The failure of liberal personality Bill Press to disclose financial ties between his radio show and the husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), whose gun control proposals he regularly touts on his program, raises ethical concerns, experts say.
Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, has between $15,001 and $50,000 invested in Bill Press Partners, LLC, the corporation behind the Bill Press Show, through the investment firm Blum Family Partners, according to the senator's personal financial disclosures.
Bill Press Partners first appeared on Feinstein’s disclosure forms in 2005, the year Press says he "persuad[ed] a few good friends to invest" in the company. Blum has maintained his stake in the company, according to Feinstein's most recent disclosure filing.
Press is an impassioned supporter of gun control, which Feinstein currently is championing in the Senate.
"Renew the assault weapons ban," Press demanded in a Dec. 17, 2012, segment.
"Listeners should be made aware that there is a relationship between the host and source and source and legislation sponsor. Then listeners can make their own, informed decisions about the value of the source’s information," Lois Boynton, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, told the Washington Free Beacon. "They may have no problem with it—he may be an appropriate source—but the listeners should get the opportunity to weigh those factors into their decisions."
Press was the chairman of the California Democratic Party when Senator Feinstein authored the 1994 assault weapons ban. He worked to reelect Feinstein in a 1994 Senate race that the Washington Post ranked as one of the 10 "nastiest" since 1980. Feinstein eked out a victory by a margin of less than 2 percent of the vote.
After the December 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Ct., Press criticized Congress for failing to "do what Australia did and ban assault weapons." While Feinstein’s current assault weapons proposal would not ban such weapons outright, it would prohibit private purchases of the AR-15 rifle, which Press singled out for criticism.
He has also said the current background check process is insufficient and requires expansion. Feinstein’s legislation addresses that aspect of the issue as well, requiring point-of-sale background checks for all firearms purchases.
Press has attacked the National Rifle Association, the primary group opposing Feinstein’s legislative push. Employing Democratic talking points in branding assault rifles "weapons of war," Press asked, "How can any reasonable person oppose a background check at every point of sale?"
"After all the mass killings with guns we’ve experienced in recent years, the real question is not why are we doing so much—but why do we even have to debate about doing so little?"
However, Press has failed to disclose his financial ties to the spouse of the Democrats’ chief gun control advocate.
Press told the Free Beacon that he has been honest with his listeners.
"On occasion, I have mentioned on my program that I'm a friend of the senator's," he said.
Asked whether his financial ties to the senator’s husband merit disclosure, Press replied, "No."
"Perception can be crucial, whether there’s an intent to withhold information or not," she said. "When journalists neglect transparency, that action is generally found out and can affect the perceptions that media consumers have about their credibility."
Press’s critics were less sparing in their assessment. "Shameless hacks like Bill Press and shadowy partisan hypocrites like Richard Blum are natural fellow-travellers," talk-radio watchdog Brian Maloney told the Free Beacon.
Press’s show is simulcast on Current TV, the media company founded by former vice president Al Gore that was recently sold to the Qatari state-owned news network Al Jazeera.
Blum’s investment firm held between $115,002 and $300,000 in Current Media, the network’s corporate arm, according to Feinstein’s disclosure form. Between the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook shooting and the Jan. 3, 2013, announcement of the sale, Current ran multiple segments friendly to gun control efforts.
Blum’s financial interest in the network’s recent sale was not clear. His company did not return multiple requests for comment.
Feinstein and Current TV also did not respond to requests for comment.