Virginia Statehouse News is astroturf

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    There’s a new Republican astroturfing site on the scene in Virginia’s blogosphere: “Virginia Statehouse News.”  It’s a very slick site put together by someone who knows what they were doing.  Its staff is not made up of your typical self-recruited bloggers, a loose grouping of online friends with similar political views who want to write about them.

    No, the Virginia Statehouse News is staffed with professional, young conservative writers–think-tankers–who are probably paid for their writing duties at the website. The site looks like it has a lot of ties with the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, but does not identify itself as such.  Here are some of their writers:

    Elizabeth Hillgrove is a Staff writer/researcher at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a member of  Young America’s Foundation, and a member of the Young Conservatives Coalition.  She received training from the National Journalism Center.  She also received a Koch Summer Fellowship which she spent with the Sam Adams Alliance.

    Paige Winfield Cunningham is an “investigative reporter and managing editor” for Old Dominion Watchdog, a conservative website, sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.  Her work has appeared at the Washington Examiner, the Drudge Report and National Review Online.  Ms. Cunningham is a graduate of Wheaton College, a top-ranked, academically rigorous Christian liberal arts college located west of Chicago in Wheaton, Illinois.

    Stephen Groves is a graduate of conservative, evangelical Taylor University in Upland, Indiana and has served an internship with Youth With a Mission.

    In short, everyone who writes for Virginia Statehouse News is a young conservative.  If I had to venture a guess, I would have to say that this looks like a project of  the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, but nowhere on the site is an affiliation with that organization indicated.

    Virginia Statehouse News appears to be one of an emerging chain of “Statehouse News” websites being constructed by someone (Franklin?) who isn’t willing to identify themselves.  The Virginia site appears to be very new, and has little content.  At least one of the current handful of articles posted at the site is a rewrite of a Tea Party talking points piece about how “diverse” the Tea Party is:

    At most Tea Party rallies, outsiders may be surprised to discover they’re looking at a diverse sea of activists who call themselves Democrats, Independents and conservative Republicans.

    Despite accusations that they are astroturf protesters with a Republican agenda, members and outsiders agree that Tea Party members are all over the spectrum but unite in one common goal: limit the economic power the government has bestowed upon itself.

    An April 1 study of three national surveys of 3000 total registered voters by political survey company The Winston Group found that more than four in ten Tea Party members said they were either Independents or Democrats. The study’s margin of error is unavailable.

    That’s a big talking point among Tea Party Republicans these days, that supposedly 40% of the Tea Party is either Independent or Democrats.  By lumping Democrats together with the amorphously described Independents, a false impression is deliberately created.  If you drill down on those numbers–and we can because CBS News did–you find a different picture:

    In a collection of three national surveys conducted by the Republican-leaning Winston Group, 57 percent of Tea Party members called themselves Republicans while 28 percent said they were Independents, and 13 percent said they were Democrats. Two-thirds of the group identified as conservative, but 26 percent said they are moderate and 8 percent called themselves liberal.

    Seventeen percent of people surveyed said they were “part of the Tea Party movement.”

    There are a couple of layers of bullshit being served up by this Tea Party talking point.  The first layer is that this study was carried out by the conservative Republican leaning Winston Group, so you can mark down the reliability of this study accordingly.  The next layer of bullshit we are expected to digest is that no margin of error is given.  So the margin of error on this study could be . . . anything.  So factor in yet another layer of meaninglessness.  

    But let’s pretend for a moment that these numbers are anything other than fabricated numbers that have been played with by various right wing organizations with vested interests in distorting the results–what do the numbers seem to tell us about the make up of the Tea Party? According to this badly flawed study, the Tea Party would appear to be made of:

    57% who identify as members of the Republican Party

    28% who identify as Independents

    13% who identify as Democrats

    2% who are “other” or rounding errors

    When you consider that many people who self-identify as Independent these days are disgruntled conservatives who refuse to identify as “Republican” because they are angry with George W. Bush or because they believe the Republican Party is not conservative enough, a more accurate picture of the Tea Party appears: an overwhelmingly conservative organization with strong ties to the Republican Party.

    Self-identifying “Democrats” who participate in the Tea Party probably don’t understand what the Democratic Party stands for, are conservative Democrats, or are DINOs who have forgotten to change their party affiliation to match their beliefs.

    But I digress.

    The long and short of it is that the Virginia Statehouse News website is pretty transparently a partisan website with a conservative agenda, and it should be read that way–if it is read at all.  People–journalists and bloggers–who cite the Virginia Statehouse News as if it were really a non-partisan news organization are really being fooled into repeating Republican and Tea Party agitprop material.  Democrats need to treat this site as what it is: an opposition site that is seeking to provoke mistakes and misquotes it can exploit to benefit the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

    • I see on their “About” page that they are “committed to… objective, non-partisan news reports.”  Total BS.

      It does state that they are “product of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.”  I wonder if that part was just inserted?

    • Dan Sullivan

      Same URL root covers at least Virginia, Illinois, and Oregon. In Oregon the title is changed to “The Oregon Politico” and is the project of Cascade Policy Institute. Some of the same writers appear across the sites and there is a national consolidator.

      Bet they get paid more than we do.