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The Emergency Committee to Destroy Journalistic Integrity

NewsMax stays just barely this side of campaign-finance laws (we think) with anti-Hillary and anti-Gore ads.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/24/2000

NewsMax doesn't have all that much credibility in the first place as a source of objective, fair journalism, so they didn't have much to lose by running a couple recent political ads.

How could political ads harm one's credibility, you ask? After all, newspapers, TV stations and the Internet run them all the time and no one questions the journalistic integrity of those places.

True. But most news outlets don't package political ads to look like editorial content and use a mailing list ostensibly for news-side use to send out the ads. This is what NewsMax has done.

On Oct. 17, NewsMax posted an "Emergency Letter from Bob Barr in Support of the Campaign to Stop Hillary Rodham Clinton." As outlined in an Aug. 11 NewsMax article, this "Emergency Committee to Stop Hillary Rodham Clinton" is run by the Conservative Leadership Political Action Committee and led by such far-right luminaries as former Reagan attorney general Edwin Meese, former congressman Bob Dornan and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes.The committee's goal is to raise $9 million to bankroll a series of 15 TV ads that will "show voters in New York State the real Hillary Clinton, according to the group's first fund-raising letter.

They don't bother to hide the fact that this is something of an end run around campaign-finance laws: "This committee will be an "Independent Expenditure." As an "Independent Expenditure," this committee is not permitted to coordinate in any way with Congressman Lazio's campaign or any party committee. But the big advantage of an "Independent Expenditure" campaign is that there is no limit on what this committee can spend to defeat Hillary Clinton. But this committee can only succeed with your help. ... Your immediate contribution, in whatever amount you can send, will help us (1) Broadcast a series of powerful television and radio ads throughout New York State. (2) Print newspaper ads detailing the key role Mrs. Clinton played in the major scandals of the Clinton White House. And ... (3) Reach 9,500,000 registered voters in New York State with our fact-filled "Voter Communication" mailings and our phone bank targeting Mrs. Clinton. ..."

So far, your usual political claptrap. The anti-Hillary campaign they're planning isn't even illegal. The problem is how it was presented on NewsMax.

Barr's letter looks like any other piece of NewsMax editorial content, except for the word "Advertisement" where there would normally be a byline and the "paid for by" notice at the end. It also showed up in the promotional space that appears in the upper right of the NewsMax home page and and just below the NewsMax logo on other pages without the "Adv." tag ads that appear there usually get.

Additionally, an e-mail containing a link to Barr's letter was sent out to members of NewsMax's e-mail list. Unlike most other NewsMax e-mail messages, there were no other links to NewsMax content. "Please take a moment to read this letter and other materials from one of our sponsors, the Conservative Leadership Political Action Committee. Committee members include Edwin Meese, Alan Keyes, Bob Dornan and many others," the e-mail reads in part. Nowhere in the e-mail is Barr's letter described as a political ad.

Out of curiosity, I wrote Jesse Josephson, a NewsMax ad representative, inquiring about how much of the Barr letter and its use of the NewsMax mailing list is standard practice. He responded: "The use of our list in the fashion demonstrated by the CLPAC is a rare occurence. There is no pretermined rate, they are all taken on a case by case by basis." This suggests to me that this method of promotion was ultimately signed off on by Christopher Ruddy, NewsMax editor and CEO.

Then, on Oct. 21, CLPAC strikes again, with the same folks now promoting the "Emergency Committee to Defeat Al Gore." This time, the letter was written by Lyn Nofziger, who helpfully introduces himself: "My name is Lyn Nofziger. I served with Ronald Reagan when he was Governor of California and when he was President of the United States. I was also one of his senior political strategists."

Nofziger neglects, however, to mention his conviction on ethics violations for lobbying his former government associates on behalf of private clients less than a year after leaving federal service. The convictions were overturned by Reagan-appointed judges who decided that criminal intent was a requirement for conviction -- the same concept Nofziger cohorts such as Brent Bozell and Reed Irvine now oppose since independent counsel Robert Ray cited it as a reason not to charge Hillary Clinton in the Travelgate affair.

Anyway, it's the same song, second verse. Again, it's presented as editorial copy, promoted in the top right of the front page (though with the "Adv." tag) and sent out via e-mail as part of its daily e-mail news report. "Top Reagan aide joins with Alan Keyes, Ed Meese: needs help with last minute ad blitz exposing Gore record -- Click the link to read details now," the copy reads; but again, no notice that it's an ad.

Are the actions of NewsMax violations of campaign finance laws? Given the steady erosion of existing laws and the time and expense in filing a claim with the Federal Election Commission and the fact that any ruling won't be made for years, who knows? What is clear is that NewsMax sold out.

While Christopher Ruddy may or may not be enough of a journalist to understand the integrity of his editorial product is something that should ideally be protected, he is clearly enough of a partisan to squander it on the anti-Clinton ravings of his conservative buddies and the chunk of cash they presumably sent his way. One can only hope Ruddy got paid well enough for the loss of credibility to be worth it.

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