(UPDATE AT BOTTOM)
Javier Manjarres represents himself as a reporter but seems to be a paid political campaign operative who frequently attacks Republican candidates in primaries that do not pay him or are about to cease payments to him.
An analysis of recent payments from earlier races and the 2012 US Senate candidates confirms this. The selling of “advertising” on his site seems more like the sale of “advocacy,” and the Shark Tank’s endorsement of Hasner came the same day as a payment from the Hasner campaign. FULL STORY BELOW.
A lot of bloggers out there represent themselves as unbiased, just reporting “the facts,” and very seldomly do they disclose their true motivations. Often, they are actually paid political campaign operatives working for a campaign. When we wrote our first piece on Sarah Rumpf, streams of emails came in regarding Javier Manjarres of www.shark-tank.net. (Yes, we like to give free publicity here at FCN.) Mr. Manjarres is perhaps the chief ”pay-to-blog” figure we’ve come across.
This is a big issue today, and you can read about bloggers who secretly feed on campaign cash HERE. Other sites have written about the accusations of “pay-to-blog” against Mr. Manjarres. You can read them HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. Peter Schorsch of SaintPetersblog even wrote a piece covering these accusations HERE, where he commented that ”I honestly don’t know if Javier is being paid-to-blog, but too many observers think he is and it’s becoming a problem for not only Javier, but for the rest of us in Florida’s blogosphere. … too many of my reporter-friends ask me ALL OF THE TIME about advertising vs. editorial content and that’s because there are some sites which are nothing more than an appendage of a campaign. That’s what I mean when I write Javier is attracting too much heat.”
Some of the sites referenced above also indicated that Manjarres was a paid “Tracker.” Trackers follow around their client’s opponent with an audio recording device or a video camera, hoping for a “gotcha” moment, and often report back to the campaign as to who attends the opponent’s events.
There is nothing wrong with being paid-to-blog by a politician, so long as this arrangement is disclosed somewhere. We do not see such disclosure anywhere on Manjarres’s website, because he claims that he is only paid for “advertising.”
Mr. Manjarres frequently comments negatively on Republican candidates in primaries, but only those that do not happen to pay for advertising on his blog…or for whom payments are about to end. He approaches unsuspecting candidates with requests to cover their campaigns with “a dive in the Shark Tank,” and most sensible observers would say that it really appears that he is covering them on behalf of an opponent. We could give you countless examples of this, but let’s detail the more recent payments in the FL US Senate campaign.
Mr. Manjarres supports Adam Hasner, and declared his endorsement for Hasner on September 8, 2011. We’ve never seen the editorial board of a newspaper endorse a candidate almost a year before a primary, so it calls into question Manjarres’s claims of being a “journalist.” But what happened before September 8, 2011?
Prior to the 2012 US Senate race, it was easier to see Mr. Manjarres’s bias – he simply wrote negatively about a candidate that didn’t pay. Every candidate that received positive coverage during the campaign season paid Mr. Manjarres, as was itemized here by The Political Watchman blog.
Most interesting was Mr. Manjarres’s quote to reporter Bob Norman HERE, who now works at WPLG10 News in Miami, that “He said he asked Charlie Crist to buy ads on his site “four times, which is unheard of.”
Mr. Manjarres employed a new tactic this year – taking money from two candidates but waiting until the payments stopped from one before endorsing the other. Mr. Manjarres was paid by both Adam Hasner and Mike McCalister, but only endorsed Mr. Hasner openly AFTER the payments from the unsuspecting McCalister campaign ended. Let’s explore the timeline of payments.
The Hasner campaign made two payments to the Shark Tank for “advertising” in 2011 – one on July 26, 2011 for $1,750 and another for $1,750 on September 8, 2011 – the same date that the Shark Tank endorsed Adam Hasner. See the finance reports from the Hasner campaign here: Hasner 7-26-2011 Shark Tank Payment; Hasner 9-8-2011 Shark Tank Payment. We surmise that when Hasner files his next report you will see payments in October, November and December.
What kind of coverage did Manjarres provide to Hasner during the campaign?
