Local news outlets subscribing to The Center Square’s wire service are pushing right-wing talking points on their readers


Three years after a dark money-funded conservative website known for posting misinformation rebranded as a local news wire, The Center Square has made its way into newspapers across the country. 

In 2019, Watchdog.org, an organization that propagated misinformation and lies that benefitted Republican politicians, rebranded as The Center Square. Since rebranding, the company has operated as a dark money-fueled conservative news wire service writing and distributing right-wing slanted news stories. Their publisher, Franklin News Foundation, has apparently continued to receive funding from the ultra-conservative Donors Trust.

The Center Square provides struggling and underfunded local outlets their stories for free with attribution, unlike larger, more established wire services like the AP which charge licensing fees. This model preys on vulnerable news organizations with vanishing staff and shrinking budgets that need wire articles, like those offered by The Center Square, to fill space. Outlets that use The Center Square do not typically acknowledge the explicitly conservative lean of their work. 

According to the company, in 2021, their articles had been republished nearly 180,000 times. Center Square articles appearing in daily papers and online news feeds promote right-wing narratives and cite many right-wing think tanks, lobbyists, and policy groups – many of which belong to the conservative State Policy Network, a group of right-wing think-tanks and policy groups that have promoted a highly-partisan agenda in state-level politics for years. The Center Square’s publisher is a member of the State Policy Network. Franklin News Foundation board chair John Tillman and member Charles Mitchell also lead groups affiliated with the State Policy Network.

Center Square articles are saturating local newspapers across America 

  • The Telegraph, a Hearst publication circulating 30,000 papers across Illinois’ River Bend region, published multiple Center Square articles featuring an NRA lobbyist’s response to Illinois gun restrictions — without mentioning that he’s an NRA lobbyist. According to the Factiva database, The Telegraph published at least two articles in April about the Illinois assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban that quoted Todd Vandermyde. The NRA lobbyist questioned how Illinois would enforce the law or decide who was properly licensed. The articles did not quote gun control activists or inform readers about enforcement mechanisms for similar bans.
  • At least seven newspapers owned by The Times-Journal Inc, circulating over 100,000 papers across Georgia, simultaneously republish articles by The Center Square in each of those papers. According to the Factiva database, a recent article promoting school choice, “Georgia Democrat calls for lawmakers to pass school choice bill,” ran in The Gwinnett Daily Post, The Henry Daily Herald, Newton Citizen, Rockdale Citizen, Jackson Progress-Argus, Cherokee Tribune, and Clayton News Daily on June 2. The Center Square article promoted public school voucher legislation without any pushback from opposed lawmakers, public education groups, teachers, or public school workers. In 2022, The Times Journal Inc. bought six of the papers from Southern Community Newspapers Inc. Center Square articles began appearing on the sites after the purchase. 
  • According to the Factiva database, The Courier-Times, a North Carolina community newspaper, cited The Center Square at least 1,000 times in the last six months. The Courier-Times circulates about 7,800 papers across Roxboro and Person counties. Residents have received Center Square articles promoting conservative perspectives on the U.S.-Mexico border, including some alleging El Paso is “overrun with foreign nationals,” promoting a claim that the Biden administration’s border policies are the “greatest national security threat since 9/11,” and elevating the Texas GOP’s accusation that immigrants are invading the U.S. Other Center Square articles run in the Courier-Times portrayed gender identity as a “controversial issue” and legitimized a bogus political investigation into COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Sample News Group, which owns dozens of papers in Pennsylvania, published Center Square articles promoting school choice. The News-Item published a Center Square article alleging that Pennsylvania school districts are “excessively funded” and raising taxes unnecessarily despite having a stockpile of savings. The article quoted from the Senior Vice President of the Commonwealth Foundation, a think-tank affiliated with the State Policy Network. The News-Item distributes 9,556 papers across Northumberland County.
  • Louisiana’s L’Observateur, which circulates approximately 2,400 daily papers in the River Parishes area, published a Center Square article promoting a crime report by the free-market think tank Pelican Institute, according to Factiva. The Pelican Institute is a member of The State Policy Network and has ties to ALEC, which played a central role in the expansion of the U.S. prison system. 
  • The Waukesha Freeman, a Greater Milwaukee Today publication circulating 12,267 papers across Wisconsin, published a Center Square article on a lawsuit alleging the state is “making school choice more difficult.” The December article cited The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and School Choice Wisconsin Action. WILL is a conservative public interest law firm that argued against school closures during the pandemic. School Choice Wisconsin Action is a lobbying organization tied to the right-wing State Policy Network which supports anti-LGBTQ schools under the guise of parental choice. The Center Square article contained no pushback from opposing education groups. Studies show school choice initiatives divert funding from public schools and increase inequality.
  • Washington County Daily News, another Greater Milwaukee Today publication circulating roughly 5,399 papers, republished a Center Square article platforming an election denialist’s bogus investigation into military ballot fraud. According to Factiva, a Center Square article legitimizing GOP state Rep. Janel Brandtjen’s claim ran in the January 10 edition of Washington County Daily News. Brandtjen’s embrace of election conspiracies alienated her from Republican colleagues; last November, they barred her from attending caucus meetings. The Center Square articles promoting right-wing election misinformation have appeared on GM Today’s website. 
  • Arizona’s Herald Review, which circulates approximately 5,848 papers in the Sierra Vista area, reposted a Center Square article fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants evading apprehension. One article uncritically quoted a National Border Patrol Council tweet accusing the Biden administration of “complete erasure of our border.” 
  • Logan Daily News, which circulates approximately 4,500 papers across Logan, Ohio, republished a Center Square story one-sidedly criticizing Democratic economic policies last December. According to Factiva, Logan Daily News published a Center Square story on Ohio’s unemployment rate quoting from the Buckeye Institute– a State Policy Network affiliate
  • The online edition of Texas’ Longview News-Journal has republished multiple Center Square pieces, including a piece full of conservative attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. The Longview News-Journal circulates to over 25,000 subscribers daily across 11 east Texas counties. The June article promoting attacks on DEI programs contained no pushback from DEI coordinators – only quotes from Republican legislators.
  • The online edition of The Independent, which circulates around 38,000 newspapers across California’s Tri-Valley region, has published many Center Square articles containing unchallenged conservative talking points about the border, Biden’s green energy policies, and COVID-19. The paper republished an article claiming China “unwittingly verified Wuhan Lab leak.” The report cited by The Center Square actually did not verify that COVID-19 came from a Wuhan lab.

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