There is usually excitement surrounding a new addition to the Virginia political blogosphere. Such was the case in mid-2017 when I heard the announcement of something called The Republican Standard. However, after it has published a number of pieces in the first few weeks, it quickly became apparent that The Republican Standard was something different from your typical blog. Rather than a blog which mixed factual reporting and opinion pieces, from the beginning it seemed to have a specific agenda, doing whatever it could to promote the candidacy of then Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. Instead of posting articles based on factual evidence, it seemed The Republican Standard would heavily distort the facts or post outright misinformation in order to promote the Gillespie campaign. As someone who enjoyed a friendly relationship with the senior editor of this website, it became increasingly painful to read their articles as they were not based on truth, but rather what they wanted the truth to be. As such, I began to hate seeing new articles posted on The Republican Standard because they consistently reminded me of propaganda.
On September 18th, Constitution Day, I attended a panel presentation at the law school of West Virginia University concerning political journalism. During the question and answer period that followed the talk, I asked the panelists about the tactics of The Republican Standard, mentioning that I saw their editor as a friend, and what I could do to help the situation. The response I got was that it might be best to simply ignore the site as we have seen a rise in fake news since the 2016 elections. As more and more articles from TRS entered my Facebook feed, I thought the only solution was to defriend the editor in the hopes that would put an end to me seeing this steady stream of disinformation. But, given my Facebook friends and groups to which I belonged, The Republican Standard continued to pop up with its outlandish headlines, declaring that the Northam campaign was failing and that Gillespie was all but certain to win the November election.
Sometime later, I found an article from the Chicago Tribune entitled, “GOP Governors Launch ‘News’ Site Critics Call Propaganda”. In it, they specifically mention The Republican Standard.
“The first test is in this fall’s Virginia governor’s race pitting Democratic nominee Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie. Virginians already have seen another site, The Republican Standard, that is run by Virginia Republican operatives with ties to Gillespie, a former state and national party chairman, and to a firm that has been paid by the RGA. The Free Telegraph and its social media accounts frequently link The Republican Standard.”
Doing a bit of fact-checking on VPAP, the claims made in the Chicago Tribune were verifiable; as of early October, The Republican Standard had received $10,000 in outside contributions, $5,000 from something called the Colonial Leadership Trust PAC (tied to the likely future Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox) and $5,000 from the Ed Gillespie campaign. According to VPAP, the sponsorship money came from Gillespie and the PAC about the same time that The Republican Standard went online. However, I was unable to find any statement on their site that their content had been paid for by these outside groups, thus although giving the appearance of honest blogging, in fact being driven by the Gillespie campaign and others. Suddenly, it all made sense why The Republican Standard wrote misleading pieces about the 2017 Virginia Governor race: they were paid to do so which is why, like the Soviet-run newspaper, the Northam campaign declared that the Gillespie campaign and the Virginia Republicans were “creating their own Pravda.”
Shortly before the November elections, one of my Facebook friends declared the Gillespie campaign was most likely going to win and shared a piece from The Republican Standard which said as much. In response, I told him to remember the source; The Republican Standard could hardly be considered objective as they were paid by the Gillespie campaign. A few moments later, the editor and my former friend responded to my post by saying that I needed to show the VPAP filings backing up my claim or to contact a lawyer. In retrospect, I realized later that he was threatening me, but as I had the proof, I posted it. The editor didn’t reply further, but instead immediately blocked me.
I have to say in my nine and a half years writing this blog, I have never seen a campaign or a politician sponsor another blog nor have I seen a campaign spend $2,500 on advertising on one of these sites.
I spoke with the writers at The Bull Elephant about this issue, but at the time they didn’t want to write an article exposing what The Republican Standard was doing as it could very well ruin the Gillespie campaign’s chance of success in the election. Although I believed that a Gillespie victory would be detrimental to the liberty of the people of Virginia, I refrained writing anything in the hopes that a larger and more prestigious site than mine would pick up the story. However, as no one has done so, I felt it my duty to share this information before the matter was completely forgotten.
I firmly believe that there is something dishonest and wrong when campaigns, interest groups, and/or political parties clandestinely sponsor websites in order to improve their public image or to bolster their chances of electoral success. Although I have collected a paltry sum accumulated through ads, which isn’t sufficient for the yearly hosting costs, it has never altered or affected the content of this website. Even though some have tried, no campaign has successfully paid for any favorable coverage on this site. And, whenever a blog includes a piece from a campaign, a disclaimer ought to accompany it, letting the reader know that someone else sponsored the content.
When political groups can pay for stories and opinion pieces under the guise of objective reporting, the blogosphere as a whole suffers for then all of us will be viewed with suspicion, that we are not offering our honest thoughts, but ones paid for by the highest bidder. I’d like to think that our purpose is to inform, entertain, and/or convince our readers of the merits of our reporting and thoughts and spread the truth, rather than serving secretly as a mouthpiece for some well-funded political group much like the Soviet-era Pravda.