On December 4 2019 —a day after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds — the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California) took responsibility for an oddly-scripted release that accompanied his interview with a local news outlet announcing his intention to plead guilty in a federal corruption case.
As the Times of San Diego reported on December 2 2019, Hunter’s spokesperson Michael Harrison first released what he called “a transcript” of the lawmaker’s appearance on KUSI-TV. But the document contained not only several discrepancies between the text and what Hunter and interviewer Steve Bosh actually said, but one remark that never made it to air at all:
I have fought for this nation, overseas and at home I’ve met and served with men who have paid a far higher price for their service, some the ultimate price. I will be OK, our district will be OK, and our nation will be OK. We are fighters and we never give up the challenge in front of us.
The Times also posted footage of the interview, in which Hunter can be seen looking down several times at something off-camera. The segment contains one shot of both Hunter and Bosh on camera, and unidentified documents can be spotted near the lawmaker’s feet.
KUSI declined to comment on the segment. Harrison did not respond to our request for comment prior to publication. But he did send a statement to the Times:
In an attempt to provide additional information to the high volume of media inquires our office was receiving, I incorrectly identified the statement as a transcript instead of specifically referring to it as a prepared statement. As the communications director for Congressman Hunter, this was my mistake and I take full responsibility and apologize for the confusion it created.
The Times also reported that, according to KUSI, Hunter only agreed to announce his intentions to the station on the condition that only certain questions be asked.
The segment aired the day before Hunter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds. He and his wife Margaret were accused of spending more than $200,000 on personal expenses including a $14,000 Italian vacation as well as household items. He faces a sentence of five years in prison. Hunter had previously denied any wrongdoing, going so far as to blame his wife for the misuse of the funds.
In January 2019, KUSI accused CNN of political bias after the news network first requested, then canceled a segment in which one of the local station’s reporters would discuss the “wall” President Donald Trump has pushed to construct along the border between the United States and Mexico:
We believe CNN declined a report from KUSI because we informed them that most Border Patrol Agents we have spoken to told us the barrier does in fact work.
We have continuously been told by Border Patrol Agents that the barrier along the Southern border helps prevent illegal entries, drugs, and weapons from entering the United States, and the numbers prove it.
KUSI news director Steve Cohen initially claimed that he told CNN that his station’s findings — that the “wall” was an effective anti-immigration deterrent — would go against the network’s alleged narrative. But later Cohen admitted that he never actually discussed the matter with anyone at CNN:
CNN said it had also reached out to reporters at other local stations about a possible segment but didn’t follow through when the plans changed. “This happens many times every single day,” the network said in a statement. “This is a non-story.”
Cohen said he never actually spoke to anyone about CNN about why Plante wasn’t used.
“It’s certainly plausible that they didn’t want it for the viewpoint, or they just didn’t want it,” he said. “Both are plausible conclusions. I made one rather than the other.”
KUSI-TV is unaffiliated with any broadcast network and owned by McKinnon Broadcasting Co. Its general manager, Michael McKinnon, was described by the San Diego Business Journal as a “longtime supporter of conservative causes and candidates in the San Diego area.”
“KUSI is an outstanding news organization that has always demonstrated journalistic integrity and reporting,” Harrison said in explaining the mislabeled statement. “We appreciate their interest and availability in conducting an important interview with Congressman Hunter.”
Correction, 12/4/2019, 5:13pm: The KUSI interview ran the day before Hunter’s guilty plea, not the day of. We regret the error. -bb
Update, 12/4/2019, 6:04pm: The story has been updated to reflect the conditions of Hunter’s interview with KUSI. – ag