Deception & Misdirection

Democratic Donors’ Disinformation Ops—UPDATED


UPDATE: One benefit of “billionaire privilege” is that you get to hire people to push back when someone criticizes you. That happened with one of the donors critiqued in this article, and it produced quite the amusing push-pull.

Jump to: Article | Update | Correspondence

 

ORIGINAL POST ON JUNE 14, 2021

The Left really misses the good old days, when all major news outlets in print, radio, and TV could be counted on to spout the approved narratives. Nowadays, many Americans get their news from upstarts like the Daily Caller and Breitbart websites, Fox News on TV, and radio show hosts like Mark Levin.

Even worse, from the Left’s perspective, social media lets Americans talk to each other. You can see why all this uncontrolled passing of information must be stopped if the Left’s info hegemony is to be restored.

Suppressing Unapproved Narratives

The first step is to call any information not under the Left’s control “misinformation” or “disinformation” and then demand that this bad info be suppressed by any business that touches it. The Left’s leaders are blunt about this. Vanita Gupta, when she was running the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, bragged to Time about browbeating tech titans. Here’s how she’s quoted in an amazing article about the Left’s “conspiracy” in the 2020 election:

In November 2019, [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home, where they warned him about the danger of the election-related falsehoods that were already spreading unchecked. “It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement,” says Vanita Gupta, . . . who attended the dinner and also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and others.

Gupta was rewarded for this work by the Biden administration, which has named her U.S. Associate Attorney General. That’s the kind of partisan success that control of information flows permits.

Donor-funded Disinformation

The Left has another, more subtle way to deal with unregulated information than outright censorship. It consists of mega-donors simultaneously denouncing disinformation in public and then privately funding the most sophisticated digital firehoses of, ahem, disinformation.

Two examples recently appeared with some prominence. First, the New York Times reported how left-wing billionaire Hansjörg Wyss wanted to buy the Chicago Tribune, because the newspaper could get “truth” to Americans, yet secretly he was financing the Hub Project, “a sophisticated political operation to advance progressive policy initiatives and the Democrats who support them,” as the Times put it. Wyss also poured big money into States Newsroom, the Times noted, adding that this little disinformation venture had been “bought by people with a political agenda,” according to NewsGuard, a media watchdog.

Another left-wing donor was exposed for this hypocrisy in a Free Beacon report on Reid Hoffman, billionaire founder of LinkedIn. The Beacon’s Chuck Ross observed that, on the one hand, the left-wing agitation group Indivisible recently announced the launch of a Truth Brigade with the righteous mission of combating the online disinformation that “is threatening our democracy, and even our lives.” On the other hand, Indivisible is backed by Hoffman via his Investing in US fund, which has also sent cash into one of the most notorious disinfo ops in recent years: the creation of fake social media accounts that pretended to be Republicans but actually were leftists aiming to hurt a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama.

The New York Times reported, “As Russia’s online election machinations came to light last year, a group of Democratic tech experts decided to try out similarly deceptive tactics in the fiercely contested Alabama Senate race.”

But Hoffman’s disinfo hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. He has also backed another fake news operation with the hilarious name News for Democracy. As the Associated Press reported, “Facebook is investigating News for Democracy, an organization backed by liberal megadonor Reid Hoffman, over misleading news pages the group operated prior to the 2018 midterm elections.”

Murdoch Money

A third left-wing mega-donor who’s also guilty of disinformation hypocrisy has received far less press notice, which is ironic, given her connection to a famous press institution: Kathryn Murdoch is the wife of James Murdoch, who long worked in his father Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. James left in a huff last July, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets” and “certain other strategic decisions.”

The “disagreements” were understood to be criticism of Fox News’s conservative leanings, and the most important “other strategic decision” was understood to be the elevation of his brother Lachlan over him in the company hierarchy.

Both James and wife Kathryn have complained over the years about Fox’s failure to toe the left-wing line on climate claims, and in October and January, the Murdochs repeatedly attacked the network’s supposed role in spreading “disinformation.”

But guess what? Kathryn Murdoch is a top donor to one of the most notorious disinformation operations in the country.

In July and August of last year, just as her husband was leaving his father’s media company and the elections were heating up, Kathryn donated half a million dollars to PACRONYM, which is part of an elaborate left-wing influence operation. PACRONYM is a political action committee, but it’s closely tied to the 501(c)(4) social advocacy group ACRONYM, which in turn funds and controls Courier Newsroom, one of America’s most sophisticated disinfo machines working to elect Democrats.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s how the left-leaning OpenSecrets describes it: “ACRONYM is behind Courier Newsroom, a network of websites emulating progressive local news outlets. Courier has faced scrutiny for exploiting the collapse of local journalism to spread ‘hyperlocal partisan propaganda.’”

