The Foley Artist
NewsMax's editor and CEO donated money to a Republican politician later promoted in NewsMax stories -- including an article published two days after the donation was made.
By Terry Krepel
While it employs the tactics of equivocation and distraction to defend conservative pundits against revelations that they have accepted money from the Bush administration to promote government policies, NewsMax has its own undisclosed conflict of interest with a politician it has covered: It has printed several favorable articles about a Florida congressman, while failing to inform its readers that Christopher Ruddy -- NewsMax's editor, president and chief executive officer -- is a donor to his campaign.
On June 16, 2003, as noted on the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org database of donations to federal political campaigns, NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy donated $1,000 to Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley. NewsMax is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla., part of Foley's congressional district, and Ruddy is listed as a resident.
Two days later, on June 18, NewsMax printed an article laudatory of Foley and his chances in a campaign to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Bob Graham, calling him "a solid Republican with strong conservative credentials" and "an American success story in his own right." The article also noted: "Support for the popular president [Bush], in fact, is a cornerstone of Foley's Senate campaign" and concludes: "Perhaps one day Florida's governor will be telling Senate contenders, 'You can be the next Mark Foley.'" The only byline the article carried was "NewsMax.com."
Foley withdrew from the Senate campaign in September 2003 (as a United Press International article on NewsMax noted); he won re-election to his House seat in 2004. Republican Mel Martinez, whom NewsMax later promoted just as positively, won the Senate seat.
Foley has been exclusively or prominently featured in other original NewsMax stories following Ruddy's donation:
Additionally, Foley is quoted briefly in other original post-donation NewsMax stories from July 22, 2003, Jan. 12, 2004, Feb. 27, 2004, and March 8, 2004. Given NewsMax's coverage of Martinez, it is likely that Foley would have received even more favorable coverage had he stayed in the Senate race.
Ruddy's donation to Foley is not disclosed anywhere on NewsMax.
NewsMax has other financial ties to conservatives that it has failed to disclose to its readers. As ConWebWatch reported in 2002, the third-largest shareholder of NewsMax Media is Richard Mellon Scaife, the funder of conservative causes notorious for his 1990s vendetta against President Clinton, particularly his donation of $2.4 million to the American Spectator to be used for digging up alleged Clinton dirt in Arkansas. Prior to starting NewsMax, Ruddy was a reporter for Scaife's Pittsburgh newspaper, the Tribune-Review, specializing in Clinton scandals. As of the filing of a later-aborted public stock offering by NewsMax Media in 2002, NewsMax Media had lost around $11 million; that money came from somewhere, and it can probably be assumed that at least some of that came from Scaife.
Like Ruddy's donation to Foley, information about the financial backers of NewsMax has not been disclosed on NewsMax.com.
While NewsMax has never been what anyone would call a nonpartisan news source (as ConWebWatch has copiously documented), it pretends toward objectivity by being a member of the Associated Press and reprinting AP content. This opens NewsMax to be judged by the same standards as other AP members, which include most daily newspapers in the U.S. as well as many TV and radio news operations. It also makes the question of NewsMax's candor about its political and financial ties a relevant one beyond the demonstration of bias.
As ConWebWatch has noted, NewsMax has defended pundit Armstrong Williams and failure to disclose his acceptance of $240,000 in taxpayer money to promote Bush administration education policy by drawing a false equivalence with behavior by liberals. A Jan. 29 NewsMax article continues that argument by describing Democracy Radio, the company underwriting liberal talk show host Ed Schultz, as being run by a congresswoman's husband "with a board composed of three Clinton administration veterans." The article comments: "One big difference from the Williams case: Schultz's media friends aren't raising any ethical questions about whether his show's content has been bought and paid for."
In addition, NewsMax has noted when journalists and pundits do not disclose their financial connections to the political sources and issues they cover. In a Jan. 18, 2004, summary of a Washington Post article on journalists' donations to political candidates, NewsMax quoted Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism: "A good rule of thumb is, if this were known publicly, would it cause the audience to have doubt about the credibility of this person's coverage?" Indeed, one has to wonder if positive coverage of Foley was just another part of Ruddy's political donation.
In the case of Ruddy's donation to Foley and Scaife's financial interest in NewsMax, it goes beyond raising ethical questions; it confirms what many had already figured out.