Prior to his endorsement, Manjarres had covered Hasner in glowing terms, while often commenting negatively on LeMieux and Haridopolos. You can read a few examples at the end of this story. Except to explain it away in some fashion, there was never any reference by Manjarres to Hasner’s low standing in the polls, where Hasner currently stands at 2%. For anyone reading these articles, it seemed as though Manjarres was backing Hasner.
Manjarres began coverage on McCalister on June 12, 2011, with an article “Mike McCalister Talks National Secrutity-Interview” where Manjarres opens his piece by referring to McCalister as “Former Special Operations Colonel Mike McCalister.” The piece was positive. Prior to this piece, Manjarres did not cover McCalister. This was also the first date – 6-12-2011- for a google search where you can find the words “Special Operations Colonel Mike McCalister.” More on that later.
Another positive piece about McCalister followed on 6-19-2011, entitled “Is There a New Tea Party Favorite in FL GOP Senate Primary?“ Manjarres once again refers to McCalister as “Special Operations Colonel McCalister.”
On 7/12/2011, Manjarres wrote another generally positive piece entitled “Senate Candidate Mike McCalister Making Inroads.”
After this positive coverage, McCalister paid Manjarres $2,000 for “advertising” on 7/20/2011. An add appeared on the Shark Tank.
You can see the PDF here: McCalister 7-20-2011 Shark Tank Payment.
On August 15, 2011, news broke on The Shark Tank (where else!), that “Mike McCalister’s Military Record Questioned in FL Senate Race.” The Shark Tank reported that Chuck Winn, another retired Colonel, claimed that McCalister was deliberately misrepresenting his military record because “On 15 July [McCalister's] home page was edited deleting the reference to McCalister as a “retired Special Operations Army Colonel” substituting merely “retired Army Colonel”.” This was quickly picked up by the Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo HERE, who frequently picks up stories from the Shark Tank. It was then picked up by other news outlets.
Here’s why this is important: William March of Tampa Bay Online and “Fresh Squeezed Politics” pointed out HERE that “the ‘special operations colonel’ reference [on McCalister's website] wasn’t written by McCalister, but by a blogger, whose blog item McCalister posted on his web site. It [was then] removed.”
The only blog items that referred to McCalister as a “Special Operations Colonel” were the ones written by Manjarres referenced above from 6/12 and 6/19. You can still find it referenced on McCalister’s facebook page, where it indicates it was shared on June 20, 2011:
On August 20, 2011, the trio of Marc Caputo, Sarah Rumpf (another “Biased Blogger Winner”), and Mr. Manjarres also “gave chase” to Mr. McCalister after his appearance at the Florida Family Policy Council forum.
Manjarres continued to cover the fallout from the questions about McCalister’s military record and his appearance at the Florida Family Policy Council forum until August 22.
The last payment from the McCalister campaign came the next day, August 23. See the PDF here: McCalister 8-23-2011 Shark Tank Payment
There were no further payments and the ad on the Shark Tank was taken down.
On September 8, 2011, Manjarres endorsed Hasner. Interestingly, the Manjarres endorsement said: “Our endorsement of Adam Hasner does not mean the Shark Tank is “in the tank” for him or any other politico for that matter- our commitment to conservative principles will always come first. Furthermore, this endorsement will not come at the expense of accurate coverage of the Senate Primary moving forward, and we’ll make sure that everyone gets their turn in their Shark Tank.”
Given what looks like the continual payments from the Hasner campaign, and the fact that the Hasner ad is still on Manjarres site, this endorsement isn’t surprising. The money dried up from the McCalister campaign and the Hasner campaign has made ongoing payments.
Note to the McCalister campaign: When you’ve raised only $80,000 in a reporting cycle, and only spent $17,000, why would you drop $4,000 to “advertise” on a website? In fact, why would anyone?
We surmise at FCN that the following is occurring:
- Manjarres is exaggerating his readership to justify high rates and the promise of “advocacy”
- The candidates paying Manjarres know – or at least in the case of McCalister, think they know - what they are getting for their payment: advocacy for their campaign.
