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CNS' Revolving Door

Right-wing activists have used CNS as a way station to do "reporting" before moving on to more right-wing activism.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/30/2011

The Media Research Center has long complained about the supposed "revolving door" for people whose jobs shift between news organizations to liberal groups or Democratic administrations. It even keeps a running list of "major media journalists who have joined the Obama administration."

What the MRC doesn't want to admit is that there's also a revolving door to conservative advocacy at its "news" operation, You'd be hard pressed to find another news organization the size of CNS whose employees have so easily moved between reporting and advocacy.

An incomplete list of CNS alumni who have made the leap from right-wing journalism to right-wing advocacy (like there's a difference) starts with the top newsroom position:

  • Scott Hogenson: He made significant use of CNS's revolving door. He worked for the Republican National Committee before joining CNS, where he eventually became editor, a position he served in until late 2003, when he left to be radio services director for the RNC during the 2004 presidential campaign. After briefly returning to CNS after the election, he left again in 2005 to become deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He's now a senior vice president at the PR damage control firm Dezenhall Resources and is also an instructor at the right-wing Leadership Institute.
  • David Thibault: Like Hogenson, Thibault worked for the RNC prior to joining CNS, as well as working for Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. He filled in as editor during Hogenson's 2004 sabbatical and ascended to the post after Hogenson left for good. He died in 2007.
  • Jim Burns: He was a CNS reporter until leaving in 2003 to become press secretary for Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.). He had to leave that job after it was revealed that he copied large parts of a op-ed issued under Pearce's name from the Heritage Foundation.
  • Nathan Burchfiel: He didn't have to go far to move from news to activism at first -- in fact, he didn't have to leave MRC headquarters. After serving as a CNS reporter, he moved on to other MRC divisions, eventually ending up as an assistant editor for MRC's Culture & Media Institute. Burchfiel currently works for the Pinkston Group, a Washington-area PR firm that advances conservative causes, including the anti-John Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.
  • Robert Bluey: He's a former CNS reporter -- where he was an early promoter of the Swift Boat Vets attacks on John Kerry -- who left to join Human Events. He's now at the Heritage Foundation, as director of its Center for Media and Public Policy.

Current CNS writers and editors have backgrounds in activism as well:

  • Terry Jeffrey: CNS' current editor-in-chief worked in both of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns and was executive director of The American Cause, euphemistically described in Jeffrey's CNS bio as "an educational foundation." In fact, it's the nonprofit group operated by Pat and Bay Buchanan designed to promote right-wing causes. Jeffrey has no experience in traditional objective American journalism; before joining CNS, he was an editorial writer for the Washington Times and editor of the right-wing magazine Human Events.
  • Michael Chapman: CNS' managing editor is also a former Human events employee. The closest thing to relevant journalism experience he has is as editorial writer and national issues reporter for Investor's Business Daily, best known for its factually dubious right-wing editorializing.
  • Pete Winn: According to his CNS bio, Senior Writer/Editor Pete Winn formerly worked for CitizenLink, which is the political action arm of the right-wing Focus on the Family. He was no mere employee there; his bio describes him as "he associate editor and co-creator" of CitizenLink, adding: "For seven years, he served as head writer and substitute host for Family News in Focus, an internationally syndicated radio news-and-issues program heard on more than 1,400 stations in the U.S. and Canada."

CNS, meanwhile, has two star alumni whose reporting was of a piece with their history of activism: Scott Wheeler and Marc Morano.

Wheeler first made his place on the right-wing scene as a Clinton conspiracy-monger; Christopher Ruddy promoted him back in 1996, and he participated in an anti-Clinton video. He was also a contributor to the book accompanying the discredited smear video "The Clinton Chronicles," in which he ranted that "The protectionist media has chosen to shelter the misdeeds of their darling -- Bill Clinton -- at any cost" and "ruthlessly discredit anyone who challenges their icon."

