NowThis looks to rival influence of MTV

September 22, 2021

By Justin Katz

Employees of the shareable-video-news platform NowThis and its parent company, Group Nine Media, have donated thousands of dollars exclusively to Democrats and progressive organizations. Its most generous political donor, Judy McGrath, also exposes the platform as an attempt to recapture the power of MTV News in securing the youth vote for Democratic candidates.

In her contentious book, The Kennedy Chronicles, former MTV video jockey Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery writes: 

“[MTV’s] popular president, Judy McGrath, was having an unashamed love affair with MTV News and its landscape changing Choose or Lose campaign (a phrase hardly directed at Young Republicans), and she was able to direct money to specials and segments, turning MTV into a force of nature that flattened and trivialized most other 1992 election coverage.”

Daniel Flynn describes the picture Kennedy paints of MTV News in his review of her book for The American Spectator as “a booster outfit for Democrats,” with “a ‘charade’ of impartiality.”

McGrath — who, coincidentally, hails from Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania — joined NowThis as an adviser just after the 2012 reelection of President Barack Obama. In the years since, she has donated more than $530,000 to Democrats and progressive groups, according to (Note: This number assumes only one Judith McGrath in the 10024 area code of New York is a big-money donor to Democrats and progressive causes.)

Direct donations may not be her most valuable contribution to the Democratic Party cause, however. That label likely goes to the “opportunity now to redefine video news,” as NowThis video jockey Katie Quinn gushed when welcoming McGrath on board.

Accuracy in Media recently highlighted a video NowThis produced promoting progressive Democrat Beto O’Rourke in his campaign against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. That video was retweeted by none other than Ellen DeGeneres, who wrote, “I would like to meet you, @BetoORourke.” Ellen’s resulting interview with O’Rourke compounded the benefit of NowThis’s advocacy.

The value of such exposure was surely exponentially greater than the thousands of dollars McGrath donated directly to O’Rourke’s campaign, but the timeline is interesting nonetheless. OpenSecrets data shows that McGrath donated $1,000 to O’Rourke in April of that year. Two days after DeGeneres took note of the NowThis video, McGrath donated another $2,700, and a week later, another $5,000.  

Presumably realizing that the Federal Election Commission’s limit on individual donations to candidates was $2,700 that year, the O’Rourke campaign refunded the $6,000 excess to McGrath. Even after O’Rourke lost the election, however, McGrath gave him another $1,000 in March 2019.

McGrath’s donor history presents a who’s who of headline-grabbing Democrats over the past decade. Cory Booker: $7,700. Claire McCaskill: $5,400. Sheldon Whitehouse: $5,400. Bill DeBlasio: $4,500. Jon Ossoff: $2,800. Raphael Warnock: $2,800. Ilhan Omar: $1,500. Pete Buttigieg: $1,300.  And on and on.  

However, her preference is apparently the trickle-down approach. During her time with NowThis, McGrath has given $241,100 combined to just the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Another $83,613 has gone to progressive activist organizations.

The only “Republican” organization (quotation marks intended) to which McGrath has given any money was the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, to which she donated $9,500 in 2020. McGrath wrote her second of two checks (for $2,000) two days after NowThis reported on an endorsement of Joe Biden by recent Lincoln Project member and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

McGrath’s shared hometown with the Democrats’ current standard-bearer, Joe Biden, may be a coincidence. Her involvement with both MTV News, which crafted Democrat-friendly stories for Generation X, and NowThis, which does the same for Millennials and Gen Z, is probably not. 


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