The Republican Governors Association now has a “news” site. Actually, it has had one for a couple of months, but the Free Telegraph, as the site is called, masked the political connection until the Associated Press discovered and inquired about the lack of independence and disclosure.
“It's propaganda for sure,” veteran GOP strategist Rick Tyler told the AP, “even if they have objective standards and all the reporting is 100 percent accurate.”
The Free Telegraph stands out for its obfuscation, but the RGA is hardly alone in launching a news service aimed at a narrow audience.
Last month, President Trump debuted “Real News,” short “newscasts” posted on his Facebook page. Anchored on rotation by the president's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, former campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and pro-Trump commentator Kayleigh McEnany, the videos wrap viewers in a cozy cocoon where everything is awesome and criticism is just “fake news.”
Earlier this month, former Hillary Clinton adviser (circa 2008) Peter Daou debuted Verrit, billed as “media for the 65.8 million.” That figure is an accurate tally of the number of people who voted for Clinton in 2016 but not really an accurate representation of Verrit's potential readership, because, as The Washington Post's Molly Roberts has noted, “many of those who cast their ballots for Clinton in the end were and still are some of her most unsparing critics.”
Verrit is media for Clinton's most loyal supporters, a safe space with padded walls made of quote cards and factoids that reinforce their existing views.
There is a fine line between ventures like Verrit and Real News — but there is a line. On one side is “news” that a politician produces about himself; on the other is “news” that is highly partisan but technically independent.
Clinton loves Verrit and contends that liberals need more sites like it. That's what she said last week on “Pod Save America,” a podcast launched in January by Crooked Media (get it?), another start-up that targets her fans.
“The other side has dedicated propaganda channels,” she said. “That's what I call Fox News. It has outlets like Breitbart and crazy Infowars and, you know, things like that. I don't understand why people who share our views aren't more willing to invest in media that can be competitive.”
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 3, 2017
Infowars, by the way, created a spinoff site last month called Newswars — because, apparently, within the subset of the electorate that eats up Alex Jones's conspiracy theories, there is a sub-subset that demands its own fact-checking service. (Newswars appears to be testing possible taglines at the moment. One contender is “lies die in the light,” which sounds vaguely familiar.)
Anyway, Clinton is right to suggest that established, left-leaning news outlets have been reluctant to position themselves as liberal counters to the likes of Breitbart and Infowars. They seem determined to achieve broader appeal. (To be clear, most credible right-leaning outlets, from the Federalist to the National Review, shun the militant style of Breitbart and Infowars, too.)
HuffPost editor in chief Lydia Polgreen told me in May that her site wants to reach, rather than alienate, Trump voters.
“I think there's probably a hardcore group of people who support him no matter what, who have beliefs that would make them never want to be readers of HuffPost,” Polgreen said. “But I think there's actually a much broader group of readers who voted for Trump because they felt frustrated by business as usual.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast responded to Trump's election by hiring conservative writers.
“We'll need to offer a roster of reporters and columnists with credibility on both sides of the aisle instead of predictable partisanship,” the site's editor in chief, John Avlon, wrote in January.
Sites like HuffPost and the Daily Beast are unwilling to be “competitive” in the way that Clinton wants, so others are popping up to do the job. And of course, those with an agenda to push on the right — from Alex Jones to the Republican Governors Association — are reciprocating.