75 articles and counting—the barrage is real
Published July 7, 2023
Written by Henry
Photography by Simply American
Is the Holland Sentinel a credible news source?
“At the Sentinel, we are committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity in journalism. Our credibility is what makes our readers trust us and the content we publish.” — The Holland Sentinel’s Transparency Guidelines
In reality, the Holland Sentinel and Editor Sarah Leach have set up their artillery to fire on conservative Christians who are standing for liberty.
Editor’s Note: As of August 30, 2023, there have been over 100 articles highlighting the commissioners published in 2023 by the Holland Sentinel, and more articles from area news outlets.
Sarah Leach is the executive editor of the Holland Sentinel and 30 other Gannett-owned papers across Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
According to the Sentinel’s website, their journalists follow the USA TODAY NETWORK Principles of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms. One of the principles, “Maintain Independence,” states a commitment to the following:
We are dedicated to maintaining independence from outside interests, influences, investments or business relationships that could compromise credibility.
Even so, Leach—whose online profile name is “Sarah Leach Dahlman”—is a prominent member of Ottawa Objects, a local activist Facebook group that was created on January 4, 2023. The group’s objective is, “to defeat Ottawa Impact and fascism in Ottawa County government.” The group states that their “opponents are Ottawa Impact, election deniers & Trump supporters.”
Ottawa Objects Facebook page.
Ottawa Objects Facebook page.
When Leach received a promotion earlier this year, David Barnosky, the creator of Ottawa Objects, assured everyone that even though Leach had moved into a larger role, she promised to continue to focus on “the epic saga of freedom loving Ottawa Impact.”
Posted by David Barnosky on the Ottawa Objects Facebook page, April 8, 2023.
Leach has kept that promise.
A comb through the Sentinel’s 2022 archives using the search term “Ottawa County Board of Commissioners” produces a return of 58 articles. Since January 3, 2023, there already have been 75 articles highlighting the commissioners.
(Editor’s note: since the writing of this article, Leach has published 12 additional articles on the commissioners. The current total is 87.)
“I wrote all 3 yesterday. Was trying to give the audience a break before a fresh barrage.” — Leach’s comment on her own Ottawa Objects Facebook post from March 14, 2023.
Posted by Sarah Leach Dahlman on the Ottawa Objects Facebook page, March 14, 2023.
“Barrage” and “fresh” are the words Leach used in her comment above.
Barrage: noun “a concentrated artillery bombardment over a wide area,” verb “bombard (someone) with something.”
The Sentinel has published 75 commissioner articles and counting since the beginning of this year. Barrage.
The word “fresh,” however, may not be the correct choice.
Of those 75 pieces, many expressed the same thought over and over—and Ottawa County residents are noticing.
“Their group editor is responsible for 30 newspapers across four states, and it seems that she publishes articles that look cut and pasted from previous articles,” said one Ottawa County resident.
January 3, 2023, the day the newly elected commissioners took their seats, became the Sentinel’s local version of the January 6 “Insurrection.” 32 articles targeted that day alone.
Additionally, the Sentinel has phrases on repeat. Following are a few of them:
“Fired administrator John Shay and replaced him with John Gibbs” appeared in 29 articles.
“Eliminated the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office” appeared in 28 articles.
“Choosing a new health director” appeared in 36 articles.
“Replaced the county’s counsel” appeared in 32 articles.
“Changing the county’s motto” appeared in 23 articles.
The repeats don’t stop there.
Nine articles that allege violation of the Open Meetings Act, occurred before Attorney General Dana Nessel ruled that the Board of Commissioners did not break the law.
After the ruling, the Sentinel converted the phrase to breaking “the spirit of the Open Meetings Act,” in 16 articles.
“Added agenda items” was mentioned in 17 articles. Yet when the previous board added an item regarding the Administrative Health Officer to the agenda for December 13, 2022, there was no mention of the action in the Sentinel’s December 16, 2022 article.
Apparently, agenda changes didn’t become an issue for Leach until after January 1, 2023.
In six articles, the Sentinel mentioned where Commissioner Joe Moss’ children go to school. One article would have been sufficient to make the point, but six seem excessive in today’s political climate.
Forgetting the narratives written by the Sentinel is nearly impossible.
Over 14 days, Leach published multiple articles with duplicate information—as if wishful repeated reporting would convert fiction to fact.
“You can’t read the Holland Sentinel without seeing ‘the far right,’ or ‘extreme,’ or ‘Christian Nationalist’ written in the article. Who decides what is far right?” commented State Committee member and former State Senate candidate, Brian VanDussen.
The term “far-right” was used in 43 articles, though a few times the term was changed to “ultra-conservative” or “ultra-conservative Christian.”
In 13 articles, the following false statements were repeated almost word for word:
“Ottawa Impact is an upstart far-right political group borne from the clashes over the county’s COVID-19 mitigation mandates in 2020. Its founders, Moss and Rhodea, were unsuccessful in suing the previous board of commissioners and the county’s former health officer.”
“In response, they targeted seats on the board in 2022, recruiting like-minded candidates who agreed ‘traditional Republicans’ weren’t enforcing true conservative policies.”
“We are dedicated to the truthful, accurate and thorough reporting of news and information in all presentations of our published platforms.” —The Holland Sentinel’s Transparency Guidelines.
In a January 16, 2023 article, the Sentinel first reported Commissioner Moss suing the health department, stating: “Moss’ child attended Libertas at the time of the dispute, when he and several other parents sued the county and health department, claiming religious exemption from mask and quarantine orders.”
