Late last week, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sent constituents in his Central Valley, California, district a curious bit of campaign literature. It wasn’t a typical half-page or full-page mailer, but a 38-page glossy mini-magazine entirely dedicated to lambasting the area’s largest newspaper, the Fresno Bee.
In bold red lettering at the top of several pages, the magazine promises to unveil the “dirty little secrets of the Valley’s propaganda machine.” The cover portrays cartoon bees on a yacht, drunk on Kool-Aid, crashing into a rocky shore. Posters reading “Resist,” “Antifascist,” and “Socialism” bob in the water below.
It’s the latest salvo in a nearly year-long battle between Nunes and his local paper. As Nunes—the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and one of President Donald Trump’s most ardent defenders—has seen his national profile rise, the Bee has taken notice. The paper’s editorial board has been especially critical, calling him “Trump’s stooge” in one op-ed. In response, Nunes has called the paper a “left-wing rag” and aired a television and radio ad asserting that the Bee is on a “crusade” against him.
By watching Nunes’ campaign, you wouldn’t realize he is running for reelection against the most serious opponent he has ever faced. Andrew Janz, a 34-year-old Fresno prosecutor, has raised $4.3 million in the last quarter. Rather than focusing on his Democratic opponent, Nunes has taken a Trumpier approach: Depicting the media and a horde of unnamed “left-wing organizations” as his enemy. He even sounded like the president when he told a Bee reporter that he felt “bad for the people who work at the Bee” because it’s “sad.”
Nunes has made conspiratorial claims about the “deep state” and “fake news,” says Thomas Holyoke, a professor of political science at Fresno State University. “His entire campaign is about undermining the media—local media, national media, anything critical,” Holyoke says. “They’ve barely gone after Andrew Janz at all.”
When Nunes has gone after Janz, the attacks have fallen flat, as when the Nunes campaign accused Janz of campaigning “during taxpayer-funded work hours.” Janz’s boss, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, a Republican in a politically neutral position, set the record straight, saying, “We have had no issues with him and are not aware of him campaigning on county time at all.”
And while Nunes’ new mailer does mention Janz, it is only in the context the Bee‘s alliance with him, Hollywood elites, “outside groups,” and “resistance” activists to stage political stunts and fabricate stories about the congressman. It claims that the liberal activists who have protested outside Nunes’ office “understand the Bee is not reporting facts but is engaged in a prolonged political campaign to attack Devin and replace him with their preferred candidate, Andrew Janz.”
The Bee has not yet responded to the mailer, but it has defended its reporting on Nunes. In June, its editorial board published a lengthy rebuttal to Nunes’ attacks in a piece titled “The real ‘fake news’ is Devin Nunes’ ad about The Bee“:
Claim: “The Fresno Bee has worked closely with radical left-wing groups to promote fake news stories about me.”
Fact: The Bee has never done any such thing. Does Nunes identify those groups he refers to? No. And he can’t, because such a thing never happened. The Bee’s newsroom follows time-honored ethical standards of journalism, and did for this story. One of the tenets is to let all subjects in a story have their say. But since Nunes refused to be interviewed for this story, his side could not be reported. He made it one-sided by his own choosing.
Like many of Nunes’ previous stunts (recall his “midnight run” to the White House and his much-hyped, poorly sourced memo) the mailer is short on substance. Yesterday, reporters at the NPR affiliate in the Central Valley took a deep dive on the mailer, concluding that the Bee is simply doing its job.
In an interview with Valley Public Radio, Fresno Bee editor Joe Kieta noted that the paper’s editorial page has endorsed Nunes in every election since 1996. “To say that the Bee has glossed over or hasn’t covered any positive news or hasn’t endorsed him or hasn’t supported him is just completely wrong,” Kieta said. “We’re continuing to do the work that we’ve always done. We did not change here—he has.”
Take a look at the full mailer here: