This is the front page of the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune, which was mailed to Catholic homes around the state ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. The Compass, the official Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., reported that it is not known how the Tribune's publisher received addresses and names of Catholic families. CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

Unofficial Wisconsin Catholic paper takes aim at voters

By  Sam Lucero, Catholic News Service
  • October 28, 2020

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, a publication mailed to Catholic homes around Wisconsin is seeking to influence the vote of readers.

The unofficial Catholic publication, called the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune, is familiar to readers of The Compass, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. In June, the paper published a report about the Tribune, which is not affiliated with any official Catholic entity.

The June 12 story, “Website uses Compass content in violation of copyright law,” revealed the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune was taking stories from The Compass and other diocesan newspaper websites and using them on its own website.

After the story was published, the Tribune stopped the practice and instead has been using information from parish bulletins and websites.

On Oct. 22, less than two weeks before Election Day, members of the diocese began receiving the eight-page broadsheet, which is published and owned by Franklin Archer Publishing in Chicago. Among those receiving a copy was Frank Ingram of Howard.

“It was clearly a political hit job,” Ingram said. “My initial impression was that this was intended as an official publication of the Catholic Church.”

The paper includes a listing for contacts in each of Wisconsin’s five dioceses, with the names and e-mail addresses of each diocesan bishop. The list, under the heading of “Contact your local diocese,” gave the newspaper more credibility, said Ingram.

“I’m pleased to learn that this is not” an official Catholic publication, Ingram told The Compass. “It seems to be lacking in some of those Christian tenets, such as love your neighbour. ... It’s very selective in its choice of the positions of the Church it chose to represent. I think the worst thing about it, essentially, is it’s purporting to be something when it’s not.”

In its June 12 story, The Compass reported that Franklin Archer has a history of publishing online secular newspapers as a way to push out political messages before the elections. The New York Times reported Oct. 20 that Franklin Archer is part of a network operating nearly 1,300 websites that seek to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers.

Most of the articles in the Wisconsin Catholic Tribune are related to the presidential election, including a voter guide, results of polls it conducted on its Facebook page and opinion articles written by two advisors to President Donald Trump’s campaign.

However, in its “About us” section, the newspaper claims that “nothing in this publication is intended to advocate for or endorse a particular political candidate or party.”

The Wisconsin Catholic Tribune is part of a larger group called American Catholic Tribune Media Network, which has Catholic Tribune websites in at least five other states.

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