What is “Center Square”?
Read at your own risk
Prior to Trump’s election in 2016 (can that really be seven years ago?) I read and listened to news media while paying no attention to the names of writers and reporters, to the qualifications of the talking heads, or to the financial backing of the media I consumed. I was media naive. Furthermore, I tended to imagine that everyone else was consuming the same news that I was.
Savvy political operatives have taken advantage of naïveté such as mine probably since the advent of human language, but such manipulation has ramped up with each media innovation: the printing press, radio, television, and now (really only since 2007) social media.
Majorie Taylor Greene’s July 16 speech at the Turning Point Action Conference in Florida disparaged Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, and Biden’s Build Back Better (amid a barrage of totally off-the-wall accusations). Biden’s team, recognizing that a majority of Americans do not share MTG’s distaste for these programs, was quick to characterize her disparagement as “an endorsement” of Biden’s policies. Upon reflection, though, the fact that MTG spoke before a youthful audience that applauded rather than booed her speech is a testament to a relentless drumbeat of propaganda that can be dated back to Lewis Powell’s Memo, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” written in 1971. Soon after that writing Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court where he was instrumental in advancing “speech rights” of corporations. (If you are not familiar with “The Powell Memo”, please read the subheading under Lewis Powell’s biographical entry in Wikipedia and/or the text of the memo itself.)
Arguably, the Powell Memo provided the blueprint upon which the entire modern-day conservative media landscape was founded (exhaustively detailed in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right). Powell’s Memo sparked the founding of what is now a huge interlocking network of “think tanks” with familiar names: The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and, yes, the Washington Policy Center, the latter being one of many state-based spinoffs. As non-profits, these “think tanks” successfully obscure the identities of their wealthy donors. The money is used to hire and promote ideologically-aligned writers and political operatives. For more than five decades, these organizations have pumped out an endless stream of anti-tax, anti-regulation propaganda promoting the interests of big business that Powell sought to defend. For decades now the freely available writings and voices of these well-supported, ideologically-aligned “think tank” hires have appeared in print and on television as largely unquestioned “experts”. Scratch the surface of many of these “experts” and one finds an undergraduate degree in political science rather than in the field of proffered expertise.
Last Wednesday I posted a link to an article from “Center Square” written by Timothy Schumann, published July 10, and entitled “After millions spent, Spokane County frustrated to see homeless numbers increase”. The article—as a news article—is garbage. The title sets up an expectation of an actual discussion of the fundamental reasons that “homeless numbers” are increasing. Schumann’s “research”? He quotes Mary Kuney, Al French, and Josh Kerns as representative of the “Spokane County Commissioners”. He writes as though he weren’t even aware of the existence of Spokane County Commissioners Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan. Schumann then offers the following erroneous tripe:
It was noted that Spokane is a "receiving entity," offering many more services than any of the nearby counties, including those in Idaho.
Tacoma was referred to as a "sending entity," and Seattle as the "receiving entity," implying that disparity was the cause for the increasing numbers in Spokane County.
Schumann ignores (and apparently can’t be bothered to research) that the last known address of over 80% of the homeless surveyed in Camp Hope and in the point-in-time count under discussion at the Commissioner meeting was within Spokane County.
So who is Timothy Schumann and what is Center Square? The answer reveals much. Searching the Center Square website, Mr. Schumann “reports on eastern Washington”, previously edited a “tech news site” and before that “worked in the [unnamed] non-profit and government sectors in Washington, DC.” Since Mr. Schumann pumps out no fewer than two and occasionally up to four short articles every day, perhaps he lacks the time to do any real research (for example, to find out that there are five, not three, Spokane County Commissioners) or, perhaps, his hired conservative biases serve as efficient blinders.
Center Square says it was launched in May 2019. It is a “project of the 501(c)(3) Franklin News Foundation, headquartered in Chicago”. Franklin News Foundation came into being in 2009. One of the founders was “Jason Stverak, a prior executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.” According to Wikipedia, “The Franklin Center is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a consortium of conservative and libertarian think tanks which focus on state-level policy.”
In essence, Center Square is one of many tentacles of the non-profit conservative propaganda “think tank” ecosystem originally inspired by Lewis Powell. Writers and talking heads are hired and funded for their perceived devotion to “a free market, limited government perspective on state and local politics.”
Center Square’s “republishing guidelines” state:
We produce the highest quality of news coverage and investigative work for use at The Center Square, and share this work with all media organizations at no cost to them. The Center Square is published and edited by professional journalists.
Wow! How selfless! To republish articles from Center Square all you have to do is abandon any devotion you still retain to the concept of unbiased well-researched reporting. The funding for the bias that Center Square provides comes from wealthy dark money donors anxious to convince you that government cannot (and should not) help and your tax money is routinely wasted.
Center Square and its parent, the Franklin News Foundation, pretend to be a local news service for eastern Washington while fielding a single “reporter”, Mr. Schumann, to produce (from an unknown perch) conservative party line click bait funded by obscure donors with a financial interest in convincing you to lower their taxes and deregulate all the supposed marvels of the “free” market.
The intent of this post is simple: read and listen carefully. Pay attention to the likely bias, motivation, and funding of the sources you choose. Concentrate on trusted, traceable local sources for local stories including RANGEMedia.com (subscription requested), the Inlander (free, supported , and the Spokesman Review (paywall). There is no writer or commentator who is totally without bias, but bias and shoddy reporting like that of Center Square is inexcusable.
Keep to the high ground,
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