The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources. 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. The NRCC's single-page sites are designed to appear to be a local news portal, with logos like "North County Update" or "Central Valley Update." The articles begin in the impartial voice of a political fact-checking site, hoping to lure in readers. "We'll take a look at her record and let you decide," starts one. Then they gradually morph into more biting language.
Let's say you're a voter in central California and you go online to look for information about a competitive congressional race. You stumble upon a website with a generic sounding name, "Central Valley Update," and find some news coverage that casts the Democrat in a very negative light. It looks like a news story; it's presented as a news story; and you might well be tempted to perceive it as a news story.
Except, it isn't. Down at the very bottom of the page, in a small font, readers can learn that the "Central Valley Update," is actually "paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee."
Yes, as Shane Goldmacher reported yesterday, the Republicans' House campaign arm "is now in the faux-news game."
It seems pretty obvious the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to deceive the public, though an NRCC official characterized the fake-news initiative as simply "a new and effective way to disseminate information."
This is the second time this year the NRCC's efforts to push the limits of online propriety have caused a stir. In February, the Republican campaign committee created another series of misleading websites -- the sites led visitors to believe they were financially supporting Dem candidates, when in fact the money was ending up in the NRCC's coffers.
But these fake-news websites are arguably more bizarre.
For one thing, congressional Republicans already have a legion of allies in conservative media eager to publish and/or broadcast the party's messages. Why would the National Republican Congressional Committee feel the need to recreate the wheel?
For another, haven't Republicans learned their lesson yet about fake news? 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.
Nearly a decade later, Republicans are again turning to fake news to get their message out? I realize the NRCC is looking for a "new and effective way to disseminate information," but they'll have to do better than this.
Note: The photo on this post has been changed.