Politico profiles Tennessee Star: A ‘baby Breitbart’ looking to expand

Excerpt from a Politico report on Tennessee Star, described as a “baby Breitbart,” a right-wing publication with a mainstream name that is looking at expanding into other states:

Since being contacted by POLITICO last week, the Star has added the names of its top three editors to the “Contact Us” section of its website. The publication, it turns out, is owned and operated by Steve Gill, a conservative commentator and radio host, and Michael Patrick Leahy, a local political activist who also writes for Breitbart, though Breitbart is not itself involved in the Star. The pair write many of the stories on the site, Gill said.

“What we really did is provide something people are just starving for,” Gill said, explaining that he and Leahy started the site last year and that there are no other investors.

He agreed that “Breitbart of Tennessee” would be a fair description of his site, adding that in its year-plus of existence, the Star has garnered more than 7 million page views and its finances are in the black. The site boasts a homepage filled with ads, many of them from political campaigns.

Its coverage goes deep on local political news — with stories on a variety of races as well as legislative minutiae, alongside a healthy dose of commentary — all from an anti-establishment, right-wing perspective. For instance, Randy Boyd, Black’s more mainstream opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primary, has been mocked on the site as “La Raza Randy,” for his stance on immigration. The site has gained attention, in part, because cutbacks at mainstream outlets have limited what they can cover.

“We’re serving a vastly underserved demand in Tennessee,” Gill said. “I think there are probably other states where a version of the Tennessee Star could do very well.”

Gill said he and Leahy have ambitions to start similar versions in other states — especially political battlegrounds like Ohio and Pennsylvania. “We could drop another Tennessee Star into other states with $300,000, $350,000,” he said. “We don’t have a big staff, we don’t have printing costs, we don’t have overhead.”

But Kathleen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin — who spoke to POLITICO before the editors’ names were added to the site — said the issue is not the site’s conservative content, but that a reader, lacking prior knowledge of the Star’s politics, could easily come to the site and think they were getting a nonpartisan presentation. The same goes for a user on Facebook or Twitter, encountering a Star story in their feed.

Culver said she is deeply concerned by the growing trend of ideological outlets that take on the appearance of neutral news sources.

“In general, when people try to adopt the forms of journalism without the norms of journalism, we really do have to be concerned that they’re trying to put one over on people,” Culver said. “It makes it very hard for citizens. It makes it very hard to navigate this information environment and find credible sources that you can rely on.”

Gill, who serves as the site’s political editor, while Leahy is editor-in-chief and CEO, said their intention had not been to deceive readers by not having a masthead. “It hadn’t come up before,” he said. “Well, if people think it’s an issue, we’ll address it, boom.”

Originally, he argued, their names weren’t listed as a way to make the site “not about us.”

“It’s not a ‘Hey, look at me,’ ego site,” he said. “Steve Bannon was Breitbart. The Tennessee Star is not Michael Leahy or Steve Gill.”

…That the Star is often referenced in other publications — including The Hill, Fox News, the Nashville Post and Tennessee Journal — without acknowledgement of its obvious bias and lack of transparency, represents a source of concern.

“The way I look at this is, it’s another way in which the Republicans get their narrative out, which we have been really fighting against for decades now,” said Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “The conservative, small-town radio, the conservative small-town newspapers that don’t give us the opportunity to be a part of their op-ed pages — that actually is more of an issue than this sort of gossip rag, I would call it.”

Note: The article has a link to a post on this blog, an arm of Tennessee Journal, that references Tennessee Star in the paragraph above saying the Star is often referenced in other publicans without acknowledgment of its right-wing orientation. That is occasionally correct — as in the post linked as an example (wherein the reference to Star is fairly incidental) – in the past few months, though when the Star was new on the scene last year, it was regularly and often referenced as “arch conservative,” “right wing” and the like. The old guy’s thinking is that, by now, most of our readers — more politically astute than the average person going to a newspaper website to check out the sports, weather, crime stories and the like — are quite familiar with the Star’s ideological status. Also, as Gill says, the bias is usually pretty obvious. If you’re not familiar with it, the “baby Brietbart’ website is HERE.

 

 

3 Responses to Politico profiles Tennessee Star: A ‘baby Breitbart’ looking to expand

  • Donna Locke says:

    Culver’s commentary is pretty comical, given our local choices were the lefty, nonjournalistic Tennessean newspaper; the lefty, nonjournalistic, nonalternative SouthComm uselessness; and small local papers like the one in Columbia, which now has a lefty editor using the editorial page for four anti-Trump pieces a time and Washington Post reprints (he still doesn’t know where he is).

    I’m just looking for actual journalism so I can get the available facts. When true journalism is absent, we have to look at a lot of different sources and try to put together the facts ourselves. So, welcome, Tennessee Star, and thanks for supplying more of the facts, along with more commentary to sift through. Thanks for being a true alternative in that regard, if not always truly journalistic. And yes, we should know the owners, editors, and writers.

    As I have been saying for 20 years, extremes beget extremes. Expect more.

    Tom, thanks for what you do.

  • Misty Pardner says:

    Lol, baby Breitbart. It only rings true when they dirty their diapers. If one of their picks fails, and many have, they go into whiner mode.

  • Larry Matheny says:

    Wow! Previous media sources were and are ideologically pure and neutral. I appreciate Ms. Culver and the University of Wisconsin for being such vanguards of non-partisan journalism and thought.

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