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Port: Election conspiracy theorists buy North Dakota newspaper

Flag Family Media trafficks in anti-democracy conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda, and now they're buying a western North Dakota newspaper.

Scott Hennen
Scott Hennen, pictured here on March 27, 2008.
Forum file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — The plight of the newspaper industry, especially that of the smaller publications serving the rural parts of our state, has been depressing.

Without the local newspaper, who is covering the county commission meetings? And the city council meetings? And the park boards and the school boards and all the other types of meat-and potatoes journalism that is simultaneously prosaic and deeply vital to the health of our communities?

When we get news that someone is stepping in to own and operate one of these deeply important institutions, we should be happy.

Usually.

But the news that a Trump-aligned talk radio company — one that traffics in election conspiracy theories, among other bizarre catechisms of the QAnon crowd — is buying a 114-year-old rural newspaper ought to alarm right-thinking North Dakotans.

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Flag Family Media is buying the McKenzie County Farmer , an important publication in the heart of North Dakota's oil country. You should care about that.

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Flag Family Media is a Fargo-based company in which long-time talk radio host Scott Hennen (a former employer of mine) is a partner.

It's hard to say whether Hennen actually believes some of the goofier things he broadcasts, or if he's just saying what he's paid to say. The line on Hennen in political circles is that he's coin-operated. Drop a quarter in, and he'll say what you want.

And anyone who has listened to Flag Family Media broadcasting knows just how many checks they've been cashing from the likes of pillow impresario turned election conspiracy demagogue Mike Lindell.

But does it matter if people like Hennen work at undermining American democracy for profit or misguided belief? The end result is the same.

And here's the thing: Election conspiracy theories, as odious and divorced from reality as they are, aren't even the most obnoxious thing Flag Family Media promotes.

Not so long ago an FFM host named Dennis Lindahl — who broadcasts the morning show on their Tioga station, who was seen at a rally for erstwhile U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker calling for the death penalty for federal bureaucrats, who is facing accusations of "belligerent" and "unprofessional" behavior at his day job at the City of Tioga — was urging his audience to believe what amounts to egregious Russian propaganda .

Lindahl alleged that support for Ukraine was fading after evidence surfaced on social media of a Ukrainian "Nazi" battalion beating and raping Russian women .

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Lindahl claimed that leaked FBI records proved that the U.S. government had funded a Ukranian neo-Nazi group that, in turn, orchestrated the notorious "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia .

These were just a few of hundreds of phony-baloney claims Lindahl was delivering to his audience.

Flag Family Media is apparently fine broadcasting that sort of content to the public.

And now they're going to own a newspaper.

Sometimes people who work in talk radio (as I did, for years) get a pass on overwrought, factually inaccurate content. They have an excuse, we're supposed to believe. They're shock jocks. It's just entertainment.

Newspapers, as a medium, are supposed to be different. More serious. Staid.

Only, I don't believe that. If you work in the news media, whether your job is straight news reporting or on the opinion side, or both as is often the case for me, your work should be rooted in truth.

There's nothing wrong with being provocative. Or funny. Or even entertaining. But the goal of the endeavor, whether you're working in text or video or just audio, should be to give the public a greater understanding of the world around them. One that reflects reality.

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Flag Family Media doesn't do that.

They promote lies and falsehoods and conspiracies.

And now they own a newspaper.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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