Anonymous DOJ Blogger Campaign Attacks Media and Critics — Department Of Justice Hires Blog Outreach Person — The Justice Blog — PdF Chat Time with Tracy Russo — Politicization Alert: Matthew Miller to Justice? — Astroturf — GAO says Bush team engaged in illegal ‘covert propaganda’ — Congressman Miller Website: Exposing Government Propaganda
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is a Cabinet department in the United States government designed to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans
“Mr. Attorney General Holder, I expect a higher standard of ethics for DoJ employees as I’m sure you are familiar with the Hatch Act. I would also suggest an investigation of Charisse Carney-Nunes while at the National Science Foundation and the apparent “conflict of interest” in administrating government grants? Read more here and here.
I’m sure I can count on you and your staff to guarantee that NO government owned or DoJ owned computer systems are astroturfing private and personal websites. I’m confident that we both agree with the above mission statement of your department and this also applies to your DoJ employees.”
UPDATE – AUG 18, 2010
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
RELATED (Huffington Post):
Exclusive News from the Muffled Oar:
The Department of Justice has hired a team of partisan Democrat campaign bloggers to work at the Department. The Muffled Oar has learned this decision was treated with a great deal of skepticism both inside the career ranks at the Department but also among some Obama loyalists who expressed concern that such a decision would lend itself to the growing appearance that the Holder Justice Department is more political than the Bush Justice Department was ever accused of being.
Tracy Russo is one such blogger from the campaign of John Edwards. The unit is housed in the Office of Public Affairs. Not only is the Department of Justice Blog Squad going to reach out to nontraditional media like TPM Muckraker or the Muffled Oar, but they are also tasked with placing anonymous comments at conservative leaning blogs such as the Free Republic.
They are also tasked with posting anonymous comments, or comments under pseudonyms, at newspaper websites with stories critical of the Department of Justice, Holder and President Obama. One conservative editor recently told the Muffled Oar that they have noticed a significant increase in the number and aggressiveness of comments to stories critical of the Holder Justice Department. “There is clearly a designed effort to rebut stories that are exposing the Holder Justice Department as more political than the last. We’ve seen a change in the pattern of anonymous emails we receive and comments posted at our paper’s webpage.”
One shivers at the thought of a team of Department of Justice Bloggers anonymously trolling the web to spin the message of a President. It is particularly terrifying when those same anonymous government employees at the Department attack media outlets and newspapers anonymously. How much longer before the Blog Squad operates in the open to intimidate political opponents and critics?
The Plum Line Greg Sargent’s blog
Here’s an interesting sign of the times: Obama’s Department of Justice has hired someone to do new media outreach for the whole department — the first time Justice has created such a role.
A source confirms that Justice has tapped Tracy Russo, who did blog outreach for John Edwards’ presidential campaign, as the agency’s chief new media outreach expert. The hire reflects a recognition that some of the most important coverage of stories involving the Justice Department is taking place on the blogs.
One of the biggest stories involving Justice in very recent years — the U.S. Attorney purge scandal — was broken by my alma mater, Talking Points Memo, and unfolded there and subsequently on other blogs. The blogs have helped drive other Justice stories this year, such as the release of the torture memos and the debates over how to dial back Bush-era executive power.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the broader trend: More and more government agencies, as opposed to political campaigns, are hiring blog outreach people to engage and manage coverage in the blogosphere, which is playing an increasingly influential role in policy fights, not just political ones.
- New Media at U.S. Department of Justice
- President at Russo Strategies, LLC
- Founder at Women in Politics and Technology
- Deputy Online Communications Director at John Edwards for President
- Online Communications at Democratic National Committee
- Online Communications Director & Finance Director at Ciro D. Rodriguez for Congress
The Justice Blog
Author Archive for Tracy Russo
Welcome to the new Justice.gov. If you’re a regular visitor to our site, you’ll notice some changes today. If you are joining us for the first time, welcome.
