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 Commentary: Ohio Senate’s “News” Site Designed to Deceive Voters

 by DemocracyIssues.com, an Ohio-based Voter Rights initiative

Ohio’s August 8, 2023 Special Election resulted in an overwhelming rejection of an effort led by a small number of Ohio Politicians that would have effectively eliminated the right to citizen-led Constitutional Amendments in the state. 

Following their defeat in the August 8, 2023 Special Election, a number of these Politicians who are leaders in the Ohio Senate established a highly controversial official “News” site that is now publishing false information aimed at influencing Ohio voters.

This false information is currently being used in an attempt to defeat Issue 1that would return a woman’s right to choose an abortion, and that is on the upcoming November Ballot.

Ohio Senate’s “News” Site Designed to Deceive

In September 2023, a month after their August 8 defeat, members in leadership in the Ohio Senate launched a new official “News” site called “On the Record.”  To reach this area, visitors must click on a tab on the home page of the Ohio Senate website that is clearly labeled “News.”

The site is full of opinion pieces that masquerade as news articles; and each appear to be highly biased personal opinions as opposed to impartial news articles.  A core tenant of the Code of Ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) involving the reporting of “news” is to act independently and be impartial.

The new Ohio Senate site has been intentionally mislabeled “News” and there is no attempt to label any and all of the clearly personal biased articles as “Opinion”, “Editorial,” “Op-Ed,” or “Commentary.” 

There is a highly unethical reason for why members in leadership in the Ohio Senate chose to use the term “News”–  that will be discussed shortly.

Falsified Content

Another core tenant of the Code of Ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) involving “news” is to seek truth and report it.

While the Ohio Senate’s new site begins its deception with masqueraded “news” articles, the deception is significantly elevated with its aggressive use of falsified information clearly aimed at misleading Ohio voters.

An Associated Press article by Julie Carr Smyth and Christine Fernando published on October 27, 2023 addresses the falsified information on the new Ohio Senate “News” site involving Issue 1(Abortion Amendment) on the upcoming November Ballot:

“Among claims asserted in one senator’s article (in the Ohio Senate’s On the Record site) are that the measure would ‘legalize abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy ‘ and allow for the dismemberment of fully conscious children.’”

The two authors further explain:

. . . “Legal and medical experts consulted by The Associated Press have called these narratives false or misleading.

. . . “The proposed amendment expressly allows Ohio to regulate abortions once a fetus is viable outside the womb (24 months), as long as there are exceptions for the life or health of the woman.”

Smyth and Fernando reviewed the Ohio Senate’s “News” site with a national media expert:

“’It’s a really strategic way to make something appear to be neutral information and fact, when that’s not the reality,” said Laura Manley, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s really smart in a really devious way.’”

There is no ethical News organization in the United States that would first intentionally misrepresent its articles as “news” when the articles are highly biased opinion pieces, and then follow this by using falsified content to deceive voters.

Manipulating Social Media–  and Ohio Voters

In the Associated Press article, Smyth and Fernando explain that search engines such as Google use algorithms that give “News” sites belonging to government entities higher priorities. It is assumed that government sites provide “trustworthy, verifiable, authoritative content,” according to the two authors.

In addition to Google, other search engines and social media sites also provide increased priority for a government-based “News” site.

The Ohio Senate is intentionally using the “News” label for On the Record that will continue to wrongfully deceive Ohio voters that this information is trustworthy “news,” and also wrongfully result in much greater social media exposure for the falsified information on the site.

The Associated Press’ Smyth and Fernando concluded their article by having another national expert review the Ohio Senate’s use of deception and falsified information :

“Mary Ruth Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, said it’s common for politicians to have close relationships with advocacy organizations on either side of the abortion debate, but the Ohio Senate’s blog “crosses a line” because it’s on a government website that the public would see as providing neutral information.”

What future issues will be addressed by the Ohio Senate’s “News” site that may also incorporate falsified information to deceive voters in the state?

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