Pro-Clinton Super PAC Caught Astroturfing on Social Media, Op-Ed Pages

Hillary Clinton with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in February. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)

Pro-Clinton Super PAC Caught Astroturfing on Social Media, Op-Ed Pages

The Intercept reports Friday that anti-Sanders column purportedly penned by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was actually written by corporate lobbyist and edited by Super PAC

An anti-Bernie Sanders column allegedly penned by Atlanta's "influential" Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed ahead of Georgia's Super Tuesday primary appears to have been "primarily written by a corporate lobbyist" and "edited by Correct the Record, one of several pro-Clinton Super PACs," according toThe Intercept on Friday.

"Sanders' record is simply not strong when compared to Obama and Clinton," Reed's op-ed read, "both of whom have prioritized reducing gun violence in our cities and across our country."

The piece continued:

Sanders assumes his single-issue platform will help everyone, but only Clinton's plans work from the ground up to identify and break down barriers unique to African-American families. For the single mother riding two buses to her second job, Sanders' one-issue platform just doesn't cut it. And for the poor child in Flint, Michigan, forced to drink tainted water from a government tap, Sanders' Wall Street-focused message doesn't carry weight.

But emails released from Reed's office suggest that the mayor himself had little to do with the op-ed.

Indeed, Anne Torres, the mayor's director of communications, told The Intercept's Lee Fang that "the column was not written by the mayor, but by Tharon Johnson, a former Reed adviser who now works as a lobbyist for UnitedHealth, Honda, and MGM Resorts, among other clients. The column's revisions by staffers from Correct the Record are documented in the emails."

Reed "provided verbal edits and feedback to Tharon, but other than that, no one from my office or the mayor's office wrote this op-ed," Torres said.

Neither Johnson nor Correct the Record, a Super PAC formed by Republican-turned-Democrat strategist David Brock, responded to Fang's request for comment.

Correct the Record drew fire last month after pledging to spend $1 million to "push back against" anti-Clinton posts on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram.

A press release from the Super PAC read: "Lessons learned from online engagement with 'Bernie Bros' during the Democratic Primary will be applied to the rest of the primary season and general election-responding quickly and forcefully to negative attacks and false narratives. Additionally, as the general election approaches, the task force will begin to push out information to Sanders supporters online, encouraging them to support Hillary Clinton."

As Shadowproof's Kevin Gosztola wrote at the time:

Although the super PAC frames the launch of this project as an effort to "defend" Clinton, it really is an offensive information operation against the Sanders campaign, the campaign's most passionate supporters, and any voters, who may question whether Clinton should be the next president of the United States.

[...] What is particularly troubling about the project to combat users on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Instagram is that users may not realize they are targets of Correct The Record's information operation. The project apparently has no plan to announce their membership in this task force. They will likely select users, who are popular, and go after them until those users are overwhelmed to a point where their expression of their opinions are drowned out by the task force's response to their online activity.

[...] The Clinton campaign, and in particular, Correct The Record, is so filled with conceit that it thinks, in the middle of the Democratic primary when there are over a thousand pledged delegates to still be awarded, that they can target the "attacks" or criticisms of Clinton by Sanders supporters published on social media and then push campaign propaganda at these same supporters that will convince them to support Clinton. It is incredibly vain, and an example of how the Clinton campaign has believed all along that it is entitled to support from Democratic voters.

"There would be no need for a 'digital task force,'" Gosztola wrote, "if the Clinton campaign did not fear that Americans are learning too much about how Clinton is beholden to corporate and special interests, which will heavily influence her as president."

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