Flake Retires Arizona

In a Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo, former Republican Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward smiles as she is greeted by supporters at a campaign fundraiser, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ward was expected to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake in the Arizona 2018 primary, but Flake has bowed out of a re-election, announcing his retirement on Tuesday. Flake’s decision to bow out of a re-election fight could spur a rush of other Republican candidates who hope to take on his only announced challenger in the Arizona primary next year. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Monitor endorsed Kelli Ward last fall.

Ward, a GOP candidate for Jeff Flake’s U.S. Senate seat, was so impressed with the endorsement, she linked to it from her website.

There was only one problem. There is no Arizona Monitor. It was a fake online news site made to look like an actual newspaper, such as our own Maricopa Monitor.

The Maricopa Monitor is part of the Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. group and PinalCentral.com.

No one knows who created the Arizona Monitor and Ward’s people say her campaign had nothing to do with the fake news website. But Politico reported the Arizona Monitor is part of a trend of fake news sites that have popped up this election year using newspaper-sounding names that could be confused with actual newspapers.

I don’t know if the Arizona Monitor was trying to mimic the Maricopa Monitor, but our paper is the only one with the “Monitor” name in the state.

Politico, which {span}covers politics and policy,{/span} says the fake sites have mostly been backing conservative candidates.

I don’t care about the political motives behind such fake news sites, I just care about the tactics.

It is ironic that conservative activists may be behind these websites mimicking newspapers since many have been trying to discredit newspapers for years.

But in all the haze of social media political propaganda, brand is important when it comes to establishing credibility. That’s why when a source tries to usurp your brand, it is important to raise the alarm.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Politico that sites like the Arizona Monitor use traditional local newspaper names to add an air of legitimacy.

“This basically is an appropriation of credibility,” Jamieson said. “As the credibility of reputable news outlets is appropriated for partisan purposes, we are going to undermine the capacity of legitimate outlets to signal their trustworthiness.”

Casa Grande Valley Newspapers produces the Casa Grande Dispatch, Coolidge Examiner, Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune, Eloy Enterprise, San Tan Valley Sentinel and Arizona City Independent, as well as the Maricopa Monitor. A lot of people have invested time and reputations into developing those brands. We aren’t going to let a usurper come in and destroy that for political motives.

The Arizona Monitor is basically a pro-Ward blog that has called her primary opponent Martha McSally “Shifty McSally.”

Posting links from dubious, unknown sources is unethical, according to Charles Glasser, an adjunct professor of media law and ethics at New York University. With her link to the Arizona Monitor, Ward conferred legitimacy on the site, he told Politico.

Spotting fake news sites or stories is actually easy to do. Usually the stories have no bylines and the sites have no names associated with their creation or who to contact.

One of the reasons I write a column introducing new reporters to the public is so readers know there are real people behind the byline.

Melissa Zimdars, a communications and media professor at Merrimack College, has compiled a list on how to spot fake news:

  • Stay away from sites with suspicious-looking web addresses, like those ending in .lo or .co.com.
  • Pay attention to the article’s author. If there’s no byline on a story, or there is only one author for every post on the entire website, watch out. It may be an imposter.
  • Be wary of news sites that host bloggers without any clear editorial or fact-checking process.
  • Check if there’s an “about me” section on the website. This makes it easier to spot whether the news source is legitimate.
  • Get your news from a variety of places. The best way to ensure that you’re not scammed by fake news is to read from a diverse array of news sources, and not just what pops up on a Facebook feed.

The masthead of the Maricopa Monitor includes the slogan “Your Trusted News Source.” We intend to keep it that way.


Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be contacted at 520-423-8614 or ahowell@pinalcentral.com.