consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From a few days ago - will Koch brothers buy Tribune media outlets?

Strib, here. Who knows? Next it might be the Kochs looking to buy into a share of Anoka County Record. Predicting the future is never a clear-cut option. It is always guesswork, but would the Koch brothers feel it, the Record, a kindred adventure?

Readers deserve a bit of a fair usage "you decide" preview, if wrestling with the above questions:

Click the thumbnail images to read. Wow, Krinkie writes, "I Owe My Soul to the Company Store." And he works for Taxpayers League. Until now I did not know Taxpayer League had a store.

NOTE: Readers should be informed, is independent, or appears so, from any of Harold Hamilton's "watchdog" enterprise. It would be improper to leave an impression to the contrary.

If the name Annette Meeks makes one think, Tom Emmer, well that is yesterday's fish.

Today's fish, ripe as yesterday's, here and here. And that board, the Vin Weber guy's there, and lo, the staff, Tom Steward - Record's p.1 author touting gutting of prevailing wage. Steward has a LinkedIn page, here, and hey,

Regional Communications Director at John McCain 2008 Campaign
Communications Director at U.S. Senator Norm Coleman

At a guess, with such a social fabric shown, there is only one thing I think creating a gap between the Koch brothers and these other luminaries of our times - the others have less money than the Kochs. There is that, as a difference. Money-wise, the Koch brothers are closer to Nasser Kazeminy, where I admit to the flaw that whenever I read the name "Norm Coleman" I am unable to dissociate the name of Nasser Kazeminy from the name Norm Coleman. I cannot fake a disconnect, the association is hard-wired into brain circuits.

Coincidentally, who do you think Jeff Larson is renting to these days? Yesterday's fish do seem to ripen with time.


And, finally, Tom Steward's LinkedIn page also notes,

I am Investigative Director of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota's Government Transparency Team, charged with identifying wasteful spending and programs at the state and local level.

That tasking, and I bet that headquartering in Excelsior, the guy has never heard of Flaherty, or of Landform. I could not find any indication of his writing of either. Our Town, Ramsey, may be off his radar too.

But tied to Excelsior, do you think Steward may have heard of Marriann Stebbins, another small business owner in Excelsior?

In the worth adding category, Stebbins in Excelsior, at least as of March 3 closed Classic Child, noting on Facebook that the roof leaked.

Aside from that, we have the Emmer recount fiasco tied into this Steward guy, with the name Tony Trimble involved in the organization where Trimble is on the board and Steward on staff (see links in the "Today's fish ..." paragraph above).

And did I say Koch Brothers? Or global warming denial? Here are a few supplemental links of interest, and you may spot some familiar GOP names with a dearth of any DFL ties (did you expect any); here (Tony Trimble), here, here, here, here.

As much interconnection as with slime mold.

This Google, and you can try your own variations if you've time.

___________FURTHER UPDATE___________
I cannot now identify the stream of thought that reached the point of recalling the SNAFU thing in the past in Duluth -- did Mike Hatch call the guy a "Republican hack" or a "Republican whore?"

And while I cannot retrace the thought processes, the thought of that definitional dispute did pop into mind.

____________FURTHER UPDATE____________
More, on the pseudo-news poseurs, as tight together as slime mold, and with capacity to slant and to deceive:

How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage
Blog ››› July 11, 2012 1:35 PM EDT ››› JOE STRUPP

[...] The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.

The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.

[...] "I think it's viewed as something other than a regular news organization," said Betsy Russell, president of the Capitol Correspondents Association of Idaho and a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review of neighboring Spokane, Washington."They report on their own organization's activities and they reveal it, they give more play to stuff their organization is pushing."

Such a conflict was enough for the Capitol Correspondents Association to deny membership to on two occasions, in 2010 and 2011, denying them access rights to the legislature enjoyed by legitimate news outlets.

The website did not seek credentials for 2012.

Russell says of "It was basically a lobbying organization that linked to a news arm. They very plainly don't qualify and are not going to qualify" as a news organization. is one of 55 news sites covering state government in 39 states that have ties to the Franklin Center, which claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.

[...] The group has its origins in the Sam Adams Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes free-market Tea Party-style citizen activism, which "helped launch" the Franklin Center in 2009, reportedly providing the nascent organization with "seed money," according to the National Journal.The umbrella group took in $2,378,931 in contributions and grants in its first year, and $3,776,997 in 2010, according to the most recent disclosure forms available.

The organization is not legally required to identify their donors, but disclosure forms from other large conservative grant-making organizations offer a glimpse at the Franklin Center's subsequent funding sources.

