The Iowa caucus: What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave

The Iowa Democratic caucus was a mess. Right in the middle of it was Shadow Inc, the developer of the app that malfunctioned big time in reporting on the caucus results. But it doesn’t end there.


Now bear with me.

According to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact, Shadow began as Groundbase, a tech developer co-founded by Gerard Niemira and Krista Davis with an initial investment from another progressive nonprofit, Higher Ground Labs. Niemiura and Davis had previously worked for the tech team on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

According to the New York Times, Groundbase was nearly bankrupt when ACRONYM, a Democratic organization working to advance progressive causes, acquired the company on January 17, 2019. ”Some news this morning,” ACRONYM tweeted. “We’ve acquired SMS tool Groundbase & are launching Shadow, a company focused on building the technology infrastructure needed to enable Democrats to run better, more efficient campaigns.”

Niemira is now Shadow’s Chief Executive. In July 2019, Shadow said, “Since we initially announced our acquisition by ACRONYM earlier this year, Shadow has been hard at work to publicly launch and bring you new tools to help progressive campaigns and causes win up and down the ballot.”

Tara McGowan, ACRONYM’s founder and CEO, worked on the CBS program 60 Minutes, as a digital producer with Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and as Digital Director for Priorities USA, a super PAC that supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Vox reported today (Feb. 5, 2020) that after the Iowa debacle ACRONYM scrubbed its website of mentions of launching Shadow and says it’s just one of multiple investors along for the ride. “Acronym’s decision to distance itself from Shadow — or perhaps lying about it altogether — is making the situation worse, not better,” Vox said.

ACRONYM is a dark money group, so donations received by its 501(c)(4) nonprofit don’t have to be reported. That means who’s donating and how much is a mystery. But ACRONYM’s super PAC, PACRONYM, does have to report contributions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit campaign finance research group, reports on Open Secrets 2018 and 2020 election cycle contributions of $500,000 from movie director Steven Spielberg and $500,000 from his wife, Kate Kapshaw, $2,000,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, $300,000 from ACRONYM, $50,000 from Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, and $100,000 from Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios and  co-founder and former CEO of Dreamworks.

But wait. There’s more.

Another operation under ACRONYM’s umbrella is a for-profit digital media outfit, Courier Newsroom.

On Jul 24 2019, Vice reported that the Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, planned to invest $100 million in four so-called “news” outlets put out by Courier Newsroom that would be staffed by Democratic operatives and would publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.

The local news outlets would complement national media that are aligned with the Democratic Party such as The American Independent , which describes itself as “the No. 1 digital platform for progressive news” (formerly ShareBlue) and Media Matters For America, which says it is “a web-based, not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3) progressive research and information center.”

Courier Newsroom currently has three properties:  The Dogwood in Virginia, Copper Courier in Arizona and UpNorth News in Wisconsin.

Typical of the stories on the sites is a Feb. 4, 2020 item in UpNorth News: “Trump Gave Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rosa Parks Day – The conservative radio host has a decades-long history of making racist, xenophobic, and sexist comments. In contrast, Parks, who received the award in 1996, was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Courier Newsroom’s homepage initially gives no clue that it’s a highly partisan publication. “At COURIER, we empower individuals and communities through local reporting that helps people understand and affect the issues impacting their lives,” the homepage says. It’s only way down after the listing of staff that this appears: “COURIER is owned and operated by Courier Newsroom, a progressive media company owned by the non-profit ACRONYM.”

What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave.



















Camouflaged “news” outlets: Is Oregon next?

Fake news. Biased news. Slanted news. Real news. What’s the difference? It’s getting harder to tell them apart.

Maine knows that. Now Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin are about to confront the same confusion.

Maine became a test site for camouflaged news in 2018 when a “news” website of anonymous origin, the Maine Examiner, popped up.

Leaked Email: Ben Chin Says Lewiston Voters “Bunch of Racists”According to a legitimate news outlet, The Bangor (ME) Daily News, the website gained attention in the run-up to a December 2018 mayoral runoff in Lewiston, ME. when it posted several negative articles about the progressive candidate, Ben Chin. One article contained real, leaked campaign emails in which Chin said he encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning. Chin lost the election, partly because of the Examiner’s reporting.