The Department of Justice launches Justice.gov today in an effort to increase openness and transparency in government. Utilizing a variety of online tools, we will be able to share news and information, not just on our own web site, but through popular social networks Twitter, YouTube and MySpace and Facebook. The Justice presence on these social networks will allow Americans to interact with the Department in entirely new ways.
The new Justice.gov has incorporated more multimedia than ever before. You’ll find a photo gallery and video library that will be regularly updated with new content from across the Department of Justice. And of course, The Justice Blog will be a hub of information for the Department.
We are all excited by these new opportunities. Today’s launch is just the first step towards creating the most open, accessible and transparent Justice Department possible. We welcome your feedback about the new site and your ideas for the future.
POSTED IN: Office of Public Affairs
Anna Curran | June 23, 2009
Tracy Russo currently directs the new media strategy at the United States Department of Justice. Prior to joining the Justice Department she formed Russo Strategies, LLC, a progressive political consulting firm that specialized in new media strategies.
During the 2008 presidential primary, as the chief blogger and deputy director of online communications for the John Edwards campaign, she directed and executed an online communications and outreach strategy. She also helped to develop and execute an aggressive online fundraising strategy and mobile media plan.
Prior to joining the Edwards campaign, Russo worked at the DNC. She has been a featured speaker at the YearlyKos Convention, the Take Back America Conference and the Center for American Progress’ Internet Advocacy Roundtable and Personal Democracy Forum. In addition, she has worked partnership with a variety of organizations, including the DNC, DLCC, EMILY’s List, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, and the New Organizing Institute and George Washington University training individuals at home and abroad in the best practices of online engagement .
This interview was conducted on June 18th via email and has been edited for clarity.
Anna Curran: Tracy, your professional background includes experience working for the DNC as Online Communications Director, as well as Chief Blogger for the John Edwards campaign. Can you tell us about the progression of your career and how you got to where you are today?
Tracy Russo: I started working on campaigns as a field organizer. I also worked as a press assistant and as a junior fundraiser. I did a short volunteer stint on the Paul Hackett for Congress campaign in 2005. It was a special election that the blogosphere was heavily involved in, and I got my first glimpse of how online organizing could make a difference.
Then, while I was tasked as a fundraiser for Ciro Rodriguez’ ’06 Primary campaign a few months later, I realized I should try and put into practice what I’d witnessed during Hackett’s race for my current candidate. I did, and it worked. We raised half a million dollars online in 6 weeks and I never looked back. That race solidified in my mind that new media was where I wanted to be – it encompassed the best of all the facets of a campaign.
After that, Joe Rospars, (best known now as the Obama Campaign’s New Media Director) brought me into the DNC family to focus on Online Outreach. I was there until the Presidential Primary rolled around. I was eager to be involved in a primary campaign – it wasn’t something I’d done before – and the Edwards camp felt like the right fit for me.
I stayed there until Senator Edwards withdrew from the race, and then finished out the cycle as an independent consultant. Earlier this year, I got a call from the Justice Department asking me to chat with them. I did, and I ended up accepting the New Media gig with them soon after. An Administration job wasn’t something I was actively seeking, but this offer seemed like something I couldn’t pass up. The Justice Department hasn’t ever had a new media strategy. Figuring it out, putting it into practice, and making it work is a huge challenge that has me excited and terrified at the same time.
Anna Curran: In your opinion, have blogs changed presidential politics? What forces and trends do you see?
Tracy Russo: I’m not sure blogs have changed presidential politics as much as they’ve changed political reporting. There is definitely an activist component to the blogosphere which allows for fundraising and calls to action – but more than that – there is now another mechanism for news to be reported and consumed. Blogs have changed the way traditional outlets report the news. Bloggers have built in a new kind of accountability into the system. Bloggers can tell a story the traditional media won’t tell, and make it a story traditional outlets have to tell. Bloggers can be partners, champions and watch dogs all at the same time.
But we’ve still got a ways to go – a lot of traditional communications operatives still don’t understand how to effectively incorporate bloggers into their daily routines. In some cases they are terrified of the “wild” world of the internet and stay away completely. In the worst cases, they bungle the outreach and earn scorn and ridicule. All of that is changing, but it has been a slow process.