[...] This large and growing funding stream has allowed the organization to steadily expand. After launching with 22 new state sites and three sites that existed previously and joined the Franklin sphere of influence, the group added 15 sites in 2010, 10 in 2011 and, so far, four in 2012.

The organization also highlights its ability to influence the debate outside the narrow confines of those sites, bragging in a May 30 fundraising email, "When you give to the Franklin Center, you have an immediate impact on the power of our reporting. Legacy news outlets regularly pick up our stories, driving them far beyond the typical audience for online news."

Indeed, the Franklin Center's focus on state legislative news allows it to take advantage of a long-running downturn in staffing and resources at mainstream news outlets' statehouse coverage dating back nearly a decade, providing content local newspapers are otherwise unable to afford.

Okay, but in Minnesota local papers can survive and, like ABC Newspapers, even prosper because they sell copies for some cash flow, sell advertising since they have substantial true distribution, and importantly, sell legal notice posting services. That latter item of life-blood support to actual, real, independent local press, is crucial and not to be undermined by fraudsters posing as papers but primarily promulgating propaganda.

We can speculate who might fit that latter characterization. continues with the money quotes, including unravelling of Koch ties [slime mold for certain] to slanting of "news" behind a propaganda agenda:

"In the newspaper environment, there are just fewer bodies to go around anywhere and that has meant cutting back fairly dramatically on statehouse coverage."

The Franklin Center claims this downturn in mainstream state reporting as one of the reasons for its existence, noting on its website: "Cash-strapped and under-staffed, local and regional newspapers often can't provide the real information that voters need to make good decisions."

Several newspapers acknowledged using Franklin Center reporting to fill a void caused by cutbacks and layoffs, albeit with a great deal of unease at using a source with such a clear ideological perspective.

[...] For the weekly Rock River Times of Rockford, IL, Illinois Statehouse News has allowed them to have state legislative coverage, according to Brandon Reid, assistant editor.

But he said he must review the articles more closely than others.

"It's definitely a concern, it makes you question everything that you see from that source," he said of the Franklin Center ties. "I would have to look at each story individually and make a decision."

Reid noted one recent story, a June 27 article on Obama's healthcare program, which drew some stinging reader comments accusing the writer of using only conservative sources.

The Center's journalists "absolutely have a mission, but so far the mission is 'go investigate waste, fraud and abuse at the state level,'" claims Will Swaim, Franklin Center managing editor who oversees the websites' content. "We need to watchdog state and local government."

Swaim's background includes serving as editor of the alternative OC Weekly and LA CityBeat. But he has also blogged at, the right-leaning media criticism site run by the conservative Media Research Center.

Complicating the ethical dilemma confronting editors who would run Franklin Center reporting are the array of conservative events the group sponsors through its "citizen journalism" arm. These include a conservative blogger conference in April that featured discredited right-wing voices Dana Loesch and James O'Keefe. It also holds regular citizen watchdog training seminars that promote conservative principles and feature O'Keefe, Franklin Center staffers, and other conservative luminaries.

Franklin Center is also listed as a co-sponsor of the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference. According to the CPAC site, that means Franklin Center contributed at least $5,000 to the right-wing event.

Steven Greenhut, vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center, says these activities are not problematic for the group, claiming a separation between the Center's conservative slant and the news sites' work.

[...] But Greenhut has shown his own partisanship, most recently during the bitter and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, which was heavily covered by the Franklin-linked

In a column at Reason Magazine published June 1, and promoted in a Franklin Center E-Newsletter on the day of the June 5 recall vote, Greenhut openly supported Walker. In the column, he wrote: "Democrats will surely resurrect dead voters in Milwaukee, so I'm hoping that Walker's margin of victory--polls show his lead at 5 to 7 points - is strong enough to exceed the expected margin of voter fraud."

A June 15, 2012, Greenhut column about union efforts posted at also slammed unions, describing them as "insulated from voter concerns" and "increasingly militant."

These positions are not anomalous. Greenhut is listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank which has received significant funding from foundations headed by David and Charles Koch.

Greenhut is not the only senior Franklin Center staffer with ties to the Koch brothers' web of right-wing organizations. At least three staffers at the organization previously worked for Americans for Prosperity, "the most prominent political group backed by the Koch brothers." Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives & outreach, previously served as director of marketing and online strategy for Americans for Prosperity; Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach, oversaw communications for Americans for Prosperity's 32 state chapters; and Alicia Barnaby, Coalitions Coordinator, was previously AfP's Development Associate for Corporate Relations. The Franklin Center's director of development, Matt Hauck, has been an associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Even one of the Center's directors, Rudie Martinson, previously worked for a Koch-backed organization, as an assistant state director for AfP.