OpenSecrets explains how the scam works: “Websites affiliated with Courier Newsroom that appear to be free-standing local news outlets are actually part of a coordinated effort with deep ties to Democractic political operatives.”

For example, Courier’s Wisconsin site UpNorthNews can lightly rewrite a Democratic candidate’s press release, and then the real money kicks in as the disinfo machine advertises the fake news story across multiple social media sites, in hopes of swaying Badger State voters who assume they’re reading news, not a political ad. Tobias Hoonhout reported for National Review on a number of such efforts and found that “at least 74 percent of the group’s spending has been allocated to boosting vulnerable Democrats competing in 14 competitive House races.”

OpenSecrets made a chart showing how the scheme works, and don’t miss the big dollar figures in it:

 

Credit: OpenSecrets.

 

While Kathryn’s donations to PACRONYM had to be publicly disclosed, any donations she or her husband made to ACRONYM do not. It’d be nice if a real news outlet asked the Murdochs and ACRONYM about that.

Unsurprisingly, Reid Hoffman’s Investing in US is also a significant donor to ACRONYM, and the group has received major cash from New Venture Fund, which is part of the sprawling “dark money” empire run by Arabella Advisors (see the latest InfluenceWatch report on that $700+ million operation).

Of course, being a left-wing mega-donor means never having to say you’re sorry, and so Kathryn Murdoch’s hypocrisy has been richly rewarded by the prestigious Aspen Institute, which has named her to its Commission on Information Disorder. The commission claims to be “combating America’s urgent mis- and disinformation challenge,” but actually is yet another high-powered disinfo op.

Just consider the commission’s leaders. First, there’s Katie Couric (really!), infamous as one of the most shameless “journalists” in America. As one article in The Week noted in a report on Couric’s dishonest editing of a documentary on gun rights, “It’s almost as if the mainstream media is trying to confirm the conservative caricature of the elite liberal media as a dishonest, self-dealing clique out to impose their own worldview and protect their own interests.” (The editing was so dishonest, even Couric felt obliged to apologize.)

The second commission leader is Chris Kreb, the controversial leader of federal cybersecurity during the last election. The last commission leader is Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change whom the Aspen Institute pompously labels a “racial equity leader.”

If you don’t know the partisan hacks at Color of Change, check out its entry on InfluenceWatch, which describes the group as “an online organizing organization created by the Obama administration’s former ‘green jobs czar’ Van Jones and the former director of grassroots mobilization for MoveOn.org.” More helpfully for the Aspen Institute, Color of Change has also “run campaigns that seek to attack conservative individuals, silence conservative media pundits, and defund conservative organizations.”

Of course the group has attacked Fox News for racism, yet some years back, when Fox was partnering with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to co-host presidential debates, Color of Change fought to prevent that bipartisan, multi-racial collaboration by Fox.

Disinformation Hypocrisy

Here’s a final irony: When ACRONYM’s founder Tara McGowan was noodling on the possibility of creating this sort of disinfo “news” operation, she toyed with the name ACRONYM News Corp. “News Corp,” of course, is the name of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. But unfortunately for McGowan, the internal memo in which she used the name became public, thanks to left-wingers at VICE.

They reported that McGowan, a Democratic operative, had a simple reason for wanting to build a web of fake news sites. As she puts it in her memo,

ACRONYM has run dozens of seven-figure digital ad programs to reach voters where they are, incorporating experiments to test and identify the most effective strategies to persuade and mobilize voters online. One of the biggest lessons we learned through these programs was how much more effective boosting and targeting owned media and news content online was over pre-produced “ads.”

Her whole memo is fascinating, but I recommend you read it not at VICE, but in the complaint to the Federal Election Commission made by Americans for Public Trust, which included every word of the memo as part of its argument that Courier is actually a political action committee, not a news organization.

Left-leaning Politico has no trouble understanding why Courier—and its mega-donors like Kathryn Murdoch—mask their disinfo ops as “news”:  “Because Courier is organized as a media outlet, it does not have to disclose its donors or the total money it spends promoting Democratic politicians.”

That means that on top of their hypocrisy about “disinformation,” these left-wing donors are also hypocrites about campaign finance “reform.”

Somehow it’s no surprise that Kathryn Murdoch spent four years working for the Clinton Foundation. What could provide better training for saying one thing, then doing the opposite?

 

Jump to: Article | Update | Correspondence

The Update

After the article appeared, I was emailed by Juleanna Glover of the public affairs firm Ridgley Walsh, who said she was working with James and Kathryn Murdoch and would I call about “a factual error in your piece.”