As the Reid Report stated back in 2010, “Indeed, Rubio’s online ads have been pretty ubiquitous, even turning up on liberal blogs like RawStory.com. But there are no other line items in any of “Rubio’s’ FEC filings that appear to be for the purchase of advertising [but only the production of large scale advertising], other than the “media” entry for The Shark Tank.” The same is true of these other candidates.
In the Daily Caller piece from August 2010 cited HERE, it is noted that “Ad purchases at above market rates are a common means by which some campaigns seek to influence bloggers, according to numerous campaign operatives and bloggers. Bloggers, aware of this, have begun to request improbably high rates on their own. Florida political blog Shark-Tank.net, which reaches about 15,000 viewers per month, is asking campaigns for $3,200 a month for a large banner ad. For that same price, an advertiser could purchase similar space on political blogs reaching over 1 million readers each week.”
Of course FCN knows that Manjarres will claim a higher readership…so we did a little research of our own…
A current Alexa Search shows that the www.shark-tank.net is ranked 449,806 globally and 77,468 in the US. Alexa doesn’t chart sites ranked over 100,000. They clock the three month reach of the Shark Tank at 0.00044% of the internet. (Before the inevitable attacks on FCN’s standing on Alexa, recognize that we are a brand new site.)
Sure, these stats may be slightly better than that of the Sayfie Review or some other Florida based site, but hardly good enough to justify rates like Manjarres is charging…unless he’s offering more than just advertising.
Manjarres gets the most hits when one of his videos is featured on Fox News. His initial claim to fame was when he captured a video in 2010 where Sarah Palin said “I love Marco Rubio.” This has about 26,000 hits on YouTube to date. Then in 2011 he captured an exchange between CAIR Executive Director Nezar Hamze and Congressman Allen West, which has received almost 500,000 hits on YouTube. (Of course many have accused Manjarres of orchestrating this whole exchange between Hamze and Congressman West to draw attention to his site, and West even changed the way he conducted his town halls by taking questions randomly from a box rather than from the questioner directly to prevent this from happening again.)
We note that these hits are very transient in nature, and not representative of regular traffic. The viewers are coming for the video only, and rarely become regular readers since that would translate into much higher rankings on Alexa.
Lastly, we’d like to gauge Manjarres’s effectiveness.
Manjarres’s advocacy for Hasner hasn’t translated into any prowess in polling. Let’s say, for arguments sake, that Manjarres wanted to promote Mr. Hasner and also take out McCalister since McCalister was moving in on Hasner’s conservative turf. Judging from the latest polls, with Hasner garnering only 2% support and McCalister still higher, these efforts have largely been unsuccessful. The Quinnipiac Poll from November 11, 2011, gauged support from those Republicans considering themselves to be ”Tea Party” to be the following: Mack: 30%, Hasner 4%, LeMieux 14%, Miller 1%, McCalister 14%, Someone Else 2%, Wouldn’t Answer 1%, and Don’t Know 34%. At this point in October 2009, Rubio had hit 35% to Crist’s 50% in the Quinnipiac poll. Hasner is not the second coming of Marco Rubio.
Also, McCalister’s $4,000 of ads on the Shark Tank didn’t translate into any fundraising prowess judging by McCalister’s lackluster contributions in his most recent FEC report.
So, why would anyone pay upwards of $3,200 per month unless they were a) duped into doing so, b) promised “advocacy” or c) a little bit of both.
- Manjarres has made repeated claims to being a journalist or reporter to gain access to candidates
- Manjarres has taken payments for what he calls “advertising” from candidates
- Those candidates paying him are referred to positively on his site; those not paying him are referred to negatively
- Manjarres has consistently praised Adam Hasner throughout 2011
- Manjarres was the blogger who referred to McCalister as a “Special Operations Colonel” on June 12, 2011
- McCalister posted Manjarres’s article on his campaign website and paid Manjarres after this “positive” coverage on July 20, 2011.
- Hasner paid the Shark Tank on July 26, 2011. (It must have worried Hasner when he saw an add go up from McCalister.)
- Col. Chuck Winn claimed McCalister was embellishing his military record because of McCalister posting the Manjarres article on his website
- Manjarres broke the news of Col. Chuck Winn claiming McCalister was embellishing his record on August 15, 2011.