[...] Then there's Tabitha Hale, Franklin Center's new media director who started earlier this year and has a strong conservative background. She has written for FreedomWorks, and Human Events.

A top Tea Party advocate who worked with Smart Girl Politics and traveled with the Tea Party Express this spring, Hale has drawn praise from the likes of Michelle Malkin for her right-wing activism.

"I oversee and work with reporters on an individual basis," Hale says about her Franklin Center duties. "More as a consultant...I help them get set up and teach them about different tools."

She contends her political leanings do not influence her work with the news sites.

[...] One of Ohio Watchdog's lead contributors, Maggie Thurber, has had a controversial past. A former Republican Lucas County Commissioner, Thurber was among four Republicans convicted in 2006 on misdemeanor charges in connection with a prominent coin dealer's effort to illegally funnel money to the 2004 George W. Bush campaign.*

Thurber did not respond to requests for comment.

Thurber and the others were fined $1,000 each and received no jail time, although they could have faced up to six months, The Blade of Toledo reported at the time., the Franklin Center site in the Badger State, has reached a level of influence hard to match. The outlet managed to get four of the five major Republican candidates for U.S. Senate to participate in an April debate it sponsored, while also being given press credentials from the Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Association.

"They're seen as being very conservative and not just trying to find waste and fraud but they are pushing a real political agenda, much more subtly," claims Dan Bice, a columnist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The site "represents yet another dangerous blow to the traditions of objective news reporting and, I'm afraid, the future of America's democratic discourse," Dave Zweifel of The Capital Times, one of two daily papers in the capital city of Madison, wrote last year.

Bice cited an issue that arose in August 2011 when the claimed that Wisconsin Jobs Now, a pro-union coalition, had bribed voters with a barbecue event and rides to the polls during last year's U.S. Senate primary.

Dubbed "BBQ-For-Votes," the story was taken up by after the conservative posted an item that used an anonymous source making the claim.

"What they have done is influence the outcome of elections," Bice said about the story, which never resulted in any charges or findings of wrongdoing by Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Harold Hamilton has declined to respond to "follow the money" email requesting he disclose his financial backing and/or other ties to the Anoka County Record, clearly so and on the record, for all to know and weigh. continues:

In Iowa, The Telegraph Herald of Dubuque -- which has been publishing articles from, a Franklin Center site, since April 2011 -- noted reader concerns in a lengthy column posted Jan, 17, 2012, by Executive Editor Brian Cooper.

He acknowledged concerns about the website, writing:

The rap on the Franklin Center service is that its funding comes largely from conservative organizations and donors - the center does not provide details - and thus its news coverage leans accordingly. I am aware of this criticism of Franklin Center sites, and we approached their content with caution.

While many Franklin Center sites hide their donors, others apparently believe clear political ties are nothing for which to be ashamed. One example is, which reveals on its site ties to Pete Ricketts, leader of Nebraskans For Fiscal Accountability, a conservative organization that has donated to several Republican candidates:

Nebraska Watchdog is a groundbreaking independent news web site dedicated to original investigative and political reporting. We are affiliated and funded in part by the non-profit Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and Pete Ricketts, founder of Drakon LLC, an asset management firm based in Omaha.

Ricketts was a 2006 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and is the son of Joe Ricketts, the multi-millionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who recently made news after it was disclosed that his foundation had been presented with a plan to spend $10 million on ads pushing links between Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (a Ricketts spokesman subsequently denied that the plan had been seriously considered).

The Franklin Center recently extended its conservative ties further, teaming with the Heritage Foundation to co-sponsor awards in the name of the late Andrew Breitbart, a staunch right-wing commentator who was often criticized for slanted or inaccurate reporting.

Breitbart? Did I mention slime mold?

Columbia Journalism Review weighs in, explaining:

The Franklin Center is perhaps the most ambitious conservative news organization you’ve never heard of. Founded in 2009 by Jason Stverak, a former Republican campaign operative, and initially funded by over $2 million in seed money from the conservative Sam Adams Alliance, the Franklin Center funds small online news operations in 18 states. (CJR’s Guide to Online News Startups has profiled several Franklin Center sites.) Eschewing the usual online mix of punditry and aggregation, the sites produce an impressive amount of investigative state and local political reporting, often focusing on government waste and public employee unions, both of which the Franklin Center dislikes. According to its own website, the Franklin Center “already provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide.”

