A freelance ABC News producer exploited her credentials to smear politicians while working a side-job with a scandal-ridden consulting firm that’s in the pocket of several powerful corporations.
The journalist, Kristen Hentschel, told politicians she was an ABC reporter when she confronted them with uncomfortable questions, but she was really doing corporate hit-jobs, according to a new investigation by NPR and Floodlight.
A former longtime president of ABC News, David Westin, said he’d never seen anything like Hentschel’s situation before.
“It just goes to the very heart of why people no longer have the same confidence and trust in the news media as they once did,” Westin said. “They suspect this is going on anyway, and for it to actually go on confirms their worst suspicions.”
According to the investigation, Hentschel has earned at least $14,350 since 2016 working with a consulting firm called Matrix LLC, which has been tied to other scandals: running “ghost” candidates, bribing public officials to resign, and bankrolling news sites critical of its clients.
The investigation indicates Hentschel posed as a journalist while essentially being a paid agent of two powerful clients: the sugar conglomerate Florida Crystals and the utility Florida Power & Light.
In one instance, Hentschel produced a news-style video under the name of a sham non-profit, dragging a Florida candidate over a fabricated story about endangered tortoises, according to the investigation. Internal ledgers reportedly show the two companies mentioned above paid for this.
And in 2020, she arrived at the home of Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), an opponent of Florida Crystals. He wasn’t home, but Hentschel told his wife she was there for ABC. The network denied that at the time, suggesting it may have learned about her side-work as early as two years ago.
Mast said he thinks it was an effort to intimidate him on behalf of Florida Crystals, which the company denies.
“Somebody came to threaten my family,” Mast said. “That’s very serious to me. It’s a very serious line that was crossed.”
If Hentschel’s name isn’t familiar, her story may be. She changed her name after taking a career hit in 2011, when “To Catch a Predator” host Chris Hansen was caught cheating on his wife with her.
ABC News confirmed that Hentschel had worked for the network as a “freelance daily hire,” but cut ties with her after the investigation was published.
Florida Power & Light declined to comment on the investigation, while a Florida Crystals lawyer said the company “was not involved … in any negative attacks in any form.”
Hentschel and the Matrix CEO that hired her did not comment. A Matrix founder called that CEO a “rogue” employee and said he knew nothing of Hentschel’s work.