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Newspaper chain astroturfs its ‘right-wing’ editorials

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When you read an editorial in your local newspaper, your natural assumption is that it expresses the views of that paper’s staff and reflects local concerns. This, however, does not appear to be the case with the many small-town papers owned by Ogden Newspapers, Inc.

On March 31, an editorial headed “ACORN can’t distract public from the truth” appeared in the Fairmont Sentinel, published in Fairmont, MN. It was bylined by Gary Andersen and Lee Smith, the paper’s publisher and editor, and it slammed ACORN as a “front for liberal politicians” that has been involved in “illegal actions.”

Over the next few days, the identical editorial started popping up elsewhere, with no byline and under a variety of headings. On April 3, it appeared in the Minot Daily News of Minot, ND under the heading, “Good riddance to ACORN.” On April 5, it was in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette of Williamsport, PA, headed “ACORN victim of its own transgressions.”

These papers have one thing in common. They are all owned by Ogden Newspapers of Wheeling, WV.

(Update: What may be the earliest example of the editorial was published in the Wheeling News-Register on March 25 under the title, “ACORN Brought Trouble on Itself.” It was not bylined.)

The McCain endorsement

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This is not the first time that Ogden has been accused of this kind of activity. In October 2008, for example, a blog sponsored by North Country Public Radio in Canton, NY reported, “The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, based in Saranac Lake, faces a controversy over Friday’s endorsement of presidential candidate John McCain. … The endorsement wasn’t actually written locally. It was produced by a writer in West Virginia at Ogden Newspapers, Inc., the Enterprise’s corporate headquarters. And yet the editorial includes this statement: ‘[W]e urge residents of our area to cast their ballots for John McCain, the leader Americans need.'”

“The Enterprise isn’t alone,” the entry concluded. “A nearly identical McCain endorsement, also penned in West Virginia, ran in the Gloversville Leader-Herald, also owned by the Odgen chain.”

A comment left on this entry added an additional example:

“Ogden Newspapers did the same thing 4 years ago and required the Enterprise to endorse George Bush. The Enterprise at that particular time, and I believe still today, had made a very clear policy that they only do editorials and political endorsements on local and regional issues and politicians. … Peter Crowley who was also the editor at that time called me to let me know that it wasn’t their choice to run the endorsement but it was what they were told to do by their parent company. … Ogden is notoriously ultra-conservative and so the McCain endorsement (and Bush endorsement 4 years ago) by the West Virginia home office should be no surprise.”

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Earlier this year, the Democrats were hit by a similar controversy when it was revealed that one Obama supporter had been sending identical pro-Obama letters to dozens of newspapers under a variety of names and had then disguised his identity by claiming to be a woman named “Ellie Light.” That writer, however, was not tied either to the Obama administration or to any of the newspapers which published his letters.

The Ohio controversy

Another story involving possible editorial interference by Ogden Newspapers was recounted in 2005 by the liberal Ohio blog Irregular Times, after the Ogden-owned Warren Tribune-Chronicle had accused them in an editorial of being “in bed with Rep. Ted Strickland.”

Suggesting that the claim had no factual basis but seemed intended to influence the upcoming Ohio gubernatorial election (in which Strickland easily defeated Republican Ken Blackwell), Jim of Irregular Times wondered “whether the political bias of the staff of the newspaper, or the political bias of the newspaper’s owners, might have something to do with why the Warren Tribune-Chronicle ended up publishing such a bizarre, clearly counterfactual editorial.”

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Irregular Times quickly determined that the paper’s own staff had no obvious partisan leanings but focused instead on G. Ogden Nutting, patriarch of the family which owns both Ogden Newspapers and the largest interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Mr. Nutting is an entirely different story from the editorial staff of the Warren Tribune-Chronicle,” the blogger wrote. “Federal Election Commission records show that he has donated $102,150, all to Republicans or Republican organizations, with the exception of the National Conservative Club, to which he has donated $12,000.”

Since 2005, G. Ogden Nutting and his wife Betty Nutting have continued to donate generously to Republicans. In 2008, they both gave maximum donations to a dozen different Republican candidates. Just last December, Nutting donated $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

‘Unmitigated right-wing bias’

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Although Jim’s blog entry concluded by acknowledging that “it might all be one big coincidence,” a number of comments left on the entry express no doubt about Ogden’s leanings.

In 2007, one commenter wrote, “I found your site as I was searching for evidence of Ogden News bias because of the unmitigated right-wing bias of my hometown newspaper, the Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette. The Nutting family clearly tries to stay below the radar with their right-wing propaganda newspaper empire.”

Another added, “The Lewistown Sentinel is also owned by Ogden, and we are sick of their right-wing propaganda, too. The daily editorial is sometimes so hateful and bias that you can’t stand to read it. And it is never signed.”

A third pointed to a September 2007 editorial on terrorism that had appeared in at least four different Ogden papers. That poster complained, “Ogden News has a strangle hold in our area. The county north of me, Chautauqua County, NY has FOUR Ogden owned papers.”

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And another from as recently as March 2009 charged, “This man is the scourge of the newspaper industry in many states. … With a carpetbagger mentality, and the values of an old school WV coal baron, he is wringing the dollars out his customers with little regard for their needs or input.”

The assassination threat

Last May, the chain was involved in a controversy of a different kind, when the Warren Times-Observer published an apparent assassination threat in the form of a classified ad reading, “May Obama follow in the footsteps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy!”

The paper quickly apologized and pulled the ad, saying that it hadn’t been recognized as a call for assassination because “the ad representative didn’t make the connection among the four other presidents mentioned.”

(Raw Story thanks the reader whose tip alerted us to the duplicate editorials.)

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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