Right-wing operatives allied with President Donald Trump are attempting to raise at least $2 million to fund a campaign to discredit journalists and editors at major U.S. media outlets like the Washington Post, Buzzfeed, New York Times, and HuffPost.
That's according to a three-page fundraising pitch for the effort reviewed by Axios, which reported Tuesday that the group of Trump allies "claims it will slip damaging information about reporters and editors to 'friendly media outlets,' such as Breitbart, and traditional media, if possible."
One person involved in raising funds for the campaign, according to Axios, is Republican operative Arthur Schwartz, an informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr. and aggressive defender of the White House.
Critics were quick to raise alarm about the project. Justin Hendrix, executive director of tech organization NYC Media Lab, called the effort "a naked attack on the free press."
Axios reported that the fundraising effort is a sign that "Trump's war on the media is expanding."
"The prospectus for the new project," according to Axios, "says it's 'targeting the people producing the news.'"
Axios's story comes just over a week after the New York Times reported that network of Trump allies is planning an operation to scour the social media accounts of journalists—as well as members of their families—in an attempt to find and publicize "potentially embarrassing" posts.
According to the Times:
The group has already released information about journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times — three outlets that have aggressively investigated Mr. Trump — in response to reporting or commentary that the White House’s allies consider unfair to Mr. Trump and his team or harmful to his re-election prospects.
Operatives have closely examined more than a decade’s worth of public posts and statements by journalists, the people familiar with the operation said. Only a fraction of what the network claims to have uncovered has been made public, the people said, with more to be disclosed as the 2020 election heats up. The research is said to extend to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president.
In response to the Times report, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said "intimidating reporters to influence coverage is a tactic of dictators and has no place here."
"A free press — where journalists can pursue any story, regardless of politicians' or admins' agendas — is how we know the most powerful among us are held accountable," said Merkley. "We need a free press."