The Nepotism Behind CNS' Promotion of Ted Cruz
Did CNSNews.com devote so much space to articles touting Ted Cruz because the daughter of its editor worked for Cruz? Plus: CNS gave promotional space to GOP Rep. Jim Jordan and Judicial Watch, while its hyping of Mark Levin declined.
By Terry Krepel
If there was one right-wing congressman CNSNews.com loved to quote, it was Sen. Ted Cruz. He loves to be in the news, and CNS loves to devote articles to whatever right-wing talking point du jour he's dishing out.
How much? Cruz had 46 CNS articles devoted to him in 2020 and 72 articles in 2021 (listed here). That shows Cruz was replacing its previous favorite right-wing radio host, Mark Levin, who got only 52 articles dedicated to him in 2021. (No word on whether Levin complained to CNS over why he wasn't being fawned over compared with previous levels.) And as with Levin, nearly all of them lack any sort of pushback by a critic -- it's almost entirely straight stenography.
It also rushed to defend Cruz against any criticism he received. A January 2021 article by Susan Jones seemed offended that favorite right-wing target Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn't attend President Biden's inauguration in part because "we still don't yet feel safe around other members of Congress," specifically citing Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Jones made sure to call Ocasio-Cortez a "non-senator" and tried to whitewash what the senators tried to do:
For the record, neither Sen. Hawley nor Cruz advocated “insurrection” or overturning the results of the 2020 election.
When Ocasio-Cortez explicitly claiming that Cruz was trying to get her killed through his support of overturning the election (and he did effectively do that, no matter what Jones thinks), CNS was quick to rush out Republicans demanding an apology in similarly headlined items, all by Craig Bannister. In an item featuring Republican Rep. Chip Roy, Bannister wrote: "On January 6 of this year, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol while votes electing Joe Biden as president were being certified, Sen. Cruz was 'simply engaging in speech and debate regarding electors,' not threatening Ocasio-Cortez, Roy says" -- but he didn't tell readers that the attempt to overturn the election supported by Cruz helped instigate the riot.
NS also generally avoids reporting anything negative about Cruz. For instance, it refused to criticize Cruz for taking a February 2021 vacation to Cancun during a freak winter storm in Texas that disrupted power across the state and resulted in the deaths of people; it did complain, however, that Bette Midler tweeted about it.
Most members of Congress would kill to get publicity like this -- so fawning, it's almost as if Cruz had paid CNS to do it. The truth, however, might just be good old-fashioned nepotism. Editor Terry Jeffrey let it slip in an April 2022 column praising Cruz for attacking Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose confirmation hearing was going on at the time:
The Founding Fathers, as noted, said in the Declaration that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
That appears to be Maria Jeffrey Reynolds, who has worked for Cruz since 2018; she was promoted to speechwriter in 2020, and she now serves as director of speechwriting and strategic communications and has been quoted in the media as his spokesperson. That makes for at least a circumstantial link between Jeffrey's daughter working as a Cruz staffer and the large amount of favorable press Cruz received at CNS.
CNS did not disclose this conflict of interest in any of the Cruz-centric articles it published.
CNS' parent, the Media Research Center, typically frowns on newspeople who have relatives working in partisan politics. For instance, it loves to complain about the wife of NBC host Chuck Todd working as a Democratic consultant; one writer huffed that "While Todd claims to be all for sunshine, he has refused to discuss his wife's firm's work with Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign even while he interviewed Sanders on his shows," and another groused that Todd's wife "is active in Democratic Party campaigns and co-founded a PR firm that worked with Bernie Sanders. Since Jeffrey his hidden his daughter's involvement in partisan politics until now, you can bet that the MRC won't talk about it ether.
That Cruz stenography continued through 2022, with 65 articles devoted to him that year (listed by quarter here, here, here and here). There was also an Oct. 31 article by Susan Jones giving Cruz secondhand promotion under the headline "Rep. Comer: 'I Agree With Ted Cruz': Why Have FBI, DOJ Ignored 'Credible Evidence' Involving Hunter Biden?"
Things got off to a promising start (for Cruz PR purposes, anyway) in the first three months of 2023, with 14 articles devoted to him. In addition, there was a March 13 column by Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity touting Cruz's purported expertise on drug prices under the gushy headline "Trust Ted Cruz, Not Lina Kahn, on Drug Pricing Reform!":
The Senate recently held a hearing to discuss the Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) Transparency Act, S. 127. The goal of the law is laudable: to make prescription drugs more affordable. Unfortunately, the legislation is just political theater.
Cruz had just one more article devoted to him before the MRC abruptly pulled the plug on CNS on April 20 -- an April 14 item by Bannister insisting that it wasn't "controversial" for Elon Musk to rant on Twitter that "Any parent or doctor who sterilizes a child before they are a consenting adult should go to prison for life."
Cruz clearly had a (family) friend in the media at CNS. Too bad CNS was too dishonest to do its proper journalistic duty and disclose that to its readers.
Jim Jordan stenography
Rep. Jim Jordan has been a longtime favorite of CNS' parent organization, the MRC -- so much so, in fact, that the MRC and CNS led a failed campaign in 2018 to try and make him House speaker.
