The Republican Governors Association — chaired by Wisconsin’s own Gov. Scott Walker — got into trouble last week with that shrinking sector of American media consumers who still care about sourcing, transparency and other long-standing standards for gathering and reporting the news.
The Associated Press reported that the RGA had launched an online “news” publication, The Free Telegraph, without initially revealing it was controlled by the RGA.
Just as interesting is that a political party whose members continually complain about alleged liberal bias in the mainstream media decided to spread its message with a website designed to look like the mainstream media.
State and national Republican officials weren’t interested in telling me why, specifically, they decided to spend their money on the Telegraph.
Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman, who is usually more than willing to defend Walker, thanked me for my inquiries and referred me to the RGA. RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said the Telegraph is simply “another outlet that helps share the many positive policy results from Republican governors across the country.”
The locals, though, were more talkative.
“The issue that many Republicans have with mainstream media isn’t with how their websites look,” said Scott Grabins, chairman of the Republican Party of Dane County. “I don’t see any difference in the information and opinion that this website shares versus other organizations, whether it’s One Wisconsin Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or even the Cap Times.”
“It is important that people are able to recognize who the organization presenting the information is and can factor that into whatever weight they choose to give to it,” he said, but called it a “minor quibble” that the RGA’s site isn’t as upfront about its backers as it could be.
Madison-based conservative blogger David Blaska said he was disappointed the RGA didn’t reveal itself at first, but added: “It is dishonest in the same way that various past Democratic operatives get hired as news reporters.”
While it’s bad the The Free Telegraph waited until the AP started asking questions before identifying itself as a shill for the GOP, neglecting to tack on the obligatory “paid for” line also seems tame compared with some of today’s political discourse.
This is an age when a foreign government buys Facebook ads to sway an American election, real news outlets have to knock down fake news from both the left and the right, the president co-opts the “fake news” moniker for use in describing the real news and a White House official refers to “alternative facts” as if they were real things.
I’d like to think that the mainstream media’s reputation is still respected enough that the RGA’s Telegraph was just trying to trade on our good name. Although with polls this year showing a majority of respondents, especially Republican respondents, lack confidence in the MSM, that seems unlikely.
More likely is that fake news has proven valuable in winning real elections, and it was only a matter of time before politicians started reporting it themselves.