California Dreaming: A Look at How the Right-Wing Media and Republican Establishment are Conning Their Own Senior Citizens – Literally
If you currently live in the state of California, consider yourself warned: In less than thirty days, you will no longer be a citizen of the United States and your home, neighborhood and workplace will be under the control of Mexico. At least, that’s what I’m led to believe from Townhall magazine, the Examiner, and the Chair of the powerful lobbying group Citizens United.
The “news” that California will soon be annexed by our immediate neighbor to the south (on October 15, to be exact) was forwarded to me by our own Mark Thompson. It was sent out as an email from the conservative news site Townhall, but Robert Williams, “publisher” of the financial news site Wall Street Daily, penned the reporting. Williams warns that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is secretly asking “congressional leaders” to avoid a dissolving of the United States as we know it. Without swift action, Williams implies, we will soon be a crippled nation of only 34 states. States such as Massachusetts, Michigan, Florida, Arizona and Virginia will be terminated. (Though what exactly is meant by “terminated” isn’t entirely clear – Williams doesn’t bother to say what it means to terminate a state. It might mean that a cyborg from the future will travel back to our own time to kill them; it might mean that they’ll be called one at a time into Human Resources, be told that “it’s just not working out,” and be given the opportunity to apply for COBRA benefits. Who knows?) The email links to an eighteen-minute video that warns of the impending disaster, and then near the end turns into a pitch to subscribe to an investment newsletter put out by Wall Street Daily.
At first blush, this report of California’s impending annexation appears to be the kind of thing that Andrew Sullivan has been doggedly covering so very well over at The Dish: the fading line between actual news and “sponsored content” by advertisers. The Wall Street Daily seems to be an opportunistic group of conmen seeing how close to crossing the law’s letter they can get while going full-Dexter on its spirit. Townhall looks to be guilty of the relatively innocuous sin of selling advertising without bothering to first vet it. And make no mistake: the email is all of those things. When we dig deeper, however, we find something far more interesting:
The con that looks to take advantage of Townhall’s more credulous, paranoid, and Republican senior-citizen readers isn’t being done at the expense of the Republican establishment: it’s actually being done by the Republican establishment. Literally. The Townhall email doesn’t just illustrate the moral issues involved with sponsored content. It also illustrates exactly just how deep of a hole the right and the GOP have dug for itself when anchoring its fortunes to the profitability of its media machine.
Although Williams identifies himself as Wall Street Weekly’s publisher, the actual publisher is Bill Bonner’s holding company AGORA. Bonner himself is something of a known commodity on the right outside of AGORA: A regular contributor to Lew Rockwell’s Ron-Paul-tarnishing conservative news site, Bonner has also worked with the National Taxpayers Union, the lobbying group that also spawned Grover Norquist and John Berhoud. It is no surprise, then, that the financial advice newsletters, magazines and books AGORA publishes skew to the right. (By which I don’t mean “to the right of the country” so much as “to the right of every Republican presidential candidate in the past fifty years.”)
Indeed, the Wall Street Daily itself has based its entire blueprint on the Fox News/Right-Wing Radio model: “In a world of liars, the TRUTH starts here!” is the publication’s tagline. And much like the publication it’s obviously named to have you confuse it with, it spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing Obama and championing conservative issues that have little or nothing to do with investments. On its Capitol Hill Daily page, for example, one is more likely to find a pro-gun control article, an anti-Obamacare screed, or a love letter to Reagan than one is a financial news story of any kind. Which brings us back to the email from Townhall, and the video the which it links.
I’m not going to spend too much time describing the video and its profoundly deranged pitch. (Ask me how to make fast money by investing in the apocalypse today!) Chances are you have at least a passing familiarity with these types of ruses. In addition to the Chief Financial Strategist for the Wall Street Daily, the video features interviews with a group of outside experts that include a Global Finance Analyst, an Investigative Journalist, and a “a Former Reagan Administration Advisor.” No one actually comes out and guarantees that the country will be carved like a roast come October 15, but everyone insinuates it with such carefully chosen verbiage that you can see where Grandma might think they did, especially after a day of listening to Glenn Beck and watching Fox News. The former Reagan Advisor claims that he was “pulled into an office on Capitol Hill” and told of this plot, suggesting as strongly as possible that he was told so by a Congressman or governmental official without actually saying so. The point is made repeatedly that you will be especially at risk come October 15 if you are a retiree, are about to retire, living on social security, are supporting your grandchildren, or are in any way likely to be an old person with little experience using Google to fact check claims by a guy on YouTube. Hilariously, the video “reports” multiple times that if you had used the investment strategies the video is hawking a year ago, you would have made $79,000 without once mentioning what amount – ($10,000? $10 million? $10 billion?) – you would have had to invested to make that seventy-nine large.
