A Popular Political Site Made a Sharp Right Turn. What Steered It?

Other times its stories have been inaccurate. Another Real Clear investigative piece from April misidentified the author of an anonymous New York Times Op-Ed article written by a member of the Trump administration who claimed to be one of many high-level officials working to thwart the president’s “worst inclinations.”

The polling industry as a whole has taken a hit after the election, since most reputable organizations missed the mark with surveys showing a more dominant performance from Mr. Biden in key states. But in the lead up to Election Day, some of the country’s top political analysts raised questions about why the Real Clear averages often seemed skewed by polls that “have been a bit kinder to Trump” and didn’t adhere to best practices like person-to-person phone interviews, as Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report put it in August.

Yet the polling averages and selection of political news and opinion pieces from across the internet were presented as they long had been: an authoritative curation of the best possible data and analysis on races around the country.

The founders of Real Clear Politics, two self-described news junkies who became friends at Princeton and started the website in 2000, said over email that they “fully stand behind” the average and their editors’ decision to publish those pieces. “Our advertisers, sponsors, supporters, and readers represent an array of perspectives across the political spectrum,” wrote John McIntyre, the chief executive, and Tom Bevan, the president. “And they know we practice fiercely independent journalism that necessarily covers all relevant sides of our national political and policy debates.”

Interviews with current and former Real Clear staff members, along with a review of its coverage and tax filings, point to a shift to the right within the organization in late 2017, when the bulk of its journalists who were responsible for straight-news reporting on Capitol Hill, the White House and national politics were suddenly laid off. Though the staff always knew the website’s founders were conservative and harbored strong views about liberal media bias, several said they never felt any pressure from above to slant their stories.

“One day we were all called in and told it was over,” said Alexis Simendinger, who was the White House correspondent for Real Clear Politics. “It was a very surprising thing.”

They were never given much of an explanation why, the former employees said. But they were surprised to learn who was replacing them in some cases: writers who had worked in the conservative movement or for the Republican Party. One hire was the former chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and was married to a senior Trump administration official .

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