A New Hampshire television news network owned by a former Republican candidate for Senate is working closely with conservative interest groups that are pressuring presidential candidates to take more aggressive positions on use of military force, entitlement reform, and tax cuts.
One group, Americans for Peace, Prosperity, and Security, was formed last year on behalf of military contractors to hold events in early primary states with the explicit goal of pushing the candidates to support military engagement abroad.
And while local television stations regularly work with non-partisan, non-ideological groups to host and broadcast events such as candidate debates, the NH1 News network, owned by Bill Binnie, has gone a step further, providing its on-air talent to press the candidates on issues championed by its interest group partners.
Binnie, who amassed a fortune in plastic and manufacturing, did not respond to a request for comment. Binnie has said he began building his media empire after his failed 2010 Senate campaign. His television station caused a minor uproar in 2013 when it suspended its nightly news broadcast in favor of a celebrity gossip show called “OMG! Insider.”
Marco Rubio appeared at an NH1/APPS forum at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester on January 21. The candidate discussed his opposition to receiving Syrian refugees, the war against ISIS, and other foreign policy-related issues.
APPS was the official host, while NH1 was “the media partner for APPS and for this great series,” said NH1 News anchor Paul Steinhauser, who moderated the event. Steinhauser kicked off the forum by asking Rubio a question provided to him by APPS “honorary chairman” Mike Rogers — the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee-turned-CNN national security contributor — about how he would respond to reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the assassination of former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko.
“Chairman Rogers wants to know how you would reassert the U.S. and how you would kind of stymie Vladimir Putin if you were in the White House,” Steinhauser said. Rubio responded that he would boost the defense capabilities and back more missile defense programs.
The “Fiscal Friday” program, which began in October of last year, was billed as a forum for critical information about the nation’s budget. But Fix the Debt has come under fire for promoting only a narrow set of policies. Fix the Debt organizers are given talking points that encourage activists to ask about tax reform that must include reducing corporate rates and entitlement reforms that raise the eligibility age and reduce benefits.
When Martin O’Malley appeared on the program, NH1 News’ Steinhauser pressed the former Maryland governor on whether his idea of tax reform would include lowering the corporate tax rate.
Similarly, when Chris Christie appeared on the “Fiscal Friday” program, Steinhauser noted that other Republican candidates had proposed killing off entire federal agencies, and asked if he would do the same.
During both programs, neither candidate was asked about debt-reduction strategies that fall outside the Peterson network’s comfort zone, such as a financial transactions tax.
The Peterson network has also flooded Iowa and New Hampshire with television ads promoting its vision of debt reduction through entitlement cuts and tax reform. Records show the Peterson groups have purchased advertising on Binnie’s WBIN-TV.
Timothy Karr, the senior director of strategy at Free Press, a media watchdog, says this is not the first time he’s seen a television station company use the public airwaves to promote a narrow agenda during a presidential election. In 2004, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a media company owned by a Republican donor, aired “Stolen Honor,” an election-year movie designed to tar Democratic candidate John Kerry.
For Binnie’s television network, Karr says, “It’s not really a new phenomenon but a blatant brand of influence peddling that station owners believe they can engage in with impunity.”