Criminals ready for release in your neighborhood, scant advertisements and contact information, and an alleged teacher with a fake name pledging to teach critical race theory in the classroom.
These are just a few examples of what can be found in a series of publications that have been sent in recent weeks to homes across the state, as well as McHenry County. They are attracting attention – including from Governor JB Pritzker – for being politically charged and containing right-wing talking points just months before the November election.
The publications, 34 in number, include the McHenry Times, the Kane County Reporter, Chicago City Wire and the DeKalb Times. They are under the umbrella of a company called Local Government Information Services, or LGIS. It’s unclear whether each title has sent logs in recent weeks, but they are present online.
LGIS, according to its website, aims to be “a true media watchdog” that monitors how taxpayers’ money is spent at the local and state level.
Critics of the company say the mailings spread misinformation and target local residents, such as individual teachers in a community, with hit articles. Those who support the publications say they meet a need that counteracts media bias. Some recognize that shippers have a conservative streak.
“All we can do is signal to people that these publications are not what they appear to be,” said Don Craven, president of the Illinois Press Association. “You have to be careful about the source of what you read.”
The company was launched in the months leading up to the November 2016 election, according to documents from the secretary of state’s office. Brian Timpone, the founder of Journatic, a media publisher that created automated content and sparked controversy, is listed as chairman, according to the records. Timpone did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Dan Proft, a conservative radio show host who ran for office and has been involved in various political organizations, was listed as a director on the company’s board in 2019, documents filed with the show of state. Proft’s current affiliation with the company is unclear and several attempts to reach him have failed.
The company’s capital, as of May 31, was more than $10 million, according to August 2022 filings.
Although each of the publications’ websites contain local information, such as local meeting agendas, much of the content on these websites consists of identical stories containing misleading information on a variety of topics. Few stories are current and several were published months ago.
Recent print publications feature stories about schools teaching critical race theory, headlines taking photos of Governor JB Pritzker, and content criticizing the state’s new SAFE-T law.
An article on the McHenry Times website says two teachers in School District 200 in Woodstock who are committed to “teaching critical race theory.” One of the teachers listed has a fictitious name while the other appears to work in a different district.
Another story on the same subject about Harvard mentions another teacher. No one by that name is listed on the Harvard School District 50 website. District officials did not immediately return a call asking for confirmation.
Kevin Lyons, a former Northwest Herald editor who is now District 200 spokesperson, said the district was concerned about the reported inaccuracies, but it was “no point dealing with political mailers who don’t care.” don’t care about accuracy”.
“There are credible media that we have professional relationships with; [the McHenry Times] is not one of them,” Lyons said in an email. “I haven’t heard any concerns from our stakeholders about anything published in this particular political mail masquerading as a newspaper.”
Trusting News director Joy Mayer said it’s important to have empathy for consumers who are trying to discern between real news and unreal news. Sometimes, even in the news industry, she struggles to do that.
“I just think all the time when we’re talking about people who fall prey to misinformation, I think as journalists … we’re quick to judge people who fall into the trap. We think people should know the difference,” she said.
State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, who has been quoted in a few of LGIS’s publications, said he sees the websites as a natural development to counter what he sees as a “slight bias caught” in the media.
“Do [Proft’s] newspapers tend to lean with a conservative slant? Absolutely. But there’s just as much left-leaning media,” Wilcox said. “That doesn’t make it not news. It just means you can get another view.
McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said he was unaware of the shippers. County Executive Jeffrey Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, who was recently elected to lead McHenry County’s GOP, said he’s heard of it but hasn’t. received himself and that he did not think he had enough information to form an opinion.
Craven said neither the company nor its publications are members of the Illinois Press Association. The franking license printed on the front of the newspapers is registered with Paddock Publications Inc., according to a spokesperson for the US Postal Service.
The press association has received inquiries from residents across the state about the shipments and how to stop them from being delivered, Craven said.
“The only advice we can give these people is to send notes to the website,” Craven said. “I feel their frustration, but there is nothing [press association] can do about it.
Each of the company’s 34 publications has its own URL and website, but they have identical templates. The “About Us” pages, minus a handful that are blank, are all the same as well.
The websites core beliefs are “in limited government, in the constructive role of the free market, and in the right of citizens to choose the size and scope of their government and the role it should play in their society,” state the pages.
The websites do not contain advertisements, with each page stating that the funding comes from “advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government”.
Emails sent to the McHenry Times, Kane County Reporter and Local Labs, which is a public recording company owned by Timpone, went unanswered.
Wilcox said he sometimes gets calls from reporters contracted to the publications, but he doesn’t always know which publication will run the stories.
“[The publications] fill a role, but they fill a role that I wish didn’t exist,” Wilcox said.
Other officials have taken aim at the publications for spreading what they consider to be misinformation.
Pritzker was asked about the publications at an independent press conference Sept. 8 in Harvey. He called their content “complete hogwash” centered on racist messages.
“It’s clearly about the idea that … black people are threatening your way of life,” he said of the posts. “That’s basically what [Proft] puts in these publications. It’s a scare tactic. This is to make people worry about their safety. »
Pritzker also linked the job to his gubernatorial opponent, Republican Darren Bailey, on whose behalf he alleged Proft was working.
Bailey, who on Proft’s radio show commented favorably on the submissions, could not be reached for comment.
In response to Pritzker’s comments, Proft on his Twitter account challenged Pritzker to name “a specific article in the newspaper you excoriate that is false or inaccurate”. He added in another tweet that being called a racist by Pritzker is like “being called ugly by a frog.”
With the mailings sent out just before the November election, it’s hard to tell just how much this kind of content can swing an election, said Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. To Mooney’s knowledge, there is no empirical data that maps the effect.
“There’s an old saying that half of campaign spending is wasted, but no one knows which half,” he said.
Wilcox took issue with the content misinformation, saying it depends on people’s frame of reference.
“What a person claims to be misinformation is often based on their reading of something and their life experiences,” he said. “Whether we call it misinformation, a lie, a half-truth, … it comes from a place of understanding that we have a significant difference between left and right.”
It’s not uncommon for this type of content to escalate during election season and then “disappear,” Craven said. The next midterm elections, which among many races include the Illinois gubernatorial race, will be held Nov. 8.
Craven said it is “disconcerting” that these mailings are being sent. Although he considers this in some ways a compliment to the newspapers, saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Mooney went further and called it a “fraud” that disguises itself as a newspaper.
Ultimately, Mooney attributes the senders to the money. Money from major political players, such as Pritzker, former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, as well as billionaires Dick Uihlein and Ken Griffin, are the reason such senders exist, Mooney said.
“It’s a symptom of the enormous amount of money that has been poured into the Illinois political system over the past 10 years,” Mooney said. “The thing is, they’re trying to increase the legitimacy of their posts by pretending they’re into journalism.”