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Thursday, March 7, 2019

What Happened to the STL Guardian? Its Publisher Went to Work for Lewis Reed

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 1:31 PM

click to enlarge Anthony McDonald, St. Louis Guardian publisher and, more recently, a Reed campaign worker. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Anthony McDonald, St. Louis Guardian publisher and, more recently, a Reed campaign worker.

The St. Louis Guardian was a very real, not at all fake, newspaper for all of one issue before disappearing. Then its publisher reappeared at Lewis Reed's victory party.

On Tuesday night, as Reed basked in the glory of winning an unprecedented fourth term as president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, he publicly thanked his campaign team, the field managers, fundraisers and door-knockers who spent months performing the election-winning work.

Then Reed turned to acknowledge Anthony McDonald, the one-time publisher of the St. Louis Guardian newspaper, who was standing on the other side of the room.

"Anthony!" Reed said, yelling above cheering campaign workers around him. "Thank you for your video work!" After Reed concluded the speech, he and McDonald embraced amid camera flashes and cheers.

It was kind of an odd moment. Because last we'd heard, McDonald was not working for Reed's campaign. He was publishing a newspaper — albeit one that appeared to function primarily as the vehicle for attack ads against Reed's opponents.

As Riverfront Times first reported in December, McDonald was the video producer behind several Facebook video ads hammering Missouri Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), Reed's closest rival in the hard-fought race.

But the clips didn't get published through Reed's official campaign page. Instead, they were posted to Facebook by an account claiming to represent a newspaper called the St. Louis Guardian.

The ads themselves bore disclaimers that the content was paid for by the Guardian and "not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee." Reed and McDonald maintained in separate interviews that no money had changed hands and that the ads were decidedly not a part of Reed's campaign.

And while the Facebook account was dressed up to look like a news site, a little digging revealed the "newspaper" had published no issues, and (at the time) no online content save the anti-Nasheed ads. Although the Facebook page didn't list its publisher or staff, its website could be traced back to McDonald, who already had a history of working for Reed: In 2013, Reed's mayoral campaign paid him $1,500 for producing graphics and video content.

Still, questioned by the RFT, McDonald angrily pushed back, insisting his publication was legit and then even publishing an issue to prove it. An RFT reporter, he wrote in an op-ed on the front page, "repeatedly told me that my newspaper is fake because I do not write news the way the traditional white publications has deemed it. .... Sorry Riverfront Times but I'm not under white rule!!!!"

After that cri de coeur, however, the STL Guardian failed to publish another issue — and McDonald apparently landed a job with Reed.

At the time of our December coverage, Reed claimed he had nothing to do with the Guardian's video ads. Still, he seemed open to changing that, calling the ads "good and informative." He said he would "explore any means that I can" to license the Guardian videos for official campaign use.

In December, Reed's campaign filings backed up his claim of independence — nowhere were McDonald or the Guardian listed as expenditures. Months later, that's still the case. In Reed's most recent campaign finance report, filed eight days before the election, neither McDonald, the Guardian or the company that McDonald formed to publish the Guardian is listed as a recipient of campaign cash.

But in an interview Wednesday, McDonald confirmed Reed's acknowledgement in the victory speech — he did indeed do video work for the campaign.

McDonald explained that Reed paid him to repackage one of the Guardian's first Facebook ads, which attacked Nasheed for supporting an unsuccessful bill to legalize the sale and consumption of horse meat in 2010. McDonald said he'd also produced an animated clip to tout Reed's accomplishments, titled, "Lewis Reed Did That." That video ad was published to Reed's Facebook page February 19, two weeks before the election.

"We sold the videos to him, that's pretty much it," McDonald says. Asked when that sale happened, McDonald said he wasn't sure, only that it would have occurred after the RFT's story in December.

In a text to RFT, Reed's chief of staff, Tom Shepard, confirmed that McDonald produced the "Lewis Reed Did That" ad and reformatted the earlier video on horse meat. Shepard did not respond to a follow-up text asking where the campaign had listed the expenditure in its campaign finance records.

In a situation as convoluted as this, campaign finance law can be muddy. One campaign finance attorney (who spoke to RFT on background in January) suggested that if McDonald created the Guardian solely to influence the election, one could argue that he was obligated to register as a campaign committee. He did not. But without evidence that Reed and McDonald coordinated the Guardian's roll-out and content, the First Amendment would likely give the publisher wide berth.

Will the STL Guardian publish again? You'll have to keep an eye out. It's not a traditional publication, we'll give them that. But with the campaign work over, its publisher may again have time on his hands for some very real journalism.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at
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