Must-Listen David Folkenflik for NPR: “Right-wing ‘zombie’ papers attack Illinois Democrats ahead of elections”

Great report from NPR on something I wrote a lot about in Cheap Speech: the rise of political propaganda masquerding as local news, filling the gap left open by the decline in local newspapers brought on by economic and technological change:

among the people quoted in that front-page story in West Cook News: conservative talk show host Dan Proft.

Proft runs a political action committee called People Who Play By the Rules PAC that has spent millions aiding Pritzker’s Republican opponent, state Sen. Darren Bailey.

“These newspapers that are circulating the state are full of fact and truth – and Gov. Pritzker has the gall to call it a lie,” Bailey said on Proft’s radio show in early September.

Proft’s PAC also helps to underwrite the papers, which he conceded on the air recently.

Yet nowhere in the publications themselves is there any disclosure of the papers’ pro-Republican agenda, its source of funding, or even its point of view – except of course, in the relentless punching of hot-button issues for the right, including trans rights, Covid restrictions and taxes.

Proft did not respond to NPR’s efforts to seek comment, nor did cardboard shipping magnate Doug Uihlein, a major party activist who falsely argues the 2020 presidential race was fixed and who has financed the PAC with more than $40 million this year, according to the Center for Illinois Politics. He did speak to the Chicago-based NewsNation television broadcast, telling anchor Leland Vittert that his readers do not trust mainstream news organizations.

“We provide angles to stories and information that you don’t get from left leaning or left – or not so leaning, just hard left — news outlets,” Proft said on NewsNation. “They’re all sharing a brain and we’re providing a different perspective on some of the issues that are salient in people’s lives.”

In Profit’s recounting, the Illinois papers put out by the Local Government Informational Services — their publisher — sound like a throw-back to an earlier age, when papers were openly partisan and ideological on their news pages as well as their opinion section. And there’s a school of thought that that’s a more intellectually honest way than reporters saying they shelve their own points of view.

What and how those issues are presented in these papers, however, constitutes a sharp departure on the way journalists at more mainstream news outlets, even point-of-view journalists, have covered the news for decades. For one thing, at least in the hard copy editions reviewed by NPR, the papers make no such clear and overt disclosures about their agenda in print, other than the overwhelming thrust of their articles.

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