The former CEO of pharmaceutical company Celgene, Hugin is portrayed on Sen. Menendez's tricky campaign ploy, a fake news website called HealthNewsNJ.com, as a greedy Big Pharma hack who "gouged cancer patients and enabled Donald Trump." Multiple headlines on the page suggest that Hugin has been in the news as of late for taking advantage of sick people while heartlessly padding his pockets with profits.
There's just one problem: HealthNewsNJ.com is completely fake. As reported by STATNews.com, it was created by the Menendez campaign to look like a real news site, but is really just a political messaging tool being used to try to win Menendez his third Senate term.
With the exception of a very small box at the bottom of the website's homepage explaining that it was "Paid for by Menendez for Senate," there's very little at HealthNewsNJ.com to suggest that it's merely stylized propaganda. Though it does, in fact, link to at least 10 articles about Hugin published by so-called credible news sources, HealthNewsNJ.com isn't the news site it pretends to be.
The website's Facebook page is similarly misleading, as it's classified as a "news and media website" rather than a political page. And nowhere on the site's Facebook page is there any indication that Menendez is in any way connected to it, further suggesting that the Menendez campaign wanted this fact concealed.
Whether the information about Hugin that's found at HealthNewsNJ.com is true or false is beside the point. Misleading voters into believing that the news is riddled with attacks against Hugin when what's being portrayed as "news" is really just his opponent's political campaign is highly unethical, to say the least.
Visitors to the site are encouraged to input their email addresses in order to receive updates, only to be redirected when they do to a Menendez-branded page called ActBlue.com that encourages them to send cash donations to support the Democratic Party – a political bait and switch attempt.
Fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker joined in on the deception, tweeting about HealthNewsNJ.com as if it was a real news page, stating: "A very important read for New Jersey residents." Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bhalla also tweeted about the site, just like Sen. Booker, failing to mention its ties to the Menendez campaign.
It's dirty politics at its finest, and the latest polls suggest that its working. Menendez reportedly has a solid lead in the race, and most political analysts seem to be in agreement that Menendez will likely win the third Senate term he covets so badly.
But what New Jersey residents aren't being told about Menendez are all of his improprieties, which include an indictment on corruption charges that he faced in which federal prosecutors urged the presiding judge to drop all charges against Menendez.
To be fair, Republicans have pulled similar stunts. While governor of Indiana, now-Vice President Mike Pence introduced, but quickly scrapped, a plan to unveil a news outlet run by state-employed communications staff. Even the Trump reelection campaign has launched its own faux news site called "Real News Updates" that highlights the mainstream media's many allegations against the president.
Similarly, Republican candidate for the Arizona Senate, Kelli Ward, once bragged about a positive editorial that she claimed was published about her in the Arizona Monitor. As it turns out, the editorial actually came from an anonymous blog, its author unknown.
To read more about the fake news phenomenon, check out Faked.news.
Sources for this article include: