In the past, billionaire venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was described by many pundits as a libertarian. But in the 2022 midterms, the far-right U.S. Senate candidates he has been promoting — from “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance in Ohio to Blake Masters in Arizona — are decidedly MAGA, pushing a severe social conservatism that is far removed from libertarianism.
Steve Bannon, host of the “War Room” podcast and former White House chief strategist in the Trump Administration, has praised the 54-year-old Thiel for trying to make Congress as MAGA as possible.
One of the tricks that Thiel and his Republican allies are using in the midterms, according to Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill, is sending out “newspapers” that are meant to look like regular publications but are pushing MAGA candidates. In Arizona, Weill reports in an article published on October 11, such a publication is the Grand Canyon Times — which is promoting Masters, the MAGA Republican trying to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
“It was as if the Grand Canyon Times’ sports section had put a list of local football stars in a blender and printed the results,” Weill explains. “A brief profile on star running back Bijan Robinson was topped with a picture of tight end Aaron Greene, whose own biography showed a professional headshot of long snapper Ethan Nguyen. Other athletes’ profile pictures and biographical details also appeared randomized in the full-page spread on ‘former area high school football players.’ The rest of the paper—which was shared online by bemused Arizona sports fans — was chock-full of conservative political content, particularly articles championing Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters.”
The Grand Canyon Times, Weill emphasizes, “isn’t a traditional newspaper,” but rather, is “part of an opaque media organization that recycles right-wing news articles across a network of hyperlocal-sounding news websites, which are padded out with press releases.”
“As the 2022 midterm elections approach, conservative campaigns have tapped the network to send realistic-looking, and unsolicited, newspapers to voters in critical districts,” Weill reports. “In publications like the Grand Canyon Times, the line between newspaper and political advertisement can be porous. At least two print editions of the paper, reviewed by The Daily Beast, contained disclaimers that described the contents as ‘paid for by the Saving Arizona PAC.’ The PAC, which supports Masters’ Senate campaign, has received more than $13 million from conservative billionaire Peter Thiel.”
The Grand Canyon Times, according to Weill, is “an affiliate of Metric Media, a network of conservative websites tailored to look like local news outlets.” Metric, Weill reports, is “run by Brian Timpone, a former news anchor turned political spokesman.”
Weill points out that Metric Media’s publications can be sloppy and “error-ridden.”
An October 4 article in the Grand Canyon Times, for example, referred to “Virginia Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.” Of course, Sinema represents Arizona, not Virginia, in the U.S. Senate; her name has long been synonymous with Arizona politics, whether she was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives via Arizona or, before that, serving in the Arizona State Legislature.
“Metric Media runs at least 15 other local-sounding outlets in Arizona, including the North Pima News and the Tucson Standard,” Weill notes. “All promote a curious blend of conservative talking points and reprinted press releases.”