Arizona 'audit' leaders rolled out the red carpet for 'friendly' right-wing media
Since the Arizona Senate’s self-styled “audit” of the Maricopa County 2020 election began in April, it has been cheered on by right-wing media entities personalities, and documents released by the Senate show just how deep the relationship they have with the auditors goes — and how they received special treatment denied to most other journalists.
“Dan Ball wants to know if you want to go on OANN to talk about the audit sometime this week,” Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward texted Senate liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett in April.
“I would be interested in doing OANN,” Bennett replied.
The One America News Network has been a key ally of the campaign of former President Donald J. Trump and one of its anchors, Christina Bobb, raised at least $605,000 through her 501(c)(4) for the “audit,” which she regularly advertised on her show.
Bobb also was a member of Trump’s legal team that was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and she emailed Senate President Karen Fann documents from Trump’s lead attorney, Rudy Guliani, as far back as last December.
But OANN wasn’t the only right-wing outlet with close ties and special access to the “audit.”
An open door for election conspiracy outlets
OANN has been one of the most prominent right-wing news organizations to breathlessly cover and promote the Senate’s review of Maricopa County’s election — its hosts helped pay for it.
Bobb and her OANN colleague Channel Rion run a 501(c)(4) nonprofit entity called Voices and Votes, which was the first organization to say it was raising funds for the “audit.” Bobb and OANN received exclusive access to Bennett and the audit site that other media was denied.
OANN is also no stranger to spreading outright lies about the election, which has gotten them in major legal trouble. Bobb, too, has presented outlandish — and easily disprovable — conspiracy theories about Arizona’s election as fact. In one program dedicated to explaining away Donald Trump’s loss in the Grand Canyon State, Bobb made fanciful claims about alleged malfeasance — all that were unsupported by the evidence and easily proven false.
Multiple times throughout the course of the “audit” Ward, Bennett and lawmakers supporting the election review were featured to discuss what was happening.
OANN is a major player in the right-wing media ecosystem, but it wasn’t the only out-of-state far-right outlet to descend upon the state to cover the “audit,” including some major purveyors of disinformation.
One of the most prominent is the known misinformation outlet Gateway Pundit.
The outlet, run by twin brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, has been caught multiple times spreading outright lies and has even fallen for hoaxes as proof of alleged voter fraud. The site has also been sued for publishing lies.
Like OANN, Gateway Pundit extolled the “audit” and castigated its critics. And, like OANN, Gateway Pundit was given special access to the audit and its officials.
“Young republican Jordan Co radian (sic) is covering the audit for Gateway Pundit. He’d like to interview you,” Ward said in a text to Bennett, referring to Gateway Pundit correspondent Jordan Conradson.
Conradson is a former staffer for Republican activist Merissa Hamilton’s unsuccessful 2020 campaign for Phoenix mayor and one-time purveyor of Trump-themed merchandise.
“Audit” officials on multiple occasions shared Gateway Pundit articles that took aim at the opponents — real or perceived — of the election review.
“Gateway Pundit did a story on the repeated blocking and censorship of our effort to recruit observers from all parties,” an email signed by both Bennett and his Deputy Liaison Julie Fisher reads, referring to Google stopping the “audit” from using its platform to recruit volunteers for violating the company’s terms of service.
By late April, Conradson was granted special access to the “audit” site that local and national journalists didn’t have. Audit leader Doug Logan initially barred Arizona news outlets from attending the election review — though he urged allowing “friendly” conservative press attend — and the Arizona Mirror joined a coalition of media organizations who threatened to sue the Senate for access.
To avert a lawsuit, the Senate agreed to let a limited number of journalists into the “audit” site while workers were counting ballots. Editors at the Arizona Republic organized the press pool, and only journalists whose names were provided to election review officials ahead of time were allowed in.
But those rules didn’t apply to Conradson and others from right-wing platforms. On April 30, Conradson — who was not a part of the agreed upon press pool — was let in for the first time. Over the coming weeks, he would periodically text Bennett and ask to attend, with Bennett generally obliging.
On May 3, Conradson would ask if he could have access to the 3 p.m. media pool, Bennett would agree to let him in. On May 4, he would be allowed to come in and interview Bennett and stay in the press area until 3 p.m.. On May 5, he’d strike a similar deal again.
And Gateway Pundit was far from the only fringe site that covered the Senate’s election review and got exclusive access to “audit” officials.
In late April, Ward texted Bennett about appearing on a podcast called “The Water Cooler with David Brody” that is produced by Just the News, a website launched in 2020 by controversial conservative journalist John Solomon.
Solomon is perhaps most famous for writing a series of since-debunked columns for The Hill alleging that Joe Biden conspired with Ukrainian officials to protect his son. A longtime investigative reporter, his credibility has been questioned for years. Solomon “has a history of bending the truth to his storyline,” Columbia Journalism Review wrote of him back in 2012.
In less than two years of existence, Just The News has peddled in “fake news,” publishing false reports like a claim that Yale doctors were running a “misinformation campaign” against hydroxychloroquine and that batches of absentee ballots in Fulton County, Georgia were missing.
Bennett did the interview with the podcast. Just the News has since run a litany of pro-audit coverage stories.
Other conservative platforms also received special access to the “audit,” including Scottsdale Studios, a local purveyor of election fraud conspiracy theories. In June, Fisher, the deputy liaison to the Senate, connected “audit” spokesman Randy Pullen with Susan Wood, the woman behind Scottsdale Studios, for an “afternoon media request.” Just a few days before that, Wood posted a video of Gateway Pundit’s Conradson speaking with Bennett inside the “audit site.” That video was taken by another purveyor of misinformation, Gail Golec.
The video-based platform has twice been kicked off of YouTube — once as Scottsdale Studios and again when it rebranded as Arizona Conservative News — for violating the terms of services. It has since moved to Rumble, a popular video platform for right-wing outlets and personalities, and often rebroadcasts clips from other right-wing shows.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.