GOP campaign arm launches fake news sites against Democrats

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, a southern Illinois Democrat, was targeted in the "Southern Illinois Update," a fake news site sponsored by the NRCC.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, a southern Illinois Democrat, was targeted in the “Southern Illinois Update,” a fake news site sponsored by the NRCC.
(Adam Testa / AP)

At first glance, the “Central Valley Update,” the “Augusta Update” and the “Aurora Update” appear to be doing what any news site would do: hold local candidates accountable.

Problem is, they’re not real news sites.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has launched more than 20 of these fake news sites to attack Democrats running for Congress, creating a media uproar and drawing protest from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the NRCC’s counterpart.

“If anyone was wondering why voters don’t trust Congress, look no further than the NRCC’s brand new voter outreach strategy—fake news sites,” said Josh Schwerin, national press secretary for the DCCC, in a statement.


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The layouts are designed to resemble news websites, with photos and headlines. “Enyart Breaks Promises, Plays Politics With Military” reads a site calling itself the “Southern Illinois Update.” The “story” questions the candidate’s record on various issues.

As with legitimate news sites, readers can tweet about the article or recommend it to Facebook friends. There is even a “most viewed” link, which takes readers to a video attack ad.

Readers only discover who is behind the website by scrolling to the bottom of the page, where a box indicates the NRCC is the sponsor, an FEC requirement for all political committee websites.

“One of our country’s greatest strengths is freedom of the press,” said Jason Bresler, a spokesman for Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), in a statement. “For the Republicans to mock that—it’s offensive.”

In spite of criticism from Democrats and the news media, Daniel Scarpinato, national press secretary for the NRCC, denies the websites are misleading.


“These are real attack websites,” he said. “They are not meant to look like news websites nor do they look like news sites, nor has anyone in the country who is not a news reporter brought that up.”

This is not the first time the NRCC has been criticized for running misleading websites. Earlier this year, the organization came under fire for launching websites with URLs that appeared to support Democratic candidates. The homepage for, for example, calls for Pelosi to “never be Speaker again” and includes a box to donate to the NRCC.

Scarpinato describes the websites as “hugely successful,” saying they are generating more traffic than other digital programs. But he would not specify numbers because he does not want to “broadcast how successful [the websites] are to the Democrats.”

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