Another Conservative Fake News Site is Distorting Political Coverage in Montana

News concept with newspapers
News concept with newspapers

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the danger of “pink slime” news sites—corporate shells with the appearance of legitimate new sites—coming to Montana in the months leading up to the November election.

Damaging as those sites may be to the reputation of news outlets and the quality of information Montanans receive and share, we need to worry about an even more significant threat to public information: local sites that ape the appearance of news sites while presenting incredibly slanted, factually inaccurate article as if they are straight news.

A prominent example of this kind of site is the relatively new Montana Daily Gazette, which presents itself as news without bothering to give balanced coverage or pesky facts.

Consider today’s story about Whitney Williams’s choice of Milo Mattelin as her running mate. Combining images lifted from the Independent Record and a faux news style, the piece includes claims like this:

Neighbors of Mattelin between the Eastern Montana towns of Culbertson and Brockton claim that “Mattelin once fancied himself a Republican.”

No names, no sources, no evidence.

Or this piece titled “Jon Tester Votes to Let Already-Born Babies Die Without Medical Treatment,” which includes this claim: “Tester has continued his legacy of supporting each and every aspect of infanticide, both in and out of the womb.”

A profound distortion of the truth.

Or this story headlined “Socialist Running Against Sen. Steve Daines in Montana Republican Primary,” which included no evidence other than the author’s assertion that Dan Larson is or ever has been a socialist.

Just not true.

All three of these pieces (aside from some troubling factual accuracy issues) could be considered legitimate commentary on politics, but the danger is that the Montana Daily Gazette presents itself as news, from the images it lifts from legitimate news sources to its style, which mimics an old logo design and the name of the state’s largest paper, the Billings Gazette.

And readers are being fooled. Earlier this week, Representative Theresa Manzella shared a story on Facebook about Congressional candidate Tom Winter that was being peddled by the MDG, Representative Greg DeVries shared the Tester story, and a Facebook group dedicated to electing Montana Republicans approvingly noted that the site did not seem to be peddling “fake news.”

This, of course,  is the real danger of fake news. Given the rapid dissemination of little more than headlines and striking images on Facebook, a casual reader is apt to mistake the work appearing on sites like these for real coverage, never taking the time to investigate its biases more fully, magnifying the spread of disinformation across the state.

And when leaders in the Republican Party share that news, the danger grows.

While the Montana Daily Gazette tries to hide who is behind its work, it didn’t take long to uncover who is behind the site: Pastor Jordan D. Hall of Sidney.

The Montana Daily Gazette is hosted on a server located at this IP address: 74.208.178.190. Two other sites located at that exact IP address are Pulpit and Pen, another site run by Hall that offers commentary about Pete Buttigieg’s “gay reign of terror” and the site for Sidney’s Fellowship Baptist Church, where Hall serves as a pastor.

The private Facebook page for the Montana Daily Gazette, created three weeks ago, lists Jordan Hall as its administrator.

Finally, Hall is listed in the source code for the page as well.

Screen Shot 2020-03-02 at 5.06.02 PMIt’s perhaps no accident that Hall is not posting the articles on the site under his own name as he is no stranger to controversy.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Pastor Hall or anyone else doesn’t have the right to publish commentary, even commentary that isn’t accurate. Ethics demand, though, presenting the site for what it is: an advocacy site that spins the news for political purposes, not an objective journalistic outlet that presents news.

Social media is challenging the foundations of the marketplace of ideas that underlies our belief that free speech is essential to a free society. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for those peddling information to be honest about who they are, what they are, and why they are.

Their readers deserve that transparency. And those sharing this kind of news need to be far more critical.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • Vice President Henry Wallace, 1944 – “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They cultivate hate and distrust….. They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.”

  • Damaging as those sites may be to the reputation of news outlets and the quality of information Montanans receive and share, we need to worry about an even more significant threat to public information: local sites that ape the appearance of news sites while presenting incredibly slanted, factually inaccurate article as if they are straight news//

    This is called “projection.”

    • I don’t think either of us is really interested in a debate on this point, but surely you can see the difference between our sites, right? Mine has a giant masthead that tells readers what the site is about and articles include author names that reveal their bias.

      Your site does neither.

      Let’s be intellectually honest here.

    • It’s ironic that you mention “projection”, Jordan:
      Psychological projection
      DescriptionPsychological projection is a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target. Wikipedia

  • The only different I see is that your huge banner with it’s newpaper-like name includes the word “progressive” in the tiny subtitle. So if he made his banner much bigger and said “Conservative Politics from the Big Sky, would that be ok? Related Question: Is your site “an advocacy site that spins the news for political purposes, not an objective journalistic outlet that presents news.” or not?

