A Network of Pseudo-News Sites Promotes Jim Renacci’s Campaign for Ohio Governor
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scroll down Jim Renacci’s Facebook page, and it won’t take long to see a link to a post that looks like media coverage of the Republican gubernatorial candidate’s campaign.
“Renacci, GOP gubernatorial candidate: ‘I will help revive our state and make Ohio a powerhouse once again,'” reads a headline from the clevelandreporter.com website. Other posts on sites such as the “Buckeye Reporter” and “OH Business Daily” criticized Renacci’s main rivals, including incumbent Governor Mike DeWine and Columbus-area farmer Joe Blystone.
Most stories include a statement from Renacci and note no attempt to get comment from other candidates. Some of the posts are labeled “press release submission”, although at least a few of these posts were not taken from Renacci’s press releases, but instead included whole sentences taken from mainstream news reports.
All of these sites are owned and operated by Metric Media, which The New York Times recently described as a “paid network” of more than 1,300 conservative-leaning sites nationwide that publish stories “commissioned by Republican groups and corporate public relations”. companies. Illinois-based Metric Media is associated with Brian Timpone, a former television journalist turned businessman, according to several news outlets.
From late December to March 31, Metric Media-owned sites published 174 articles about Renacci or DeWine, according to an analysis by the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that, among other things, examines the inauthentic content and misinformation online.
Those posts garnered about 174,000 interactions, mostly from Renacci’s own Facebook page, which linked the sites more than 50 times, according to a statement from the German Marshall Fund.
Metric Media websites aren’t the only ones publishing pro-Renacci content — one example is The Ohio Star, which is one of many right-wing websites founded by conservatives with Tea Party ties.
Renacci told cleveland.com on Friday that he had “no relationship” with Metric Media.
“I have a Google search that shows me all the stories that come up in regards to my campaign,” Renacci said. “And what I do is when I see these (stories) I take them and push them to my personal Facebook page. … Whenever it’s a story – whether it’s from The Plain Dealer, whether it’s from the Cincinnati Enquirer, whether it’s from the (Ohio) Star, or some of these organizations that you’re talking about, I’m going to publish them.”
Asked on Thursday whether the Renacci campaign bought coverage from Metric Media or had any coordination with the posts, campaign spokesman Tom Weyand said, “Not that I’m aware of. I never hired anyone with Brian Timpone.
Cleveland.com contacted Metric Media, as well as several Ohio-themed company websites with pro-Renacci stories, for comment.
Renacci, a former congressman from Wadsworth, faces an uphill battle to beat DeWine in the May 3 primary for a number of reasons, including the governor’s huge fundraising advantage and the fact that two other candidates — Blystone and former state Rep. Ron Hood — will split the anti-DeWine vote with Renacci.
Tony Franquiz, external communications manager for digital policy at the German Marshall Fund’s Initiative for Digital Innovation and Democracy, said his organization had found no such favorable Metric Media coverage of another presidential candidate. scale of Ohio outside of Renacci.
“And (Renacci), in turn, amplifies those posts through his Facebook (page),” he said. “So it’s symbiotic in that way.”
Franquiz, who emphasized that the German Marshall Fund is nonpartisan and does not support or oppose any candidate in the race for governor of Ohio, said such a pattern is familiar.
“It’s characteristic of something we see with inauthentic content online: you build a base by just feeding content into social media and trying to get clicks that way, and you activate the number of users through social media by unfolding a narrative,” he said.
When asked why Metric Media’s posts about Renacci were a bad thing, given the large number of partisan websites on the Internet, Franquiz said the pro-Renacci coverage was inauthentic and presented in an informational format. on websites that do not meet journalistic standards.
“I think, on the face of it, it’s problematic because it presents the information in a way that’s misleading at best,” he said.