The five news websites that launched in April 2022 look like benign, politically independent state news outlets, with local stories about the best Pennsylvania lakes to visit in the summer and The Michigan Museum of Natural History. But a NewsGuard review has uncovered that the network of five websites — which publishes articles online and in print and then invests in ads on Facebook to give them a far broader audience — is part of a coordinated effort ahead of the 2022 U.S. midterms to push voters to vote Democrat in battleground states.
The network, which appears to be connected to The American Independent, a national progressive organization founded by Democratic operative David Brock, is the latest example of mass-produced, partisan news sites masquerading as local news, known as “pink slime” journalism — a reference to the meat-based filler that was supposedly added without a label to ground beef products. The tactic has been used by groups on the left and right, most notably by Metric Media, which operates approximately 1,200 websites disguised as local news outlets that were set up before the 2020 elections to promote Republicans.
As the pivotal 2022 midterm elections loom, this network — which includes The Arizona Independent, The Michigan Independent, The Ohio Independent, The Pennsylvania Independent, and The Wisconsin Independent — has been publishing a steady stream of partisan content aimed at influencing potential voters without revealing its agenda and the source of its funding. As a result, last week NewsGuard rated all five websites Red, with each having a score of 44.5 points out of 100. Readers are alerted to, “Proceed with caution: This website fails to adhere to several basic journalistic standards.”
On their homepages, the sites only state that they are “a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.” However, NewsGuard found dozens of articles supporting Democrats and criticizing Republicans, including:
- An August 2022 article from The Arizona Independent titled “Arizona Republicans nominate racist venture capitalist Blake Masters for Senate.”
- An August 2022 article from The Michigan Independent titled “Whitmer’s Ambitious Budget Prioritizes Education and Fixing Roads.”
- A September 2022 article from The Wisconsin Independent titled “41 Republican senators break their promise to protect veterans’ health.”
- A July 2022 article from The Ohio Independent titled “GOP Ohio Senate nominee J.D. Vance has supported cuts to Social Security and Medicare.” (Vance has since reversed his stance on the issue, according to HuffPost.)
- An August 2022 article from The Pennsylvania Independent titled “Biden administration sends billions to upgrade airports after Trump failed to help them.”