If you’re a follower of popular Pennsylvania political hashtags #PAPolitics or #PAGov, you’re probably used to seeing the likes of Matt Brouillette, Nathan Benefield, and other employees of the billionaire funded Commonwealth Foundation populate their feeds. In fact, you may have also noticed fake social media accounts and bots promoting petitions by the Commonwealth Foundation. However, you may have noticed recently posts by an organization called WatchDog.Org.
WatchDog.Org is a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity with deep ties to right-wing billionaires. Similar to other front groups funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, and others like them, integrity is the furthest descriptor possible for WatchDog.Org and the Franklin Center. It’s also no coincidence that the majority of featured states on the website are competitive swing states. They are part of the vast network of Koch-funded front groups that hide their funders through legally questionable “non-profit” set-ups. It’s exactly the same as what the Commonwealth Foundation are doing in Pennsylvania.
The “reporting” on the site is often done by partisan operatives with ties to the Koch Brothers and other conservative media entities. Organizations that are actually dedicated to the profession of journalism have rightfully called attention to their biased and thinly sourced efforts. Laura McGann, who is currently the Editorial Director at Vox and previously worked at the Neiman Journalism Lab at Harvard, described them this way:
“As often as not, their reporting is thin and missing important context, which occasionally leads to gross distortions. This sort of misleading reporting crops up on Watchdog sites often enough to suggest that, rather than isolated instances of sloppiness, it is part of a broad editorial strategy.”
In fact, many stories they’ve written about Pennsylvania features quotes or “analysis” from the Commonwealth Foundation. This is no coincidence and is likely through some agreement between the Franklin Center and the Commonwealth Foundation. WatchDog.Org has said themselves they plan to model themselves after the Illinois News Network, a project of Illinois’ version of the Commonwealth Foundation, the Illinois Policy Institute. You may remember them for publishing an incredibly racist cartoon that was condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike in Illinois.
So the next time you see posts populating #PAPolitics or #PAGov from WatchDog.Org, remember they are actually just the biased media lapdogs paid to push out misleading analysis from the Commonwealth Foundation and drive right-wing narratives in Pennsylvania.
Update: Watchdog.org has rebranded as The Center Square.