Commissioner Moss is not listed on the Libertas case. It was actually the school itself that sued.
On February 11, 2023, the Sentinel’s false and deceptive narrative grew larger: “Much of the animosity comes from Moss’ failed lawsuit against the county, the previous board of commissioners and former health officer Lisa Stefanovsky for temporarily closing Libertas Christian School, where Moss’ children attend, due to noncompliance with the state’s 2020 COVID-19 mandates.”
The plaintiff on the Libertas case was Libertas Classical Association. The Defendants: Gretchen Whitmer, Dana Nessel, Robert Gordon, and Marcia Mansaray of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.
Neither Moss, the previous board of commissioners, nor Lisa Stefanovsky were named as part of that lawsuit, yet the Sentinel repeated the same falsehood at least seven times.
Libertas court case, October 18, 2020.
“Its founders, Moss and Rhodea, were unsuccessful in suing the previous board of commissioners and the county’s former health officer, Lisa Stefanovsky,” was a statement the Sentinel repeated in different articles 22 times.
Plaintiffs in the case vs. Lisa Stefanovsky, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, and the prior Ottawa County Board of Commissioners were Patrick Flynn, AJ Raterink, Patricia Looks, Brian Dokter, and Steve and Jamie Lemieux. Nowhere is Joe Moss or Sylvia Rhodea listed on the suit.
Health Department court case, March 17, 2022.
The erroneous information continues with related topics:
“Just as a matter of factual correction, no OI candidate carried 70% of their district. (Story on that will be in tomorrow’s Sentinel),” commented Leach on an Ottawa Objects post on January 20, 2023.
Posted by Sarah Leach Dahlman on the Ottawa Objects Facebook page, January 20, 2023.
Joe Moss won his district with 74% of the vote, and Sylvia Rhodea won her district with 71% of the vote. Leach must have caught that falsehood before print because though she’d posted the error, it didn’t appear in the Sentinel.
In an article from January 22, 2023, the following information was peddled: “In District 9, for example, the victory margin for now Commissioner Roger Belknap, who defeated incumbent Phil Kuyers, was only 307 votes, in a district that has 16,555 registered voters.”
According to election data from the August 2, 2022 report, District 9 has 22,821 registered voters.
Ottawa County 9th District election data, August 2, 2022.
In Leach’s June 24, 2023 article, she stated, “Bonnema publicly split with the group in March.”
On Friday, March 10, 2023, Ottawa Impact PAC informed Jacob Bonnema of its decision to halt PAC resources to his campaign. The decision had been made weeks earlier in response to several complaints from the community regarding his behavior. On Monday, March 13, 2023, Bonnema falsely announced to the media it was he who had chosen to leave Ottawa Impact PAC. On March 14, 2023, Ottawa Impact PAC released a statement on its website to clarify to the public the details of the separation.
Sources And Word Choice Show Personal Bias
“Just because I write about it more, doesn’t equate to motivations nor agendas,” Leach commented on her personal Facebook page on February 25, 2023. She continued, “I take my role in society pretty seriously. Sure, I have personal views, but those are kept firmly in check.”
In the 36 articles that mentioned the hiring of Nate Kelly, there were references to tweets from the Twitter accounts of Extreme Michigan and Distill Social.
A blog post from Distill Social reads: “Finally we have Ottawa Impact—general mendacious f@cks bringing racism and fascism back to the west side of the state! They find themselves on the list for doing sh@t like eliminating the county DEI office + claiming there’s no racism in Ottawa County immediately after a very high profile racist incident took place at a kids basketball game in the county—looking at you Jenison High School basketball fans! At their very first meeting of the year they fired the county Health Director and have attempted to install an anti vaxx covid conspiracist.”
In the 36 articles that mention the hiring of Nate Kelly, The Holland Sentinel will use tweets from Extreme Michigan or Distill Social. On a blog post from Distill Social it says,
Tweet on the Distill Social Twitter page, February 3, 2023.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of medical professionals on Twitter who share the same views as Nate Kelly, but the Sentinel chose to quote Extreme Michigan and Distill Social “experts” to help paint the picture.
In the 75 commissioner articles written since January 3, 2023, never once was Commissioner Bergman or Commissioner Zylstra labeled as an Ottawa Integrity commissioner, though endorsed by the group. The same cannot be said for other endorsed commissioners.
Bias shines forth every time Leach writes “Ottawa Impact Commissioner.”
“Sarah Leach Dahlman deserves a Pulitzer for this stuff. How else would the vast majority of people ever understand what is happening here?” —comment made on an Ottawa Objects Facebook post, June 4, 2023
It is not shocking that the above commenter thought Leach should win the Pulitzer Prize. History shows that truth and facts are not needed to win.
The Washington Post and The New York Times won a Pulitzer in 2018 for their coverage of the “now-debunked theory” of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Their articles were a constant barrage of “Russia! Russia! Russia! Trump! Trump! Trump! Collusion! Collusion! Collusion!”
No truth is needed to win a Pulitzer.
The Washington Post, a news media whose articles the Sentinel often reposts, won the prize for “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest,” according to the Pulitzer website.
Like The Washington Post and The New York Times, the Sentinel and Leach chose a topic and now relentlessly report on it.
Truth and facts don’t matter.
Repeating “Ottawa Impact! Ottawa Impact! Ottawa Impact!” potentially will make readers absorb falsehoods as truth.
The Holland Sentinel—and therefore Editor Sarah Leach—claim through their Transparency Guidelines that their reporting is independent of outside interests and influences, and is truthful, accurate, thorough, and of the highest standards of integrity and credibility.
Fact check, false.