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). During the video, she falsely claimed that they're illegitimate members of Congress because they took their congressional oaths of office on the Quran and said she wanted to make them retake their oath on the Bible. She also said she wanted to tell them they "really should go back to the Middle East if they support Sharia." In addition to being bigoted, her remarks are also ignorant as their oaths were legitimate and neither representative is from the Middle East.

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Top Republican Consulting Firm Aiding QAnon Senate Candidate In Oregon

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Oregon Republican Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins has been running a campaign promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. She's been helped by Axiom Strategies, a leading GOP political and media consulting firm that's headed by former Ted Cruz 2016 campaign manager Jeff Roe and employs former Trump acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

QAnon is a violence-linked conspiracy theory based on cryptic posts to online message boards from an anonymous user known as "Q" that have spread rampantly on social media and among fringe right-wing media. QAnon conspiracy theorists essentially believe that President Donald Trump is secretly working to take down the purported "deep state," a supposed cabal of high-ranking officials who they claim are operating pedophile rings.

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Trump Campaign Official Went On QAnon Show To Recruit Volunteers

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

In a previously unreported appearance, Trump campaign official Erin Perrine went on a QAnon program to promote President Donald Trump's reelection campaign and recruit volunteers. Perrine encouraged the QAnon audience to "sign up and attend a Trump Victory Leadership Initiative training" and also said that they could "talk to their local GOP party, their state party."

QAnon is a violence-linked conspiracy theory based on cryptic posts to online message boards from an anonymous user known as "Q" that have spread rampantly on social media and among fringe right-wing media. QAnon conspiracy theorists essentially believe that Trump is secretly working to take down the purported "deep state," a supposed cabal of high-ranking officials who they claim are operating pedophile rings.

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California GOP Backs QAnon Conspiracist For Congress

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

While California and the United States as a whole are breaking coronavirus case records, the California Republican Party has been backing the congressional bid of coronavirus conspiracy theorist and writer Mike Cargile.

Cargile, who is a QAnon conspiracy theorist, has claimed that the coronavirus is a "scamdemic" and "NOTHING compared to the diseases and plagues headed this way via the rats and the homeless"; and has praised the lie-filled Plandemic video as "EXACTLY why I'm in this race!"

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Anti-Vax Star Of ‘Plandemic’ Endorses Bogus Bleach Therapy

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Judy Mikovits, the discredited scientist who stars in the lie-filled conspiracy theory film Plandemic, recently appeared on the podcast of a church that has sold a chlorine dioxide product as a coronavirus cure and defended the organization's promotion of the bogus and dangerous treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has stated that "chlorine dioxide products have not been shown to be safe and effective for any use, including COVID-19."

The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, which is led by Mark Grenon, has touted supposed "protocols" and products related to Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), a bleach product that the church falsely claims can cure a variety of ailments, including the coronavirus.

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Despite Rules, Fake Coronavirus Cures Still Pushed On Facebook

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Facebook has stated that it is committed to fighting coronavirus misinformation by removing content that promotes bogus preventatives and cures. But Media Matters has found ten businesses that are using the platform to peddle products that can supposedly, among other things, "protect" against the coronavirus, "prevent" it, or "kill" it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus." The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have been sending warning letters to companies that promote their products as being able to treat, cure, or prevent COVID-19.

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The Media Personalities Profiteering From Coronavirus Scams And Grifts

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

This guide will be continuously updated. If you spot a coronavirus-related health scam or grift, please feel free to email Media Matters.

Numerous media figures and outlets, especially in the right-wing media, have been profiteering off of the coronavirus pandemic by promoting health grifts and scams, including supposed coronavirus treatments, preventatives, and cures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus."

Various government agencies at the federal and state levels have sent warning letters to companies and individuals who have been hawking purported coronavirus cures.

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Supplement Firm Hustling ‘Coronavirus Defense’ Pills On Right-Wing Radio

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

"If you feel a symptom, then you have to hit it extra hard. … Double up. Triple up."

"This is the kind of best defense that we've got against corona."

"You can fight this from within. That's the only way."

Conservative talk radio listeners are hearing marketing for a supplement that can supposedly defend against the coronavirus and even extinguish its symptoms. The promotions are for Balance of Nature, a company with a history of deceptive marketing that's heavily advertising in markets including New York City through radio partnerships.

