It’s about 10 weeks until the midterm election, and you know what that means.
Yes, it’s time for the standard onslaught of GOP fake websites.
For a party that prides itself as being the party of personal responsibility, the Republican party really loves to make it as hard as possible for a voter to find straight facts. In February, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) unveiled a series of websites designed to look like they were actually supporting Democratic candidates; instead they actually funneled money to their own coffer. Before that, the GOP offered a number of fake Obamacare websites to trick people into thinking they were accessing the just to be released health insurance plans.
Now, as we edge closer to what many believe could be a midterm election that may well flip control of the Senate and put two of the three branches of government into Republican hands, another crop of fake sites are popping up. This time, however, they are posing as “news.”
According to Talking Points Memo, the NRCC has created 20 fake news sites all meant to dupe voters into thinking they are reading real news, not campaign propaganda. The sites have innocuous names and come up in Google searches, but at the very bottom have a small disclaimer saying that they are paid for by the GOP.
“The stories appear on election2014update.com, and have site names like ‘Central Valley Update,’” reports Caitlin MacNeil. ”The fake new sites begin stories by explaining that they will analyze the candidate’s position but take a critical tone. At the bottom of each story, the NRCC discloses that the site is paid for by the committee. Communications director Andrea Bozek told National Journal that it was a ‘new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.’”
Oddly enough, election2014update.com itself pulls up just a blank page, making it impossible to just land on and click around to see which candidates they are pushing. Inner pages offer “top stories” that do link offsite, but, in the case of this one that goes to a Washington Examiner article, it’s hard to decide if that’s anymore credible. The most popular articles are of course pieces critical of the candidate.
A quick Google search of the site itself shows that it has “news” about House candidates in Georgia, Illinois, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Iowa and Minnesota. Some, like Colorado, have headlines that come dangerously close to potentially fooling readers that they are reading something more than an NRCC hit piece. Others, not so much, such as the article declaring one Minnesota candidate fundraising with a “convicted child molester.”
Candidates being targeted are lashing out over the deception. “One of our country’s greatest strengths is freedom of the press,” said Jason Bresler, campaign adviser for Illinois Democratic Rep. Bill Enyart. “For the Republicans to mock that — it’s offensive. It’s a slap in the face to the military men and women who protect these freedoms each day.”
Republicans benefiting from the tactic are basically taking a hands off, “not my problem” approach to the controversy, benefiting while claiming distance. John Weber, a Republican spokesman, responded: ”It’s not us. We’re in no way involved with it. They just do it and we have no idea it’s coming.”
Are Republican operatives being deceitful, or just savvy campaigners? The NRCC claims it’s the latter. “Campaigning in the 21st century means reaching voters online,” NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato told The Hill. “This innovative digital effort is focused on getting the truth out about Democrat candidates, so it’s perfectly understandable why Democrats would be both scared of it and jealous they didn’t think of it first.”
Perhaps. But as the sites are tiptoing along that very fine line between legal and illegality, that appears to be a place Democrats just have no desire to go. Republicans, meanwhile, appear to be growing very comfortable there.
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