Newsmax's Great Gingrich Hype Machine
Having failed at staging a Republican presidential debate, Newsmax decides to shill for one of the candidates who agreed to take part in it.
By Terry Krepel
The major expressed issue that resulted in the implosion of the planned Newsmax/Donald Trump presidential debate was Trump's own presidential ambitions. But there's another issue that has largely been ignored: Newsmax itself moved toward taking a side in the Republican presidential primary.
When Newsmax was still promoting the debate, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy penned a Dec. 11 column vouching for the conservative credentials of Newt Gingrich, one of the two candidates who had committed to taking part in the debate.
Since the debate's demise, however, Newsmax has become a full-blown advocate for Gingrich -- in part because of his commitment to the Newsmax debate.
Ruddy wrote another pro-Gingrich column on Dec. 19, asserting: "Can Newt Gingrich beat Barack Obama next November? Sure he can." Ruddy went on to downplay the idea that Mitt Romney is more electable, and even played the Reagan card:
His record is so strong his critics can't argue with it, so they focus on other issues. We keep hearing that Newt's marriages will be an issue as well as his business dealings.
If the head of Newsmax is throwing his weight behind Gingrich, that certainly would have been seen as much of an debate issue by the non-Gingrich candidates as Trump's egomaniac ambitions. And a Trump-less debate, which Newsmax was hinting at the time might still happen, would have that same hurdle.
A few days later, Newsmax apparently gave up on the debate thing entirely, throwing its corporate weight behind Gingrich.
A Dec. 29 article by Jim Meyers declared: "Newsmax and Ronald Reagan’s eldest son Michael Reagan say the 2012 presidential election is crucial to America’s future and Newt Gingrich is the candidate who will best continue the Reagan legacy."
Accompanying this article was a video called the "The Newsmax 2012 Campaign Special," hosted by Michael Reagan and described by Meyers as being "featured in lieu of the Newsmax Republican presidential debate originally scheduled for Dec. 27." Meyers made no mention of Trump and how his presidential ambitions torpedoed the debate.
The half-hour video is all about Gingrich. Reagan introduced a fawning profile of Gingrich, followed by a lengthy, fluffy interview with Gingrich by Newsmax's Jon Bachman.
The following weekend -- the last weekend prior to the Iowa caucuses -- Newsmax bought air time on Iowa TV stations to run the "Campaign Special." The New York Times reported that the video ran "throughout the weekend in all of Iowa’s major television markets." The Times noted that because the Newsmax video doesn't explicitly endorse Gingrich, it doesn't blatantly run afoul of election laws, and that Newsmax, as a corporate entity, is much freer to do such electioneering as a result of the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.
Ruddy actually admitted to the Times that there's something of a quid pro quo in Newsmax's sudden interest in shilling for Gingrich:
Christopher Ruddy, Newsmax Media’s chief executive, said he was inclined to feature Mr. Gingrich in the program because the former speaker was one of only two candidates who agreed to participate in the debate Newsmax planned to host with Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump pulled out of the debate, and Newsmax canceled it after most of the candidates balked.
That's a dubious explanation, because Newsmax does not have its own regularly scheduled video outlet, nor does it produce video reports for broadcast outlets on a regular basis. Further, the program is not "news" per se -- it's a veiled endorsement of a political candidate who, as it happens, did a favor for Newsmax.
Newsmax has done this sort of electioneering while hiding behind the premise of being a "news" organization before. Before the 2004 presidential election, Newsmax purchased TV time to air the discredited anti-John Kerry film "Stolen Honor."
Newsmax ramped up its pro-Gingrich activism on its website as well:
Such slanted coverage echoed a previous Newsmax foray into Republican primary politics, when Christopher Ruddy and then-Newsmax columnist Dick Morris hosted a fundraiser for Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum and slanted its news coverage to hype McCollum and bash his primary opponent, Rick Scott, who defeated McCollum. Newsmax then flip-flopped and promoted Scott in the general election, ignoring the attacks it made on him during the primary, and Scott won.
So, how did Newsmax's media blitz pan out? Well, Gingrich finished fourth. That, however, didn't keep Newsmax from desperately trying to put a positive spin on it.
