Google has long been a target of the right-wing media, especially Fox News. Glenn Beck has claimed that "Google is pretty deeply in bed with the government"; a 2009 FoxNews.com article suggested that Google has a liberal "bias"; and Fox & Friends has stooped to attacking Google over its ... Easter icons.
Today, the Fox & Friends hosts outdid themselves by hyping a spooky-sounding story about how Google is giving an "advantage" to the Obama campaign by offering it "something that was not available to the Republicans." Here's how the misinformers on the curvy couch told the tale of Google's conspiracy:
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Let's tell the story regarding President Obama and Google. Could it be that Google -- keep in mind the former CEO, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the president's council of advisers on science and technology. He's been talked about being Commerce Secretary, maybe, and a technology officer. They have a close connection. Giving a bunch of bucks to the Obama campaign.
So Schmidt and Obama are close, very close, Carlson wants you to know. She continued:
CARLSON: Could it be that Google then gave the Obama administration and his re-election campaign an advantage in setting up an advertisement on their website, something that was not available to Republicans who requested the same type of thing?
Whoa -- spooky, indeed! Co-host Steve Doocy went on:
DOOCY: Well, there was this Republican senatorial staff member who was looking at RealClearPolitics and he saw this ad. He said, now isn't that interesting. And he clicked on it and discovered a little more about it and e-mailed somebody at Google asking if it was available for Republicans and for him to use, because it was this new technology called cost-per-lead, which charges clients for every time a piece of personal information is collected from users.
Well, as it turns out, he received something back from them, and they said, "Well if you are interested, blah blah blah." They said then, the Republicans did, doesn't it seem like the president would have an unfair advantage, given his ties to Eric Schmidt, where he would be able to use this particular kind of technology, and yet the Republicans were told, you know what, it's still in the testing phase, don't worry about that.
So, to recap, Doocy tells us: a Republican staff member saw an Obama campaign ad on the website RealClearPolitics, emailed Google about it, they told him "blah blah blah," and doesn't that mean the president has an unfair advantage, because the software's in a testing phase? And Obama has ties to Eric Schmidt!
If you're confused, like most viewers probably were, co-host Brian Kilmeade didn't do much to help clear things up:
KILMEADE: All right, here's what Google says. They said, "We have never run or given away cost-per-lead ads to any political candidate." So stop asking. I added that. So I don't know. Do you buy that? What do you think? Do you think Google's giving the president a head start?
This ominous text was aired while the co-hosts spoke:
Anyone watching this segment could only conclude, "Hmm, Google loves Obama. And I think they're giving him something they're not giving Republicans. That sounds unfair!"
But Fox's version is not the real story.
Here's what actually happened, as per the Politico article that originally reported the Google kerfuffle. Google is indeed working on a new advertising program called cost-per-lead (CPL) advertising, which, according to Politico, "would charge clients for every email address (or other piece of user data) they collect." The article went on:
The program is attractive to campaigns eager for that information, so when a staffer at the National Republican Senatorial Committee saw what appeared to be an Obama ad built on this technology on the RealClearPolitics website last month, she emailed a Google sales rep to ask about creating a similar ad campaign for Republicans.
And indeed, as Doocy (sort of) reported, a sales rep at Google seemed to suggest that the Obama campaign had a special deal:
"This is a pre-alpha product that is being released to a select few clients," she wrote in an email, referring to the first stage of a product's roll-out. "I'd be happy to get you into the beta if you're interested."
A similar email went out to at least one other Republican digital media firm, a Republican source said.
But wait. When Politico checked with a Google spokesman, it was told (emphasis added):
But Google spokesman Jake Parrilo denied strenuously that the Obama campaign had been granted special access to the pilot program, and chalked the email up to inaccurate "puffery" by the sales representative. The ad that appeared on RealClearPolitics, he said, was not a Google ad at all.
"This is an experiment and while we generally do not comment on those experiments we can tell you that we have not sold a single CPL [cost-per-lead] ad unit to any political candidates or committees," said Parrillo.
The article also reported that an Obama campaign spokesman "seconded the company's account that the campaign had not purchased any ads or enrolled in the Google pilot program."
So a Google spokesman not only denies that the campaign got a special deal, he also points out that it hasn't sold any CPL ads to any political candidates or committees, and he also notes the ad in question was not even a Google ad.
As for Fox's bizarre assertion that Google might be getting "illegal access" to "potential voters' emails," this is wildly untrue. CPL advertising is a legal online advertising model -- and one that's apparently increasingly popular. Zephrin Lasker, co-founder and CEO of online advertising company Pontiflex, explained to Business Insider last year how CPL can be a better "pricing model ... for online advertisers." So CPL -- which, again, is not actually the technology that was being used in the RealClearPolitics ad spotted by the Republican staffer -- is definitely not "illegal access" to "voters' emails.
What's perhaps most frustrating about this segment -- besides the fact that Fox reported on this story yesterday and still hasn't learned the facts -- is the way it ended. After Kilmeade asked, "Do you think Google's giving the president a head start?" Carlson said, "Well, we'll leave that up to our viewers to decide. Let us know what you think."
No. That's not the way news works. Viewers can't "decide" if your story is true. It's the journalists' job to do that. And once again, all three misinformers on the curvy couch failed to do exactly that.