Facebook has chosen Campbell Brown, a former television news anchor who worked most recently as an education reform activist, as its head of news partnerships, tasked with rebuilding relationships with news outlets in the wake of a wave of fake news stories that dominated the site during the presidential election.
Brown has longstanding ties not just to the traditional news media, but also to conservative politics, although she describes herself as a political independent. She is a close personal friend of Betsy DeVos, the Republican megadonor who is Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and is married to Dan Senor, a former top advisor to Mitt Romney who also served as spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But she, and Senor, were central to the losing battle against Donald Trump inside the Republican Party. Last June, in a closed-door interview with Paul Ryan, she grilled the House Speaker on his decision to back Trump, asking him how he would justify his decision to a small child. She had earlier blamed the news media for aiding Trump’s rise. “He is not a politician. He is not a leader. He is a supreme narcissist,” she wrote in December, 2015, criticizing TV networks for their saturation coverage of the then-candidate. “You can deprive him of the one thing that keeps him going—airtime.”
At Facebook, she will work to navigate the social network’s sometimes fraught role as a central player in the news industry. She won’t, however, be making editorial or content-related decisions, such as deciding what stories get play on Facebook, the company said.
“Right now we are watching a massive transformation take place in the news business - both in the way people consume news and in the way reporters disseminate news,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “Facebook is a major part of this transformation.”
A Facebook representative told BuzzFeed News that the company chose Brown because of her years of experience in journalism and working with news outlets.
In the wake of the election, Facebook has weathered criticism over its inability to stem a tide of fake political news stories. It has also scrambled to mend ties with conservative publications after reports claimed its trending news team suppressed stories from conservative news outlets.
In her post-media career as an education activist, Brown founded an advocacy group, the Partnership for Educational Justice, whose donors she chose to keep secret, that frequently battles with teachers’ unions. And she has worked in favor of charter school expansion, a pet project of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
And alongside her mainstream media experience, Brown is familiar with the world of non-traditional news outlets springing up online. In 2014, she founded a nonprofit news site, The 74, which bills itself as nonpartisan but which critics have said functions as advocacy journalism, tilted in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions.
The site was launched with money from donors including the foundation run by DeVos, Trump’s proposed Education Secretary. When the nomination was announced, Brown said she would recuse herself from The 74’s coverage of DeVos.
Earlier this year, The 74 published an undercover sting video made by conservative activist James O’Keefe, who posed undercover as a teacher and filmed union representatives advising him on how to handle a hypothetical assault of a child.
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