We were all distracted by the sheer terribleness of the Republican efforts to strip health insurance, and Republican efforts to specifically deport children, and Republican efforts to defend Trump's campaign team from being investigated as conspirators assisting the intelligence efforts of a foreign government. Then there were the Republican efforts to pack the courts by systemically nullifying the very same rules they used to block the last Democratic president from appointing judges to the seats now still open, and the Republican efforts to ignore blatant cash payments to Trump for his policy choices, and take-your-pick from the rest of it. While all that was going on the Republican Governors Association has been getting into the fake news business. And not in a small way, either:
The Republican Governors Association has quietly launched an online publication that looks like a media outlet and is branded as such on social media. The Free Telegraph blares headlines about the virtues of GOP governors, while framing Democrats negatively. It asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.
The effort is led by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has had time to recover from his embarrassing performance as would-be presidential candidate and has now fully returned to his daytime duties of screwing everyday Americans in ways both small and petty.
The game plan here is relatively straightforward. The Republican Governors Association has created a "news outlet" under the nondescript "news outlet" name of Free Telegraph, one of those generic but geographically abstract names of the sort that a Macedonian teen might use to convince U.S. voters that their laptop computer is in fact a Super Credible News Outlet. The association did so in such a way as to intentionally obscure ownership of the site:
The website was registered July 7 through Domains By Proxy, a company that allows the originators of a website to shield their identities. [...] As of early Monday afternoon, The Free Telegraph’s Twitter account and Facebook page still had no obvious identifiers tying the site to RGA. The site described itself on Twitter as “bringing you the political news that matters outside of Washington.” The Facebook account labeled The Free Telegraph a “Media/News Company.”
Upon which, the Republican Governors Association filled the site with Republican press releases packaged as "news" stories, praise for specific Republican governors, and so forth. There is now a very, very small gray-on-gray disclaimer at the very bottom of the site: even that disclosure did not exist until the Associated Press made their inquiries.
What's the point of going to such efforts to hide a party-produced website as an independent media outlet? There's only one: to intentionally mislead voters.
It's almost certain that you will now start seeing, in Republican campaign ads and flyers, dramatic headlines praising this or that candidate cribbed from a newspaper-ish entity named Free Telegraph. Those headlines will paint the Republican candidate in very good light indeed, in individual races. And there won't be any hint at all that, rather than being from an actual news outlet, the Free Telegraph is a propaganda mill repackaging the party's own press releases and desired headlines into a facsimile of the actual thing. It will look like the Republican candidate is getting very good press indeed. It will be fictitious.
There seems to be little to no remaining effort being taken, by the Republican Party, to convince voters of their positions. We seem to have drifted into the opposite, in fact. There are no town halls attempting to defend a healthcare plan that their own Republican voters clearly despise; fully aware of the ire, Republicans are this time attempting to shove the newer, more brutish version through before even their own budget offices are able to pipe up with the details. If a news story appears that a Republican official doesn't like, the response is to declare it "fake" news and scurry off again, no further response given. If none of the news is good, well then it's time to launch a new, party-owned outlet that can manufacture some in accordance with the party's specific needs on each specific day.
It may be a sustainable plan for maintaining party control of a nation, or it may not. But it is the antithesis to how our democracy is supposed to work, or was, back in the days when we puffed our chests up about the grandness and resilience of the American system. At the moment the American system does not seem very grand or resilient at all.