Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star. Pence is planning in late February to launch "Just IN," a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a far-right former congressman who's rumored to be eyeing the 2016 presidential race, is hardly the only conservative Republican policymaker who's sometimes at odds with the press.
Pence appears to be, however, the only conservative Republican policymaker who hopes to circumvent -- and compete with -- independent news organizations with his own state-run media entity.
According to the materials obtained by The Indianapolis Star, state agencies' communications directors were informed last week, "At times, Just IN will break news -- publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such 'exclusive' coverage remain under discussion."
It's hard to say exactly what this will look like in practice -- I suppose we'll see soon enough -- but state officials will apparently publish "news stories" they've written about their own administration's work, effectively erasing the line between press releases and actual reporting.
It'll be especially interesting to hear about the news-gathering process for "Just IN." Will press secretaries chase down quotes from their bosses? When agency chiefs host press conferences, will state officials sit among actual reporters? Will those officials scoop real news organizations before the press conferences even begin?
The shape and scope of the project, which has not yet launched in earnest, doesn't have to be quite as ridiculous as it sounds. If "Just IN" intends to be little more than an online repository for state press releases, it wouldn't be controversial at all.
But the Star's report paints a picture of something more: a state-run media entity that, like a governmental version of the Associated Press, will "make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media."
We're not talking about a PBS affiliate, which receives public funds but operates as an independent media entity. On the contrary, what's unfolding in Indiana sounds an awful lot like taxpayer-funded propaganda from the Pence administration.
The governor argued a decade ago that "as a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press." If Pence still believes this, his "Just IN" project may need a second look.
I'd just add that this isn't the first time conservative Republicans have experimented with media like this. As we discussed last year, during the Bush/Cheney era, the Bush administration had a bad habit of paying pundits to endorse the Republican agenda, creating fake-news segments to be distributed to local television stations (to be aired without public disclosure), and hiring retired military officers to appear in the media to say they agree with the Bush administration’s policies.
It's not a model worthy of emulation.
Update: It looks like a clarification is on the way from the governor's office: "Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday he will be 'clarifying' what his 'Just IN' news site will be doing soon and called reports on the plan an 'understandable misunderstanding.'"