Shareblue is the finger that wags at the mainstream news media or pokes at individual reporters. In an increasingly close race for the presidency, it plays its part.
Just before 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, the first Twitter post appeared, directing users to an obscure article about a remark Donald Trump had made last year that 50 percent of the country did not want to work.
In the next 48 hours, 1,819 people, seemingly furious that the news media had paid more attention to Hillary Clinton’s assertion that half of Trump supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables,” lashed out at reporters and news outlets.
“Dear Media: If you don’t cover this, you’re covering for him, #Trump50percent,” wrote one Twitter user.
“@CNN @CNNPolitics have been in bed with #Trump for a year! They refuse to report #TrumpScandals #Trump50percent” wrote another.
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By the end of the week, the hashtag #Trump50percent had appeared in Twitter timelines more than 30,000 times.
Other liberal Twitter users, some with more than 1 million followers, linked to the article and spread the same complaint the Clinton campaign had made: A shameful false equivalence was causing the media to soft-pedal Trump’s many transgressions and overplay the few it could find on Clinton.
At first glance, the Clintonian grass roots seemed to have organically sprouted in anger. But closer inspection yielded traces of Miracle-Gro that led to the sixth floor of a building in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan.
There, surrounded by startup tech companies, “Star Wars” posters and flat-screen televisions fixed on cable news, Peter Daou sat with his team at a long wooden table last week, pushing the buttons that activate Clinton’s outrage machine. Daou’s operation, called Shareblue, had published the article on Trump’s comment on its website and created the accompanying hashtag.
“They will put that pressure right on the media outlets in a very intense way,” Daou, the chief executive of Shareblue, said of the Twitter army he had galvanized.
In the sprawling Clinton body politic, Shareblue is the finger that wags at the mainstream news media (“RIP Political Journalism (1440-2016)”) or pokes at individual reporters. It is a minor appendage, but in an increasingly close race for the presidency, it plays its part.
It is already warming up for the biggest event of the general election so far: the first debate, Monday night. It has published a piece calling on moderators to fact-check Trump on the spot, and will continue through debate night, whipping up support online with the hashtag #DemandFairDebates.
Starting the fire
Shareblue is owned by David Brock, a onetime Clinton critic who remade himself into a Clinton supporter and architect of a conglomerate of organizations designed, he said, to be the liberal answer to the conservative messaging of Fox News.
The Brock network includes his Media Matters for America watchdog website; two pro-Clinton super PACs, the opposition research outfit American Bridge and the pro-Clinton fact-checking and reporter-spamming operation Correct the Record; and Shareblue, which filled the need, Brock said, for a progressive outlet that spoke directly to the grass roots and that “was avidly and unabashedly pro-Hillary.”
Shareblue’s bread-and-butter content is exposing what it considers to be news coverage stacked against Clinton. Daou was particularly excited about a project seeking to show that Clinton’s email travails had been in the news every day since the story originally broke in March 2015.
Often, its editorial direction seems in sync with the Clinton campaign, which has instructed its surrogates to blame news coverage for negative coverage. “Are they going to hold Hillary to a different standard again?” read one recent “talking points” memo sent by the campaign to its surrogates.
That approach became clear this month. On Sept. 1, The Washington Post broke a story about the Donald J. Trump Foundation being fined for improperly donating $25,000 to Pam Bondi, the attorney general of Florida, around the time that her office was deciding whether to investigate fraud accusations against Trump University.
The next day, the Clinton campaign put out a statement contending that while the news media had an unhealthy obsession with the Clinton Foundation, Trump’s charity had been caught in an “actual pay-to-play scandal.” The Clinton campaign’s foreign-policy spokesman, Jesse Lehrich, wrote on Twitter: “Awaiting outrage.”
He didn’t have to wait long. Daou and his website incessantly demanded coverage of the Trump Foundation story. “We just have to start the fire,” Daou said in an interview last week. Many liberal columnists, Democratic operatives and members of the Media Matters family reached the same conclusion, excoriating news outlets and individuals for grading Trump “on a curve.”
Brock recruited Daou to join what was then called Blue Nation Review (it relaunched as Shareblue this month) during a breakfast at the Regency Hotel in New York in November.
Close ties to Clinton
Daou grew up in Lebanon and spent the ’90s working in dance music with his first wife as part of a group called The Daou, which put the words of his aunt, novelist Erica Jong, to music. He then worked as a producer and keyboardist for Björk and other musicians.
In the 2000s, Daou broke into progressive blogging and claimed to have helped found The Huffington Post. His suit accusing the company of denying him appropriate credit and compensation was settled in 2014. He also worked directly in politics, first for John Kerry in 2004 and then for Clinton in 2008, leading her digital operation.
The real metric of success for Shareblue, which Brock said has a budget of $2 million supplied by his political donors, is getting Clinton elected. Daou’s role is deploying a band of committed, outraged followers to harangue Clinton’s opponents.
“The pond scum of American politics,” is how Tad Devine, a senior strategist to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, described the website in March for its frequent attacks on Sanders.
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton, viewed Shareblue more as a necessary voice in a world teeming with conservative radio, television and internet outlets that fire up the Republican base. “On the left, frankly, having more of that is not a bad thing,” Merrill said.
How much Daou coordinates his efforts with the Clinton campaign is hard to pinpoint. The campaign said there was no formal coordination with Shareblue, and Daou said he did not take any direction from the campaign.
“Now do I communicate with them regularly? I do,” Daou said, noting that because of his years working for Clinton, “half the people on that campaign, if not more, are former colleagues and friends.”
He added that when one of their stories takes off, “I’ll let them know, ‘Hey check out what we just posted, it looks like a good angle.’ ”