A range of mainstream American publications printed paid propaganda for the government of Malaysia, much of it focused on the campaign against a pro-democracy figure there.The posts were in defense of the Malaysian government and in specific opposition to the pro-democracy opposition. Other "subcontractors" on the deal include Ben Domenech, paid $36,000, and Red State writer Brad Jackson, $24,700. Trevino had previously denied the association, but now says it was "a fairly standard PR operation." If possible, doesn't that make it worse? (Trevino, for his part, was fired from the Guardian last year, allegedly also in association with nondisclosure of links to Malaysian interests.)
The payments to conservative American opinion writers — whose work appeared in outlets from the Huffington Post and San Francisco Examiner to the Washington Times to National Review and RedState — emerged in a filing this week to the Department of Justice. The filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act outlines a campaign spanning May 2008 to April 2011 and led by Joshua Trevino, a conservative pundit, who received $389,724.70 under the contract and paid smaller sums to a series of conservative writers.
What we have here is a situation in which a group of 10 conservative bloggers and writers were writing pro-Malaysian government pieces for multiple years as paid propaganda for those interests (and getting paid quite handsomely for it, no less!). Now we hear that it was a "fairly standard PR operation"? Really? So how many of these are out there, on the conservative side?
The prospect of paid propaganda masquerading as legitimate grassroots enterprise has been a constant concern—at least, on this side of the aisle. On the other side, it's apparently enshrined in the movement apparatus itself.
I'm going to go out on a stout limb here and say that the revelation that an assortment of well-known conservative writers putting up paid propaganda as opinion columns is not going to cause widespread outrage among the duped conservative readers. The line between legitimate grassroots and astroturf has long been blurred (the tea party uprising, with their ample connections to both lobbying entities and their receipt of countless hours of gratis Fox News promotion, up to and including dispatching top Fox stars to events, demonstrates the point nicely)—it doesn't strike me that finding out a movement blogger was paid $36,000 or even $389,000 to write certain opinions about a foreign entity is going to even register as a betrayal.
But the government of Malaysia? Really? The terrorism-panicked, America-first anti-Muslim anti-everything crowd doing paid propaganda for the government of Malaysia? Don't tell me, let me guess—these guys were probably all on board the imaginary Hagel "Friends of Hamas" McCarthyism, right? Because you just never know when important people are going to be secretly on the dime of a foreign entity or government?
Unbelievable. Every time we think we begin to understand what it is the conservative movement is going on about, yet another thing happens to remind us that no, there really aren't any principles there at all—it really is just an astroturf operation from top to bottom. Lobbyists paying lobbyists paying lobbyists, all the way down. We're terrified of majority-Muslim countries, unless their governments are paying us not to be.
Just think—all it would have taken during this whole period of time is just one rich guy willing to pay these conservative bloggers to change their minds, and they could have spent the last four years praising Barack Obama as the greatest president who ever lived. We could probably have gotten it for no more than $10,000 a pop.