United States Project

A Texas Republican’s unbiased news site skews to the right

July 16, 2019

In 2015, on the opening day of the 84th Texas Legislature, newly elected Republican Konni Burton, a former Tea Party leader, stepped onto the Senate floor wearing a pair of black cowboy boots with the words “Stand for Life” inscribed on them. The sartorial choice signaled that Burton would be the polar opposite of her predecessor Wendy Davis, the Texas Democrat who made national headlines for her 13-hour filibuster against an abortion bill, which she delivered wearing pink running shoes.

Last November, as a blue wave swept Texas, Burton lost her seat—in an area previously considered to be among the country’s most conservative—to a Democrat. She has since turned her attentions to journalism, which she feels does not respect the beliefs of hardcore conservatives. She has started a new digital media outlet called The Texan—which, she says, without recognizing any contradiction, is both right-wing and unbiased. 

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On Facebook, some commenters seemed keen on the idea. “Finally! A local news outlet that is biased in the direction I happen to prefer!” reads one characteristic comment. “Just what is needed to combat the biased news media,” reads another. 

As Burton explains it, conservatives just have a different understanding of what it means to be unbiased than the left.

Republicans tend to believe the media is failing them. In a Gallup-Knight Foundation report, surveyed Republicans said they believed 77 percent of the news is biased, compared to Democrats’ 44 percent. 

“It’s the way left-of-center outlets approach a story,” Burton, who is CEO and founder, says. “Or it’s the type of stories that they put out or it’s the terms that they use… We see a huge void from a right-of-center perspective.” In marketing materials, The Texan says it won’t be “hostile to your worldviews.” 

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As Burton explains it, conservatives just have a different understanding of what it means to be unbiased than the left. The outlet’s “worldview” is right-of-center, she says, but it provides factual news without opinion. “Those of us on the right totally understand this.”

Drew White, a senior editor, says there’s “a difference between having a conservative worldview and frame of reference and carrying political-party water. We’re not advocating for the Republican Party. But we are conservatives, and that will be evident in the terminology we use.”

Burton points to coverage of the border and immigration as an example. “Right-of-center people are very, very concerned about border security,” she says. Such concerns don’t arise from prejudice or racism, and are not pegged to Mexicans, says Burton, but to “anybody like terrorists or people [who] could easily come through our porous border.” (The phrase “porous border” has been a Republican Party talking point in recent months.) 

That worldview encompasses terminology. The outlet will always use “pro-life” instead of “anti-abortion,” White says. (The site Texas Right to Life praised the launch of The Texan.) They also use the term “illegal alien,” which is no longer in wide usage because it is seen as both pejorative and inaccurate, because Burton rejects the word “migrant.” Headlines speak of “religious liberty.”

The Texan focuses on state-level politics, and currently publishes about a dozen stories a week. Reporters there have recently framed a House bill to protect Dreamers as “granting citizenship to illegal aliens.” (The story cites NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group which the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as nativist.) There’s also an exclusive on the website with state representative Ron Wright, who made national headlines after a video by an abortion rights group showed him saying women should be punished for having an abortion. 

All but one of its five staffers have, like Burton, worked in policy and politics or related fields. Reporter Tony Guajardo formerly served as an intern for now-retired Democratic US Representative Charlie Gonzalez, and White previously worked for conservative think-tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, Senator Ted Cruz, and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. A marketing manager and an operations manager, who also contributes stories, previously worked as a policy analyst for the Texas Legislature and for state legislators, respectively. 

White says those political affiliations are an advantage, not a conflict of interest. “I think understanding policy—particularly in terms of how programs work, where public officials have been on issues and who’s voted for what and why, the dividing lines on policy fronts—it’s an asset,” he says. 

Burton’s plan, alongside her husband Phil, with whom she funded the project’s launch, is to have the site supported solely by readers, to avoid the temptation to pander to advertisers or donors. She didn’t want to share The Texan’s budget, how many subscribers the outlet currently has, or how many it needs to ensure viability. 

She was keen to say, without providing specifics, that it had received a positive response, and had been seen as fair.

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Correction: A previous version of this story referred to NumbersUSA as an “anti-immigrant” group. It campaigns for a reduction in immigration, not against immigrants themselves. 

Julissa Treviño is a freelance writer and journalist currently based in Texas. Follow her @julissatrevino.