Last month, the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the only newspaper serving a city of about 200,000 people just north of Los Angeles, was purchased by local husband and wife Richard and Chris Budman.
Shortly thereafter, local residents exposed the couple’s repeated promotion of far-right conspiracy theories—including ones claiming former President Obama was a secret Muslim and ISIS supporter; that there was a “cover-up” in the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich; and that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring out of a D.C. pizza restaurant.
Richard Budman was previously the Signal’s publisher between 2004 and 2007. And now, he and his wife have big plans for the paper: they want to print six days a week instead of five and distribute it for free to 75,000 households.
After the Budmans bought the paper, Santa Clarita Valley residents combed the couple’s social media accounts and found the right-wing conspiracies along with Chris declaring her intention to actively promote the Republican Party in the valley.
“The [Santa Clarita Valley] is the only community in LA [County] that all the seats, county, both state and congress, are all GOP. We have to fight to keep that,” she wrote in one now-deleted tweet. (Budman deleted her Twitter account after locals discovered the posts.)
In February 2018, Budman tweeted: “Should Hillary hang from a noose? Yes.” (She later claimed she was briefly suspended for that post, a response to a pro-Trump user asking and answering whether Clinton should be in jail.)
Many valley residents took to Twitter and community Facebook groups to share other egregious posts they found. A resident with more reach than most, journalist Anthony Breznican, said his thread collecting some of the tweets must have “struck a nerve” as it garnered more than 1,100 likes as of Thursday afternoon. A similar post on a Santa Clarita Community group page, by city council candidate Logan Smith, garnered more than 800 comments.
Richard Budman denied the existence of any tweets saying Hillary should be hanged (despite the evidence), and clarified that his wife is not involved in editorial decisions but simply works on graphics.
Questions about his family’s social media presence have been “stirred up,” Budman said, to “present a political agenda.”
In other posts unearthed by local political activists, Chris Budman retweeted:
- A photo of Parkland shooting survivor and gun-control activist David Hogg photoshopped to look like Hitler and labeled “CNN’s minister of propaganda.”
- A meme comparing Democrats to Nazis, saying that Democrats “hate Jews and whites.”
- A tweet implying that gay marriage was planned by the “New World Order” and liberal billionaire George Soros.
- A meme of Albert Einstein that reads: “If a Libtard throws a grenade at you, Pull the Pin and throw it back !”
- A tweet questioning the veracity of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and promoting QAnon, an anonymous conspiracy theorist who makes claims about “deep state” involvement in pedophilia. This tweet was by a user called “Populist Pepe,” named for the cartoon frog that became a pro-Trump, white-supremacist meme.
- A tweet promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that accused Hillary Clinton of running a child-sex ring out of a D.C. pizza restaurant.
- A tweet implying that Obama wanted ISIS to spread because he himself is secretly a Muslim.
Screenshots also show Richard Budman boosting at least two posts about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Right-wing conspiracy theorists claim Democrats ordered Rich murdered after DNC emails were leaked, despite that narrative having been repeatedly debunked.
Richard told The Daily Beast that his Seth Rich retweets were merely about an unsolved murder and did not specifically blame the Democrats or claim Rich leaked the emails (though the tweets he boosted came from users who do frequently make that connection in other posts).
Defending his paper against accusations that his and his wife’s politics could influence editorial decisions, Budman said the Signal has run positive stories on Katie Hill, a Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Steve Knight for his congressional seat; devotes two days to both political parties in its opinion pages; and publishes every letter to the editor he receives as long as there is a name attached to it.
“We try and be as fair as we can,” he said. “We’re a community newspaper. We give a voice to everybody.”
He added that neither he nor his wife picks the stories of the day. That job, he said, is left to the editor.
J. Brian Charles, a reporter for the Signal in 2008 and 2009, said the fact that new owners might espouse such openly partisan views is “not the least bit surprising," based on his own experience at the paper.
Under previous owners, a story he wrote about then-Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon’s “flip-flop” on healthcare was pulled from the paper’s website because it made McKeon, a Republican, look bad, Charles said.
Another former reporter and editor—who asked not to be further identified—said that previous owners made staffers feel as though McKeon was a “sacred cow” that they couldn’t touch.
The former editor said he worked with Richard Budman the first time he was the Signal's publisher and described Budman as “mild mannered” and “friendly.” He was “stunned” when he saw the conspiracy-theory tweets.
“He doesn’t seem like he’s going to turn this paper into a conservative nut-job kind of deal and the people that I know there that are still there I don’t think would stand for that. He’d probably have to get rid of half the staff if he did something like that,” the former staffer said.
While the town paper may have a decidedly right-wing bent, its population is more politically mixed. In a 2013 state report, Santa Clarita had 42,870 registered Republicans and 35,369 registered Democrats. The valley is located within California‘s 25th Congressional District, which—despite the area’s overwhelmingly Republican nature—voted for Clinton by a 7-point margin in 2016.
“We are see-sawing back and forth between left and right,” Breznican said. “It’s a very important election and we have a newspaper that’s apparently willing to put its finger on that scale.”