How Republicans Spread The Lie That The Obama Campaign Was Paying Anti-Romney Protesters

mitt romney las vegas rally

Photo: AP

On June 19th, the AP headlined in its “The Big Story” an article by Steve Peoples, titled “Romney Declines to Condemn Hecklers at Obama Stops.”Peoples reported that, “Mitt Romney has declined to call on his supporters to stop heckling President Barack Obama’s campaign.

He told Fox News Radio on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe in ‘unilateral disarmament.'” So, the question naturally arises here: which side is actually pushing this heckling, and which side is merely reacting to it?

Was this really an issue of Romney’s declining “unilateral disarmament”?

All of the news reporting that will be discussed here will likewise be from June 19th. Olivier Knox at ABC News bannered “Romney Is ‘Endorsing’ Heckling, Obama Camp Complains,” and Knox reported that Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said, “We have sent a strong message to our supporters that this campaign should be an open exchange of ideas, not one where we drown out the other side by heckling and crashing events.” Was this statement from the Obama campaign just hypocritical deceit from the side that really started the heckling?

An influential report had just been issued that suggested that this was the case. Breitbart.comheadlined “New Obama Jobs Program: Pay Anti-Romney Protesters,” and Ben Shapiro wrote that, “President Obama’s latest job-creation gimmick is a self-serving one: Obama allies are reportedly paying protesters … to stake out Mitt Romney’s rallies.

Two Michigan protesters said that they were getting paid to do that arduous work. They’re clearly not unionized – one protester claimed she was getting paid $7.25 per hour, while another man said he was being paid $17 per hour. … Their story was confirmed by an Obama campaign official.” The source for this alleged information was a report When one checks that link, here is what one actually finds: headlined “Anti-Romney Protesters Say They’re Paid To Heckle,” and McKay Coppins wrote about Obama supporters at a Michigan Romney event, saying that “They’re also getting paid, two of the protesters and an Obama campaign official told BuzzFeed.” This seemed incriminating. However, no one was being named as a source. Coppins continued: “Two protesters said they were getting paid to stand outside the rally, though their wage is unclear: one said she was getting $7.25 per hour, while another man said they were being paid $17 per hour.”

Again, Coppins cited no one by name. “About 50 feet away, another protest had been organised by local Democrats in conjunction with the Obama campaign. A campaign official told BuzzFeed they had nothing to do with the other group – which he said he believed they had been sent by the labour-backed group ‘Good Jobs Now.'” So, still without any named source, Coppins was communicating that there was a “labour-backed group,” who were saying that they were paid by some labour organisation, Good Jobs Now, and that there was also a separate group of “local Democrats in conjunction with the Obama campaign.” No allegation was being made here that the latter group were paid protesters.

Then, Coppins wrote: “Brittany Smith, a spokesman for Good Jobs Now, confirmed that they had protesters at the events, but said their ‘activists are NOT paid to protest.’ [the emphasis here is from Coppins]” Finally, Coppins named here a source, and this source was actually denying that “Good Jobs Now” was being paid. So, to sum up: there was no allegation that the “local Democrats” were paid, and the only named source in the entire Coppins article, “Brittany Smith, a spokesman for Good Jobs Now” – the very organisation that Coppins had started out by alleging they paid their protesters – actually denied that their protesters were being paid anything.

In other words: Coppins provided here no evidence whatsoever that any of the anti-Romney protesters were actually being paid by anyone. Furthermore, Coppins’ assertion that “one protester claimed she was getting paid $7.25 per hour, while another man said he was being paid $17 per hour. … Their story was confirmed by an Obama campaign official” was actually a lie, since Coppins didn’t even refer elsewhere to “an Obama campaign official” except to say that, “A campaign official told BuzzFeed they had nothing to do with the other group.” Coppins’ allegation that “Their story was confirmed by an Obama campaign official” was simply a fabrication by Coppins.

However, even though the Breitbart article was actually based upon a fraud, which Breitbart didn’t even so much as question, its allegation was being pumped by Republicans. Thus, Jonathan Karl of ABC News headlined “Newt Gingrich’s Advice for Mitt Romney: Sharpen Your Animal Instincts,” and Gingrich told Karl that Romney’s “biggest weakness is gonna be … to play it safe,” and that doing this would be fatal for his campaign. 

So, what was the actual origin of this heckling, on both of its sides? Michael A. Memoli answered that at the Los Angeles Times. Headlining “Heckling, the Sleeper Issue of the Campaign (Or Not),” he presented “the back story. When President Obama traveled to Cleveland last week for a significant speech meant to lay out the major contrasts between the two candidates, the Romney campaign sent a fully emblazoned campaign bus to circle the venue and distract attention.

Not long before that, when [Obama] campaign strategist David Axelrod went to the statehouse in Boston for a news conference on Romney’s record as governor, the Romney campaign made sure they had a jeering section within earshot.” In other words: the Romney campaign had organised hecklers at both Obama events.

“So, as Romney made his way through key states this weekend on a bus tour, some Obama supporters were there to heckle the candidate. But Axelrod pointedly urged Obama backers” not to do it. “‘I strongly condemn heckling along Mitt’s route. Shouting folks is their tactic, not ours,’ … he wrote on Twitter.” No evidence was provided anywhere that heckling the opposed candidate was anything other than a Republican tactic, at least as regards the campaign itself – a candidate’s supporters, of course, are not controlled by the campaign.

The only fraudulent news reporting here was by BuzzFeed and Breitbart, both of which were Republican propaganda, not authentic news sources. The other reports were authentic newsmedia. However, unfortunately, denizens of right-wing “news” media don’t know the difference.

This makes the situation for authentic newsmedia extremely difficult, because, if many readers (basically, Republican voters) cannot tell the difference between lying propaganda and honest news reporting, then journalism breaks down, and The Big Lie comes to dominate and threatens the very existence of democracy.

Democracy is endangered when propaganda gets mixed in with legitimate news reporting, because voters’ choices cannot be any more accurate than the information upon which those choices are based.  In such an environment, and especially after the infamous 2010 Republican U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing billionaires to buy all the propaganda they want, propaganda can overwhelm the press and thereby effectively control electoral outcomes.


Previously, was the central source of the lie that caused ACORN to go bankrupt, and of the lie that caused President Obama to fire Shirley Sherrod from the Agriculture Department – two other big Fox “News” stories that caused immense embarrassment to this White House, solely on the basis of lies that became heavily imprinted upon the minds of conservatives.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity

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