According to dozens of comments published on numerous websites and sports-related online forums between 2004 and 2009, Scott McKay, the owner and publisher of The Hayride, allegedly has an extensive track record of defrauding and scamming numerous readers, dating back to his first publication, the now-defunct Purple and Gold.
McKay graduated LSU in 1993, and four years later, he launched Purple and Gold, a small but decidedly independent publication focusing exclusively on LSU sports. He shuttered the publication in 2007, but not before reportedly securing subscriptions from dozens of formerly loyal fans. “I just think he (McKay) takes peoples money and run,” commented “LSU7171,” one of the site’s most prolific users, on the forum Tiger Droppings. Two years after Purple and Gold closed, several others claimed McKay continued to owe them money, as much as a $100 a person. Some apparently wanted McKay reported to the Better Business Bureau, though considering his business was defunct, that likely wouldn’t help much. “A crook if you ask me,” one person said. “I met Scott. That guy is a serious prick,” wrote someone else. The fetid cesspool of Tiger Droppings has occasionally been relentlessly cruel to me too, but with McKay, it seems uniquely personal. These people feel legitimately ripped off; they weren’t merely angry with something he had written online.
A few years later, McKay created yet another website that fizzled out before anyone had really taken note of its existence, Bayou Bengal Blog. The domain was subsequently scooped up by someone else. And according to at least two different commenters, allegedly, McKay was quickly fired from his next job, writing for a short-lived ESPN-affiliated website “Eye of the Tigers,” after he was charged with a DUI and improper lane usage.
A few months later, though, in December of 2009, he launched The Hayride and refashioned himself as a cut-throat conservative political commentator, a fierce defender of Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Republican establishment, and a champion of business.
According to the Louisiana Secretary of State, there are at least four defunct businesses registered under his name.
While there is no doubt that McKay has been prolific and successful at cultivating a readership, there are still significant questions about the veracity of his claims concerning the site’s average daily readership and audience, claims upon which he relies to sell banner ads primarily to Louisiana Republican campaigns. Currently, David Vitter, Billy Nungesser, and Scott Angelle are each spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, running glossy banner ads on McKay’s website. Perhaps the investment is worth it, but I have some serious concerns.
First, the data McKay references on his “advertising” section is nearly four years old, but more importantly, it appears to be either grossly misleading or wholly inaccurate. I cannot determine whether McKay had been purposely manipulating the data, if he is simply incompetent, or if the tools he used to track his website traffic weren’t ever calibrated. The only other explanation is that Scott McKay has lost 80% of his audience since December 2011, and considering what he writes about, that may not be so hard to believe.
Let me explain.
McKay claims that in his very first month online, December of 2009, he received more than 29,000 unique visitors. Then, he states that it is now not unusual at all for his website to receive 29,000 visitors a day. He asserts that, at one point, The Hayride was the second-most popular website in the state of Louisiana, right under NOLA.com. The Hayride, according to McKay’s numbers, is actually more popular than The Advocate and WWL-TV.
The Hayride, he says, can command a monthly audience of more than 319,000 people.
I don’t doubt McKay’s website receives a decent amount of traffic. Unlike me, he writes multiple articles almost every single day of the week, and today, he has other writers like John Binder, Kevin Boyd, and Jeff Sadow to help fill out the front page.
Website analytics is fairly straightforward, though. By the time Scott McKay decided to launch his own blog, I had already been operating two of the state’s most well-read political blog sites. I was very familiar with the potential reach of a Louisiana blog’s audience and its appetite for online political news, which is why I have always been skeptical about the claims McKay is making to prospective advertisers.
Consider these graphs. The first one compares my website’s monthly visitors with The Hayride’s, and the second compares our monthly rankings. Both of these graphs were pulled from the resources McKay references in his pitch to advertisers.
Perhaps not surprisingly, they reveal that The Hayride, which is continuously published on a daily basis, usually receives between 5.000 to 10,000 more unique visitors a month than I do. The exception, of course, was in January, shortly after I broke the story about Congressman Steve Scalise; that month, my website received 50,000 more visitors than The Hayride.
I want to make this abundantly clear: I am not and have never considered myself to be in competition with The Hayride. I am much more interested in long-form journalism, personal essays, and picking up the important stories that often go unnoticed. I do not accept advertisements; I rely exclusively on the beneficence of individual readers. And I would never consider monetizing my mailing list, because I respect the intelligence and the privacy of my readers.
Here is only a small sampling of the e-mails that subscribers to The Hayride receive almost every single day:
And here is another sampling from a friend of mine:
Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising. In January, Ken Vogel of Politico reported on the ways in which the conservative movement is infected by scams, particularly scam PACs that exist only to sell their own mailing lists. McKay considers these solicitations for alzheimer cures and survival knives and tips on playing the lottery to be a critical part of his business, but we shouldn’t dance around the obvious: These are blatant, predatory, paranoiac scams, and it is impossible to take anyone seriously as a writer or a political commentator when they’re actually earning a living as a snake oil salesman.
Incidentally, in addition to The Hayride and the four defunct businesses listed under his name, Scott McKay is also the registered treasurer of American Voice, a political action committee.
I suppose it’s always good to have a Plan B.