The Media-Lobbying Complex | The Nation


The Media-Lobbying Complex

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Another person with AIG ties is Ron Christie, now at the helm of his own consultancy. While working at Republican-leaning firm DC Navigators, now Navigators Global, from 2006 through September 2008, Christie was registered to lobby on behalf of the insurance giant, lobbying filings show. During that period, AIG shelled out $590,000 to DC Navigators.

Editor's Note: The online slideshow Faces of the Media-Lobbying Complex, which accompanied this March 1 cover story (Sebastian Jones, "The Media-Lobbying Complex"), initially began with an image of Governor Howard Dean from his appearance as a guest host on MSNBC's Countdown. The slideshow featured lobbyists who appeared on TV news as analysts without disclosing their corporate affiliations, and in that context it may have created the false impression that Dean is a lobbyist or that he used his Countdown appearance to promote his law firm's clients. Neither is true in Dean's case. The article included only one sentence about Dean, whose law firm consults for pharmaceutical companies, and did not suggest that Dean had done anything unethical. But MSNBC, by having him host Countdown without disclosing his firm's consultancy, created a potential conflict of interest of which viewers were unaware. As the article points out, the practice is commonplace at all TV news networks, which bear the ultimate journalistic responsibility.

About the Author

Sebastian Jones
Sebastian Jones, a former Nation intern, is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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On September 18, 2008, Christie went on Hardball to discuss the government's response to AIG's near implosion days earlier. He was introduced only as a Republican strategist. As Chris Matthews mocked a presidential press conference on the financial crisis held earlier that day, Christie interrupted to say President Bush was "smart to have gotten a former person from Goldman Sachs who is a very bright man, who understands the markets and liquidity." Christie was referring to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who had once been the chair and CEO of Goldman Sachs and who played a pivotal role in the AIG bailout. "This is not a political sideshow. This is putting the right person in his administration to deal with this crisis," Christie said.

Bigger players were on AIG's payroll, too: shortly after receiving its first bailout, in 2008, AIG hired PR mega-firm Burson-Marsteller to handle "controversial issues." In April 2009, B-M hired former White House press secretary Dana Perino, already an established TV pundit. A month later she was picked up as a contributor to Fox News, where she has had occasion to discuss the economic meltdown.

This past July, for example, Perino joined a roundtable on Fox Business Network's Money for Breakfast, which briefly noted her affiliation with B-M but neglected to mention its link to AIG. When a fellow guest commented that AIG had been "highly regulated" before the crash, Perino pounced, suggesting that current financial reform efforts demonstrate how "Washington has a tendency to overreact in a crisis." When Gary Kalman of USPIRG suggested that regulations had, in fact, been rolled back for decades, Perino scoffed, "I don't think there are many business people who would actually agree with that."

(Whitman, Christie and Perino did not return requests for comment.)

Another conflict of interest plagued the televised debate over how to reform healthcare. Terry Holt, once a spokesman for the Republican National Committee and for House minority leader John Boehner, has also been, on and off since 2003, a lobbyist for the health insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. When he and three other Republican operatives formed communications and lobbying firm HDMK in 2007, one of their first clients was AHIP.

On March 5, 2009, Holt, introduced simply as a Republican, told MSNBC anchor David Shuster that the Obama administration was "going to, you know, cut Medicare benefits for something like 11 million seniors to start this big healthcare reform project." By October AHIP was running ads in several states against the health reform bill that asked, "Is it right to ask 10 million seniors on Medicare Advantage for more than their fair share?"

Holt also made several appearances to discuss healthcare policy on CNN, where his affiliation with insurers was cited on several occasions, starting in September, though not during a September 14 appearance on The Situation Room, when Holt discussed healthcare reform efforts. The network subsequently experienced a small scandal in October when blogger Greg Sargent revealed that political analyst Alex Castellanos, a frequent commentator on CNN, had been helping craft attack ads for AHIP--including the one that referred to the "10 million seniors" losing Medicare benefits--while discussing healthcare policy on air, identified only as a Republican strategist.

When I interviewed Holt recently, he told me that there was one occasion when his work for AHIP was not mentioned on CNN, and that afterward, a producer contacted him to discuss his work for the trade group. Holt said that he believes that cable appearances "operate best with maximum transparency."

"When you're addressing the public, it's a reasonable expectation that they be fully aware of your perspective--where you're coming from--and I see my obligation as informing the news organization that's asking me to appear or to comment about my standing and letting them be the judge," he said.

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