The Centers for Disease Control states that "there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus" and "the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus."

The FDA has issued warning letters to several companies with products "that, without approval or authorization by FDA, claim to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people." New York Attorney General Letitia James has also taken action against "individuals and companies selling and marketing certain products as treatments or cures for the coronavirus," including hosts Alex Jones and Wayne Allyn Root.

Balance of Nature produces a "natural whole-food produce supplement" which it claims "makes it easier to get the recommended daily servings of fruits and veggies." It is led by Douglas Howard, who, according to the company, received his doctor of chiropractic degree at Cleveland Chiropractic College and "has not practiced and is not currently practicing as a medical doctor."

Numerous radio hosts have done marketing such as commercials, endorsements, and interview segments for Balance of Nature. The promoters include Salem Radio Network hosts Larry Elder, Mike Gallagher, and Sebastian Gorka; and Joe Piscopo and Kevin McCullough. Balance of Nature also produces a radio infomercial which airs around the country, including in Chicago, New York City, and San Diego.

Balance of Nature has a history of engaging in problematic marketing, as the nonprofit Truth in Advertising has documented. In August 2019, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to the Utah-based company after an inspection and review of its operations "revealed serious violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and applicable regulations." The infractions include product labeling which "establish that these products are drugs … because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." The FDA wrote that the company made treatment claims regarding ailments such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cholesterol, and multiple sclerosis.

The company is now trying to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic with similar prevention and treatment rhetoric on radio. The supplement has been pitched to listeners as the "only" and "best" defense against the virus, and also as a treatment against it when the first signs of symptoms occur.

During a March 2 appearance on WNYM's The Joe Piscopo Show, which was first noted by Truth in Advertising, Howard portrayed his product as "the only way" to fight the coronavirus, stating: "Balance of Nature has that chemistry to build the immune system, awaken it, and make it be there. You can fight this from within. That's the only way." He also said that when you feel "a little tickle in your throat" or "a little sniffle," you should "double, triple, quadruple" the use of the product. From the appearance:

DOUGLAS HOWARD: Right now in all of this scare that everybody's having, you know, is — the biggest thing is the only defense you have — there is no drug, there is no chemical. The only defense you have is to build your own immune system. And that's what I do. People call me. I get calls, texts, and emails every day, personally, it said, "What are you doing? What are you doing?" I say, "Just exactly what I do every day. I'm building and keeping my immune system safe."
The thing is is you've got to look at it three ways. Number one, you have to, you have to stay active. Move as much as you can. Get outside of stuffy rooms, get fresh air, move around, be social. Get out of any negative — get out of negative fights and social activities you have.
And then you've got to give it the right chemistry. Give it the chemistry. And Balance of Nature has that chemistry to build the immune system, awaken it, and make it be there. You can fight this from within. That's the only way. One other thing, and I want to tell you this, too. Anybody. Joe, if you start to get a little tickle in your throat, you start to get a little sniffle. At the first sign of it, double, triple, quadruple — I'm dead serious. It's easier to put a spark out than it is to put out a fire. And this thing becomes a raging forest fire.

Later during the program, Howard said that any future immunization to the coronavirus will be too late for people and "your body will build its own immunity to it. … I take Balance of Nature."

HOWARD: Build your immune system. That's all you can do. There's not a drug, there's not a — there's nothing out there. By the time they come up with an immunization, if they can, or could, then it's already going to have happened. And your body will build its own immunity to it. That's what our body does — it's amazing, it's awesome. And it's the, it is the immunosuppressed and the people who already have severe illnesses, and the elderly, are the most at-risk. And they have to be ultra careful, I will agree. And everybody else, all of us, we need to be vigilant on our own immune system. I take Balance of Nature, I keep active, and I try to stay out of any difficulties in relationships.

Radio host and Balance of Nature pitchman Kevin McCullough has sold the supplement as a solution to the coronavirus, flu, bronchitis, and cancer.Kevin McCullough AM 970 promo imageKevin McCullough

Balance of Nature is a major advertiser on Kevin McCullough Radio, where Howard has a weekly segment. McCullough is a conservative commentator who frequently appears on Fox News. Kevin McCullough Radio airs on WMCA (AM 570) and WNYM (AM 970) in New York City (he also hosts a video version of his show called Radio Night Live).

