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Thousand Oaks

Local Media Bought and Paid for by County Covid Money

An investigation by the Conejo Guardian shows that Ventura County paid $1.8 million to local media sources to push its message about Covid mandates and vaccinations. The large sums of money given to newspapers by the County government call into question the independence and neutrality of these media sources during one of the most tumultuous periods in the region’s history.

The data for this article was requested by the Conejo Guardian and supplied by Ventura County. It is represented graphically in the accompanying table.

The newspaper receiving far and away the most County Covid money is the Acorn, which has been paid $262,888 by the County government since April 2020 to run Covid ads of various kinds. The Guardian analyzed 18 months of Acorn issues and found virtually no disagreement in its pages with County policy regarding mandatory vaccinations, universal mask requirements, unprecedented control over local businesses, churches and schools, and other matters of significant public concern.

An analysis of the Thousand Oaks Acorn’s reporting on Covid from August 12 to October 7, 2021 — the critical period when state and federal governments were attempting to widely impose Covid shot mandates — reveals no mention of the countless thousands of people losing jobs, walking away from schools and employers, and refusing to allow public health officials to dictate personal medical decisions.

In that 9-week period, County government and other local government agencies bought 49 advertisements in the Thousand Oaks Acorn. That’s an average of 5.4 government ads per issue. One third (33 percent) of the ads specifically promoted Covid programs, another ten advertised Moorpark College, which is imposing vaccine mandates on all students, faculty and staff, and the remainder were ads by the state elections office, local public services, libraries and recreational programs.

On the reporting side during that same 9-week period, the paper was universally supportive of County Covid policy, without exception. Several of its 18 Covid-related articles openly promoted opportunities to get Covid shots, particularly for children. In an editorial, the Acorn did its part to help normalize the invasive protocols of “quarantining, worrying about close contacts, reshuffling schedules and possibly missing work” to accommodate public school Covid policies. It exhorted readers, “You’re going to have to turn up your patience and understanding meter three notches and keep it there through the spring.”

No mention was made in the newspaper’s pages of people losing jobs or standing up for principles of medical privacy, basic freedoms or civil rights protections during the pandemic. The massive disruptions taking place in families, schools and businesses have been virtually ignored by the County-funded Acorn and other local media.

Research also shows that the owner of the Acorn newspapers, J. Bee Np Publishing LTD, received a Coronavirus-related Paycheck Protection Loan from the Small Business Administration of $444,335.00 in February 2021, through JPMorgan Chase Bank. This loan’s status, last updated by the Small Business Administration in November 2021, is now listed as “Paid in Full or Forgiven.” Another source says that the loan was entirely forgiven.

The Ojai Valley News, with a print circulation of just 3,000, received $42,955 in County ads, by far the largest amount in terms of cost-per-reader. Public health officer Robert Levin lives in Ojai and owns a winery there. The city’s population was just 7,470 people in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Santa Paula Times, with a circulation of 9,000, received $79,720 in County Covid-messaging money; the Fillmore Gazette, $47,260; Vida newspaper, $75,800.

Carrying County water

The Guardian sought comment from every media organization represented in the data. Each was asked if their publication or outlet has a policy regarding the amount of money it is willing to receive from government entities, including cities, the County and public employee unions. (The Conejo Guardian accepts no government funding in the form of subsidies, loans, advertising or in any other manner.)

Santa Paula Times publisher, Peggy Kelly, says receiving County money has not affected the way the Times reports on County public health policy — though she was unable to produce a single example of her newspaper disagreeing with any County Covid-related action or policy.

She says the Times has opposed the County on other issues, including the potential shutdown of a local hospital, and a proposed hazardous wastewater treatment plant.

“There’s been plenty that we’ve squared off with the County about over the years and we’ll continue to do so,” she told the Guardian.

At the same time, her newspaper has no policy or limitation on how much government money it will accept in the form of advertising. Kelly confirms that County advertising jumped significantly during Covid.

“All the newspapers have experienced that [infusion of money] in the county, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the newspapers in the state haven’t experienced that because there was X amount of money made available to the counties by the state from the feds, to the state, that was passed on to the counties, with the end goal of just trying to prevent as much spread of the disease as possible,” she says.

Kelly also claims not to have heard of anybody losing a job for refusing to go along with employer or government “mandates.”

“I would definitely look into it if I was contacted, but I have not been contacted by anybody personally that lost their job,” she told the Guardian. “I haven’t by anybody that said they know somebody who’d lost their job. … I haven’t really heard any dissension about it in the slightest and we’ve got a very active Latino town hall out here, and we’ve got some very active organizations.”

Other local media companies and groups took in hundreds of thousands of dollars to push the County’s Covid message as well. Total Barricade Services, Inc., which operates digital traffic signs, received $289,911 from the County. Lazer Broadcasting Corp., a self-described “minority owned, Spanish language radio broadcaster,” received $119,889 to push the County’s Covid messaging.

One of the largest chunks of Covid-messaging money went to the Ventura County Community Foundation which received $263,445 to conduct what it calls “vaccine outreach.”

“We funded 36 different local organizations to help them have the funds necessary to get out into the community, literally door-to-door, to help educate the community about the vaccine and why it’s important to get vaccinated,” Jeffrey Lambert, COO of VCCF, told the Guardian.

VCCF is a frequent partner of the County and has served as a funnel for County money to pay housing costs for illegal immigrants, among other things.

4 COMMENTS

  1. This is great investigative journalism. The Conejo Guardian seems to be the leader for investigative journalism in Ventura County.

  2. Agree with the the previous commenter. Refreshing to see real journalism that dares to go off-narrative when that’s where the investigation leads.

    Society needs more of this and less MSM propaganda and blather – hopefully, at some point a critical mass of people will start to actually pay attention and direct some righteous outrage in the appropriate direction.

  3. The Acorn editor is aligned with the government dogma. Amazingly he “fact checked” an opinion letter about Ivermectin. We live in dangerous times, an editor should let the public have a free exchange of opinions. “Fact checking” is arrogance directed at the opinion writer who has no way to reply. The implied message is a “fact checking” whip or censorship awaits the next non-compliant sheep.
    The editor used the FDA’s semantic trick to say “Ivermectin has not been approved by the FDA to treat Covid.” The reader is supposed to believe that makes Ivermectin dangerous. What it really means is that Ivermectin is so inexpensive that no company has the financial incentive to pay for a full FDA double-blind test. (FDA does not test for free, the companies pay). It’s also generic so they wouldn’t have an exclusive patent. The only harm Ivermectin can do is lessen the profits of Big Pharma.
    The Acorn editor also stuck a “fact check” on a recent political opinion. You can guess who sides with the MSM narrative.

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