McAuliffe buys 'fake news' ads in effort to sway voters, Fox News investigation finds


Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has spent nearly $100,000 advertising "fake news" websites on Facebook during the Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Fox News can reveal.

The Democrat's advertisements, which have been viewed up to 3.5 million times so far, are hidden on a Facebook page with a similar name to a local news website. The ads link to third-party websites that ostensibly publish local news, but exist to promote Democratic candidates. The websites have been widely described as disinformation and "partisan propaganda."

The revelation comes less than a week before election day, and as the candidates fight for every last vote, with polls showing McAuliffe and rival Republican Glenn Youngkin locked in a tight battle.

The McAuliffe campaign’s advertisements are sophisticated and opaque.

Like most candidates, McAuliffe operates a Facebook page under his own name to promote his campaign. But the former governor also operates another Facebook page that blurs the lines between a political campaign and disinformation.

The page is called "The Download Virginia," and it was quietly launched by McAuliffe in June. While the name of the page sounds similar to that of a news organization, the page has not published any posts or photos, and only 67 people have "liked" the page (a term Facebook uses to describe followers).

Instead, most voters who have encountered "The Download" have done so through paid advertising. The ads do not appear on the page itself but can be obtained through a Facebook Ad Library Report, a tool used by journalists and researchers. The McAuliffe campaign has spent $471,044 on ads distributed by this page since June. With several ads running at time of publication, that number is likely to rise before election day.

The advertisements generally contain a comment and a link to a mainstream news article that covers the campaign favorably. But sprinkled among the links to legitimate media are seven separate advertisements (and dozens of variations) that promote websites widely considered to be "fake news".

In a July advertisement, The Download writes about McAuliffe’s views on small business. The ad includes a link to an article published by a third party website called The Virginia Dogwood.

The Dogwood presents itself as a local news website, with daily articles about local issues in Virginia, dedicated sections for key topics, and a newsletter to give Virginians "all the news you need." The Dogwood says on a page describing its publication that it delivers "credible, fact-based reporting."

The website notes it is owned and operated by Courier Newsroom, which according to the Dogwood, is a "civic media company." But Courier Newsroom was founded and initially funded by the liberal dark money group ACRONYM. According to the Wall Street Journal, early backers included multibillionaire Democratic donor George Soros, as well as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and a group of movie producers. Axios reported yesterday that the "newsroom" has since been acquired by influential Democrat Tara McGowan’s "Good Information Project," which is backed by many of the same investors.

The Dogwood says the editor-in-chief of Courier Newsroom, as well as its own managing editor, have control over the editorial process.

In an October advertisement, The Download writes that Youngkin has a "very concerning" policy on vaccination, and includes a link to an article published by a third party website called the American Independent.

The Independent is also designed to look like a news website. In an "About" section, the website says it is a platform for "progressive news," and elaborates that it reports "with honesty and integrity, shining a light on those in power and the progressive politics movement," suggesting to readers that it offers an objective assessment of the movement. The website says it is funded by The American Bridge 21st Century Foundation (it does not disclose how much of its funding comes from the foundation, but it is the only investor listed on its "Company" page).

According to the Independent, the foundation is on a mission to "compare and contrast progressive and conservative solutions." It is actually a well-known liberal "dark money" organization, founded by David Brock, a wealthy and influential Democratic donor who is also a close ally of the Clinton family. The group spent $59.7 million to oppose Republican candidates in the 2020 election cycle, according to the campaign finance tracking organization OpenSecrets, though it is not clear how much of that money flowed to the Independent.

The website’s editors say that the foundation has no editorial influence.

Both websites are widely considered to be forms of political disinformation. Media ethics experts who spoke to Politico, which reported on the existence of Courier Newsroom in 2020, called sites like the Dogwood political tools that are "pouring gasoline on a raging fire of consumer trust and online disinformation." In a February 2020 edi... (Read more)

Submitted 31 days ago

Latest News