How is it that taxpayers are funding what looks like an official Senate committee blog dispensing far-right agitprop? Here's the story.
Toward the middle of last year, then-chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-Okla.) hired Marc Morano as his communications director.
Morano is a long-time operative in right-wing media circles, known for his facility at injecting fringe talking points into the mainstream dialogue via friendly outlets like Fox News. He was known as Rush Limbaugh's "man in Washington" when he produced and reported for Limbaugh's TV show, and was a lead writer at hyper-conservative CNS News, where he played a crucial role in advancing the Swift Boat story slandering John Kerry and calling into question the Purple Hearts received by both Kerry and John Murtha.
As EPW communications director, Morano immediately began issuing press releases blasting any piece of reporting or commentary too friendly to the mainstream global warming consensus. The releases became steady fodder for right-wing blogs, talk radio, and cable news; Morano's readers took to descending on his every target with abuse and vitriol. (Heidi Cullen is the latest victim.)
In Dec., Morano set up a blog on the EPW site. Currently it is marked as the "minority blog" only on the EPW homepage. If readers are sent directly to the blog itself, or -- more likely -- directly to an individual post, there's no indication that the thoughts expressed do not represent the positions of the full committee. [UPDATE: Between the time I wrote this (early yesterday) and the time I posted it, it seems Morano was forced to add an "Inhofe EPW Press Blog" banner on top of the blog. Bully for him.] Suffice to say, the posts are in keeping with Morano's previous work, consisting primarily of attack politics and fringe, discredited scientific views.
I called the EPW to ask why the blog is not more clearly marked as belonging to the minority, and whether it's normal for a Senator to have his own in-house extremist blogger.
(Keep in mind that Boxer only officially took over the majority office about a week ago, so they aren't exactly settled in.)
Staffers there told me that Inhofe alone is legally responsible for the minority portions of the website, but that they are aware of concerns about the blog's lack of identification. They have made it clear to the minority communications staff that they would like to see it more conspicuously identified. Expeditiously. We'll see if and when that happens.
Majority staffers are in the midst of updating the EPW website and say it will soon offer a "different perspective," resources, tools for research, and a blog from Sen. Boxer.
Based on some informal asking around, it seems only two things are legally prohibited in official Committee communications: fundraising, and explicit campaigning on behalf of a candidate or piece of legislation. I'll leave it to legal experts to determine whether Inhofe's crossed that line, though he has reprinted editorials bashing Kyoto and inveighing against legislative limits on carbon emissions, and regularly attacks other legislators by name. It's not illegal, of course, to misrepresent science, which Morano has done regularly since he was hired. This, recall, from the Senate committee explicitly assigned to protect the environment.
Aside from the legal issues is the simple, strange fact that a United States Senator is using not his own website, or a PAC website, but the website of the committee he co-chairs to disseminate fringe right-wing talking points, hype companies from his home state, and attack his co-chair. My informal survey of other Senate committee sites turns up nothing comparable, and as far as I know no legislator is lending his or her name to an extreme ideological blog.
Morano's become the darling of the right-wing. His success pushing Inhofe's talking points will no doubt serve as an inspiration to other legislators and committee chairs. Perhaps they'll all fund in-house attack bloggers. Won't that be a dignified state of affairs for the U.S. Congress.
If you have thoughts about U.S. Senators using taxpayer money to fund fringe blogging, you can contact the EPW majority office at 202-224-8832.