What the MRC and CNS didn't mention during that crusade, however, was the fact that several former athletes at Ohio State University, where Jordan served as a wrestling coach, had accused Jordan of knowing about sexual abuse of athletes by a team doctor but doing nothing about it -- despite those accusations being around for a good month before Chapman's article appeared.
CNS is very much attuned to Jordan's importance in the current political scene. -- which means that the only possible reason CNS has failed to report on the abuse allegations regarding Jordan is that it is deliberately censoring them from its readers.
Since then, CNS has regularly given Jordan uncritical space to serve up right-wing talking points on the issues of the day. In 2019, Jordan got 23 stenography articles devoted to him, many of them centered around his kneejerk defense of Donald Trump over his many scandals; that was followed by 22 Jordan-centric articles.
With a new Democratic president to bash in 2021, CNS eagerly ate up the partisan raw meat Jordan was serving up, devoting 41 articles to him that year. (The articles for all three years are listed here.) In none of these articles was there any mention of the credible accusations that Jordan turned a blind eye to sexual abuse at Ohio State.
In 2022, Jordan was the beneficiary of 34 stenography articles (listed by quarter here, here, here and here). Again, none of them mention his alleged failure to do anything about a doctor who had been accused of sexual abuse by wrestlers at Ohio State.
The pace slowed after that, with just seven articles dedicated to him in the first three months of 2023. He got five more articles before CNS shut down on April 20:
Those didn't mention the Ohio State criticism either.
Mark Levin stenography
Right-wing radio and TV host Mark Levin is a close friend of the MRC, so it followed that CNS would use its "news" pages to promote him, and promote him it did. ConWebWatch documented that CNS devoted a whopping 135 articles to Levin's pontifications in 2018 alone -- one article every 2.7 days -- and effectively handed over control of CNS' editorial agenda to him at one point. The pace of Levin stenography started to slow down after that, though:
A November 2019 post by Craig Bannister touted how "Mark Levin’s Fox News Channel program, which dominated Sunday night cable news despite its 10 p.m. air time, has been rewarded with a new time slot," further gushing that "In addition to being an iconic conservative commentator, Levin is also a nationally-syndicated radio host, Constitutional scholar, and author." This was followed by an item by Melanie Arter -- later deleted without explanation -- that carried the headline "Mark Levin’s ‘Life, Liberty & Levin’ #1 Rated Show on Sunday."
CNS also gave Levin space to whine in an October 2020 article that Facebook had restricted the visibility of "constitutional scholar, best selling author, and conservative talk-radio host" Levin over his promotion of fake news. Interestingly, the article by Lucy Collins doesn't explain exactly what the content was that got his page restricted. A couple days later, Craig Bannister followed up by repeating Levin's assertion that Facebook "backed down on censorship of his page."
Like other MRC websites, CNS helped to aggressively hype Levin's new book released that year, called "American Marxism." CNS made an interview Levin did with MRC chief Brent Bozell its lead story for the weekend of July 9-11, and published numerous other items touting Levin's book:
CNS also published an article by Bannister touting that "Mark Levin’s new book, 'American Marxism,' has topped the New York Times bestseller list in each of its first two weeks since publication, giving the conservative commentator and constitutional scholar his seventh #1 bestseller."
In 2022, Levin saw 45 articles dedicated uncritically repeating his rants (first two months here; following four months here; quarterly here and here). In the first three months of 2023, Levin received eight more, including one article promoting how Levin's wife ran in a half-marathon.
There were no more articles about Levin's wife.
Judicial Watch stenography
CNS has long been a prolific stenographer for the right-wing legal organization Judicial Watch -- it cranked out at least 31 articles touting the group in 2017 and 46 articles in 2018. As Donald Trump's actions grew less defensible and drowned out anti-Democratic talking points, the volume dropped over the next few years. Indeed, Judicial Watch was such a Trump stan that CNS published an article after the 2020 election featuring Judicial Watch leader Tom Fitton embracing Trump's Big Lie by ranting that "'Joe Biden is not 'president-elect' despite what the liberal media claim, and they do not have the constitutional authority to declare the winner of a presidential election."
But with a Democratic president in the White House and right-wing culture-war issues on the ascendency, CNS and managing editor Michael W. Chapman started taking renewed interest in being servile Judicial Watch stenographers. In June 2021, CNS published an article on how Judicial Watch was demanding "the police and medical examiner records in the case of Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old woman who was shot dead by a Capitol police officer during the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol" -- and who has been the focus of right-wing conspiracy theories.
An anonymous "CNSNews.com Staff Writer" wrote in a November article:
A new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) report from Judicial Watch shows that the Secret Service's travel costs for President Joe Biden to go to his home in Delaware, and several other domestic stops, total at least $2,252,600.50.
The anonymous author conveniently omitted context -- specifically, any mention of a certain former president who liked to spend his weekends away from the White House. After all, doing so would make Biden look good by comparison. It was reported that Trump's weekend trips to Florida's Mar-a-Lago -- of which Trump made four during the first three months of his presidency alone -- cost about $3 million each, or the total of Biden's trips to Delaware over the first seven months of his presidency.