McCullough has previously promoted Balance of Nature as a potential treatment for cancer and other medical problems. He stated in June 2017: "If you're struggling with some health areas, and Dr. Howard, I don't think there's any limit on what these things can really help, at least not in the overwhelming amount of response that you've had. I mean, if you've got — if you're struggling with cancer, if you've got hep-C, if you've got other types of deficiencies, get this stuff going. What can it hurt if it gives you that relief or begins to help you in that way that is really powerful?"

In May 2017, he promoted a segment with Howard and wrote: "Literally did more to cure my flu this year than any anti-viral or antibiotic Ive ever used." In September 2017, McCullough wrote: "Whether you struggle with skin irritations, diabetes, Hep C, cancers, lower abdominal, prostate issues, low energy, and literally tons of other areas, the power of whole fruit and vegetables and their tens of thousands phytonutrients to improve every cell in your body has been peer-reviewed, and medically observed. … They radically changed my life. I used to get sick every time the weather changed, but now taking fruits and veggies I haven't had even one bronchial, asthmatic, allergy, cold or flu."

McCullough and Howard are now turning their sights to the coronavirus and pitching Balance of Nature as a solution.

During McCullough's February 27 show, he and Howard discussed ways to protect against the coronavirus. After talking about aspects related to health, Howard concluded by telling listeners that "the key is, is, for example, I do take Balance of Nature. That's what I take." McCullough then went for the sale, stating: "To reiterate, and I want to be very clear, doc's not saying fruits and veggies will cure anything. He's not saying that it'll cure you from anything. What he's saying is it will help your immune system be the fighters that your body needs when it is attacked and this is the kind of best defense that we've got against corona and those other, even the flu, and other things right now." McCullough added that people should "order more than just the basic dosage so that you can boost that immune system and be ready in the event that you come into contact with something that you shouldn't be."

On March 5, Howard dismissed the hypothetical coronavirus vaccine, stating: "I'll be honest, I'm not going to run out and do this vaccination anyways because I've been working on this for weeks and months and years of my own immune system and it's not too late for everybody to start, and we briefed on this last time a little bit, but I'd like to hit a little bit more on what can you do to take away some of this hysteria."

Later while discussing ways to fight the coronavirus, Howard said: "If you feel a symptom, then you have to hit it extra hard. And so I'm talking to all of our, all of our — the people who have listened to me in the past that are taking Balance of Nature, for example, and living by this health triad, which is what I call this. If you're living by the health triad and you start to feel a symptom, then you hit it back hard. Double up. Triple up. There's nothing, you know, with Balance of Nature — there's no toxicity." McCullough followed up by asking, "You can't overdose on it, is what he's saying?" to which Howard replied: "No."

During a March 19 segment about the coronavirus featuring Balance of Nature, McCullough concluded by stating that he's "upped my dosage the last couple of weeks because I am the one person in the house that's been going out and having contact with the public, even at the grocery stores and stuff. So, I've got to tell you, it's working for me. I think it will work for you."

New York AG Orders Right-Winger To Desist From COVID-19 Cure Fraud

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The New York State Office of the Attorney General has told Newsmax TV host Wayne Allyn Root “to immediately cease and desist from making misleading claims” after the right-wing host touted alkaline silver as an important product for people who are concerned about coronavirus. 

Root is the host of The Wayne Allyn Root Show on Newsmax TV, a cable news network that “reaches over 70 million cable/satellite homes and subscribers.” The network has positioned itself as an aggressively pro-Trump voice and recently began airing a program featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former Republican National Committee deputy communications director Lyndsay Keith. Its CEO is Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend and adviser

As Media Matters first reported, Root used his March 11 program to downplay concerns about the coronavirus. He then addressed people who were concerned about the virus by directing them to watch an ad touting a suspect silver product. Root stated: “‘My Doctor Suggests’ message is next. You fear coronavirus, here’s a very important message now.” Newsmax then aired an ad for featuring Gordon Pedersen, who claims to have an “all-natural solution” that “destroys” things like “viruses.” (The advertisement also touted a promo code specific to Root.)

