ABC distances itself from reporter who allegedly wrote fake political hit pieces for consulting group

Now-fired ABC “Good Morning America” freelance producer Kristen Hentschel has been outed for making thousands of dollars after she reportedly created fake hit pieces against local politicians in Florida at the behest of a shady political consulting firm called Matrix LLC.

Hentschel allegedly made at least $14,350 for sandbagging environmentally friendly politicians with scripted questions, NPR reported Wednesday.

Floodlight, an “environmental news collaborative,” worked with NPR on the damning report.

Hentschel evidently used her ABC credentials while filming a hit piece on gopher tortoises. ABC says it never assigned the story to her.

“Kristen Hentschel was a freelance daily hire who never worked for ABC News on the political stories referenced in the NPR article,” the network asserted in a statement.

She reportedly started propaganda work and political espionage for Matrix back in 2016. ABC News hired her just a few weeks later.

According to her LinkedIn page, Hentschel was a field reporter on OJ Simpson’s robbery trial in 2009, former President Obama’s 2008 inauguration, and “numerous tropical storms and hurricanes.”

But what she’ll be remembered for are her hit pieces.

“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,” NPR wrote.

“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,” the outlet continued.

“‘Residents say they aren’t buying it,’ Hentschel declared in the news-style video she later posted online. A city investigation found no dead tortoises. In fact, it found no evidence at all that any of the reptiles had ever been present,” NPR noted.

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

Then-candidate for Florida House of Representatives Toby Overdorf went on to win his race despite the hit piece.

The propaganda piece was posted to the website of the Alabama-based Center for Sustainability and Conservation, which listed Hentschel as its media contact. Matrix reportedly paid the center at least $55,000 for other business conducted with them according to the company’s ledgers.

(Video Credit: Daily Mail)

Hentschel was allegedly paid at least $7,000 for the piece. Matrix went on to bill sugar conglomerate Florida Crystals and Florida Power & Light for her work.

A month later in August of 2018, she evidently did it again. This time she called then-South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard and presented herself as an ABC reporter. She began quizzing him on a since-settled lawsuit against his family. Stoddard is a biologist who pushed for solar panels. He was sued after a teenager was hospitalized following a party at Stoddard’s house.

Hentschel was paid $2,000 two weeks later by Matrix. The firm also hired a private detective to investigate Stoddard’s personal life and Matrix-linked nonprofits spent roughly six figures trying to get him booted from office according to the Orlando Sentinel.

She questioned aides of Florida Rep. Brian Mast in 2020 on jokes about rape and sex with teenagers he made to a friend on Facebook a decade ago. Mast is a conservative who is pushing for strengthening water quality. The aides wouldn’t let her anywhere near the representative.

Weeks after that confrontation, Hentschel somehow gained access to Mast’s home even though he lives in a gated community. She told his wife that she was reporting on behalf of ABC, according to NPR. Mast filed a trespassing report with the police and complained to ABC about Hentschel’s actions. He was informed by ABC Political Director Rick Klein that she was not there for the network.

Matrix has been accused of trying to influence ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates, and other shady dealings.

In a move to do damage control for Matrix, Founder Joe Perkins told NPR that he didn’t know about Hentschel’s work for the company. He then blamed it on former CEO Jeff Pitts.

Pitts reportedly hired Hentschel and not long after that had an affair with her, according to the report by NPR. Hentschel was infamously outed by the National Enquirer as a mistress of former “To Catch a Predator” host Chris Hansen in 2011.

The former CEO left Matrix in 2020 under a cloud of “unethical business practices” which included surveilling clients.

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