The Hill

The Hill Yanks 2016 Anti-RAWA Op-Ed Penned by Fictitious Author

Here’s a a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, about which we might never discover the final answer: Prominent Washington, D.C.-based political news outlet The Hill has yanked a widely-read anti-RAWA (Restoration of America’s Wire Act) editorial published in 2016 after a Buzzfeed News investigation confirmed the author of the editorial was fictitious, and was in fact one of a large series of pieces planted in largely conservative outlets by a D.C.-based press-manipulation outfit called Third Dimension Strategies (TDS).

The opinion piece, titled “Will Congress ban Internet gaming before Christmas?” was purportedly authored by someone name Beth Johnson, who was billed at the end of the Hill story as being “a freelance political journalist based out of Washington, D.C.” The piece appeared on November 23rd, 2016, several weeks after the “RAWA II” measure crafted by lobbyists at Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., and pushed onto Capitol Hill by a couple of Adelson’s water carriers, US Senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham.

Third Dimension Strategies’ Jim Terry, whose firm has been linked by Buzzfeed News to an anti-RAWA piece submitted under a false author to Washington DC-based The Hill. The Hill ran the editorial in November of 2016, and has now yanked the story.

Johnson, though, now turns out to not have existed. Nor do the authors of at least 32 other single-topic pieces placed into conservative outlets, in what Buzzfeed describes as possibly representing only “the tip of the iceberg.”

According to that outlet, it’s all the work of TDS. Also known as TDS Public Affairs, the PR group was founded in 2007 by Republican consultant and commentator Jim Terry, and it specializes in all sorts of topical-related efforts.

Terry’s page at TDS describes him thusly: “A long-time veteran of Capitol Hill, Jim has served as campaign manager, political director and advisor on some of the most high profile races in the nation and at the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Terry understands the legislative process literally in and out having served as both a congressional Chief of Staff and Chief Executive at the Free Enterprise fund, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to advancing free-market policies.”

Indeed, free-market interests seem to be the common thread behind all the fake-author pieces uncovered by Buzzfeed. The TDS op-ed plants run the topical gamut from payday lenders to contact lenses, even including attack pieces targeting Elon Musk. And the pieces have appeared in pieces right-wing outlets such as Red Alert Politics, the Daily Caller, and even the extreme-right Breitbart News.

How the anti-RAWA piece came to be included in this mess isn’t clear… yet. The Adelson-funded RAWA and RAWA II legislative pushes were hated almost as much on the political right as they were on the political left, and any free-market-loving entity could have been insulted enough by Adelson’s crony-capitalism push to try to undermine it. The RAWA push, if successful, would undermine states’ rights in more than just gambling matters; a wide variety of activity now governed at the state level could find itself commandeered by the feds should a RAWA-type law become the custom of the US.

Still, though, this isn’t the right way; it’s just as dirty as Adelson’s own stinky tricks in trying to block online-gambling legalization at both the state and federal levels.

The “Beth Johnson” piece, when it appeared, was roundly cited in a number of gambling-media outlets, but right now it’s just an “Access Denied” hole on the The Hill’s site. If you’d like to read the original “Beth Johnson” piece, there’s always Google Cache for that. It actually isn’t a bad piece, and it bears all the marks of professional craftsmanship, but that doesn’t matter a whit if it’s been put out there with a fake pedigree. The Hill is prominent, and, stung once, it’s likely to view any future pro-online-gambling pieces with a healthy dose of suspicion.

TDS’s site offers this description of its “Media and Public Relations” Services (emphasis ours):

MEDIA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS

Shaping public opinion or the landscape for government action now requires more than a lobbying campaign. Today, media coverage, social media engagement, grassroots advocacy and coalition development are all critical ingredients to success.

TDS creates targeted strategies to launch our clients and their issues into the public debate with the strongest possible positioning.

We tailor messages to specific audiences, develop unique angles and arguments, and find the most effective channels to deliver each message. From television ad campaigns to talk radio interviews, pitching reporters or opinion content placement, our firm has had unparalleled success in engaging a vast assortment of mediums to convey our clients’ message to everyone from elected officials and think tanks to the public at large.

TDS’s Terry issued a statement to Buzzfeed which in no way addressed the specific allegations. Said Terry, “Our firm is proud of the diverse opinions and perspectives of the authors, activists, and policy organizations we work with. It is what makes us effective advocates on public policy for our clients. We hold our employees and partners to a high standard and anytime we learn of practices that don’t meet our standards, corrective action is immediately taken.”

“Corrective action is immediately taken” also translates easily into “We’ll work harder at not getting caught.” Places like TDS are where truth goes to die, and it’s just a shame to see a good, just fight such as that against Adelson and RAWA resorting to these depths.

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