The post-election front page at Newsmax contained a headline in bold red type: "Breaking: Gingrich Comes In Solid 4th Place in Iowa Caucuses." The article that headline linked to -- credited to "Newsmax Wires" but reading like a story no real wire service would send out -- Newsmax is in hard spin mode, portraying Gingrich's finish as "a result similar to both Bill Clinton's in 1992 and John McCain's in 2008" and insisting that this "gives him a solid platform to continue his primary battle." Newsmax then slagged the top vote-getters, Romney and Rick Santorum:
Rick Santorum has not weathered the same intense media scrutiny as Gingrich has, nor does he have the national organizational and fundraising base Gingrich has.
For the following week's primary in New Hampshire, Newsmax dialed back its enthusiasm for Gingrich, focusing more on bashing Romney. (Opportunities for Newsmax to buy airtime for its Gingrich informercial were limited because essentially all of the available TV airtime in the state was spoken for well before the votes in Iowa were counted.)
A Jan. 8 article by Tim Collie featured an "exclusive interview" with Joe McQuaid, publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, which endorsed Gingrich. McQuaid not only touted the paper's Gingrich endorsement but argued that Gingrich, Santorum and Rick Perry "soon may have to muster their forces and unite behind one conservative to challenge GOP frontrunner and moderate Mitt Romney."
A Jan. 8 column by Ruddy criticized Romney for lacking vision while touting Gingrich being a "visionary," adding: "When he visited Staten Island, N.Y., to accept the endorsement of its former Congressman Vito Fossella, Gingrich electrified the crowd of nearly 800 that turned out for the appearance, according to a local newspaper. This is in a New York City borough."
Ruddy didn't mention that Fossella -- whose reputation Newsmax has tried to rehabilitate a la Bernard Kerik -- left office in disgrace after a DUI arrest led to the revelation that Fossella had a mistress in Washington and fathered a child with her, making an endorsement from him less than ideal.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Newsmax unleashed Ronald Kessler to engage in his trademark Romney-fluffing. As ConWebWatch detailed, during Newsmax's attempt to stage a debate in December -- which Romney declined to attend -- Kessler had posted a pro-Romney column that was mysteriously deleted shortly thereafter.
Kessler's Jan. 9 column is typically Kessler-esque bit of Romney-fluffing, complaining that "the press once again is ignoring those qualities in the leading Republican candidate that anyone would focus on when hiring a new employee." He recycled an anecdote from his 2007 Newsmax magazine profile of Romney about how Romney helped locate the teenage daughter of one of his Bain Capital partners after she disappeared following a "rave party" where she had "become high on ecstasy" -- "The fact is Romney saved the young girl’s life," Kessler declared.
Kessler gushed over Romney's record at Bain: "Today, Staples employs 70,000 people. Besides Staples, Romney’s Bain Capital started or acquired such companies as Domino’s Pizza, Sealy, Brookstone, and Sports Authority, helping to create jobs for literally millions of people over the years." He added, "Instead of Bain Capital’s more than a hundred success stories that put food on the table for American families, you will see articles on the handful of instances when Bain had to shutter the doors of companies it acquired because they were losing money."
In fact, not even Romney himself has claimed creating more than 100,000 jobs, nearly all of which were at two companies, Staples and Sports Authority (and even then, Romney is overstating the facts). And the Bain Capital record is not "more than a hundred success stories" versus a "handful" of failures. According to the Wall Street Journal, of the 77 companies Bain invested in while Romney headed it, 22 percent of them ultimately closed or filed for bankruptcy, and an additional 8 percent ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost.
Kessler followed that up with a Jan. 13 column touting how one of Romney's co-founders in Bain Capital presented the private equity firm's experience with office-supply retailer Staples as a "microcosm" of how the firm did business. Kessler does his best to embellish things further:
The Romney campaign has said that Bain helped create 100,000 jobs while Romney was at its helm. That is clearly a gross underestimate. Today, Staples alone employs 90,000 people and has 2,000 stores. Over the years, that means more than a million people have had jobs because of Staples alone.
Meanwhile, Gingrich racked another fourth-place finish in New Hampshire. Next up was South Carolina, traditionally friendlier to conservatives. So Newsmax cranked up the hype machine again.
