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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Politicians on the left and right are manipulating the news to bolster their election efforts with fake headlines, websites and articles.

Why it matters: Media manipulation has always been a part of the political playbook, but technology has enabled politicians to take the practice a step further by changing or mimicking real stories and news outlets to mislead voters.

The latest on the left: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has set up a website called HealthNewsNJ.com that at first glance looks like an upstart health website, but is actually backed by the senator's campaign, per STAT.

  • The headline article reads, "How greedy drug company CEO Bob Hugin gouged cancer patients and enabled Donald Trump." Hugin is running against Menendez for Senate.

On the right, fake news websites backed by political candidates and groups have been popping up all over the country.

  • In February, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from a fake-news site to voters, per Politico. The endorsement came from a site that is part of a string of fake news websites backed by Republicans, built to look and sound like real news websites.
  • Last fall, the Republican Governors Association launched the "Free Telegraph," a website filled with articles that look like real journalism, but only provide one-sided support for Republicans. The RGA didn't disclose its affiliation with the site until the group was asked about it after the site launched.

Manipulating headlines of real stories on social media is another way politicians are using fake news to mislead voters.

  • Last year, the staff of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan altered the headline on a news story posted to his Facebook page in a way that falsely implied that one of the governor's policy priorities was gaining more support than it was, per The Baltimore Sun.
  • A similar incident happened during the 2016 election in Virginia, when the staff of Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart altered the Facebook headline of a Washington Post article about his opponent's stance on whether to remove a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee.
  • Facebook has since disabled the ability for users to manipulate headlines of news stories on its platform.

Be smart: Politicians are harnessing internet stories and websites to mislead voters because users are less discerning over what is real and fake online.

  • “The major new challenge in reporting news is the new shape of truth,” says Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, in Pew's latest report on misinformation online. “Truth is no longer dictated by authorities, but is networked by peers. For every fact there is a counterfact and all these counterfacts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”

Go deeper

McCarthy jokes about hitting Pelosi with gavel if he becomes Speaker, in new audio

Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) can be heard saying "it would be hard not to hit" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the speaker's gavel if Republicans retake the House in 2022 and he becomes speaker, according to new audio posted to Twitter by a Main Street Nashville reporter.

Driving the news: McCarthy made the comments during a fundraising event in Tennessee, as he was handed an oversized gavel by members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, reports CNN.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. and U.K. blame Iran for drone strike on oil tanker

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, now believe Iran was likely responsible for last week's drone strike on an oil tanker in the Arabian sea.

Why it matters: The United States and Britain now join Israel in accusing Tehran of being behind the July 29 attack off the coast of Oman. Iran has denied involvement.

8 hours ago - Sports

Suni Lee wins bronze medal in uneven bars

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

U.S. gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee won her 3rd Olympic medal on Sunday, taking home bronze in the individual uneven bars event.

Driving the news: Also on Sunday, U.S. gymnast MyKayla Skinner won the silver medal in the vault on Sunday after stepping in for Simone Biles, who withdrew from the event to prioritize her mental health and well-being.