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How A Koch-Affiliated Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage in Mainstream Papers

Local papers can't afford to cover the state legislature, so a Koch-linked venture is happy to help.

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For the weekly  Rock River Times of Rockford, Ill., 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 health-care 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 Web sites' 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  NewsBusters.org, 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.

"We have a professional journalism side run by me and by my managing editor, Will Swaim," Greenhut, who joined the organization earlier this year, contends. "Under that side of the operation, we have watchdog journalism sites that we run and statehouse news sites that we run. These reporters and editors work for us. Their stories are edited by Will and by our copy editing team."

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 WisconsinReporter.com.

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 WSJ.com 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.

 
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