What’s not surprising is how easy it is to see through all of the bullshit if you go in looking for it. Those “outsiders” interviewed? They all work for the Wall Street Daily. That “investigative journalist?” He’s one of WSD’s political bloggers, and his investigations lead to stories like this one from last May, where he uncovered the shockingly fake news that Obamacare was just about to be overturned – by Democratic Senators as well as Republican ones. The set the narrator talks on is surrounded with dozens of TV screens, similar to the ones you see on a cable news show to make it look like actual television journalism; if you look closely, however, you see that all of the screens are showing various screen savers. And that former Reagan advisor? Surely he’s a fake, yes?
Well, here’s where it actually starts get a little surprising. That man is Floyd Brown, and he’s about as Right-Wing Republican Establishment as you can get.
Chances are Brown’s name at least sounds familiar. Brown was one of the co-founders and remains the Chair of Citizens United – yes, that Citizens United. In addition to being a Reagan administration advisor, he was a prominent advisor on the Dole, Forbes and W. Bush presidential campaigns. He is the person credited with creating the now-infamous Willie Horton television ads. He worked with the McCain campaign to create anti-Obama messaging and advertisements in 2008. Brown, in other words, is not some remora sucking on to the GOP establishment, he is the GOP establishment – or at least, he is and has been just as much of that establishment as anyone else over the past twenty-five years.
You may remember a few months ago, there was a story that went around conservative media that Obamacare had just killed its one-millionth person. That was Brown’s handiwork as well. So too was the 2010 “news” story that Congress was ginning up to impeach the president. Obama’s long-form birth certificate, Obama the secret Muslim, Obama raised in a madrasa? All of them have Brown’s fingerprints on them, and the degree to which he assisted in turning them from nut-cake internet fodder into mainstream right-wing talking points depends on who you ask.
Think about that. Conservative news site Townhall is sending out spam that is looking to bilk retirees out of their money, and that spam is being generated by members of the GOP establishment. And of course, the fraudulent line being sold to seniors just looking for senior care in their old age is now just starting to be picked up by the conservative media in places like the Examiner.
[Interesting side note: The writer covering the story at the Examiner, Tim Williams, is a “conservative” reporter whose Examiner bio describes him as the man who “founded the Department of Economic Development for the cities of Salem and Brockton, Mass.” As you may have already guessed, both cities not only confirm that he did no such thing, each has no record of him working for them and both say no one at either city office has ever heard of him.]
My question, then, is where the hell is the GOP in all of this?
As I say in my footnote below, this kind of symbiotic media-huckster relationship isn’t exactly breaking news. If Mark Thompson gets emails from Townhall, it’s hard to believe no one from the RNC does. After all, Townhall doesn’t just feature writings from the likes of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Ben Shapiro, Star Parker and Neal Boortz; it features pieces written (or ghost-written, anyway) from party leaders like Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney. The RNC surely knows who Floyd Brown is. And I’m going to take a very, very hopeful shot in the dark here, but I’m pretty sure the RNC knows we’re not about to cede California to Mexico in the next few days. So how on Earth is this allowed to happen? Is the strategy really just, “hey, not our problem?” I mean, I get that you throw the party under the bus to sell ad revenue – but throwing the party under the bus to allow people like Floyd Brown to run the Wall Street equivalent of the Nigerian prince scam?
Has the GOP really come to that?
 Full confession up front: The big picture of you are about to read here has already been reported in far greater scope a year ago by Rick Perlstein. His reporting and analysis is so incredibly on target, in fact, that I considered not writing this post at all. However, the story here provides such a perfect microcosm of the system Perlstein wrote about that I decided it was worth retracing the landscape anyway. This is partially because while Perlstein focused on macro trends, I wanted to drill down as far as I could with an individual case – and also because I think this story is important when considering my Sailing Away to Irrelevance series. Still, if you wanted to skip the rest of this post and read the Perlstein piece in its stead, I would not blame you.
 I really hate linking the video, out of fear that it will generate a few “hits” that will only encourage this kind of behavior. But if by chance you just really, really, really need proof that it exists, you can find it here.
But seriously, it’s just terrible.