That's how CNS' right-wing bias works. It had similarly complained about "taxpayer funds" being spent to build a fence at Biden's Delaware beach house while censoring that the government was still paying for security upgrades at Trump's Mar-a-Lago.
Last fall, we noted that CNS has touted Judicial Watch findings about President Biden's travel expenses, though it didn't similarly hype the group's claims about Trump's travel expenses while president.
In August 2021, CNS made an issue of alleged lack of transparency regarding the people who visit Biden at his Delaware home, quoting Judicial Watch chief Tom Fitton in the process -- but didn't mention that Judicial Watch also criticized Trump for keeping his White House visitor logs secret (at the beginning of his administration, anyway).
CNS ramped up its Judicial Watch stenography in 2022. A January 2022 article by Chapman cheered on a Judicial Watch court win:
After the conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit challenging a race-based scholarship program established in the City of Ashville, N.C., the city decided to settle the case by removing the race-restrictive language in the program, and asserting that the scholarship "will give preference to applicants" whose parents have a high school education or less and who represent “first generation” college students.
Pretty much everything in Chapman's article came straight from a Judicial Watch press release -- a dead giveaway that this is all about stenography.
Chapman touted more Judicial Watch work, this time on behalf of Trump, in a February 2022 article:
The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for communications between then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in 2020-21, which reportedly involved the targeting of President Donald Trump.
Fitton apparently doesn't believe that Trump's unhinged behavior at the time (and, arguably, continuing to this day) regarding his inability to accept the fact that he lost the election fair and square, is much more disturbing.
Chapman served up another right-wing narrative via Judicial Watch in a article a couple weeks later:
Two non-profit organizations, CatholicVote and Judicial Watch, recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because they failed to provide requested information about their communications with Catholic-affiliated agencies at the border and the agencies' alleged role in the surge of illegal immigrants over the last year.
Chapman misleadingly identified both Judicial Watch and CatholicVote only as "non-profit organizations," falsely suggesting they're not acting with partisan political intent. In fact, like Judicial Watch, CatholicVote is a right-wing group. Chapman went on to further obscure that fact by copying-and-pasting from the group's website in writing that "CatholicVote's mission, according to its website, is 'to inspire every Catholic in America to live out the truths of our faith in public life.' The organization is 'a national faith-based advocacy organization, organized by faithful Catholic laity in full communion with the teachings of the Church, yet does not claim to speak for any individual bishop or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.'"
Chapman did the same bogus whitewash for Judicial Watch: "According to its website, 'Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. ... Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.'" Never mind, of course, that nearly all of the group's work is done to work for the benefit of Republicans and conservatives.
Chapman touted how Judicial Watch was dabbling in COVID vaccine conspiracy theories in an April 2022 article:
Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services because it has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning communications about the side-effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Chapman didn't mention that VITT is an extremely rare side effect.
Intern Lauren Shank got the call to push further vaccine conspiracy-mongering in a Nov. 2 article:
Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, announced Tuesday that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for insufficiently responding to a records request for COVID-19 vaccine safety studies.
CNS failed to make either article fair and balanced by talking to medical professionals who can vouch for the safety of the vaccines. And Shank didn't make clear that the statement that vaccines "make no sense" came from Judicial Watch, not known for having any sort of medical expertise.
CNS also hyped Judicial Watch's actions to further right-wing narratives. Several articles over the past year were linked to Republican obsession with Hunter Biden:
A Dec. 20 article by Chapman touted how Judicial Watch latched onto another right-wing narrative by filing "a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Defense Department because it has failed to release documents concerning 'Critical Race Theory' and 'white supremacy,' reportedly being taught at the Air Force Academy. The academy is overseen by the Defense Department." Chapman followed up in an April 3 article gushing that the FOIA request yielded "U.S. Air Force Academy documents revealing that the institution is pushing 'woke' educational materials on its cadets. These records include the academy's superintendent, USAF Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, contending in a report's introduction that 'systemic racism exists in our society' and 'social injustice' continues to "afflict our society." No evidence was offered that disputed the accuracy of those assessments; instead, Chapman uncritically quoted Fitton ranting that "The documents confirm U.S. Air Force Academy leadership is obsessed with anti-American critical race theory and seeks to punish and smear cadets through leftist indoctrination programs."
A Feb. 9 article by Chapman touted Judicial Watch whining about the presence of U.S. Marines during a speech by President Biden last fall:
Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Defense Department because it has failed to produce legally requested communications concerning President Joe Biden's Sept. 1 campaign speech in Philadelphia, where he positioned two U.S. Marines to stand behind him as he lectured that "MAGA Republicans" are threatening the "very foundations of our Republic."
CNS hated Biden's speech, but it was silent when Donald Trump used the military as political props.
Chapman's final piece of Judicial Watch stenography came on April 14 -- six days before CNS was shut down -- uncritically repeating the group's whining that local authorities in Maryland are ignoring the group's demand for records regarding "the ongoing protests outside the homes of some Supreme Court justices."