Because Capital Research Center cares passionately about accuracy and full documentation, I promptly called Ms. Glover. She was rushing through an airport so the conversation was brief, and in the coming days she never again accepted a call from me despite multiple efforts on my part. But we did correspond by email. While she could identify no factual errors, there is now more information for the record, which I happily provide here.

I surmise that Kathryn Murdoch had complained to Ms. Glover about my article’s statement that Ms. Murdoch, by funding PACRONYM, was aiding the massive disinformation campaign waged by an empire of groups run by Democratic operative Tara McGowan. I pointed to this as hypocrisy, given that Ms. Murdoch was simultaneously denouncing Fox News for supposed disinformation and also accepting the Aspen Institute’s invitation to join its Commission on Information Disorder.

Initially, Ms. Glover had a misunderstanding and thought I’d written that the Murdochs had donated to ACRONYM, a group allied with PACRONYM that runs the Courier Newsroom network, which has been denounced across the spectrum for its political disinformation. In the course of our correspondence it became clear that I had stated, with perfect accuracy and full documentation, that Ms. Murdoch had donated $500,000 to PACRONYM.

I had wondered in my article whether any news outlet would ask the Murdochs whether they had also donated to ACRONYM, which as a 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, is able to hide all its donors. Ms. Glover kindly added to the public record by writing me that Ms. Murdoch has not donated to ACRONYM (it is less clear whether her husband has).

Then Ms. Glover accused me of making a “bad faith argument,” claiming I was wrong to “conflate” giving to PACRONYM with giving to ACRONYM. Why? Because “the only connection is they have the same founder” and the fact that PACRONYM “appropriately reimburses” ACRONYM for office space.

Unfortunately for Ms. Glover, that’s just not true. I documented quite a bit more “connections” for her:

  1. Money flows in both directions. PACRONYM not only pays ACRONYM for office space; ACRONYM also gives PACRONYM hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
  2. The groups share not only the same offices and the same founder, Tara McGowan, but also the same financial manager, Vernon Gair, who is treasurer of PACRONYM and senior finance director of ACRONYM.
  3. The groups were, until recently, all run by Ms. McGowan, who also founded and has run Courier Newsroom.
  4. The groups share the same digital media buyer, Lockwood Strategy Lab, which (surprise!) was founded by McGowan.
  5. The groups’ web of public legal ties were documented in the InfluenceWatch entries for these groups, linked in my original article, and in ACRONYM’s most recent IRS filing, linked in my correspondence with Ms. Glover. As p. 35 shows, ACRONYM is the “Direct controlling entity” of PACRONYM.
  6. The website of PACRONYM opens its “About” page with these words: “PACRONYM is a political action committee affiliated with ACRONYM.”
  7. The chart from left-leaning OpenSecrets, reproduced in my original article, shows PACRONYM and ACRONYM joined at the hip in the multimillion-dollar web of disinformation McGowan runs.

As I wrote to Ms. Glover, “trying to claim PACRONYM is significantly separate from ACRONYM is like trying to say Fox News Channel has nothing to do with News Corp. In both cases, 2 legally distinct organizations exist, but they’re inextricably linked as child and parent.”

In our emails, I even tried repeatedly to help Ms. Glover and Ms. Murdoch out. I suggested perhaps Ms. Murdoch hadn’t known about this relationship or about the McGowan empire’s dirty disinfo deeds? Perhaps she’d like to distance herself from the disinformation and criticize ACRONYM and Courier Newsroom?  Maybe she’d like to announce she’s not going to give in future to ACRONYM’s wholly controlled PACRONYM?

Yet somehow, Ms. Murdoch—serial denouncer of the alleged disinformation coming from the media empire to which she and her husband owe their fortune, and proud member of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder—apparently has no desire to do any of those things.

After all our back and forth, the only thing her rep Ms. Glover cared to do was to repeat: “Kathryn gave to Pacronym which is legally distinct from Acronym.” That’s a truth so partial, it counts as disinformation itself.

I understand Ms. Murdoch’s desire to push back on our story, because now it’s helping to feed additional reports on her hypocrisy by other outlets, including Newsweek and the Federalist.

I especially feel sorry for her poor flack, because I bet she made the mistake of calling some part of McGowan’s PACRONYM/ACRONYM/Courier empire and relying on what those disinfo frauds told her. (Pro tip: Next time consult Capital Research Center’s InfluenceWatch.org instead.)

 

Editor’s note: The complete correspondence between Ms. Glover and Scott Walter, with email addresses and telephone numbers redacted, is available in a PDF here and reproduced below in the Appendix.

 

Jump to: Article | Update | Correspondence

Appendix: Correspondence with Juleanna Glover

Jump to: Article | Update | Correspondence

Scott Walter

Walter is president of the Capital Research Center. He served in the George W. Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president for…
+ More by Scott Walter