James Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn, split from the family’s Fox News empire and condemned conservative-leaning media for “spreading disinformation,” but at the same time they gave a half-million dollars to a political action committee linked to a Democratic-allied fake news operation.
The couple blamed the owners of news outlets with “propagating lies” that they said contributed to a multitude of catastrophes, including the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
While championing journalistic integrity, however, Mrs. Murdoch gave a total of $500,000 to Pacronym, a super PAC affiliated with the liberal activist group Acronym and its pseudo-news outlets called Courier Newsroom, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Courier Newsroom disguises Democratic Party talking points and Democratic candidates’ press releases as news reports.
“Courier Newsroom, which is funded by a host of liberal billionaire donors, is the poster child for House Democrats’ complete and total hypocrisy when it comes to dark money and fake news,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams told National Review in October.
The sites present political advocacy as journalism and put it in front of voters in the guise of hyperlocal news reporting. According to Facebook’s ads library, it spent more than $2.1 million by Election Day to put its “news reports” in front of voters.
Cardinal & Pine, the Courier Newsroom site in North Carolina, blasted this headline in Facebook ads across the state: “Thom Tillis voted to repeal the ACA seven times. He has to go, healthcare advocates say.”
The article attacking Mr. Tillis, a Republican senator who was up for reelection, cited “healthcare advocates” who were, in reality, liberal activist groups. One was NextGen North Carolina, a part of the activist network created by Democratic megadonor and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer. The other was Piedmont Rising, a left-leaning group that poses as a news outlet and is run by a former operative for North Carolina Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Courier Newsroom’s impostor news outlets also include The Copper Courier in Arizona, UpNorthNews in Wisconsin, The Gander in Michigan, The Keystone in Pennsylvania, and a national operation called The Americano that targets Hispanic Americans.
Mrs. Murdoch made her generous contributions to Pacronym in two installments, $250,000 in July and again in August, according to the FEC.
The funding made her one of Pacronym’s 10 top donors.
A representative of Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch declined to comment for this article.
Kyle Tharp, a senior adviser to Acronym, said Pacronym ran digital advertising in the 2020 election cycle and is separate from Courier Newsroom.
“Pacronym has not funded Courier Newsroom and is not ‘financially linked’ to it,” he told The Washington Times in an email.
The three companies — Acronym, Pacronym and Courier Newsroom — are linked through ownership, and their spending intertwines.
Acronym is set up as a 501(c)4, a nonprofit sometimes described as a “dark money” group because it is not required to disclose its donors. As a super PAC, Pacronym reports its donors and spending to the FEC.
According to federal filings, money from Pacronym flows to entities with ownership stakes or financial involvement with the Courier Newsroom. Pacronym paid $85,135 to Acronym, which is a part-owner of Courier Newsroom, and $3.9 million to Lockwood Strategy Lab, another Acronym subsidiary that hires Courier Newsroom staff.
Acronym and Pacronym founded Lockwood Strategy Lab to provide digital ad consultancy for political campaigns.
Lockwood also financially supports The Dogwood, the Courier Newsroom’s faux news outlet in Virginia, according to data compiled by the conservative group Influence Watch.
Pacronym’s payments to Acronym were described in campaign finance reports as payments for staff, rent and subscriptions.
The payments to Lockwood were listed as payments for services including video and graphic production, survey expenses and advertising.
Mrs. Murdoch and her husband, the youngest son of News Corp. kingpin Rupert Murdoch, were not talking about Courier Newsroom when they went on a crusade against conservative news organizations.
“Spreading disinformation — whether about the election, public health or climate change — has real-world consequences,” the well-heeled couple said in a recent statement to the Financial Times. “Many media property owners have as much responsibility as the elected officials who know the truth but instead choose to propagate lies. We hope the awful scenes we have all been seeing [at the U.S. Capitol] will finally convince those enablers to repudiate the toxic politics they have promoted once and forever.”
Mr. Murdoch resigned in August from the board of directors of News Corp., the parent company of Fox News. He detailed the couple’s disgust with news outlets but stopped short of mentioning Fox News, which is run by his brother Lachlan.
“The damage is profound,” he told the Financial Times. “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very much so. Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”
Their accusations of journalistic misconduct, however, did not extend to Courier Newsroom.
An internal Acronym memo, first obtained by National Review, spelled out the fake news strategy of providing “content designed to drive strategic narratives to key audiences [that] will be delivered on a drip over time, reaching voters through targeted ads and boosted posts across Facebook.”
The Courier’s faux news reports touting Rep. Jared Golden prompted the Maine Democrat to disavow the coverage, which included more than $50,000 of Facebook ads in the state, according to the Sun Journal in Lewiston.
In a typical article about Mr. Golden, The Courier sent out a photo of him and the headline: “Rep. Jared Golden said students in Maine are disproportionately affected by unreliable internet service.”
It linked to video and photos with some text lifted from a Golden campaign press release.
• S.A. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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