- As the payments from McCalister were are about to end, the Shark tank commented negatively about McCalister
- McCalister’s final payment to the Shark Tank was on August 23, 2011.
- Hasner paid the Shark Tank again on September 8, 2011, the same day that the Shark Tank endorsed Mr. Hasner.
- Analysis of the viewership of the Shark Tank does not justify the exhorbitant advertising rates.
- There must be another reason candidates pay Manjarres. It’s either a) they are duped into it, b) they know they are paying for advocacy, or c) some combination of the two.
There is nothing wrong with a campaign hiring Mr. Manjarres. There is something wrong about Mr. Manjarres denying his true relationship with his employers in order to gain special access to other candidates.
As conservative bloggers, we at FCN are interested when other bloggers attack Republicans in primaries. We know that candidates have begun paying bloggers to attack their opponents in this fashion, whether they admit to it or not. We know that many bloggers will say something to the effect of “I was not paid for my endorsement of X candidate.” Sometimes the blogger never officially issues an “endorsement” but is paid at some point and attacks an opponent of their preferred candidate. It might even be the business model of a blogger to start advocating on behalf of a candidate in the hopes of getting paid later or they might take a payment up front after they gain some notoriety like Mr. Manjarres. We surmise that sometimes bloggers may even threaten a candidate with negative publicity if they do not pay or continue to pay them. Our interest is not necessarily the timing of a blogger’s endorsement, but simply that they are in fact paid at some point because such payments could indicate bias in their blogging.
We’d ask that Manjarres come clean and admit to his relationships with campaigns openly, and would advise anyone running for office to be wary of who Manjarres is “representing” and the likely negative attention that this “representation” may bring.
Will Manjarres say, “Heck yeah, I’m biased! And proud of it!” like his friend Sarah Rumpf? Only time will tell. In the meantime, people will continue to wonder who’s paying Manjarres for positive coverage.
-Just a few examples of Manjarres’s positive coverage of Hasner, which often included negative coverage of Haridopolos and LeMieux:
1/16/2011: “Hasner is considered the darling amongst many grassroots”; has a ”down the line conservative message and fundraising ability”; “Hasner will make waves among the grassroots as the “ciderella candidate.”
4/10/2011: Article: “The LeMieux-Crist Connection”
5/9/2011: Manjarres comments positively about Adam Hasner’s “Doomsday Video”
6/14/2011: Article: “Has Hasner Flip Flopped on Cap & Trade?” – to which Manjarres wrote that “Hasner was effectively neutering Crist’s far more coercive cap and trade scheme.” This was the same message from the Hasner campaign.
7/7/2011: Hasner reports $560K in fundraising for the second quarter 2011, which most reporters considered underwhelming and which was well below that of Haridopolos, but Mr. Manjarres wrote that “[m]any including myself predicted that Hasner would report int he $300-400k range.” Manjarres parrots the same reasons that Hasner’s political consultant Rick Wilson did for why Hasner supporters should take heart, namely that “more than 90% of the contributors are not maxed out and can give again….”
8/4/2011: Manjarres comments on LeMieux’s campaign referring to Hasner ”Masquerading” as a conservative as being similar to the Crist campaign’s attacks on Rubio during the 2010 campaign. Once again you can sense the narrative of Crist v. Rubio being recreated in LeMieux v. Hasner by Manjarres.
It seems FCN has struck a nerve with Mr. Manjarres. Rathering than responding to any of the points we made in the article above, he instead decided to mock us - including his typical “hahaha.” Here’s one of his tweets below:
He also decided to place a banner ad for Connie Mack’s campaign on his site, no doubt to counter the points we brought up. Manjarres has been known to include ”advertisements” in his emails as a way to make it look like a candidate is paying him in order to draw attention to his site.
We are glad we’ve had such an impact, and will keep our readers posted. We at FCN have to give credit to Sarah Rumpf. While she has admitted to her bias openly with her piece, “Heck yeah, I’m biased! And proud of it!”, Manjarres still hasn’t come clean. We doubt he ever will.