Less than a week after National Public Radio (NPR) claimed to discover financial connections between a consulting firm representing two Southern power companies and several statewide media outlets, a further report claims there are ties between the same firm and a reporter with ABC News.
The firm, Matrix LLC, is based in Montgomery, Alabama. Its clients include Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light.
According to NPR, a television reporter with ABC News, one of the country’s largest and oldest mainstream media organizations, was paid over $14,000 by Matrix LLC.
The report alleges that the reporter, Kristen Hentschel, took the money from the firm in exchange for using her ABC credentials to give unfavorable coverage to Matrix’s enemies in Florida.
It claims that Matrix hired Hentschel shortly before she started working at ABC News as a freelance news producer. She mainly worked on "Good Morning America," helping with segments on professional quarterback Tom Brady and the mysterious death of Gabby Petito, who disappeared in 2020 after going on a cross-country trip with her fiancé.
Two people at ABC News told NPR that Hentschel was not authorized to cover the stories for the network.
The report also claims Hentschel and former Matrix CEO Jeff Pitts began an affair after she started working for them. Hentschel had previously been involved in an affair with NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” host Chris Hansen.
Pitts left Matrix in 2020 to start a rival firm but was sued by Matrix founder Joe Perkins. Pitts countersued, accusing Perkins of wrongdoing and using “phony groups and digital platforms to intimidate individuals as a method to influence public perception and litigation.” The parties settled the lawsuit earlier this year.
In a statement about the NPR report, ABC News said that Hentschel no longer works for the network.
Hentschel, on the other hand, did not return NPR’s request for comment.
Earlier this week, NPR released a separate story accusing several Alabama media outlets, such as Alabama Political Reporter and Yellowhammer News, of taking money from Matrix in exchange for favorable coverage for its clients, most notably Alabama Power.
To conduct the investigation, NPR examined hundreds of Matrix documents and public records. They also listened to almost 40 interviews and reviewed social media profiles and news coverage.
According to the investigation, six outlets collectively received at least $900,000 from Matrix, its clients, and associated entities between 2013 and 2020.
Perkins told NPR that his firm only paid news sites for advertisements and other typical services for clients. He denied Matrix’s responsibility for the payments because Pitts acted without the firm’s consent.
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