Pedersen is a quack doctor who has claimed that his alkaline structured silver can supposedly be used against 83 ailments. He has also claimed that his silver product will “protect” against the coronavirus and make it “leave your body. You just never get the sickness.”

Root also endorsed My Doctor Suggests and alkaline structured silver on Twitter by claiming that it “kills [the] virus” and stating that the product “just might save your life.” Those posts, which are still online, do not include any disclaimer that he has a financial relationship with the company. 

Lisa Landau, the chief of the health care bureau in the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, sent a March 19 letter to Root via Newsmax Media explaining that the office “is extremely concerned by your statements during the March 11, 2020” edition of his show regarding coronavirus and My Doctor Suggests, writing, in part: 

As the program closed, you stated, “My Doctor Suggests’ message is next. You fear coronavirus, here’s a very important message now.” Then, an advertisement by My Doctor Suggests, LLC for alkaline structured silver aired, and viewers were offered a discount when using the promotional code “root.”

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) poses serious consequences to public health, and consumers are concerned as to how they can best protect themselves and their families. Your representations may mislead consumers as to the effectiveness of the above-named product in protecting against the current outbreak. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and the World Health Organization (“WHO”) have stated that there is no specific medicine to prevent or treat this disease. Therefore, any misrepresentation that the above-named product is effective at combatting and/or treating COVID-19 violates New York law.

Landau added that Root is “hereby advised to immediately cease and desist from making misleading claims as they violate New York’s consumer protection statutes … which prohibit fraudulent and deceptive business practices and false advertising.” 

Media Matters has contacted Newsmax for comment and will update this post if they respond. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently ended its relationship with Root as a columnist and cited his silver promotions as a factor. Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher, CEO, and editor Keith Moyer told Media Matters that “Mr. Root’s advertising, marketing and other media interests had begun to broadly diverge from the journalistic standards and intentions of the Review-Journal. That compelled us to end our relationship with him. We wish him well.” 

The New York Attorney General’s office previously sent a letter to Alex Jones after he claimed that his toothpaste could kill coronavirus. 

Newsmax also sent an email telling its older-leaning audience that “the worst thing” they could do regarding the coronavirus outbreak is to “get a vaccine when it becomes available” because vaccines are supposedly “a scam.” (Newsmax later distanced itself from that email.) It additionally sent marketing emails claiming that if you give it money for a book written nearly a decade ago, you can find “3 powerful secrets to never getting sick again,” including ways to ward off “coronavirus and cancer.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently called on Newsmax to stop pushing a false advertisement from gold company Monetary Gold which falsely claims that federal law allows banks to seize people’s accounts and “use those funds when necessary to keep itself, the bank, afloat.” (Townhall also sent that advertisement.) 

EDITOR’S NOTE: National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason appears regularly on Newsmax TV, as do many credible commentators.

CNN And Fox Commentators Serve As Trump Campaign Surrogates

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

President Donald Trump last week continued his feud with CNN by excluding the network from his annual lunch with network anchors. Nevertheless, two CNN personalities have recently been serving as surrogates for his campaign. 

The Trump campaign has been staging events, including rallies with the president, alongside the Democratic primaries. CNN commentator David Urban was a part of the campaign’s Iowa efforts while fellow CNN commentator Sean Duffy is now helping in New Hampshire. Urban previously served as a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign while Duffy resigned from Congress last year. 

Trump and his campaign have tirelessly attacked CNN as “fake news” while also using the network as a revolving door for advisers. Former CNN commentators who are now part of the Trump campaign include national press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; senior adviser Corey Lewandowski (who also served Trump campaign manager in 2016); campaign surrogate Matthew Whitaker; Black Voices for Trump advisory board member Paris Dennard; and Pro-Life Voices for Trump advisory board member Ed MartinSteve Cortes, who recently parted ways with CNN, is now working for America First Action, a super PAC whose efforts have been endorsed by the Trump campaign.   

As the Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona reported, CNN has defended its employment of Urban while he works for the Trump campaign, saying Urban “is not paid by the campaign.” Still, both Urban and Duffy undoubtably financially benefit from their ties to the Trump campaign (and CNN) through their jobs at lobbying firms. Urban is the president of American Continental Group and lobbies the Trump administration. And Duffy is a senior counsel at BGR Group and also lobbies the Trump administration

Relatedly, Urban has repeatedly used his CNN position to push for the interests of his lobbying clients without any disclosure about his financial entanglements. Duffy can potentially do the same for his own clients; he recently registered to lobby for Gramercy Funds Management and Polaris Industries and his firm lobbies for dozens of other clients. 