On the other side, the political blogosphere is still grappling with a way to support a wide number of bloggers and blogs. The top tier may do well, but there are many bloggers who are doing great work and struggling to stay afloat. Most folks don’t realize a large number of bloggers balance their blogging with another, completely unrelated, full-time job, and it’s not easy or sustainable.
From inside the campaign, the campaign blog, as a tool, has changed campaigning. The doors to the campaign can be opened wide. You can hear directly from the candidate, (and during the Edwards campaign, often the candidate’s fantastic spouse) and from chief decision makers. Supporters can connect directly to the campaign, and more importantly, to each other.
What Sam Graham-Felsen did with the Obama blog was truly amazing. He told the story of that campaign more thoroughly than any other person in that organization. And it was more than just the story of a junior Senator named Barack Obama, it was the story of a movement, of the people in it, and of the change that took place over many months all across America.
Sam’s talent in making that campaign come to life is really unmatched thus far. I don’t think any other campaign has come close to being able to use a blog that effectively. He has set a high bar, and I have no doubt it will be imitated extensively going forward.
Anna Curran: Who do you look to for innovative ideas?
Tracy Russo: I look to my peers in the online political space. We’re definitely a small, colorful family. Ideas are always bouncing around, and good ideas are quickly copied or tweaked and deployed again.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from the non-political parts of the internet – I started blogging personally in 1999 because I was inspired by other online personalities and a bunch of TV related fan sites (The Buffy the Vampire Slayer sites, in particular!). There you saw really active, vibrant communities coming together over shared interests, much like we see within the political online space today.
Finally, I usually troll the corporate/PR/Marketing blogosphere – it’s always a great place to hone communications skills and pick up marketing-inspired ideas.
Anna Curran: Lastly, you just broke 1000 updates on Twitter. Do you have any Twitter tales to share with our audience?
Tracy Russo: I’m sure, if you went back the three years it took me to get to 1000 updates, something would stand out. I’m not the most prolific Twitter updater. I tend to get really active at events, but on a day-to-day basis, I don’t update that often.
For me, Twitter is mainly a place to check in with my network to see what’s happening – whether its what might be trending during the work day, or what’s happening on a Friday night.
Remember when Democrats screeched about the politicization at the Department of Justice when George Bush replaced nine at-will political appointees? I’ve written that AG nominee Eric Holder’s work at Justice in the Clinton administration demonstrated a lot more political hackery than anything seen under Bush, and apparently that won’t be the end of politicization at Justice under Barack Obama, either. Chris Cillizza notes that Matthew Miller has taken the job of spokesperson for the DoJ despite his past history of politicizing an actual investigation:
Matthew Miller, who spearheaded the communications operation at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2008 election, is moving inside the walls of the Obama administration as chief spokesman for the Justice Department. With Eric H. Holder Jr. expected to be confirmed as attorney general this week, Miller will be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. He’s had good practice. Before working under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the DSCC, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
If you don’t remember Matthew Miller, it’s a shame — because he played a central role in a scandal that helped put Republicans in the minority in 2006. Miller got the e-mails between disgraced Congressman Mark Foley and underaged interns, but instead of giving them to investigators, Miller instead tried giving them to reporters in Florida, Foley’s home state. When that apparently didn’t work, Miller turned the material over to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Washington Post reported after the election:
Democratic Caucus communications director Matt Miller saw the e-mails as inappropriate, but rather than taking them to authorities, he shopped them to the press, first to the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times that November, then to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. He also gave the e-mails to the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a point apparently validating Republican charges that senior Democrats were behind the revelation of Foley’s conduct.
Republicans objected to the handling of the e-mails and accused Miller of politicizing Foley’s conduct rather than ensuring that the House interns were safe from any potential predatory conduct. In fact, a familiar name headed the DCCC and knew about the e-mails long before the Ethics Committee was apprised of their existence:
The head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had heard of former Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate e-mails to a former male page a year before they became public, a campaign committee aide told CNN. …
In his deposition to the ethics committee, Miller said he also sent Foley’s e-mails to the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, the Miami Herald and Roll Call, according to the report.
