House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a relentless critic of the media, has found a way around the often unflattering coverage of his role in the Trump-Russia investigation — by operating his own partisan news outlet.
Resembling a local, conservative news site, “The California Republican” is classified on Facebook as a “media/news company” and claims to deliver “the best of US, California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis.”
But the website is paid for by Nunes’ campaign committee, according to small print at the bottom of the site. Leading the home page most recently: a photograph of Nunes over the headline, “Understanding the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo.”
The story, like many others on carepublican.com, largely excerpts other publications, including both conservative and mainstream sources. Headlines include “CNN busted for peddling fake news AGAIN!,” “California’s budget future isn’t as good as it looks” and “Billions of dollars later, Democrats and the LA Times start to see the light on high-speed rail.”
In a jab at fellow California Rep. Ted Lieu — an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump — the site titled one blurb, “Dem CA Rep roasted on CNN, proceeds to make a fool of himself.”
The outlet includes stories dating from mid-2017, when it was registered by a Fresno-area communications consultant, Alex Tavlian. Nunes’ campaign has paid Tavlian’s company, Sultana Media, $7,773 since July for “advertising; digital advertising management.”
Reached Saturday, Tavlian said his company registered several domains for Nunes’ campaign. But he said he did not manage “The California Republican” and was unfamiliar with it.
Most of the stories on the site are not about Nunes. But the power to self-publish and to bypass the mainstream media would hold special appeal for a lawmaker who has long complained about “fake news” and “anti-Trump, anti-Republican” coverage.
Nunes has come under intense scrutiny for his handling of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Last month, the editorial board of the dominant newspaper in Nunes’ district, The Fresno Bee, called Nunes “Trump’s stooge,” accusing him of “doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.”
In response to negative coverage, Nunes has cast himself as a victim of media smears. He told radio host Rush Limbaugh last week, “Almost every story is fake news. … Almost every story that runs about me is fake. I mean, it’s unbelievable the stuff that is out there.”
He added, “Democracy does die in darkness. The problem is, is the darkness is emanating from the mainstream media themselves. I mean, they refuse, they absolutely refuse to cover the truth. They don’t want to cover it.”
Asked for comment about “The California Republican” website, Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff, said in an email Saturday: “Until Politico retracts its multitude of fake stories on Congressman Nunes, we will not go on the record.”
For strictly electoral purposes, the site would seem superfluous. Nunes holds more cash on hand, $3.8 million, than any other Republican House incumbent in California, and Trump carried his district by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016.
While the site includes sections devoted to national, state and local politics, it also offers some limited sports coverage — it followed the Fresno State football team’s turnaround season last year.
It is unclear how widely “The California Republican” is read. Its Facebook page on Saturday listed just fewer than 3,598 “Likes” and 3,705 followers.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said before an event in Los Angeles on Saturday that he had not seen the site and would reserve judgment.
But Andrew Janz, Nunes’ main Democratic challenger in his reelection bid, did not hold back. Told of the website’s existence by POLITICO, he derided the publication as “typical Devin Nunes.”
“He’s got fake memos, fake websites and fake news,” Janz said. “It’s disappointing to see a member of Congress, especially one who chairs an important committee, spread misinformation to his constituents, who he knows will just eat it up.”