Most of us think that we have the freedom to choose a candidate and vote for that candidate. But in order to choose the right candidate, we need reliable information.
Something unique has been happening, that prevents a large segment of the electorate from getting that information: The Trump team and its surrogates have driven a massive, unprecedented smear campaign against Ted Cruz that is damaging our system of free and informed voting. Integral to this campaign is an immense dissemination of slanted news and untruths over the Internet.
Emblematic of this initiative is the epithet “Lyin’ Ted,” which Trump has not only used over and over in speeches, but has tweeted countless times. Since Trump has over 7 million Twitter followers, this reaches a very large audience. As a result, his supporters firmly believe Cruz is a liar and spread the epithet further around the Internet – though Trump has provided no backup for the slur.
Also significant are Cruz hit pieces published in once-reputable news outlets. A number of them were penned by Trump ally and trickster Roger Stone. These skirt reality, or drift over the line into utter falsehood.
In a lie-laden Daily Caller piece from January, “Who Is the Real Ted Cruz,” Stone writes, “Heidi is a proud member of the lefty Council on Foreign Relations, advocates of one world government and the New World Order.” First, she left CFR four years ago. Second: this refers to a pathetically untrue conspiracy theory about the “North American Union,” which never existed and never will.
The NAU’s fictitious mission was to erase the borders separating Mexico, America and Canada. The notion was thoroughly debunked in a 2008 article, along with a study of the types that believe the myth, some not so pleasant. There’s been no sign of the NAU, in the years since. This slur has been repeated endlessly by Trump supporters who read it on one of the innumerable Cruz slander sites or on Facebook pages carrying long lists of fabrications about Cruz.
Interestingly, at the March 3rd debate when Bret Baier asked Trump whom he trusts for national security, Trump named Richard Haass, the president of CFR.
Breitbart published this clearly false article, under the byline of Dan Riehl, but almost the entire text is consists of a Roger Stone attack on Cruz. Here’s a small sample:
“’Having worked very hard to collect evidence of voter fraud and irregularities in Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Hawaii and Texas, frankly, they ought to put the handcuffs on him,’ said Stone, referring to Ted Cruz.”
Then we come to the astronomically vast network of pro-Trump, anti-Cruz sites. A conservative blog, UsofArn.com, put out by author and tea party activist Ulysses S. Arn, with contributors from Illinois Conservatives, gives an overview of this genre in an article titled, “Cleaning Up The Mess Trump Supporters Have Made Of The Internet.”
It notes that Roger Stone cited, in a Daily Caller op-ed, a hit piece in TheConservativeTreeHouse about Trump critics Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson, which implies that all three were paid off to oppose Trump. USofArn.com writes that TreeHouse “is and has been a pro-Trump blog all cycle.”
TreeHouse comprises one complimentary Trump story after the other, with an open thread for Trump supporters to post or comment. It’s reported that TheConservativeTreeHouse had 5 million visits in March.
UsofArn moves on to the genre of outright fake-story sites, promoting Trump and bashing Cruz. One of the most popular is Prntly.com, published by Alex Portelli, a reformed ex-con. It was ably exposed by The Washington Post:
On several occasions in October, Donald Trump tweeted links to stories at Prntly.com, a blog that didn’t exist during the last election cycle. One story (now offline but copied here) indicated that Trump’s support from blue-collar workers was the highest since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.
It’s not clear what the basis for the claim was beyond that Trump led in Rust Belt states — like Ohio, which he lost — but, no matter. Trump was enthusiastic.
Prntly popped up again last week as the source of a rumor about the Ted Cruz campaign. The site cut and pasted an old story about Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe. The headline suggested that perhaps Roe had approved the ad attacking Melania Trump run by an anti-Trump super PAC, but it offered no evidence to that effect.
It was, in other words, a very typical Prntly article: Mostly content from somewhere else with an unabashedly pro-Trump frame overlaid, and then shared by one of the site’s two apparent authors, Connor Balough or Shelby Carella.
A recent story is headlined: “BOMB SHELL Documents: Cruz and Clinton see eye to eye: selling drought Arizona water to Saudi Arabia companies.”
What does Alex Portelli get out of this? Trump, who has millions of Twitter followers, tweets links to Prntly stories, and the site carries advertising.
Another popular pro-Trump, anti-Cruz website is the Marshall Report. Here’s a sample of a “report”:
“Cruz your smile is turning into a slit and your snake tongue is poking out. The world has watched in disbelief at the mockery you have turned both the constitution and the will of the people into. I hear people in other nations shouting – “Trump was right!” on many issues! I have never heard anyone say Cruz was right on anything.”
It’s difficult to believe that any person of reasonable intelligence would scroll beyond that statement, seeking news, but if they did, they’d find Cruz birtherism and other anti-Cruz statements, plus Trump videos; one was introduced by:
“It is time to stand up America! Yes people are angry, they are watching all the lies and corruption of empty suits that are hired and paid to lie, cheat and steal!” [Grammatical errors are from the original.]
Trump supporters read and share “news” from these sites and from numerous other sites that duplicate their content. Marshall Report’s web traffic is reported at over 331,000 views in March; Prntly.com is reported at over 792,000 visits in March.
Perhaps even more amazing is this story, in Examiner.com:
In the wake of the Wisconsin primary, … supporters of Donald Trump took to social media posting what appeared to be valid news reports making fraudulent claims that electronic voting machines in Wisconsin were switching from Donald Trump to Ted Cruz.
This particular fake story … was distributed ad nauseum all over social media. But the bogus story or a variation of it was additionally cited at many other pro-Trump propaganda websites, which were also shared repeatedly on social media.”
[Analysis provided to Examiner] revealed that the following pro-Trump propaganda sites sprung up in only the past several months from Macedonia, a nation bordering Greece. Using the website ICANN WHOIS, John Daniels [editor-in-chief of Tavernkeepers.com] was able to determine the registrar, origination date and location of these websites:
Articles about fake voter fraud in Wisconsin and claims that Ted Cruz will be dropping out of the presidential race (he is not) were posted at all of the above sites. They linked back to other pro-Trump sites such as thepoliticalinsider.com, thegatewaypundit.com and endingthefed.com.
The curious fact that pro-Trump websites are originating from a Russian-leaning Slavic outpost in southeastern Europe raises questions, particularly considering the strange alliance between Donald Trump and pro-Russia conservative outlets such as InfoWars and Michael Savage.
This also seems linked to Donald Trump’s “bromance” with Vladimir Putin, and the fact that the Trump campaign is now in the hands of Paul Manafort. The Washington Free Beacon reported that “he formerly served as a senior adviser to recently ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.”
Daniels told Examiner.com: “These websites represent at best ‘click bait’; [a]t worst they are an attempt to mold the emotions and opinions of the voting public.“