ABC News producer moonlights as corporate hitman

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Well this is not exactly surprising.

NPR and Floodnight News have a report on an ABC News producer who used her credentials and perhaps corporate resources to do side work as a corporate propagandist.


And as if that is not bad enough, she was, shall we say, a bit free with the truth. As in completely making up stories to embarrass or ruin her targets. These reporters called her a “corporate operative.” I would call her a corporate hitman, given that she was trying to destroy people.

Television news producer Kristen Hentschel was doing precisely what journalists should do on a searing hot day in Stuart, Fla., in July 2018: She confronted a politician with unwelcome questions.

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site. Florida designates the species as threatened.

As far as the candidate, Toby Overdorf, knew, there were no dead tortoises.

And he would have known. Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as the wildlife consultant to the construction project. Visibly flustered, Overdorf told Hentschel on camera that he didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Residents say they aren’t buying it,” Hentschel declared in the news-style video she later posted online.

city investigation found no dead tortoises. In fact, it found no evidence at all that any of the reptiles had ever been present.

This was the full meal deal of hit jobs, intended to both undermine Overdorf as a candidate and take away his income. Overdorf is now a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, so the hit failed. But this is bare knuckle politics aimed at taking somebody out and leaving them on the ground mortally wounded. .


The hit job wasn’t organized by his political opponent; it was a political consulting firm working for corporations who were looking to ruin somebody who threatened their profits. Politicians can be expected to lie or shade the truth, but people instinctively trust a “journalist” who is breaking news in an “investigation.”

At the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm’s internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel’s work, labeling the payments “for Florida Crystals, FPL.” (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Both companies could have benefited from her efforts to undermine Overdorf and his promises to resolve environmental issues in the district he was vying to represent. Florida Power & Light has pushed back against efforts to bring solar panels to the Sunshine State, while runoff from the sugar industry is a major source of water pollution in Florida.

Floodlight and NPR have not been able to independently verify whether Florida Power & Light or Florida Crystals knew about Hentschel’s video. Florida Power & Light declined to comment for this story. Florida Crystals’ lawyer Joseph Klock says the company “was not involved in any way, nor was anyone acting on its behalf, in any negative attacks in any form, directly or indirectly.”

“It was an attack ad against my livelihood, my family,” Overdorf says. “And it was something that potentially could last far beyond my time running for office.”


The political hit job is disgusting and hopefully illegal, and in a state run by Republicans these days it is certain to harm both companies. But that isn’t the point that interests me at the moment. These big corporations can go to hell as far as I am concerned, and they probably will. But what is truly interesting lies elsewhere.

What should really pique your interest is how this reveals how journalistic and “ethics” don’t fit together that well these days.

Before I make the sweeping and at times unfair characterizations of journalism and journalists these days, let me say this: 1) there was no “golden age” of journalism when the profession was filled with Clark Kents whose only goal was the betterment of the world, writing stories without fear or favor; and 2) there really are some good journalists out there, and plenty of mediocre ones who are not self-conscious liars or even self-consciously shilling for The Narrative.

Those journalists are just lazy and take what has been given to them. I have seen plenty journalists of modest abilities just getting by reporting what they are told. They aren’t evil or even liars, just working schlubs who aren’t interested in doing more than collecting a paycheck. Pretty normal.

Whew! Now that I have been nice, sort of, let me get to it: plenty of journalists are predators just wanting to climb the ladder, and their ethical standards are at about the level of card sharps and con men. They work for money–we all do–and do whatever will help them get ahead. That always means going with the stories that the powerful want told, and sometimes means being hitmen for them. Hentschel’s innovation was getting paid on the side to do it. Most are more subtle than that. Few are as self-consciously mercenary.


There are lots of revelations in this story that are fascinating in themselves–NPR’s basic thrust is about the underhanded and likely illegal tactics used by the consulting firm to do hit jobs on politicians. But what interested me in particular is how the corporate media was used and how unconcerned they were about the abuses.

ABC had been informed–by furious politicians who were confronted and smeared by Hentschel–and they still kept her on board as a stringer producer. They knew she was using her ABC credentials to do political hit jobs, and apparently shrugged.

More interesting yet, Matrix LLC actually funneled money to an independent “journalistic” website that published some of these hit jobs, and which also employed Hentschel. Everybody, it seems, was in on the scam. ABC was aware. This “news” site was on the take. Hentschel was obviously getting paid to lie. It was a cozy arrangement for everybody.

Matrix also funded a nonprofit, which also employed Hentschel, which pushed a phony agenda that aligned with their clients’ interests. Matrix LLC was a one-stop shop for corruption.

Hentschel posted her segments on Overdorf to the website of the Alabama-based Center for Sustainability and Conservation. She is also listed as the organization’s media contact. Matrix had paid the center at least $55,000 through a related business, according to the consulting firm’s ledgers.

The organization presented itself on Facebook as an environmental nonprofit. But Floodlight and NPR could find no record of a nonprofit incorporated under that name anywhere. A for-profit company with that name exists in Alabama, however.

The center’s web presence was deleted after Floodlight and NPR contacted the center’s founder for comment. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

This fall, Overdorf won his third consecutive race. He says people still dredge up the accusations — including in October in a local anti-development Facebook page. No one has identified the person who lodged the original baseless complaint about tortoises that Hentschel highlighted.

“Even though it is 1,000% entirely, completely false, it sticks,” Overdorf says. “It is oil that unfortunately doesn’t leave you.”


This is very dirty politics, of course. And not everybody involved in politics works this way. Many do.

The lesson to take out of this is not that Matrix, LLC is filled with bad guys. Big shock that bad guys will do just about anything for money, and big corporations are willing to pay them to do it. We should be outraged about it, but unsurprised. I hope that they pay a steep price for their shenanigans, including maybe jail time.

What should stick with you though is how big money can create a phony narrative, complete with shocking stories, fake news, nice sounding “non-profits,” and an air of moralistic care for some good cause–and have a major news organization like ABC totally ignore the story even though one of their employees is in the middle of it.

No skin off their nose, apparently.

Unfortunately, this is how things often work. Lots of money, lots of smoke and mirrors, threats, extortion, and fakery. Some of the players at the bottom of the food chain will pay a price, but the game will go on.

Read the whole story if you want to be even more disgusted.

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