GOP's shady "news" websites: Republicans get into the propaganda game

Greg Walden's NRCC set up fake websites to fool people into reading GOP propaganda, just like the Founders intended

Published August 13, 2014 9:02PM (EDT)

NRCC Chair Greg Walden         (Reuters/Jason Reed)
NRCC Chair Greg Walden (Reuters/Jason Reed)

At some point, probably not too long ago, a version of this conversation transpired within the halls of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign committee led by Oregon congressman Greg Walden:

STAFFER 1: Hey, so you know how it’s our job to convince people to vote for Republicans and against Democrats?

STAFFER 2: Yep! That sure is our job.

STAFFER 1: Well, I was thinking that what if, instead of convincing them, we fool them into consuming our talking points by disguising them as news websites.

STAFFER 2: Whoa, what a great idea! Wait … isn’t there a word for political messaging disguised as news?

STAFFER 1: Not that I’m aware. Let’s get cracking.

And thus was born, the NRCC’s fake-news propaganda website that makes every effort to deceive people into thinking they’re reading the news, when they’re actually getting a full dose of Republican messaging. “The NRCC has created about two dozen of these new faux news sites targeting Democrats, both challengers and incumbents, and is promoting them across the country with localized Google search ads,” National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reported yesterday.

The sites themselves are very, very shady. They are tailored to the district each Democrat is running in – Iowa’s 3rd District is covered by the “Des Moines Update,” Colorado’s 6th District is the “Aurora Update,” etc. Most of the “articles” start off with a neutral just-the-facts lede, typically some variation of “Let’s take a look at [Democrat’s] record and let you decide,” before transitioning into more partisan messaging.

Each “article” also has the trappings of your typical local news website: sections listing the “Most Popular” articles and “Most Viewed” videos, all of which are culled from NRCC opposition research. You’re not given any outright indicator that you’re reading official Republican Party talking points until you scroll down to the very bottom of the page, where the “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” disclaimer lurks well beneath the “Return to Top” link, separated by an absurd amount of white space.

They’re all flagrantly deceptive, but some are far worse than others. Here, for example, is the lede of a “Tuscon Update” article targeting Arizona Democrat Ron Barber:

Arizona Democrat Ron Barber continues to face questions about his hypocrisy on pay equality. The Arizona Daily Star, reports today that the controversy over Ron Barber’s office pay gap between men and women has reached a “fever pitch in the Congressional District 2 race.”

Questions are being raised! And who was doing the questioning, as reported by the Arizona Daily Star and excerpted in the “Tuscon Update”? The NRCC, of course:

The National Republican Campaign Committee fired the first shot complaining about bad math shortly after an Op-Ed piece by Rep. Ron Barber in the Star April 15, saying it was “inexcusable” that women were still being paid less than their male counterparts more than a half-century after joining the workforce.

Barber’s piece relied heavily on a statistic used by the White House, comparing the median salaries of all men working full-time for a full year to their female counterparts.

The NRCC used the same math with Barber’s congressional staff, calculating the disparity for the 10 employees working in his office last year full-time for the entire year

The NRCC says that using the White House formula, it found that the Tucson Democrat is not paying his female staffers as much as their male counterparts.

Barber is paying women roughly $8,950 a year less than their male counterparts, said NRCC Regional Political Director Annie Kelly.

So here you have an NRCC-funded “news” website excerpting an Arizona Daily Star article reporting on the NRCC’s attacks on Barber. This is talking-point laundering.

This grossly unethical monstrosity does, however, represent something of a streamlining of the typical process for disguising GOP messaging as news. In the past, the NRCC would have had to rely on the lax ethics standards of certain cable news outlets to see their handiwork transformed into “journalism.” I guess they’ve decided to just cut out the middleman.

By Simon Maloy

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