PHOENIX (AP) — Nicole Leonardi initially thought a new newspaper had arrived in her mailbox this week. But a closer look at the “Arizona Catholic Tribune” revealed a different story.

While it had all the attributes of a traditional print newspaper, including a tagline that read “Real data. Real value. Real news,” the pledge did not match the content.

Leonardi, a Democrat living in Tempe, Arizona, who is not Catholic, quickly realized the paper was fake, a partisan conservative publication with content critical of local Democratic candidates. The paper is also not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, which has disavowed it.

“I thought it was a real paper so I pulled it out,” Leonardi said. “It’s only when you dig in a bit when you realize that it’s fully pushing right-wing talking points.”

The Phoenix area was not the only region where papers with the “real news” tagline recently showed up. Similar publications reportedly arrived in mailboxes in cities in Iowa and Illinois.

The Arizona Catholic Tribune’s Facebook page identifies its owner as Franklin Archer, which is part of a multi-state network of partisan online and print publications posing as local media outlets, according to Priyanjana Bengani, a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

“We’ve been here before. They did this in Wisconsin before the 2020 election. They did this in Kansas before the referendum in August about abortion,” Bengani said. “I think the number of physical papers we’ve seen this election cycle is more than what we saw in the 2020 cycle.”

Bengani has traced the networks back to Brian Timpone, who describes himself as a “media executive” on a LinkedIn profile, and Bradley Cameron, a strategy consultant. Cameron, Timpone, the Arizona Catholic Tribune, and several companies that are part of the extended network of publications did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

As part of her research for the Tow Center, Bengani has identified more than 1,200 news sites that are part of the network.

In a series of research reports, Bengani has asserted the websites emerged ahead of the 2020 election and that the outlets use the appearance of journalistic neutrality to amplify partisan messaging.

“It’s a really complicated network. There are lots of different entities that are registered in different states,” Bengani said. She noted that print editions of another publication that is part of the network, the Grand Canyon …read more

Source:: AOL.com

      

Partisan mailer poses as Catholic newspaper in Arizona

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