In a video ad produced for Congresswoman Diane Black, a local news outlet is cited with the headline “President Trump to Rep Diane Black: ‘You Came Through On Tax Reform.”
In researching the website cited, Politico discovered that its presence online lacked some accountability. The Tennessee Star is just one of a growing influx of locally focused websites who are more ideologically subjective in their reporting and can’t be called a traditional news service. The Arizona Monitor (now mysteriously off-line) and the Maine Examiner are two further examples. Only when contacted by Politico did the Star add the names of their top editors, two of whom are owners Steve Gill (conservative radio host), and Michael Patrick Leahy, a local political activist who also writes for Breitbart. Leahy agreed that “Breitbart of Tennessee” would be a fair description of his site. In one year it has garnered 7 million page views and is in the black financially. Being solvent actually translates to no wages for any writers, just covering the bills. The site has gained traction with Tennessee’s political elite.
Kathleen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, is deeply concerned about the growing trend of ideological outlets, especially when politicians like Black legitimize outlets like the Star: it drags down other, more transparent publications, making it more difficult for readers to know what to trust.
“When a candidate uses one of these sources in an ad and makes it appear like this is an independent news organization, it just muddles things further,” she said.