A popular right-wing news outlet has removed a story from its website that was critical of a U.S. Senate candidate whose campaign is paying the site’s owner.
The site, Big League Politics, published a story on this month based on a video of Republican Arizona senate candidate Kelli Ward singing karaoke at a bar in Lake Havasu, Arizona. The story was headlined “U.S. Senate Candidate from Arizona Filmed Rapping While Drunk at Swingers Bar,” and asked, “Do we want to send this act to D.C.?”
That story no longer appears on BLP’s website, and its web address redirects to the site’s homepage. Web archive data indicates it was removed within a day of its publication.
Peter D’Abrosca, the story’s author, said the piece was removed from the site because it didn’t comport with its editorial standards.
“Once we learned the video was produced ham handedly by a consultant with a personal vendetta against Kelli Ward and included baseless claims against her we did something the Daily Beast rarely does—we got the story write [sic],” D’Abrosca told The Daily Beast. He declined to name the consultant.
But the story also fell smack dab in the middle of a web of political dealings that have complicated the sites editorial posture in recent months.
BLP’s owner, Mustard Seed Media, is a consulting firm run by Republican operative Reilly O’Neal. The Ward campaign has paid two of O’Neal’s other companies, email vendor Rightside Lists and fundraising firm Capital Square Funding Group, about $108,000 this year in fundraising commissions and email revenue-sharing fees.
Indeed, BLP’s history is uniquely entwined with the fight over the U.S. Senate nomination in Arizona. The site was founded in early 2017 by Dustin Stockton, a conservative activist who was an early senior official on the Ward campaign. But Stockton and his girlfriend, fellow Ward staffer Jennifer Lawrence, had a falling out with Ward and her husband, and Stockton and Lawrence publicly disavowed their former employer before joining the campaign of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is running against Ward for the Republican Senate nomination.
Alerted to BLP’s deletion of the Ward story, Stockton laid into the site he once led. “It’s pathetic that a project that I designed to be a journalistic endeavor has become just another tool of the consulting class,” he told The Daily Beast in an email. “They should change their name to bush league politics, that is more accurate.”
Mustard Seed acquired BLP after the special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama late last year. In that campaign, the losing candidate, former Republican state supreme court justice Roy Moore, paid O’Neal’s companies nearly $1 million. Moore’s Twitter account, with its roughly 75,000 followers, was subsequently rebranded as the official BLP account.
Since then, O’Neal and another consultant involved with Big League, Noel Fritsch, have also picked up work on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart, who has simultaneously received glowing coverage from BLP.
“Corey Stewart Bashes ‘Wimpy’ Tim Kaine Over Antifa Son and Sandinista Support,” read a quintessential headline on a story authored, as it happens, by D’Abrosca.
The site has grown in popularity of late under the leadership of editor in chief Patrick Howley, a former Breitbart writer who has steered BLP firmly into the fever swamps of the right-wing web. The site is a booster of the fringey QAnon movement, a vast conspiracy theory stretching from ancient Greece to the contemporary American “deep state.” It has promoted claims that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered by U.S. federal agents in 2016 due to his involvement in the hacking of DNC email accounts, and questioned widely accepted reports of chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, among other dubious writings.
Despite that checkered history, D’Abrosca says his Ward article was not removed due to any financial pressures.
Two days after he published his short-lived Ward story, D’Abrosca wrote another piece on the Arizona senate race, but this one struck a very different note. “Ward has consistently supported the President and his agenda, the same one supported by America First voters,” D’Abrosca wrote. “Ward is clear: she wants to Make America Great Again.”
A couple weeks later, Howley took to Twitter to bemoan news organizations that hide information from their readers at the behest of friends and acquaintances.
“The problem I had as a reporter was getting shut down by smug, clueless D.C. establishment millenial [sic] middle managers and ‘deputy editors.’ Those people are dumb as rocks and only care about blocking info for their fancy friends,” Howley wrote.
“At Big League Politics,” he said, “writers are in control.”