State News

The Republican Governors Association calls it a news outlet. Others say it’s propaganda.

Gov. Scott Walker is the head of the Republican Governors Association, which has a website that looks and acts like a news outlet, but is actually paid for by the association to promote GOP ideals.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

The Republican Governors Association, led by Gov. Scott Walker, is getting heat from both sides of the aisle.

The RGA runs a website called “The Free Telegraph” that presents itself as a media outlet but is paid for and controlled by the association. Moreover, the website’s creator remained anonymous until an inquiry by The Associated Press.

The Free Telegraph looks and reads like an online publication with a conservative slant. It includes headlines that praise Republican governors and bash Democratic ones. It also promotes itself as a spot to receive breaking news.

But what the website made up for in visuals, it lacked in journalism ethics especially transparency.

“When an entity tries to shield who the source of the information is, that should set off alarm bells for everybody,” said Katy Culver, assistant professor and director of the center for journalism ethics at UW-Madison.

After The Associated Press’s inquiry, the page now has a disclaimer in fine print at the bottom of its page stating it is paid for by the RGA.

The website was created in July through a company that allows web creators to hide their identities and remain anonymous, according to The Associated Press. The Free Telegraph Facebook page is described as a “Media/News Company.”

The top story on Tuesday is an article titled “Phil Murphy thinks you should have $15 minimum wage...unless you work for him.” With “New Jersey” and “Politics” tags like one would see on a typical news outlet homepage, the article filed under “top stories” dives into how New Jersey’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate paid his campaign workers $12 an hour.

Walker’s administration directed comments to the RGA. The association’s spokesperson, Jon Thompson, told The Associated Press the site is “just another outlet to share those positive results” of Republican governors across the nation.

The problem isn’t with the website posting positive press releases and testimonials from those who benefit from Republican gubernatorial races, according to Culver, it's about how the page persuades, or even manipulates, readers by pretending to be something other than it is.

“Label it. Let the public know who’s behind [the website] and why they’re doing it,” Culver said. “That kind of transparency … is critical in all public communication.”

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