Tuesday, July 27, 2021
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Scandals vs. Shaggy Dog Stories

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Virginia Republicans have tried to neutralize the corrosive effects of the Star Scientific scandal by making noisy claims that Terry McAuliffe has been engaged in tons of scandals of his own.  Not surprisingly, the media has latched on to this bone like a pack of hungry dogs.

But this only reflects the media's careless failure to define what it calls a "scandal."  Right wingers happily exploit this weakness as they have so successfully since the 1990s, when they spent millions to spread nasty rumors about the Clintons.  As radio legend Garrison Keilor told the National Press Club in 1994, the so-called "Whitewater Scandal" was not a scandal but a "shaggy dog story" whose "point is its pointlessness":  

"What apparently is a long, winding circumstantial joke that the teller keeps complicating by tossing in new, unrelated elements [...] The American people are sitting on the bleachers waiting for the elephant to come out and all we see are the guys selling cotton candy," he told the assembled press: "That's you."

Today in Virginia, Cuccinelli's right wing supporters -- led by the Koch-funded Franklin Center and its affiliates Watchdog.org and Cause of Action, to whom he has outsourced his opposition research -- are spreading a bunch of shaggy dog stories about Terry McAuliffe and declaring them "scandals".  And the media, as in this shameful reiteration of Franklin Center innuendos by the Washington Post, are doing little more than adding their bylines and publishing this dreck.  

Rightward-Facing Dog: Who is Watchdog.org?

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Cross-posted at Daily Kos

If you want to know the source of the conspiracy theories floating around Terry McAuliffe's former company, GreenTech Auto, look no further than a little website named Watchdog.org and its so-called "Virginia bureau."  It sounds like some sort of muckraking investigative site -- until a closer look reveals that this is in fact a watchdog trained to only bark at Democrats and wag its tail at Republicans.

However, it's not just another volunteer-based, opinionated blog like, say, Blue Virginia.  Watchdog is funded by big corporate, conservative interests -- including the Koch brothers -- to essentially manage the opposition research for campaigns like Ken Cuccinelli's so that the campaigns can focus their time and money on other things.  

They're certainly not legitimate journalists, but they've established their "bureaus" in state capitals across the country, and some state capital correspondents' associations grant them press credentials.  Unfortunately that includes our very own Virginia Capital Correspondents Association, of which Watchdog's Kenric Ward -- unlike any other blogger or lobbyist -- is allowed to be a member.

Thanks to some investigative journalism done about them, here's what we do know about the shadowy Watchdog.org:

It gets big bucks from right wing donors:  Watchdog is run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which itself was launched by the conservative Sam Adams Alliance.  These groups are so tied in to all the other major Tea Party power brokers and organizations that it's hard to go through all those links without pulling out a progressive version of Glenn Beck's chalkboard.