Fox News commentators David Bossie, Thomas Homan, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders also campaigned for Trump in Iowa despite Fox’s purported policy against “talent” participating in campaign events. Bossie is campaigning for Trump in New Hampshire and received a shoutout from Trump at a rally last night. 

CBS Hires Priebus Without Disclosing Political, Corporate Ties

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Reince Priebus is a Republican operative who is best-known for his humiliating tenure as President Donald Trump’s first White House chief of staff. Priebus now holds senior roles at affiliated lobbying and legal firms; his law firm is connected to the Trump Organization and has collected over $280,000 in fees from GOP campaign groups such as the Republican National Committee.

Despite all that, CBS News announced on January 22 that the network has hired Priebus as a political analyst. He appeared on its coverage of the Senate impeachment trial, where he was the only political operative guest and his conflicts of interest went undisclosed. 

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, whose organization employs Reince’s firm for legal services, congratulated Reince on his hiring. 

Priebus worked in the Trump White House from January 2017 to July 2017, when he was ousted in embarrassing fashion. In October 2017, he returned to work at “Michael Best & Friedrich LLP as President and Chief Strategist and Chair of the Board of Advisors for Michael Best Strategies LLC, the firm’s government relations and public affairs group.” 

He is also a serial misinformer who was recently called out by his own future employer. Priebus appeared on CBS in November to talk about Trump’s impeachment and falsely claimed that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his infamous phone call to speak with Attorney General William Barr, not Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani (in fact, as CBS noted, “Trump did mention Giuliani by name”). 

Priebus has continued his defense of Trump outside of the White House, stating recently on Fox News of the Senate impeachment trial: “Sometimes the best defense is the ‘so what’ defense, which is, if everything the Democrats said is true, it’s still not impeachable. If everything Lev Parnas has said is true, it’s still not impeachable”

In addition to his credibility problem, Priebus arrives at CBS News with numerous conflicts of interest. 

Priebus financially profits from the success of Republicans through his law firm. According to a search of available 2019 Federal Election Commission records, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP has received over $280,000 in legal fees combined from the Republican National Committee, the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Convention, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), and the Republican Party of Wisconsin. (Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) also paid $247 to the Wisconsin-based firm for an “event space rental.”) 

Stefan Passantino, a former White House deputy counsel and current partner at the firm, also represents the Trump Organization regarding congressional inquiries into the president’s business. 

Additionally, Priebus could potentially appear on CBS and discuss issues relevant to companies he’s financially connected to through his law firm and its government affairs and public relations affiliate. Michael Best Strategies, which has an office in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “one of the nation’s fast-growing B2B consulting firms specializing in lobbying, government relations, public affairs, crisis management, shared value strategies, political partnership development, and community/stakeholder engagement strategies” and states that it works on issues related to “the healthcare, energy and environment, manufacturing, tax and finance, higher education and agriculture, food and beverage industries.” According to a search of federal government lobbying records, Michael Best Strategies has lobbied for companies that include NACCO Industries (the public holding company for the North American Coal Corp.), Plains All American Pipelineand the Primex Family of Companies. (Priebus himself has not registered to lobby for clients.) 

Public relations activity is not subject to federal disclosure rules, meaning that Priebus is likely connected to numerous other companies beyond what’s publicly available.

During his first appearance as a CBS News commentator, where he heavily defended Trump, Priebus was simply introduced by host Norah O’Donnell as a Trump’s first White House chief of staff and a CBS News analyst. His financial conflicts of interest were not mentioned. He was the only partisan commentator on the panel, which included CBS personalities Margaret Brennan, John Dickerson, and Leslie Stahl. 

Hiring former and current Trump officials has been a failure for non-Fox News outlets. CNN has famously cycled through Trump advisers Corey Lewandowski, Bryan Lanza, and Steve Cortes. And Sinclair Broadcast Group recently dropped “must-run” segments featuring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Fox News Personalities Appeared At Numerous GOP Fundraisers In 2019

Shortly after Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro had finished speaking at a November 2018 campaign rally for President Donald Trump, the network issued a head-scratching statement: “Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events. … This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.” 