(It later turned out that the emails were leaked to Chin’s Republican opponent, Shane Bouchard, by a woman working as a mole in Chin’s campaign who was having an affair with Bouchard. Bouchard resigned as mayor in March 2019 after the woman leaked some of his text messages. They included one in which he described elderly black people as “antique farm equipment”  and another in which he appeared to compare a meeting with his fellow Republicans to a Ku Klux Klan gathering. And you thought only states like New York and Illinois had juicy political scandals)

A top Maine Republican Party official later admitted to state ethics watchdogs that he was behind the Maine Examiner.

Progressive Democrats in Maine lambasted the Examiner’s deceptions, but national progressives and Democrats are apparently preparing to emulate the Examiner’s approach.

Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC, is planning to put $100 million into a project to flood swing states — many of which have lost their local papers — with stories favorable to the Democratic agenda, Vice News reported on July 24, 2019.

Four “news” outlets staffed by Democratic operatives will publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin, Vice News said.

Priorities USA Communication Director Josh Schwerin tried to gloss over the sabotage effort with a disingenuous statement that Priorities’ “news” was a necessary response to the sharp decline in local news outlets.

“This should be covered by local news, but local news is dying,” Schwerin told VICE News. “Our hope is that we can help fill that hole a bit with paid media…”

What’s not clear is whether the true sponsor of Priorities’ “news” coverage will be completely or partially hidden, as is the case with a conservative-leaning national “news” site called The Free Telegraph.

Only if a viewer clicks on a barely discernable “About” at the bottom of the site is it revealed The Free Telegraph “is a conservative news and commentary platform made possible through the generous support of the Republican Governors Association.”

Then there’s Virginia, home of the Dogwood, “your source for Virginia news.”

Home - The Dogwood

If readers click on “About,” they get this: “As the number of local news outlets declines in Virginia and across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, engaging, inspiring and motivating. We’ll bring you the story behind the story and explore how our readers’ lives are impacted by the news of the day. Our reporting is honest, to-the-point and in the service of our readers.”

If readers want to know who’s behind the news site, they can click on this: Owned by For What It’s Worth Media, Inc.. This will tell them something similar to Priorities USA’s stated rationale for its jump into the news business: “As the number of local news outlets declines across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, inspiring and motivating.”

What the Dogwood doesn’t say is it also wants to fill the gap with progressive-leaning “news” coverage. Nor does it say that progressive non-profit digital organization, Acronym, has pledged to invest $1 million in the Dogwood and says it plans to invest in other state-based news properties, which could include states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

If you prefer your news with a more conservative bent, there’s The California Republican. Here you can read a story about how the Washington, D.C. chapter of Antifa sent a message to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by chasing him out of a restaurant, telling the Texas senator that he is “not safe” or an item headlined, “In-N-Out boycott fails miserably in Central Valley.” You can even read about signings by Fresno State’s football program.

But you won’t know the identity of the site’s publisher unless you see the barely visible text at the bottom of the home page, “Paid for by the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee – FEC ID #C00370056.” Nunes is a Republican representative of California’s 22nd District in Congress.

With a steadily shrinking cadre of legitimate news staff and outlets and the rise of political actors willing to play fast and loose with ethics, could Oregon be far behind in this race to the bottom in camouflaged “news reporting”?

Kamala was ready: that little girl was me


If you don’t think political campaigns are tightly scripted, consider what Kamala Harris said in last night’s Democratic debate.

Acronym, which analyzes digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum, noted after the debate that the biggest breakout moment was when Harris went after Joe Biden on desegregation. In doing so, she drew on a story of her personal experience as a young girl who was bused to school that became a viral video clip.

Some viewers might have seen that moment as a deeply personal, spontaneous reaction by Harris that revealed her genuineness. Hardly.

As Acronym noted, “Her campaign team seemed *very* ready for the moment, sharing well-designed graphics on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and quickly pushing out related t-shirts with her quote from the stage, “That little girl was me,” for sale.”

To help things along, Harris plugged her website in her closing remarks.

So much for spontaneity.