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Center Square network gets grant to offer “an alternate perspective to legacy media’s unfair coverage of individuals who disagree with state shutdowns”

Monday, Apr 12, 2021

* Politico last week

Conservative activist John Tillman, founder of the Illinois Policy Institute and other right-leaning groups, has started a new project aimed at electing Republicans in 2022, the Washington Post reports under the headline “stealth persuasion machine.”

The American Culture Project uses data collection and digital ads to target potential voters. That’s a standard practice in politics these days.

But what’s unusual about the American Culture Project, experts tell the Washington Post, “is how it presents its aims as news dissemination and community building. It touts transparency and civic engagement using an online network whose donors remain private — part of a bid to shape public opinion as local news outlets crater and social networks replace traditional forums for political deliberation.”

Simply put, the organization creates programming and ad messages around conservative issues but is able to skirt campaign finance laws because it’s a nonprofit. It doesn’t disclose its donors nor whether it pays federal income taxes, reports the Post.

The group is already active in five states, including Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. It is seeking to expand to six more: Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

* Buried in the WaPo article is something you also might find interesting

Tillman’s assets extend well beyond a handful of Facebook pages focused on battleground states. In addition to the American Culture Project and the Illinois Policy Institute, tax filings identify him as chairman of the Franklin News Foundation, a nonprofit media company that draws revenue from DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund that backs conservative causes and allows its contributors to remain anonymous.

The news foundation recently received a $50,000 grant from DonorsTrust for a coronavirus-related news project. “This program will offer an alternate perspective to legacy media’s unfair coverage of individuals who disagree with state shutdowns as radical or heartless and will be republished around the country in state and local newspapers, which are starved for local covid-19 news content,” states the announcement from DonorsTrust, which did not respond to a request for comment.

The news network, which publishes articles on a website called the Center Square, concentrates its coverage on 36 states, with a particular focus on some of the Midwestern states where the American Culture Project is seeking an online foothold. Arise Ohio and other pages in Tillman’s network often post stories produced by the Center Square.

You gotta wonder if the newspapers that run those stories know who’s paying for it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

16 Comments
  1. - Homebody - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:30 am:

    The conservative approach of what I can best describe as “overtly brazen covertness” would comical coming from a cartoon supervillain. But somehow in the real world is is a completely normal way for a major political party to operate.


  2. - Bonkers - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:34 am:

    Rich, who’s paying for your ‘news’? LOL


  3. - Socially DIstant Watcher - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:36 am:

    ==You gotta wonder if the newspapers that run those stories know who’s paying for it. ==

    Tillman hopes they’re desperate enough for copy that the won’t care, or even think to ask


  4. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:38 am:

    IRN has been running anti-shutdown stories for a year now.
    Then, when numbers start to rise after a partial re-opening criticize Pritzker’s decision.
    They’ve been a joke ever since they were bought by the INN in 2015.


  5. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:42 am:

    ===who’s paying for your ‘news’?===

    I do not ever allow anyone to pay me to write about certain news topics. Ever.

    That’s the difference. I criticize my subscribers and advertisers quite often. I seriously doubt Center Square would do the same with its grant-giver.


  6. - west wing - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:43 am:

    These online sites and strategies are generating north of 150,000 engagements a week in Illinois. Since they’re “non partisan” they’re of no concern to Democrats, right? Ha. This entire industry needs a microscope to get a better sense of who’s paying for what — and what is political vs “non partisan.”


  7. - walker - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    It’s cheaper than paying reporters, fact-checkers, or editors. Just pretend it’s a legitimate news source, and roll the presses.

    Tillman is not just clever and resourceful. He is also an extremist. He believes any income tax is “theft” and thereby “immoral.”

    Newspapers are gettin it from all sides: attacks by “stealth persuasion machines” on content, by venture capitalists to cut and strip all assets, and by alternative providers in the market. Amazing how some of them survive.


  8. - Can - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 9:52 am:

    The Center Square is not a news company. They are a right-wing mouthpiece disguised - poorly - as news. No different than Fox or Newsmax or any of the others.


  9. - The Vacant Lot - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 10:10 am:

    When John Tillman is involved there must be bias. When Jeff Bezos owns a publication , you can be sure there’s no conflict of interest.


  10. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 10:12 am:

    “When Jeff Bezos owns a publication”

    Pretty sure the Washington Post uses more than WalletHub and Wirepoints for sources of their stories.


  11. - Dee Lay - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 10:25 am:

    - The Vacant Lot -

    How far do you think Tillman is from actual editorial control vs Bezos and the Washington Post?
    If you think it looks similar at all, then you are just telling on yourself.
    Don’t be so daft.

    Center Square should be reclassified as conservative newsletter and treated as such.


  12. - PublicServant - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 10:44 am:

    - Advocating transparency while donors remain private

    - Alternate perspectives

    Cons, lies and propaganda. SoP for today’s right wing, and John Tillman in particular.


  13. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 11:08 am:

    To the post,

    The difference with Tillman is he is a propagandist.

    The rest is pretending the IPI is an honest broker.

    Worst resume imaginable… IPI and Rauner administration.

    This is another example how looking at how Tillman sees the world and trying to frame his propaganda as “alternative facts” or in this case, “alternative news” or “history”…

    It’s as though Tillman is courting all the racist thinkers who may also see the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression”… but … here’s the rub…

    Dark money donors need not worry about “alternative facts” and such being blamed on the donors.

    It’s frankly the perfect grift, what does Tillman Cate what people think of him, he’s cashing checks.


  14. - Morty - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 12:17 pm:

    ‘ Pretty sure the Washington Post uses more than WalletHub and Wirepoints for sources of their stories.’

    And Wirepoints uses Zero Hedge


  15. - Shytown - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 3:37 pm:

    When will conservative funders learn that Tillman is mostly creating salary opportunities for himself? He must be really good on the pitch, which covers up the stink of these organizations.


  16. - Snarkie from Schaumburg - Monday, Apr 12, 21 @ 3:40 pm:

    Tillman is making “nonpartisan” the last refuge of a scoundrel.
    And a wealthy one at that.


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