  • Also–sorry to be a pest–but you complain about him not giving evidence for his “fake news”, but you don’t give such “evidence” that it is false. You just say stuff like “A profound distortion of the truth.” and “Just not true.” as if you saying that is all we need to know.

    • Well, that’s because facts are pretty easy to check.

      The story that claims a socialist is running against Steve Daines contains zero evidence that is true. No quote from the candidate, no evidence at all. Just the author’s assertion.

      In the piece about Whitney Williams’s new running mate, he asserts that people claim Mattelin was once a Republican. No quote, no evidence.

      A “news” site should do better.

    • TO Cindy Hamilton – If Mr. Pogreba were to try to give a thorough accounting of Jordan Hall’s Lies and Deception – he would need to write an article longer than most novels… It took me two pages just to address one single article Jordan wrote, on the Montana Daily Gazette, titled “URGENT: Montana Health Nurse Cancels Hunting Season, Sheriff Stands Back”… The sheer amount of outright lies, violent innuendos, deceptions, internally inconsistent statements, and utter illogic within his own articles is truly astounding – it is, to put it mildly, freaking mind-boggling that he portrays himself as a newspaper or for that matter, a thinking human being… I went through step by step on of his articles (see below) and posted it on his FACEBOOK NEWSPAPER site – he appears truly intellectually deficient – he responded a dozen times to me but the only “defense” of his article he was capable of giving was to call me stupid, and to deflect and talk about anything other than the actual criticisms I laid out… And every time I directed him back to my initial criticisms, he would talk about something different – it was truly shocking – he responded a dozen times but did not defend against a single thing I wrote !!! He then quickly deleted my original critique and all of our comments from the Facebook thread, but not before I noticed that a dozen people had “liked” and affirmed my critique – which I’m sure Jordan noticed and hated… He left the other comments that he liked about his article… Below is my critique that I posted – Here’s the MDG facebook page where you can see his article posted April 16th (https://www.facebook.com/MontanaDailyGazette/) ….. Jordan Hall, there are so many things that are nonsensical in this article it’s hard to know where to start. The scare-mongering title of the article is “URGENT: Montana Health Nurse Cancels Hunting Season, Sheriff Stands Back”… 1) The nurse’s post within this article clearly is only about non-resident hunters. Also if you’d look at the Fish Wildlife and Park website it would further disabuse you of your delusions and lies – it says: “FWP has suspended nonresident hunting seasons for spring turkey and black bear until at least April 24…….. All other regularly scheduled hunting seasons are not cancelled at this time.” http://fwp.mt.gov/covid19
      ————– 2) You went on the say condescendingly that she: “unilaterally canceled hunting season by the fiat of being a nurse.” That’s a shockingly absurd thing to write… Anyone with comprehension abilities and their eyes open, can see that she states it’s based on the Governor’s order – obviously NOT acting ‘unilaterally’ (either you don’t know what that word means, or you just like the sound of it, or you just feel special by using such a big word – while bearing false witness)… ———— 3) Leaving aside what I’ve already written in 1 and 2 – the claim “Cancels Hunting Season” is an outright lie… The article itself shows that the pause is until April 24th, which cuts 13 days off of the 36-day Turkey season, and only 9 days off the two-month Bear season… How can you call yourself a Christian and practice in such blatant lies, misinformation, and fear-mongering? Or, simpler, how can you even call yourself a logical human thinking-being when you’d write an article that is so obviously faulty and contradictory within itself, to anyone who simply gives it an objective read… ————- 4) You wrote that the Sheriff said: “the 9th Amendment says they can restrict travel into the county”… You are right that he was wrong IF he said that – which I doubt he did, because I’m sure by now he’s very familiar with the Governors Order, which you are clearly not… The relevant Amendment, the Governor’s Order clearly cites, which applies to the Sheriff, is Art. VI, Section 13 – it says: “He (Governor) may call out any part or all of the forces to aid in the execution of the laws, suppress insurrection, repel invasion, or PROTECT LIFE and property in natural disasters.” PS: I don’t know if you are always this much of a liar, or you are just blinded by your own agenda in this situation – but either way what you’re doing here is somewhere between laughable and disgusting… It’s detestable – You and your words are anything but trustworthy… PS: If you respond at all, I’m expecting nothing less than a massive deflection away from each of my four points…

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