What Fresh Hell Is This?

August 21, 2010

One More Thing...

I don't know if anyone caught this item in the New York Times:
This summer Bill O’Reilly, the biggest star on the Fox News Channel, lent his name — inadvertently, he says — to a Web ad that lured viewers to sign up for a financial newsletter sold by Newsmax, the conservative Web site.

Mr. O’Reilly was the featured guest in an online video billed as an “Economic Crisis Summit,” which also promoted a newsletter and a secret “I.R.S. payout” that viewers could pay to find out about.

The video was first published in June and was promoted in e-mails and Web ads, but it was removed from the Web on Tuesday after a financial columnist, Kathy Kristof of CBS MoneyWatch, questioned why Mr. O’Reilly was promoting “investment flimflam.”
From Kristoff's original story:
The faux news show...starts with an anchorman sitting at a desk in front of a glowing “Economic Crisis Summit” video screen. The anchor welcomes O’Reilly and gets him talking about Obama and taxes — O’Reilly’s normal bailiwick. Then he asks: “How can you invest in this treacherous environment?” O’Reilly suggests buying depressed stocks that pay dividends, which plays right into the anchor’s hand.

As soon as O’Reilly leaves, the next “guest” is a smarmy-looking “accountant” named Bill Spetrino, who purports to agree with O’Reilly and offers a newsletter called “The Dividend Machine.” But he adds that he has “something even better.” Spetrino maintains that he’s written a report about a “forgotten, seven-state Constitutional Clause” that guarantees generous tax-free “IRS payouts” of $1,196 or more. And, he’s agreed to provide this report “free” to viewers of the show produced by Newsmax.

What’s the investment? The dowager of the investment world — municipal bonds. Municipal bonds are issued by states, cities, counties and government agencies to finance everything from parks to water treatment facilities. These bonds do pay tax-free income, but at low rates of interest. To get the promised $1,196 weekly return, you’d have to invest about $2 million in munis at today’s rates.

If you got the report, you’d likely toss it and figure that “free” advice is often worth exactly what you paid for it. What you didn’t know is that you’ve actually gotten caught up in “a free trial offer” that’s going to quickly cost you.

What the show is really peddling is Spetrino’s $99 investment newsletter, which you will subscribe to automatically, if you’re gullible enough to ask for his “free” reports. How? You must pay $1 on a major credit card to get the free reports. (Spetrino justifies the $1 fee in the video by saying that people don’t pay attention to free advice, so he’s charging a token just to get you to listen.)
But I don't wanna talk about Bill O'Reilly. From the reporting, it doesn't look like he was duped and didn't have anything to do with the scam. And until something more solid comes down the pike, we will assume that's the case.

So who's doing the flim-flam (or is that a bait and switch? I have no idea)? Did Spetrino mislead Newsmax or is Newsmax in on it? Not exactly clear. Either way it's an embarrassment to Newsmax.

And that's what I wanna talk about. The Times has more:
The appearance was set up by Don Walker, an agent with Harry Walker who books Mr. O’Reilly’s speaking engagements. Mr. Walker said in an e-mail that “we understood Newsmax would mention a financial newsletter service during the program, which was explicitly separate from Bill’s appearance.”

Similarly, Newsmax said Thursday that “both parties agreed that Newsmax could offer financial newsletters during our broadcast,” separate from Mr. O’Reilly. The Web site’s chief executive, Christopher Ruddy, suggested that Fox had made a rush to judgment.
And there's our old friend Christopher ("Vince Foster was Murdered") Ruddy.

Noticeably absent in this story is the other major player at Newsmax. Did you know that as of March of 2009, Ruddy owns 60% of Newsmax? Wanna know what's up with that the other 40?

You guessed it:
A Long Island native, Ruddy received a master's degree in public policy from the London School of Economics. He was a reporter for the New York Post, which like MarketWatch, the publisher of this column, is owned by News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) He also was a national correspondent for Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Ruddy launched Newsmax in 1998 with a $25,000 investment. Then he raised $15 million from 200 private investors. Scaife subsequently bought up their stakes. Today, Ruddy owns 60% of privately held Newsmax and the remaining portion is controlled by Scaife. [emphasis added]
How much you wanna bet this embarrassing tale never ever makes it onto the pages of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review?

Anyone find any reference to it? Because I can't.

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