The Free Telegraph

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The Free Telegraph is a "news" site launched by the Republican Governors Association in the summer of 2017 that looks like a news site but is a propaganda site for the Republican party.[1] The website showcases "stories highlighting the successes of Republicans and failures of Democrats."[2] It has drawn criticism because it "look[s] and feel[s] like a standard conservative news source" but it is actually "founded" [3] and "funded" [2] by the Republican Governors Association (RGA), an organization which "is dedicated to one primary objective: electing and supporting Republican governors." [4] Republican communications veteran Rick Tyler called the site "propaganda for sure." [5]

News and Controversy

The Free Telegraph Launched Under Controversy

The Associated Press first broke the story of The Free Telegraph's association with RGA: "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 acknowledgment that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected. Only after The Associated Press inquired about the site last week was a disclosure added to The Free Telegraph’s pages identifying the publication’s partisan source." [5]

The Internet Archive shows the disclaimer on the site on Oct. 26, 2017 [6] but, it was removed before the next "capture" of the site, on Nov. 7, 2017 [7]

The site now states on their "About" page, "The Free Telegraph is a conservative news and commentary platform made possible through the generous support of the Republican Governors Association," and suggests readers to sign up for an RGA newsletter. [8]

On social media — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — The Free Telegraph makes no mention of their association with RGA. On Facebook [9], where they have a verification badge, the site is described as "your home for the latest in conservative news and opinion. Get beyond the Beltway with the Free Telegraph!" On Twitter [10] where they are also verified, as well as Instagram [11] no mention is made of their RGA funding.

In response to Tyler's "propaganda" allegation, Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the association, argued that the website’s links to the group were obvious. 'It’s an outlet to share the positive results Republican governors are getting in the states,'" [2]

David Chavern of The News Media Alliance says, "publications like The Free Telegraph further muddy the waters for audiences on the internet, making it harder to tell what is real news and what is fabricated to further an agenda. Readers are forced to discern among fact, opinion, advertorial and lies every time they open a browser or social media. RGA is parading around as a real news source when it is propaganda. The writers at the RGA are not upholding the journalism code of ethics—just trying to make people think they are." [12]

Newsweek reports, "there are press releases, headlines and photos used on the website that are exact duplicates of content on the RGA’s website." [13]

Part of a "Growing Trend"

The RGA strategy is not uncommon. In 2018, Politico noted, "a growing trend of conservative political-messaging sites with names that mimic those of mainstream news organizations and whose favored candidates then tout their stories and endorsements as if they were from independent journalists. It’s a phenomenon that spans the country from northern New England, where the anonymous Maine Examiner wreaked havoc on a recent mayoral election, all the way out to California, where Rep. Devin Nunes launched — as reported by POLITICO— his own so-called news outlet, the California Republican." [14] Newsweek reports that "When he was a state governor, Vice President Mike Pence considered establishing a state-run news agency in 2015 but ditched the idea in the face of criticism."[13]

Funding

The Free Telegraph was "founded" [3] and "funded" [2] by the RGA.

The Republican Governor's Association's top five donors in 2016 were:

  • Venetian resort and Hotel who contributed $4,000,000
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield who contributed $2,300,450
  • Koch Industries who contributed $2,013,201
  • Mountaire Corp who contributed $1,860,000
  • Elliott Management who contributed $1,250,000 [15]

Staff

Articles from The Free Telegraph are often re-posted from other news sources — often from RGA press releases — without a byline.

As of June 2018, RGA leadership staff members are as follows:[16]

  • Mike Adams, General Counsel
  • Carson Avery, Executive Roundtable Regional Director
  • Paul Bennecke, Executive Director
  • John Britten, Deputy Digital Director
  • Janel Broderick, Deputy Executive Director
  • Erim Canligil, Chief Financial Officer
  • Daniel Chiasson, Director of Tracking
  • Laura Ciciarelli, Director of Operations
  • Danielle Cleveland, Executive Roundtable Deputy Director
  • Jodi Comunale, Director of Events & Programming
  • Amanda Elliott, Digital Content and Editorial Lead
  • Mike Felici, Executive Roundtable Coordinator
  • Ben Friedmann, Chief Digital Officer
  • Nicole Garcia, Executive Roundtable Regional Director
  • Justina Hulen, Governors Liason
  • Todd Johnson, Research Director
  • Mary Ann Laconte, Finance Director
  • Maurice Lewis, Creative Lead
  • Andrew Mullins, Digital Analytics Lead
  • Amanda O'Malley, Director of Statesmen and Cabinet Members
  • Dave Rexrode, Political Director
  • Brian Sanderson, Policy Director
  • Caitlin Schroder, Executive Roundtable Director
  • Jon Thompson, Communications Director
  • Katherine Traynham, Regional Director for Executive Roundtable
  • McKenzie Vaughn, Director of Board, Council, Roundtable & Club Memberships

Contact Information

Republican Governors Association
1747 Penn. Ave. NW Suite 250
Washington DC
E-mail: editor@freetelegraph.com
Website: https://freetelegraph.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/freetelegraph
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FreeTelegraph/

References

  1. Bill Barrow,GOP governors launch 'news' site critics call propaganda, LA Times, September 19, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Niraj Chokshi This New G.O.P. Publication Looks a Lot Like a News Website, The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 Josh Delek GOP Governors Launch News Site, The Hill, Sept. 19, 2017
  4. Bill Haslam About, The Republican Governor's Association, Accessed June 4, 2018
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bill Barrow GOP governors launch ‘news’ site critics call propaganda, The Associated Press, Sept. 19, 2017
  6. The Wayback Machine The Free Telegraph, Oct. 26, 2017, The Internet Archive, Accessed June 4, 2018
  7. The Wayback Machine The Free Telegraph, Nov. 7, 2017, The Internet Archive, Accessed June 4, 2018
  8. The Free Telegraph About/Sign up page, The Free Telegraph, Accessed June 4, 2018
  9. The Free Telegraph About, Facebook, accessed June 5, 2017
  10. The Free Telegraph Timeline, Twitter, accessed June 5, 2017
  11. The Free Telegraph landing page, Instagram, accessed June 5, 2017
  12. David Chavern The Free Telegraph is a Sham, News Media Alliance, Nov. 21, 2017
  13. 13.0 13.1 Maria Perez REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS CREATE PROPAGANDA UNIT TO TRASH DEMOCRATS, NewsWeek, Sept 19, 2017
  14. Jason Schwartz and Shawn Musgrave, Kelli Ward touts endorsement from fake-news site, Politico, Feb. 14, 2018
  15. Open Secrets Republican Governors Assn, Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed June 4 2018
  16. Republican Governors Association, Meet the RGA Staff, organizational website, accessed June 2018.