The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Election Commission, among other agencies, must compel these publications to disclose when they're being paid by political operatives to publish slanted stories.
The New York Times this week performed a public service in digging into a network of websites published by Brian Timpone, a former TV reporter who became an internet entrepreneur. The ownership of the sites is murky, typically listing companies like Metric Media, Locality Labs, Newsinator, Franklin Archer and Interactive Content Services as the publisher.
Timpone's network not only publishes websites, but also distributes print versions in some towns, such as its North Cook News and DuPage Policy Journal, the NYT reported.
“While Mr. Timpone’s sites generally do not post information that is outright false, the operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency," according to the NYT. "Only a few dozen of the sites disclose funding from advocacy groups.”
The NYT's story follows other research into the murky world of "pink slime" websites that publish biased stories, as reported last year in the Columbia Journalism Review. Its report mostly focused on networks of fake local news sites that spread conservative talking points, but progressive groups also are seeking to fill the local news void with biased reporting.
As reported in July by Politico, a Democratic-aligned digital organization called Acronym set up a news outlet called Courier to publish friendly articles about Democratic candidates. Courier spent more than $1.4 million on Facebook advertising to expand the reach of those stories.
With a study this year indicating that many readers can't tell the difference between news and opinion among mainstream outlets, the electorate is becoming more misinformed by propaganda that mimics news.