Miller also sent the material to Harper’s Magazine “and possibly others,” the report said.
Miller told the ethics committee he had sent the e-mails to the media because he considered them inappropriate and predicted “nothing would come” from giving them to the ethics panel or the House Page Board, according to the report.
Barack Obama scolded the Bush administration for its supposed politicization of Justice back in March 2007, saying on NBC’s Today Show:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has had a tendency to inject politics into decision-making that should be guided by the public interest. He is close to the president and he considers himself the president’s lawyer as opposed to the people’s lawyer. I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to think about the office of attorney general. … I think what it says is that we are seeing a continuing process of politicization and a lack of accountability that has been the hallmark of many of this administration’s actions. And it’s that sort of approach to government that sees this as a perpetual campaign as opposed to a mechanism to actually get things done on behalf of the American people that I think are of deep concern.
Matthew Miller had evidence of possible pederastic predatory behavior, and instead of acting to protect the interns, he tried to make political hay out of the e-mails. I guess he’ll fit right in at a Holder-led Department of Justice. Will that be normal procedure for investigating potential crimes at the Obama DoJ?
Dr. Rusty Shackleford at The Jawa Report has done yeoman’s work fighting the Jihad over the Internet (he is credited with interfering with Al Qaeda’s latest video). In this post he sights a different target – the people and groups that spread smears about Sarah Palin – Hope, Change, & Lies: Orchestrated “Grassroots” Smear Campaigns & the People that Run Them:
Our research suggests that a subdivision of one of the largest public relations firms in the world most likely started and promulgated rumors about Sarah Palin that were known to be false. These rumors were spread in a surreptitious manner to avoid exposure.
It is also likely that the PR firm was paid by outside sources to run the smear campaign. While not conclusive, evidence suggests a link to the Barack Obama campaign. Namely:
- Evidence suggests that a YouTube video with false claims about Palin was uploaded and promoted by members of a professional PR firm.
- The family that runs the PR firm has extensive ties to the Democratic Party, the netroots, and are staunch Obama supporters.
- Evidence suggests that the firm engaged in a concerted effort to distribute the video in such a way that it would appear to have gone viral on its own. Yet this effort took place on company time.
- Evidence suggests that these distribution efforts included actions by at least one employee of the firm who is unconnected with the family running the company.
- The voice-over artist used in this supposedly amateur video is a professional.
- This same voice-over artist has worked extensively with David Axelrod’s firm, which has a history of engaging in phony grassroots efforts, otherwise known as “astroturfing.”
- David Axelrod is Barack Obama’s chief media strategist.
The same voice-over artist has worked directly for the Barack Obama campaign.
Read the whole thing, it is very detailed and he names names…
UPDATE: Astroturf is a fake grass roots movement. The term is applied when a Public Relations firm creates a fake grassroots group on behalf of a secretive client to professionally manipulate public opinion. According to Business Week, Obama Chief Strategist David Axelrod’s firm ASK is known as “the gold standard in Astroturf organizing. This is an emerging industry, and ASK has made a name for itself in shaping public opinion and manufacturing public support.” Business Week describes a successful Astroturf campaign:
ASK’s relationship with ComEd goes back much further: The Chicago-based utility says ASK has been an adviser since at least 2002. ASK’s workload picked up in 2005, as the Exelon subsidiary was nearing the end of a 10-year rate freeze and preparing to ask state regulators for higher electricity prices. Based on ASK’s advice, ComEd formed Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity (CORE) to win support.
One TV commercial, penned by ASK, warned of a ComEd bankruptcy and blackouts without a rate hike: “A few years ago, California politicians seized control of electric rates. They held rates down, but the true cost of energy kept rising. Soon the electric company went bust; the lights went out. Consumers had to pay for the mess. Now, some people in Illinois are playing the same game.” CORE, which describes itself on its Web site as “a coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations,” was identified as the ad’s sponsor. After a complaint was filed with state regulators, ComEd acknowledged that it had bankrolled the entire $15 million effort.
