“Sadly, since the last election, The Fresno Bee has worked closely with radical left-wing groups to promote numerous fake news stories about me,” Nunes says in the ad, though he offers no evidence of collusion between The Bee and any group.
While it is not unusual for a member of Congress to complain about the media, Nunes’ airing of a lengthy attack against a prominent local newspaper stands apart — especially in a campaign in which Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has had little reason to date to spend money at all.
Though drawing a tougher-than-usual challenge this year, Nunes represents a conservative-leaning district that President Donald Trump carried by nearly 10 points in 2016. Even Democratic polling puts Nunes ahead of Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz, and the congressman’s fundraising advantage is staggering.
While Janz has emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s top online House candidate fundraisers, Nunes has managed to parlay his high-profile effort to delegitimize the Russia election probe into a fundraising juggernaut with conservatives across the United States. Nunes has banked more money than any other Republican House incumbent in California. This week, he reported raising about $7.4 million this election cycle, with $6.1 million in cash on hand. Nunes is also preparing to travel throughout the country raising money for other House Republicans.
Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff, wrote in an email that “we will be in every region of the country prior to the election and have more requests than days left in the year.”
Back home, however, Nunes appears fixated on the Central Valley’s media landscape. Earlier this year, POLITICO reported that Nunes was operating his own partisan news outlet, “The California Republican,” paid for Nunes’ campaign committee but designed to resemble a local, conservative news site. His broadside against The Bee, which started airing in June, remains near the top of the Nunes campaign’s website, and it is pinned at the top of its Facebook page.
“Now I signed up for this job, and I don’t mind the attacks,” Nunes says in the ad. “In fact, I find them rather amusing. I haven’t said much about The Bee’s strange crusade against me, even when Bee reporters went creeping around my neighbors’ and relatives’ homes. But The Bee has now run multiple articles slandering a California agribusiness simply because I’m one of the investors.”
He called The Bee’s reporting on the use of a yacht by a winery in which he is invested a “textbook example of fake news.”
While the Bee has forcefully defended its reporting, Nunes described the newspaper as “embarrassing” to the community.
Given the district’s conservative tilt and Nunes’ fundraising advantage, Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant who has been highly critical of Trump, said Nunes’ homing in on The Bee “does seem a bit unfocused.”
“Republicans have always seen the press as monolithically biased against them, and yet, you still figure out how to work within that context to get the message out through the press,” Stutzman said. “And the question is, ‘Can you get your message out without the press in this digital age?’ And the answer is you certainly can more than you used to, but making the press a foe has its limitations.”
Anthony Rendon, California’s Democratic Assembly speaker, went further. Coupled with Nunes’ partisan news site, Rendon said the congressman’s focus on The Bee “certainly sounds a little bit unstable, and sounds similar to the president’s behavior right now, too.”
“I think we’re seeing a lot of things manifest themselves publicly that we didn’t see in the past,” Rendon said, including “peoples’ insecurities and mental imbalances.”
Nunes’ broadside against The Bee drew asharp rebuke from the newspaper’s editorial board. Beneath the headline, “The real ‘fake news’ is Devin Nunes’ ad about The Bee,” the newspaper offered a point-by-point defense of its reporting and pointed out that, “far from being ‘radical, left wing,’ The Bee has endorsed [Nunes] in every election for Congress since he began in the House in 2003.”
This year, however, The Bee doubted Nunes would sit for an endorsement interview given his criticism of the paper, and it suggested his position was not without calculation: Nunes, the editorial board said, “loves to combine the words ‘radical’ and ‘left wing’ to make a point to his conservative base.”
The point is resonating, especially among retirees who make up Nunes’ top donor category, with Nunes raking in almost $376,000 from retired people this year — almost as much as Janz spent in the second quarter.
“I just feel that he’s targeted by the Democrats. And he’s done a very, very good job as the head of his committee on investigations, and I guess I kind of see him as the underdog right now,” said Gerald Monnin, a self-described social conservative living in Defiance, Ohio.
“I know he is definitely a target by a lot of the Democratic machines,” said Monnin, who donated $50 to the Nunes campaign in April, according to a Federal Election Commission report. “I think he gets to the details, he gets to the bottom of situations. I really believe he’s an honest person who is trying to do a good job. He’s not just a political hack.”
Robert Snellenberg, a 73-year-old conservative from Derby, Kansas, who has given $380 to Nunes over the past year, said, “I love Nunes because he’s going after the corrupt DOJ and the corrupt FBI.”
Ratekin said Nunes aired the ad attacking The Bee only because “they went after a California family business as a means of attacking the congressman.”
But the anti-Fresno Bee campaign also reflects Nunes’ broader frustration with the media — and Nunes’ casting himself as a warrior under siege.
Indeed, for a politician who once enjoyed little recognition outside of California’s Central Valley, the controversy over the Russia probe has kept Nunes in high-profile company. After Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, Stephen Colbert of CBS’ “The Late Show” showed an image of Nunes — alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan — poking out of Putin’s pocket.
Asked last month about his reelection campaign by popular conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, Nunes said he has become accustomed to the forces of a “radical environmental movement,” “radical public employee unions” and a Democratic Party that he said has taken over the media.
“I’m a bit immune to this,” Nunes said. “If they’re attacking you, it means that you’re right over the target, and you’re hurting them.”
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.