Democratic Local News Network

Fifty-plus "local" news outlets are a front for David Brock and company.

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Lachlan Markay and Thomas Wheatley reporting for Axios (“Democrats’ swing-state local news ploy“):

Writers for a D.C.-based media operation run by prominent Democratic operatives are behind a sprawling network of ostensible local media outlets churning out Democrat-aligned news content in midterm battleground states, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Behind the patina of independent local news, these sites are pumping out content designed to put a sheen of original reporting on partisan messaging. It’s an increasingly common tactic among political outfits looking to give their team a steady stream of positive content they can then use to boost their own electoral communications.

What’s happening: A network of at least 51 locally branded news sites has popped up since last year under names like the Milwaukee Metro Times, the Mecklenburg Herald and the Tri-City Record.

The sites are focused on key swing states with elections in 2021 and 2022: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Each follows a similar template: aggregated local news content and short write-ups about local sports teams and attractions — interspersed with heavily slanted political news aimed at boosting Democratic midterm candidates and attacking Republican opponents.

The intrigue: “About Us” pages for each of the sites say they’re run by a company called Local Report Inc., which was formed in Florida last year. Their mastheads indicate involvement by another entity: the American Independent, a Washington-based progressive news outfit. Six American Independent writers have each contributed to most or all of the sites in the network, according to an Axios review of bylines on the sites. While all of the sites aggregate content from other sources, all six of those authors regularly write stories directly for the Local Report network, with numerous articles appearing exclusively on those sites.

The American Independent was launched by Democratic operative and fundraiser David Brock — also known for founding the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America. TAI’s president, Matt Fuehrmeyer, is a former senior aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and to Harry Reid, the late former Senate Democratic leader. The for-profit entity is funded in part by the nonprofit arm of American Bridge, an opposition research-focused Democratic super PAC, according to its website.

What they’re saying: Jessica McCreight, TAI’s executive editor, described its relationship with Local Report Inc. as a “co-publishing agreement” but would not say whether her organization has editorial control over the sites’ content. It’s been widely reported that where local news outlets shut down, dis- and misinformation grows,” McCreight told Axios in an email. “To combat this challenge, The American Independent has expanded to bring readers local, fact-based news and information on topics and issues that impact their communities.”

This is mildly interesting but I’d need a lot more information to get particularly upset about this.

First off, calling this the “Democrats’ swing-state local news ploy” is cute but strikes me as misleading. That David Brock and others are creating generic “good news” sites that tout Democratic accomplishments and highlight Republican failures is newsworthy given that he’s apparently tried to do so surreptitiously and purports to be a watchdog of the press. But that’s hardly evidence that the Democratic Party or even significant members of the Democratic Party are involved.

Second, there are a lot of generic news outlets out there run by partisan owners. I’m not sure what makes this one special.

Third, it’s not even obvious that anyone is reading these sites.

If there’s one for Northern Virginia, it has not only up to now escaped my attention but I couldn’t even find it via a Google search. There’s a Local News Inc.-affiliated Commonwealth Community Report, which purports to be “the voice for local news in Virginia,” the content of which seems wholly uninteresting. Its most recent local stories include such seemingly nonpartisan reports as “Two Men Stole Power Tools From a Local Home Depot,” “Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Falls for 18 Months Straight as of December,” and “In-Person Commencement is Returning to VCU.” My strong guess is that it was not a successful venture in that its most recent report, “Venture Richmond Awarded Grant Money For Broad Street Business Project,” was filed January 18th. Its national news coverage, which one would think autogenerated given the nature of the enterprise, stopped even earlier, on December 8, 2021.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Chip Daniels says:

    The obvious analogue would be Fox News, the media arm of the Republican Party.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    The article failing to point out Lachlan Markay works for PragerU and that Thomas Wheatley works for The Federalist while they complain about political activists masquerading as journalists would be hilarious if I thought you were posting this ironically.

