After Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election, progressive strategist Tara McGowan came up with a solution to winning future elections in battleground states: fake newspapers. McGowan left her job at Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, and created Courier. Courier is a collection of progressive news sites which have been created to appear to be local news sources in various states when in fact they are Democratic media operations:
McGowan is spearheading what may be the most audacious project this election cycle. She’s raising $25 million from a host of wealthy liberals to establish a for-profit media company, Courier Newsroom, that has already started rolling out digital newspapers with local reporters and editors in six key swing states—Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—to fill the news deserts, deliver the facts favorable to Democrats that she thinks voters are missing, and counter right-wing spin.
While the articles she publishes are based on facts, nothing alerts readers that Courier publications aren’t actually traditional hometown newspapers but political instruments designed to get them to vote for Democrats. And although the articles are made to resemble ordinary news, their purpose isn’t primarily to build a readership for the website: It’s for the pieces to travel individually through social media, amplifying their influence with persuadable voters…
Several months ago, without fanfare, McGowan launched the first of her newspapers, the Virginia Dogwood (“Your source for Virginia news”). The next, Arizona’s Copper Courier, followed in early October, and the rest are scheduled to make their debuts sometime around year’s end.
You can check out the VA Dogwood here. The about page is very vague about what the site is:
As the number of local news outlets declines in Virginia and across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, engaging, inspiring and motivating.
We’ll bring you the story behind the story and explore how our readers’ lives are impacted by the news of the day. Our reporting is honest, to-the-point and in the service of our readers.
I guess there’s some truth to that, so long as the readers are Virginia progressives. But there’s no clear explanation that this is part of a multi-state scheme to win elections for Democrats. There is a mention at the bottom of the page that the Dogwood is “Owned by Courier Newsroom.” A link takes you to the Courier site which has it’s own vague “About” page:
We believe that by investing in the work of local journalists across the country we can positively impact civic participation and build a healthier democracy from the ground up. Through original reporting and human-focused storytelling, we highlight the issues and forces that shape our lives while calling attention to the impacts of policy-making and political action at the local level.
Whether we’re following the ripple effect of decisions in Washington on families and communities across the country or underscoring the innovations and ideas emerging at the state, city, and county level, COURIER amplifies the voices and stories of those building a nation that works for all of us—and we hold accountable those who threaten it.
Again, no one is really explaining that the plan is to generate pro-Democratic media which can be used to flood Facebook with items that appear to be from a regular local paper. McGowan seems to expect some criticism of her plan:
McGowan—a former journalist herself, who worked at 60 Minutes and CBS News—says she sees Courier Newsroom as a continuation of that work. Despite her obvious political motivations, she says that her newspapers will supply objective, fact-based reporting no different from what appears in mainstream outlets, and that a firewall between Acronym’s political staff and Courier’s journalists allows the newsroom editorial independence. That claim will almost certainly inflame those on the right and left who already believe that much of what passes for news, especially on social media, is driven by political agendas intended to manipulate unwitting readers.
McGowan forcefully rejects this criticism. “A lot of people I respect will see this media company as an affront to journalistic integrity because it won’t, in their eyes, be balanced,” she says. “What I say to them is, Balance does not exist anymore, unfortunately.”
Anymore? That’s assuming a lot about the existence of balance in the past. The media has long been a reliable hangout for progressives with an agenda. To this day, progressives outnumber conservatives in most newsrooms. And the fact that McGowan is a) a die-hard partisan who worked at Priorities USA and has “Yes we can” inked on her forearm and b) used to work at CBS News and 60 Minutes seems to prove the point. In a sense, all McGowan is doing here is formalizing the defacto reality at many national news outlets. Her sites will present “facts” but only those that are favorable to getting Democrats elected. If her output is hard to distinguish from actual newspapers that might not be proving the point she thinks it is.
The word for paid information designed to sway voters is advertising. But by adding an opaque layer between readers and the real goals of the publishers what Courier is doing seems closer to propaganda. Ask yourself this question: Why can’t Courier simply put something on its about page explaining that the site was created by Democratic operatives with the goal of helping Democrats win elections? Answer: Because being openly partisan wouldn’t fool people who mistake the site for a straight-shooting local newspaper.
There’s nothing wrong with being openly partisan. People can read material at Hot Air or at HuffPost and judge the content for themselves in light of the perspective that shaped it. The readers of Courier’s outlets should be similarly informed so they can make the same judgment about the content they are reading and spreading.
Allahpundit-style exit question: How soon with the media firefighters at CNN and elsewhere jump on this as an example of the decline of journalism? Begin holding your breath…now.