A Jan. 14 "exclusive interview" with Gingrich by Jim Meyers and Kathleen Walter touted Gingrich's claim that "any primary vote that is not for the former House speaker is a vote for Mitt Romney." A Jan. 16 article by Paul Scicchitano highlighted how "Gingrich appeared to score big points in Monday night’s two-hour Republican debate, according to an analysis by Fox News," adding: 'More importantly, Gingrich’s response to questions on the economy, foreign policy, and race in particular appeared to resonate well with the national viewing audience, who were invited to assess whether they felt candidates had answered questions or attempted to dodge them using the Twitter social media website to register their responses."
Meyers returned to ratchet up the level of fawning in a Jan. 17 article:
Newt Gingrich is garnering high praise for his performance in Monday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina a dazzling success that drew an unprecedented standing ovation and could propel him back into close contention for the nomination.
The hype continued in a Jan. 18 article by Martin Gould, who reports that "Newt Gingrich is closing in fast on Mitt Romney just three days before the vital South Carolina primary," adding that "Now all eyes will be on Thursday night’s debate in North Charleston, S.C. when Gingrich will again try to use his rhetorical skills to catch his principal rival."
Actually, those eyes would be on Gingrich's debate performance for a different reason: a new interview with Gingrich's second ex-wife in which she detailed some of his caddish behavior.
At first, Newsmax downplayed the interview, relegating it to wire accounts and choosing instead to more enthusiastically peddle more Gingrich hype. This included three separate articles on polls in which Gingrich was doing well, followed by a catchall article by Martin Gould, headlined "Gingrich Surging In All Polls, Overtaking Romney."
Newsmax then turned its attention to Romney-bashing. It was so upset with Mitt Romney not releasing his tax returns that it published a rare editorial on the subject. Noting that people from across the political spectrum have called out Romney's increasingly fumbling response on the issue, Newsmax declared, "Mitt Romney owes it to Republican primary voters, not to mention the American people, to release his tax returns now!"
But Newsmax considered this a serious enough matter that it called in the big gun for backup. A Jan. 20 article by Martin Gould and Ashley Martella kicked off this way:
Mitt Romney’s waffling over whether he should release his tax returns is hurting him and making him look indecisive, Donald Trump tells Newsmax.TV exclusively.
It's ironic that Newsmax enlisted Trump to speak out on this, since Trump has done his own fair share of waffling on the issue. Last year, when Newsmax was stroking Trump's by way of cheerleading his presidential aspirations, Trump essentially promised to release his tax returns if President Obama released his birth certificate. When Obama did release said certificate, Trump quickly walked back his promise, declaring he wouldn't release them until "the appropriate time," which he suggested would hinge on him actually declaring he was running for president.
Newsmax's advocacy finally paid off: Gingrich won South Carolina handily. Newsmax celebrated with a Jan. 21 article carrying the headline "Earthquake: Newt Defeats Romney in SC Rout."
On to Florida
From there it was on to the Florida primary -- Newsmax's home base is in West Palm Beach -- and more attacks on Romney. A Jan. 21 article by Paul Scicchitano quoted so-called "Democratic pollster" Doug Schoen claiming that Romney's campaign is in "dire jeopardy" due to Gingrich's win, followed by another article by Scicchitano focusing on GOP strategist Brad Blakeman claiming that Romney "suffered a severe blow in South Carolina and may not be able to recover."
Then, a Jan. 23 article by Andrew Henry declared that Romney had a "'Charlie Crist' problem" because "Romney’s chief campaign strategist and several of his most senior campaign staff were Crist’s top political advisers the same ones who crafted Crist’s moderate, ignore-the-tea-party strategy epitomized in Crist’s famous 'hug' of President Barack Obama. That strategy led Crist, once the most popular Republican governor in the nation, to defeat." Meanwhile, Henry wrote, "Gingrich has emphasized that his campaign is surrounded by conservatives, and that the GOP leadership ranks during his tenure as House speaker were filled by conservatives as well." This, of course, is followed by an article in which Gingrich criticizes Romney over it.
Thus, we have Newsmax's template for what its campaign coverage will be over the next week until the Jan. 31 primary.