Is a propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton’s presidential juggernaut masquerading as an independent news and opinion site?
That, anyhow, is the charge being leveled by the campaign of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders. They may have a point.
Back in the summer of 2014—when Blue Nation Review was a fledgling blog dedicated to creating “a place where progressives can debate where we want to be as a movement,” per the website’s mission statement—it treated Sanders as a liberal hero.
This was 18 months before BNR, as it’s known, started attacking the 74-year-old Sanders with a zeal normally associated with the Republican assault on Benghazi and the former secretary of state’s private email server.
These days the blog celebrates all things Clinton and relentlessly blames the socialist senator from Vermont for nearly every misguided, corrupt, hypocritical, or wretched thing in American democracy—though it does admit, from time to time, that he’s no Donald Trump.
Even before Sunday night’s CNN-sponsored Democratic debate had ended, BNR’s lead story was accusing Sanders of rudeness and sexism under the headline “Women React to Bernie Sanders Telling Hillary ‘I’m Talking.’”
BNR is “the pond scum of American politics,” said Democratic political consultant Tad Devine, a top strategist for Sanders’s campaign against the Democratic frontrunner. “I’m sure they’re going to do whatever it takes to throw mud at Bernie and discredit him and lie about him, and deceive people. And that’s their business. That’s what they do for a living.”
Devine added: “Our approach to most of this is to ignore it, and I suspect that’s all we’ll continue to do.”
It has been, to say the least, a stunning about-face for BNR—and for the blog’s small coterie of loyal readers, a baffling one as well.
The website had developed a reputation for reliably liberal opinion, of course, but also on occasion for aggressive reporting; BNR was the first to reveal questionable real estate transactions that, among other violations of the public trust, led to the resignation of Republican House member Aaron Schock of Illinois.
Now, suddenly, it is being seen by some as the journalism equivalent of a Clinton campaign surrogate.
As with an increasing number of political whodunits during this election cycle, the fingerprints of Hillary hit man David Brock are all over the crime scene.
Brock, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, is the famed Clinton antagonist-turned-acolyte, an ardent convert from right-wing attack journalism who founded the liberal-leaning media watchdog organization, Media Matters for America.
Today Brock, a talented organizer and prolific fundraiser, controls a network of pro-Hillary PACs and nonprofits, including Correct the Record (which polices media criticism of Brock’s favorite candidate and deploys rapid responses), as well as the richly funded pro-Clinton super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century.
In early November, Brock formed a separate Delaware corporation, True Blue Media, LLC, in order to purchase an 80 percent controlling interest in BNR from Moko Social Media, a content creator aimed at high school and college students.
In December 2013, Moko’s then-CEO, a hot-tempered Australian named Ian Rodwell, had recruited former Democratic Senate staffer and political operative Jimmy Williams, a frequent cable news talking head, to launch the blog as editor in chief from a newsroom in Alexandria, Virginia.
According to sources familiar with BNR, the blunt-spoken Williams, a Hillary Clinton supporter, frequently clashed with Rodwell over editorial issues, engaging in epic, profanity-laced shouting matches in the newsroom.
Finally, early last fall, Williams enlisted millionaire media entrepreneur and philanthropist Leo Hindery, another member of Team Clinton and a member of Moko’s board of directors, to help him wrest BNR out of Rodwell’s hands.
Hindery, a major donor to Democratic causes, naturally steered the sale to Brock, who in a late-November meeting with Williams in the lobby of a Manhattan hotel informed the founder of BNR that most of his staff would be dismissed and his services were no longer required.
Brock installed as CEO of True Blue Media a longtime Democratic operative named Peter Daou, a diehard Hillary loyalist who had worked in her Senate office and 2008 presidential campaign. Daou declined to comment for this story.
At the time of the sale, Brock gave the Huffington Post a high-minded statement concerning BNR’s mission.
“The need for alternative sources of information and independent reporting has never been greater,” he said, adding that the site would be “a focal point in liberal journalism” and produce investigative stories as well as video. “With the 2016 campaign now fully underway, the time is right for the rise of a new liberal standard-bearer and Blue Nation Review is poised to assume that role.”
Yet BNR, in its current incarnation, seems more a comfortable venue for negative Sanders stories that Brock wasn’t successful in placing with mainstream news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
An examination of BNR’s Sanders coverage documents the switcheroo since Brock and Daou took over. During Williams’s tenure as editor, for instance, the headline on BNR’s July 28, 2014, story about Sanders, then chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, was: “Senator Bernie Sanders and GOP Rep Jeff Miller find pathway to address VA problems.”
Subsequent BNR stories, as Sanders ramped up his seemingly quixotic White House quest, carried headlines such as “5 Awesome Things Bernie Sanders is Doing With His Campaign,” “Bernie Sanders Wants to Bring the Fight to the GOP,” “Bernie Sanders rolls through Virginia riding high,” “Over 110,000 Bernie Backers Pledge to Attend Grassroots Event,” and—on Oct. 29 of last year—“While the GOP Were Embarrassing Themselves at the Debate, Bernie Sanders Was Doing This.”
This last story—a dying burst of positive Sanders coverage—reported: “With most of the political world’s eyes trained on the CNBC GOP Presidential Debate on Wednesday night, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders held a rally at George Mason University.
“As the Republicans dodged questions about their own divisive rhetoric, Sanders decried Islamophobia and the hate that often follows it.
“BNR BOTTOM LINE: We think Robert F. Kennedy… would be proud.”
After early November came a two-month-long hiatus in which Sanders was barely mentioned—and certainly never again compared to a martyred liberal icon.
Then, on Jan. 19, BNR blasted a group that Daou, a prolific writer, called “a segment of Bernie Sanders supporters.”
“Why do you have to hate Hillary to love Bernie?” Daou demanded. “Why do you have to echo Karl Rove and the GOP in their misogynistic rhetoric? Why do you have to do the dirty work of the far right and tear down one of the most accomplished women in the history of American politics?”
Daou followed up the next day with an article titled, “With Bernie Sanders As Their Nominee, Democrats Can Kiss The Presidency Goodbye.”
Two days later, BNR formally endorsed Clinton for president and subsequent articles carried headlines such as “Why does Bernie Sanders keep denigrating Hillary’s supporters,” “Why did Bernie Sanders sponsor a bill to dump nuclear waste on a low-income Latino community,” “NASTY HIT: top Sanders adviser questions Hillary’s capacity to appoint Scalia replacement,” “Bernie’s dark side: the reckless war on Hillary’s integrity,” and “Bernie Sanders gets gender equality painfully wrong.”
BNR founder Jimmy Williams, for one, barely recognizes the site he helped create. Although he supports Clinton’s campaign, “Bernie Sanders was a great House member and he’s a damn good senator,” Williams said.
“I wish David Brock and his staff the very best of luck in their endeavors,” he added. “I’m proud of what we built when I was there. I’m proud of the original reporting we did and the opinion journalism. And I’m proud that we never took a hit on other Democrats running for president.”