Wheeler later wrote for the Moonie-owned Insight magazine before moving to CNS in 2004, where he dubiously insisted that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

After leaving CNS, Wheeler co-founded the National Republican Trust PAC, which has been involved with making discredited attacks on Barack Obama and other Democrats -- one of those attacks was denounced by as "one of the sleaziest false TV ads of the campaign." Newsmax gave Wheeler column space in 2009, where he advocated for candidates his PAC was funding (without disclosing that advocacy to readers) and made numerous questionable and hateful attacks on President Obama:

  • He falsely claimed that Obama "complain[ed] that when ultra-liberal, judicial activist Earl Warren was chief justice of the Supreme Court “it didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution.” In fact, Obama was pointing out that the Warren Court was not as radical as some had claimed.
  • He falsely claimed that Obama supports Hamas. In fact, as even the wildly anti-Obama WorldNetDaily reporter Aaron Klein has conceded, the Obama administration has not changed previous administration policies regarding the isolation of Hamas.
  • He declared Obama to be the "Most Secretive President Ever" even though Obama had been in office less than a week at the time.
  • He ranted that Obama is "a tin horn tyrant who never outgrew his adolescent communist stage."
  • He suggested that Obama "ordered" Chrysler to merge with Fiat because "Libya owns at least a 2 percent stake in Fiat and thus makes Moammar Gadhafi, who controls the wealth of Libya, a direct beneficiary of the deal favoring Fiat," baselessly claiming that somehow "Obama owe[s] Gadhafi."

Newsmax was so simpatico with Wheeler and his PAC, in fact, that it seemed to draw its talking points on one election directly from the PAC.

(There may be a reason for that: Joe Conason has reported that Ruddy is the "mastermind" behind Wheeler's PAC.)

Wheeler is so dedicated to right-wing hackery that he wasn't content working for CNS and others to generate it -- he had to create his own PAC, funded by the money of others, to crank out more.

Similarly, Morano was a right-wing activist before joining CNS, having worked for Rush Limbaugh's TV show in the mid-1990s. At CNS, Morano co-authored an attack on then-Democratic Rep. John Murtha that rehashed old scandals and suggested that he didn't earn his Vietnam War medals. For such efforts -- in which he foreshadowed his post-CNS activism by attacking the movie "Hoot" as depicting "soft core eco-terrorism" and describing the backgrounds of the film's major backers except conservative financier and newspaper publisher Philip Anschutz -- ConWebWatch gave Morano a Slantie Award for career achievement in conservative media bias.

Morano left CNS in 2006 to join the press office of Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, where he regularly peddled -- often in a factually challenged manner -- the position of global warming deniers. In 2007, for example, Morano promoted a dishonest comparison of funding for "proponents of man-made global warming fears" that purportedly "enjoy a monumental funding advantage over the skeptics"; Morano included an overbroad array of items, such as alternative fuels, under funding for "proponents of man-made global warming," while citing only a single source of "skeptic" funding, ExxonMobil, even though numerous conservative foundations contribute to "skeptic" causes.

While working for Inhofe, Morano helped perpetuate global warming misinformation by cultivating a list of dozens of writers and activists to whom he would send out periodic email blasts of information that would appeal to his fellow "skeptics."

Morano now runs the Climate Depot website for the right-wing think tank Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a perch from which he continues to peddle global warming misinformation.

These days, though, you don't have to leave CNS in order to engage in right-wing activism.

An Aug. 2 WorldNetDaily article touted a report by the right-wing Capital Research Center -- home of the perpetually wrong Matthew Vadum -- on the legal watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, largely complaining that George Soros has donated to the group and that it goes after liberals more than conservatives. The author of that report: current CNS reporter Fred Lucas.

Why is Lucas, who purports to be a "news" reporter, moonlighting for a clearly partisan "research" organization like the CRC? After all, any organization that keeps Vadum employed clearly has a partisan agenda to push, and he almost certainly had to get approval from his CNS bosses to do his CRC work.

It's also worth noting that while both Lucas and WND hyperventilate over Soros donating $100,000 to CREW and other liberal groups donating as well, they are dwarfed by Richard Mellon Scaife foundation donations to the right-wing Judicial Watch -- more than $8.7 million since 1997.

That, ultimately, is how the MRC rolls: complaining about the "revolving door" of other news organizations while the bearings on the revolving door on its own so-called "news" organization are swiftly grinding into dust from so much spinning.

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