When it first began, the Franklin Center served as sort of a news incubator, giving money and training to independent news organizations across the country, many staffed by veteran reporters with longstanding ties to the states they were covering. (The sites varied in quality.) Now—according to the Franklin Center’s vice president of journalism, Steven Greenhut—the Center is consolidating those independent sites into one main site,, that contains all of the Center’s statehouse reporting. The Center also runs a citizen journalism platform called Watchdog Wire, and publishes some content on its own site,

The sites report from an obviously conservative standpoint, about which the editors do not apologize. (Though the Franklin Center’s website claims that its sites are nonpartisan, this seems only nominally true.) “We try to set the agenda. That’s what a good newspaper does and what a good website does,” said the Center’s Greenhut, a former O.C. Register columnist, during a panel discussion in Tampa the week of the Republican National Convention. “We have a point of view. Big deal.”

[...] But does their ideology delegitimize their reporting? The Franklin Center stories that I read appear factually accurate, if occasionally odd in emphasis. For instance, it doesn’t seem particularly interesting to me that during the DNC there were people stationed at the trash cans at the Time Warner Cable Arena forcing people to recycle (“call it a miniature nanny state,” wrote Franklin Center’s Dustin Hurst). But there are lots of stories coming out of the convention that don’t interest me. The trash can thing happened, and I guess someone might consider it news.

“There’s a lack of transparency over the whole issue of bias,” said Greenhut during the Franklin Center’s panel in Tampa, scoffing at the way journalists convince themselves that they are completely fair arbiters of the truth. “If you don’t think you have a point of view, then I think you’re more likely to be biased.” The question lurking beneath his argument: is having a conservative bias so much different from having a soft liberal bias, or an establishment bias, or any other bias of the sort that colors so much political coverage?

The worry with sites like these is that a casual online reader, or a reader of one of the local and regional newspapers that run Franklin Center statehouse reporting, might not be aware of the Franklin Center and its agenda or “point of view,” as Greenhut put it. Think Progress, funded by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, is a site that’s somewhat analogous to the Franklin Center. Its “About” section notes that the blog exists to “provide a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies.” The site, however, makes no mention of the site’s conservative leanings, instead characterizing itself as “a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity.”

There’s not necessarily anything nefarious about this. But it’s confusing in a way that Think Progress is not. And while this sort of explanatory language is technically accurate, it also comes across as somewhat evasive. The sites aren’t particularly open about their funding sources, either. Whereas other nonprofit news sites—like CJR, for example—list their major donors, the Franklin Center does not disclose its funders. They say they do this so that editors and reporters won’t feel unduly influenced, or unduly pressured, and will feel free to write the stories they want to write, but this is unconvincing. The point of disclosing donors is to reassure readers, not to free writers from vague editorial pressures which can be exerted a thousand different ways, anyway.

Odds are, the money behind the Franklin Center sites comes from conservative donors wanting their priorities and positions represented in news. But the money behind the news has always been politicized; publishers have always purchased newspapers in order to push their own agendas. This isn’t to excuse or justify this sort of activity, just to say that the Franklin Center certainly didn’t invent it. Yes, it’s important to trace the provenance of the money that funds reporting, especially in an era when it’s so easy to set up benign-sounding groups and nonprofits that serve only to mask the true motives of the people providing the money. And it’s important that readers know where, agenda-wise, the Franklin Center comes from—just as it’s important to know where any news organization comes from these days.

As noted above, before the extended Columbia Journalism Review quote in which I added red highlighting, Harold Hamilton has declined to respond to "follow the money" email inquiry about his ties to Anoka County Record. Just as Hamilton declines on his Watchdog sites to acknowledge himself as Taxpayer League chairman, with his opinions coming from a direction and not just out of some simple dog's mouth.

John Kysylyczyn who asserts himself as the driving force behind Anoka County Record, should, for adequate disclosure purposes, be noted as having been the CD4 Republican Party Chairman recently, for almost a year, before his being ousted with Pat Anderson voted to take over the chairmanship, and with the ouster having been under acrimonious circumstances reflecting on Kysylyczyn's capability, leadership and conduct with one critic being long-time Republican web writer Mitch Berg - not one to criticize from any known DFL/progressive perspective. This Google.

The lack of disclosure of underlying things biasing that online outlet galls me as much as or even more than it calling itself "a newspaper" when it is devoid of any distribution network for PAPER to be available for purchase at convenient retail outlets - as with, newspapers.

It is a website, not a distributed paper. How that can be defended in terms of this being "a digital age" and in terms of "traditional printed media" suffering hard times is debatable, but for Christ's sake a newspaper is a newspaper; and calling a horse chestnut a chestnut horse does not make it so.

Line the bird cage with Anoka County Record sometime.


Wrapup - Watchdogwire, and Franklin Center FAQ page, here and here respectively, so readers can juxtapose their characterization of themselves as against what others have been quoted above saying.

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