Another example of a successful Astroturf campaign is the Orwellian ‘Hillary 1984′ viral video. Hillary ad traced to staffer of firm hired by Obama:
…the creator of the “Big Sister” YouTube ad attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Democratic staffer who worked for an Internet firm on contract with rival Barack Obama’s campaign…
De Vellis was employed, until Wednesday, when he was unmasked, by Blue State Digital, the Washington, D.C., firm whose founders include Joe Rospars. Rospars is the Obama campaign’s new media director and oversees the extensive Obama Web operation.
President Bill Clinton’s comment about “typical Chicago thug” politics was a complaint and a warning. This campaign will get ugly before it’s over and WE NEED TO STAND UP!
Oct. 4, 2005 · Bush administration payments of $240,000 to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the “No Child Left Behind” education law were illegal, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Friday. The Department of Education violated a law that prohibits government agencies from spending money on “publicity or propaganda” when it paid Williams to promote Bush’s policies and when it produced a prepackaged news story, the report says.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the department’s public relations efforts broke the law because the department did not explicitly disclose to the public its role in the prepackaged “news.”
In a report requested by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D- Mass.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D- N.J.), the GAO found that the payments to syndicated columnist and TV personality Williams violated a statutory ban on covert propaganda. The senators requested the investigation after it was revealed late last year that the department hired Williams to promote Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation.
Williams, host of “The Right Side,” was paid to regularly speak about the controversial policy during his show, and to interview then-Education Secretary Rod Paige for television and radio spots that aired on the show in 2004, according to Armstrong’s contract with Ketchum, Inc., a public relations firm. The contract was part of a $1 million deal to produce “video news releases” disguised as news reports, the GAO found.
The GAO’s general counsel referred to a federal appropriations measure that says no federal money “may be used by an executive branch agency to produce any prepackaged news story intended for broadcast or distribution unless the story includes a clear notification within the text or audio . . . was prepared or funded by that executive branch agency.” The report did not find such disclosure.
“The Bush administration took taxpayer funds that should have gone towards helping kids learn and diverted it to a political propaganda campaign,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “The administration needs to return these funds to the treasury.”
The department defends the contract with Williams, saying his commentaries were “no more than the legitimate dissemination of information to the public.”
The GAO investigation also found a previously undisclosed case in which the department commissioned a newspaper article that lauded the department’s role in promoting science education. The article was printed in a number of papers across the country through the North American Precis Syndicate, which provides news releases from companies, associations, public relations firms and government information offices, and free features for editors.
The 1913 law, updated in 1966, prohibits such deals. “Appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose,” a provision in the U.S. code reads. The GAO determined that the Bush administration violated this provision.
The “publicity and propaganda” law was cited in May 2004 by Anthony H. Gamboa, GAO’s general counsel, when he ruled that government videos disguised as news violate two other laws.
After news of the Williams contract broke, stories of two other part-time columnists, Maggie Gallagher and Michael J. McManus, were published. Both were paid by the Bush administration and did not disclose the relationship in their columns. However, Gallagher’s contract did not call for actual promotion of the administration’s policies and the $21,500 she was paid by the Department of Health and Human Services for work on the administration’s marriage initiative was not found to violate law. Gallagher, the president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, is a marriage expert and researcher.
McManus, a syndicated columnist for 30 small newspapers who also heads a group that promotes marriage, was awarded a contract worth up to $10,000 for talking to religious and community groups about marriage counseling, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Now I’m sure the American Media, GAO, the Dems, and Congressman Miller are going to report on this story since they were so interested in 2005 in exposing propaganda:
Exposing Government Propaganda
Information from Congressman George Miller
Congressman Miller has joined other House Democrats to introduce legislation that would help put a stop to the use of covert propaganda by the government. The lawmakers acted after a series of revelations over the last year that the Bush Administration has used taxpayer dollars to finance covert propaganda. In two instances, the Administration hired actors to pose as journalists in videos promoting its Medicare and drug control policies. The videos aired on television stations across the country, and viewers at home were never told that what they were seeing was paid for with their own tax dollars. More recent revelations have shown that the Administration paid one prominent media commentator $241,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Law, and had two contracts – one for $20,000, the other for $20,000-plus – for advice on one of the Administration’s marriage initiatives at the same time that the commentator was promoting the initiative in her syndicated column.
