In my first installment of the Hack List 2017, I mentioned a number of people that I would not be including in the Top Ten (or Top Six, or whatever number I settle on). In that story I didn’t mention a man named Richard Miniter of the unknown and unread (and possibly out of business, it’s hard to tell) American Media Institute (AMI).
It was an oversight that I wish to correct now for Miniter, like many of the people in my first installment, can’t be included on the Hack List because he’s not really a journalist, he’s a political propagandist posing as one. But I want to discuss him because he still owes me $12,000 for work I did for AMI — more below — and because he and his group deserve to be exposed and scrutinized.
On its website, AMI says it is committed to “First & Fearless Reporting” — whatever that means — and says it is “a non-profit investigative news service founded by veterans of the Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest, who love a good story and follow the facts wherever they lead us.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The AMI was funded by right-wing donors and Miniter had ambitions of running it as an influence shop disguised as a ProPublica knockoff, but he was too fat, boozed up, lazy, dishonest, cowardly and incompetent to make it happen.
I briefly referred to Miniter in another story in these pages as AMI’s grifter-in-chief — who I once saw driving a cherry red convertible sports car and he also drove around in a black BMW convertible coupe — while overseeing his non-profit group’s funds, which he spent extravagantly but not on journalism, of which his organization produced virtually none.
Anyway, according to a story in the New York Observer, AMI’s funders “include the major donor and hedge fund honcho Sean Fieler, an outspoken anti-gay marriage advocate, a retired UPS accounting executive, a former executive at the GE plant in Schenectady and the owner of a trucking company in West Texas. According to Mr. Miniter, he has never met the organization’s largest donor, who has remained anonymous and contributed through a lawyer.”
Miniter may not have met the largest donor but he knew exactly who it was: an Irish telecommunications oligarch named Declan Ganley, who “has built businesses across Europe, Russia, and latterly, the United States,” and who had a great deal of influence at AMI.
By the way, Miniter once asked me to call Fieler, who he told me had a great presidential campaign story. It sounded good but Fieler said all he had was gossip he’d heard and couldn’t confirm. Miniter pushed me and others to pursue the story and we pretended to but dropped it because it was clearly untrue or unprovable and Miniter wanted to publish it as a favor to Fieler.
Miniter is a classic case of a privileged white man — he wore preppy yellow sweaters and bow ties, and smoked cigars — who failed upward in journalism. It appears, based on his Wikipedia page, that he started out in 1989 as a Fellow at George Mason Institute for Humane Studies and also joined the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank known for being a mouthpiece for its business donors.
His career also included stints as Assistant Producer for a PBS show called “Technopolitics,” producing a syndicated radio show called “Enterprising Women,” and a post on the Editorial board of Wall Street Journal Europe, where he wrote a column called “The Visible Hand.” In 2002 he published The Myth of Market Share. “I am the CEO of a small company and don’t know how this man in able to publish,” wrote a reviewer on the book’s Amazon page. “He butchers the English language and is terrible at articulating ideas.”
Available evidence suggests that Miniter was a garden-variety libertarian who learned his trade in think-tanks, busied himself with market strategy and might’ve otherwise enjoyed his years churning out books for faithful MBAs about guerrilla merchandising, but he transformed himself by milking 9/11. Like the saying goes, don’t look a gift cash cow in the mouth but hop on, kick it till it bucks, and say an eight-second prayer.
Following 9/11 Miniter wrote a series for the Sunday Times titled The Road to Ground Zero, and books like Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror and Shadow War: The Untold Story of How America is Winning the War on Terror. In all he wrote five terrible books on terror in a mere eight years, a triumph of quantity if not quality.
He also held top positions at the Washington Times — he seems to have run the paper into the ground but it looks like he got a boodle of cash from the Moonie owners after his brief tenure — and had some connection to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a liberal group. (This article about him refers to him as a “neoconservative turd,” which is pretty good, though I can’t vouch for the rest of the story.)
He claims to have founded Alexandria, Virginia based AMI in 2012 and the fact that you’ve never heard of it says a lot. I was briefly employed there and the place was embroiled in turmoil with high staff turnover — there were charges of sexual harassment and people doing no work and getting paid high salaries — and virtually nothing got published in terms of investigative work.
One reason that nothing got done was that the plush offices had a full bar and employees sat around and drank a lot and smoked cigars. (I worked from home.) Miniter spent richly on things that had little to do with journalism, like an air purifier to facilitate cigar smoking and hiring a bus to take employees to a horse race. (I didn’t go.)
He hired a number of African-American reporters — some of them good ones — with the idea of influencing elections in the GOP’s favor and there was some weird idea about social engineering that I heard discussed but never understood. This was linked to the AMI’s “Urban News Service” project, which was sort of like a news wire for a large group of African-American community newspapers. The only problem was that under Miniter’s leadership, AMI produced such shitty stories that no one wanted to run them, not even content-starved, poor African-American community newspapers.
I was told I would have total independence at AMI but it was clear they wanted stories with a political slant that favored Republicans and conservative policies, though it wasn’t always clear what angle they were playing. There was no doubt that Miniter was looking to push political stories donors wanted and to attract new ones.
I got paid well by AMI and only published one story, because Miniter was too incompetent to run the place and because of political issues, so I ran a number of things I pitched to him in other outlets. The only story I managed to publish, and it was a mammoth struggle, was about the Clinton Foundation in Colombia.
It was a good story and ran in Fusion, but it had a few mistakes, mainly because Miniter claimed the story had been rigorously fact-checked at AMI and it turned out it hadn’t, which required a correction. The story also ran on AMI’s website and Miniter refused to update the story with corrections — they did not undermine the thesis, which was that the Clinton Foundation’s efforts in Colombia were pathetic and enriched one of its main donors — even though he repeatedly promised he would. So he just let it sit there with errors he was well aware of.
The funniest part of the story is that I had planned a trip to Colombia with another reporter and had lined up a series of interviews on Day One with three senators. A few days before departing Miniter’s secretary told me to reschedule the trip so Miniter could go. I refused because it was a stupid idea. Miniter just wanted a freebie vacation and to sit around a nice hotel while me and the other reporter did all the work.
Also, he’s a loud, obnoxious American who to my knowledge speaks no Spanish and his presence would have hindered the work and attracted the worst sort of attention, especially in the poor areas of Bogota and Cartagena, where I spent much of my time.
What’s also funny is that Miniter has told a mutual friend that he fucked with me by not paying me the final $12,000 he owed me. But in the end I fucked him because I got paid a lot more than that — not to mention a paid vacation in Colombia, two or three trips to Miami and working two hour days for months at full-time salary — even though I wasn’t able to publish what I wanted. Also, I see this article as pay back too.
Last I heard, AMI was on the brink of bankruptcy as a result of its inability to attract more donor money. Which makes sense: no one likes to see their cash misspent so egregiously for so little result.
Note: I’ll be back soon with the first real installment of Hack List 2017, on Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.