    Given what Sinclair Broadcasting has been doing to local news, my only response to this is “thank God, this is a long overdue move for Democrats”.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: They’re both reporters for Axios, albeit relatively recent hires. Markay came aboard in January 2021 after four years at Daily Beast. He did work for the Free Beacon and Heritage previously. Wheatley came aboard last September after a fairly undistinguished career in local news. (There’s a Thomas Wheatley who wrote three columns for The Federalist a few years back. He’s almost certainly a different guy—different Twitter accounts, different photos, and the Axios guy doesn’t list a law degree on his LinkedIn.)

    And, yes, Sinclair is what I was thinking of. I’ve blogged on it before.

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  4. Scott says:

    I knew I’ve seen this story before but from the right wing side. A quick google search and voila!

    These California ‘Local Papers’ Are Part of a Shadowy Conservative Pay-for-Play Network

    Nearly 80 local news sites in California are actually part of a propaganda network driven by Republican operatives and corporate P.R. firms, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

    Outlets affiliated with the network operate in all 50 states and have names like “California Business Daily” or the “Fresno Leader” and, in some locations, are even published in print and delivered to doorsteps, according to the Times.

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  5. steve says:

    What about Sinclair? Our local Sinclair station finishes the evening news every day with an old guy(editorial) who comes on and rambles about evil, actual quote, Democrats and conspiracies I dont even see on the internet.

    Steve

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  6. Raoul says:

    I would not characterize David Brooks as a watchdog of the press. The “about” page of Media Matters explicitly states that it monitors conservative misinformation in the press.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Funny how Axios is suddenly hiring right wing activists and passing them off as journalists right after being bought out by billionaire James Cox Kennedy…

    PS more of Lachlan Markay’s past work as a “journalist”:

    https://www.imdb.com/name/nm6167067/

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  8. Gavin says:

    Gannett owns 236 daily newspapers and is far and away the #1 owner of local newspapers in the country. Gannett is a conservative propaganda institution.
    This is exactly how “recency bias” works.. The Way It Is has been for many years that the local newspaper is wildly conservative… so much so that it is ignored/accepted.
    When anything demonstrates that objective reality has something else to say.. It’s A Lie-Beral Conspiracy And How Dare You! Note, of course, that this language is coming from Axios.. which initiated itself as one of those very left-wing organizations, perhaps because they know the Conservative News Organization That Isn’t Really News space doesn’t need more entrants.
    Looks to me like someone’s afraid of The Battlefield Of Ideas – and in a shocking twist, it’s not the liberal.

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  9. mattbernius says:

    @Scott:
    Yes this has been an ongoing tactic for the last few years. Here’s another example of it recently:
    https://endmoneybond.org/2022/09/09/fake-newspaper-about-pretrial-reforms-hits-illinois-mailboxes/

    This is different than Fox News or even Sinclair in so much as both sides are creating these sites and publications more or less designed to take advantage of the empty spaces created by news deserts.

    Also to @Stormy Dragon‘s Axios has definitely taken a rightward turn in recent months. I wasn’t aware of the sale but that helps account for shifts in the editorial direction.

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  10. Stormy Dragon says:
  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    That there is a “liberal” shadow local news network is the only news here. For several years there has been a conservative ‘local’ news operation publishing on the web aimed at readers in NH and Maine. Several years ago, it was reported that as local newspapers failed, the space was being filled by web publications that purport to be local and operate through “stringers” and freelance reporting. At the time most of those organizations were described as conservative.

    @steve:

    One of my minor hobby horses is that wealthy Dem contributors, rather than spend money on vanity campaigns and fruitless attempts to beat people like McConnell, need to begin buying up local TV and radio stations, and do exactly what Sinclair does, but with a progressive bent.

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  12. Just nutha ignint crackere says:

    @Sleeping Dog: What makes you think that wealthy Dem contributors are progressive? My guess would be that they’re pretty center right (the key word being center rather than right) and corporatist. Granted Soros isn’t, but how many George Soros are there? I’m guessing fewer that people imagine.

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  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackere:

    I don’t care where they are on the political spectrum and it doesn’t matter as long as they are shining a positive light on issues that Dems are in general agreement with.