I thought it was a pretty big deal four years ago when I wrote about a group of websites and/or newspapers that had sprung up across Illinois.
By my count then, the Sangamon Sun, at http://www.sangamonsun.com, was joined by a dozen other publications through efforts of people including conservative activist Dan Proft and a former Statehouse reporter Brian Timpone.
When I revisited the issue of the proliferation of new sources of information in the state in a 2018 story, that Illinois group of conservative-leaning publications then numbered 29.
Well, Timpone, who in the 1990s was a Springfield-based reporter for WCIA-TV and later was press secretary for then-GOP House Speaker Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst, is a key figure in a recent New York Times story about a network of papers and websites. According to that story, the network has also expanded to other states, and from June through October of last year, it “ballooned,” from “roughly 300 sites to nearly 1,300,” according to a Times analysis of data collected by the Global Disinformation Index, an internet research group.
The Illinois group of publications, listed at websites including the Sangamon Sun’s, has grown to 34, with names like Rock Island Today, Galesburg Reporter, Peoria Standard, Chambana Sun, and Will County Gazette.
The headline of the Times article paints a tough picture — “As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place: A nationwide operation of 1,300 local sites publishes coverage that is ordered up by Republican groups and corporate P.R. firms.”
Timpone, long a resident of the Chicago suburb of River Forest, did not respond to a variety of requests for comment by the Times. But Timpone, with whom I worked at the Statehouse back in the 90s, did respond to me — and denied the thrust of the Times article, written by Davey Alba and Jack Nicas.
“The NYT suggestion that people can pay for news stories is false — patently absurd,” Timpone said via email. “They had an agenda they intended to pursue with their story, which they worked on for nine months, and there were no facts that could change their minds.”
“We followed the facts that our reporting uncovered,” responded Danielle Rhoades Ha, spokesperson for the New York Times. “Mr. Timpone had months to respond to our questions and dispute our findings and he never did.”
Legitimate news organizations don’t exchange stories for pay.
Research for the Times article included interviews with more than 30 current and former employees and clients, and a review of thousands of internal emails. It stated that employees shared emails and the editing history in the site’s publishing software that revealed who requested dozens of articles and how.
It states that the Illinois Opportunity Project, a conservative advocacy group, “requested dozens of articles about specific Republican politicians in Illinois.” It also says that group “has paid $441,000 to Mr. Timpone’s companies, according to the nonprofit’s tax records.”
Messages I left with officials of the opportunity project were not immediately returned.
Former state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican running to unseat U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downer’s Grove, has paid Timpone’s companies $55,000 over three years, records showed, and Illinois sites have published “overwhelmingly positive coverage of her,” the article says.
Ives, in that article, said the payments were to create a website, monitor her Wikipedia page, and to have Facebook ads purchased. She said they were “not at all” to purchase good coverage.
Timpone told me his company Franklin Archer is a vendor to newspapers all over the country, as well as Local Government Information Services — publisher of the Illinois sites — and Metric Media.
“We produce news for them per their specs,” he said.
He said Metric Media, a Texas-based organization that has more than 1,000 community news sites, gets charitable contributions. He also said he is “personally involved” with LGIS and Metric Media.
On the Sangamon Sun website, it states that funding is provided, in part, “by advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government.”
The Times story said a political action committee controlled by Proft, who is now a radio talk-show host in Chicago, paid Timpone’s companies at least $646,000 from 2016 to 2018, according to state campaign finance records. It also said the money came largely from Dick Uihlein, a conservative megadonor and head of the shipping-supply company Uline. Proft did not immediately return messages.
A recent online edition of Sangamon Sun featured stories about how much households in central Illinois communities would would pay under a tax on retirement if income-tax rates go up — even though Gov. JB Pritzker and legislative leaders promoting the progressive-tax constitutional amendment say they have no intention of taxing retirement income.
Some stories merely state how much some public employees earn, and then list other public workers in their job categories, with salaries.
And some articles feature interviews with GOP state Sen. Steve McClure II of Springfield. A couple of articles I read present his view without anyone asked for the other side.
“McClure warns voters to reject governor’s ballot measure: ‘With his progressive tax things will only be worse,’” one headline says. Another is about the GOP’s favorite Illinois target, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
“Everyone knows the speaker puts his own interest ahead of those of everyone else,” McClure is quoted as saying.
McClure said it didn’t bother him to be quoted in such articles. He said he believes that Democrats and Republicans agree that most news stories these days, even from mainstream sites, are “partisan to one side or the other.” He said “down the middle” reporters like Walter Cronkite still exist, but are becoming “harder and harder to find.”
Timpone said there are hundreds of people “across the state who pitch stories into our system, of all political stripes. We encourage them to do so.”
“If someone wants to talk about why we should approve Pritzker’s tax hike amendment, they should pitch a story to LGIS,” he said
LGIS publications have often used writers in other states — and sometimes from outside the country. The reporter that interviewed McClure, Timpone said, lives in Illinois.
“Franklin Archer reporters live all over the country and in Illinois,” Timpone said. “We don’t care where they live and we don’t think someone’s geographical location makes them more qualified to cover a particular topic.”
As a Springfield-based reporter for a Springfield-based publication, I’ll just say there is value in knowing a community being covered. And I’ll also say that one-sided stories like those that regularly appear in the Sangamon Sun wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, make it through my editor.
There are left-leaning news-creating sites as well. One Illinois, at oneillinois.com, is among them, though it appears to have a far smaller presence than the LGIS sites. One article penned by its editor, Ted Cox, in recent days was headlined: “Daily Debunk: Millionaires don’t flee taxes…Yet Fair Tax opponents persist in repeating ‘baseless canard’ about ‘tax flight.’”
That group’s editorial policy states it is a nonprofit that covers issues such as education, infrastructure, income inequality, employment and the environment. It also said its staff rejects “the attitude that they’re issues of left or right; rather, we believe the solutions lie in ourselves if only we work together and recognize that we rise and fall as one people and one state.”
Cox said he is the only full-time staffer at the site now, though former Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, who launched the site in 2018, contributes regularly, and there are occasional opinion pieces from outside sources.
Needless to say, the internet has opened lots of avenues for non-traditional media to grow. As always, readers should consider the source of whatever they see.
Trump and LaHood
The 18th Congressional District, which includes part of Springfield, is considered secure GOP territory. But that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from weighing in last week on the race in the district that includes part of Springfield.
Along with a picture showing U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, and Trump together and smiling for the camera, Trump tweeted that LaHood “is a fighter for Illinois! A strong supporter of our #MAGA agenda, he is helping us Drain the Swamp, Deliver for our Farmers, and Defend your Second Amendment. Darin has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
In his campaign’s fundraising email promoting the endorsement, it states that Trump knows “that Darin is a conservative leader in a Congress being overrun by out of touch Democrats like AOC (U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi. … Full economic recovery won’t be possible under their failed leadership. … We just can’t afford to let a single day go to waste in this fight to keep our country out of the wrong hands.”
LaHood is challenged on Nov. 3 by Democrat George Petrilli of Springfield. Petrilli says he doesn’t think the president’s polices have been beneficial to the district, and he’s bothered that LaHood has not agreed to debate.
“It’ll be up to the voters to decide if he deserves re-election,” Petrilli said.
LaHood’s political director, Jim Reis, said no debates have been scheduled due to public health concerns, and LaHood is “always willing to debate the issues.”
Contact Bernard Schoenburg: Bernard.firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.
Region: Springfield,Feeds,News,Sang,Region: Central,City: Springfield
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October 25, 2020 at 05:33PM