Media Matters had spent years documenting Fox News personalities who have appeared at Republican campaign events and fundraisers before that statement. And in the months before that November 2018 rally, Hannity and Pirro both headlined Republican campaign events. 

The Fox News speaking circuit has been lucrative to both Republican groups and Fox News hosts. In 2010, for instance, Hannity keynoted a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner which “raised over $7 million.” Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Greg Gutfeld, Hannity, Pete Hegseth, Laura Ingraham, and Pirro have received over $500,000 combined in speaking fees from Republican groups while working at the network. And numerous Fox personalities have also enriched Trump by speaking at his properties. 

In 2019, however, Fox News personalities began to mysteriously disappear from the schedule of GOP events after Media Matters reported on them. As the year went on, there were at least 11 instances in which Fox personalities scheduled and then withdrew from GOP-aligned events. 

The Washington Post reported in early December that the network has struggled to prevent Fox personalities from campaigning for Republicans: 

Fox declined to address specific instances, but a spokeswoman said the network has addressed the issue with its contributors and hosts, as well as third-party agents who book events. She did not say how it was addressed or why it continues to arise more than a year after Hannity and Pirro’s appearances at Trump’s rally.

However, behind the scenes, the network appears to have to gone to considerable effort to stop its on-air personalities from promoting Republican events and causes. Network executives have intervened to cancel a long string of fundraising appearances that were to have featured Fox News figures, according to people at Fox, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its internal operations.

Here’s a list of the events which Fox News figures withdrew from in 2019 (the dates are listed for when the appearance was originally scheduled):

  • February 16: A Brian Kilmeade event for the Williamson County Republican Party in Tennessee. 
  • April 3: A Shannon Bream event for the James Madison Institute in Florida. 
  • April 25: A Pete Hegseth event for the Bridgeport Republican Town Committee in Connecticut. 
  • September 18: A Jeanine Pirro event for the Trump fan club Trump Team 2020 Florida in Pensacola, Florida. 
  • September 19: A Pirro event for Trump Team 2020 Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. 
  • September 22: A Pirro event for Trump Team 2020 Florida in The Villages, Florida. 
  • September 24: A Pirro event for Trump Team 2020 Florida in Vero Beach, Florida. 
  • October 20: A Pirro event for the pro-Trump group Jexit.  
  • October 25: A Pirro event for the King County Republican Party in Washington state. 
  • November 7: Pirro event for the Valley Young Republicans in Fresno, California. 
  • February 21, 2020: A Lawrence Jones event for the Snohomish County Republican Party in Washington state. 

At the same time, numerous Fox personalities have continued to appear at GOP-aligned events. For instance: 

  • Host Mark Levin headlined two campaign rallies for Geary Higgins’ Virginia state Senate campaign. 
  • Host Jeanine Pirro made two appearances at Republican fundraisers in November. 
  • Legal analyst Gregg Jarrett appeared at a gathering for a pro-Trump fan club in December and also headlined a Republican fundraiser in April. 
  • Contributor Jason Chaffetz has headlined numerous GOP fundraisers, including one in December
  • Contributor Dan Bongino appeared in a Trump campaign video and received money to appear at Republican fundraisers. 
  • Fox Nation hosts Diamond and Silk regularly appear at Republican events. Fox has bizarrely defended itself by claiming that “Diamond & Silk license short weekly videos to Fox Nation – they are not Fox News contributors or employees. When they appear on FNC and FBN, they do so as guests.”
  • Fox Nation hosts Rachel Campos-Duffy and David Webb have both headlined Republican events.

Leading Fox personalities have demonstrated that they’re still intent on helping Republicans off the air. Levin said that he’ll continue to do campaign events if he wants to and “nobody on this planet is going to stop me. No corporation, no left-wing group… nobody.” Pirro’s two fundraising appearances in November were unannounced, potentially in reaction to prior pushback from the network. And Hannity, who has a history of skirting media standards without any apparent reprisals, told Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) he’d “do a town hall with” him if he ran for the Senate; Hannity already campaigned with him in 2018.

IMAGE: Jeanine Pirro of Fox News