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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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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 WisconsinReporter.com 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 WisconsinReporter.com after the conservative Mediatrackers.org 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.  

Chris Hardie, executive editor of the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune, says he has used WisconsinReporter.com content in the past, but no longer does in part because of its controversial ties.

"We did use some of their coverage early on and it's probably been a few months since we've used any of their coverage," he said in an interview. "There has certainly been plenty of controversy in the state here regarding some of the work Wisconsin Reporter has put out, where is their political slant coming from?"

"I know that there was a lot of concern about where their parent group came from and where their funding came from. Our franchise is built on credibility, whether it is fair or not, you can legitimately question because of where they get their funding from, their journalism has a purpose and that can be influenced by politics and that factored into our decision to not publish a lot of their material."

In Iowa,  The Telegraph Herald of Dubuque -- which has been publishing articles from  IowaPolitics.com, 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 Web site, 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  Nebraska.watchdog.org, 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.

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