Congressman Miller and other lawmakers have asked the Bush Administration to fully disclose its use of covert propaganda. They have also requested investigations from the Government Accountability Office and the inspectors general at different federal agencies. This page will continue to offer updates on the status of these investigations and on the status of legislation to address the problem.
- 2/13/2005 Press Release
Bush Administration Spent Over $1.6 Billion on Advertising and Public Relations Contracts Since 2003, GAO Finds
- 9/30/2005 Press Release
Armstrong Williams’ Work for Bush Administration was Covert Propaganda, Says Government Accountability Office
- 9/6/2005 Press Release
Department of Education Pays For Op-Eds, Ads That Promote Bush Policies, Do Not Reveal Federal Government as Funding Source; Representative Miller Calls for Recovery of Funds and for More Information in Response to Report Showing Irresponsible Use of Taxpayer Dollars, Systemic Covert Propaganda
- 5/4/2005 Press Release
House Refuses to Prevent Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Covert Propaganda
- 4/15/2005 Press Release
Statement by Congressman George Miller on Inspector General Report Regarding Armstrong Williams
- 4/14/2005 Press Release
Miller Warns White House, Department of Education Not to Interfere with Inspector General’s Investigation Into Armstrong Williams Contract
- 3/16/2005 Press Release
Lawmakers Urge OMB to Rescind Instruction on Use of Propaganda; Agency Should Comply with Direction of Congressional Investigative Arm and Label Government-Produced Media
- 3/1/2005 Press Release
Senior Lawmakers Query HHS Over Possible Continued Use of Illegal Video News Releases
- 1/28/2005 Press Release
From the Democratic Leader’s office: President Urged to Order Full Disclosure of Covert Propaganda
- 1/26/2005 Press Release
Use of PR Contracts More Than Doubled Under Bush, Report (pdf file) Finds; Bush Administration’s Use of Covert Propaganda Prompts Legislative Response from Democrats
- 1/26/2005 Press Release
Newspaper, Not Bush Administration, Reveals Another Contract Between Administration and Media Commentator
- 1/21/2005 Press Release
Congressman Miller joined Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other House colleagues in sending a letter to the Social Security Administration urging it to stop the use of propaganda to push the Bush Administration’s scheme for privatizing Social Security
- 1/13/2005 Press Release
Representative Miller Response to Secretary Paige Statement on Propaganda; “The Secretary and President Bush cannot even bring themselves to admit they were wrong”
- 1/11/2005 Press Release
House Democrats Say Broad Investigation Needed to Determine Extent of Covert Propaganda by Bush Administration
- 1/7/2005 Press Release
Miller and Other Lawmakers Call for Several Investigations Into the Alarming Increased Use of Illegal Covert Propaganda by the Bush Administration
- 1/7/2005 Press Release
Representative Miller Calls For Inspector General Investigation Of Armstrong Williams Contract
Representative Miller and 54 other members of Congress wrote to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee to urge them to prohibit the use of federal dollars to produce prepackaged video news stories. These news stories are written and produced by the government at taxpayer expense, feature actors posing as television journalists, and air on local television stations without revealing their source to viewers. The Government Accountability Office has ruled that these videos are illegal covert propaganda, but the Bush Administration has refused to follow the GAO’s ruling. It’s left to Congress to end this misleading and wasteful practice by denying funding for it.
For more information, contact:
Congressman George Miller
2205 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Official Web Site: http://www.house.gov/georgemiller
E-mail Address: George.Miller@mail.house.gov
Related Previous Postings:
NYT: U.S. Justice Department (Link on Right Side Of Page – Announcement of DOJ New Website)