A Florida affiliate of USA Today has sent a cease-and-desist letter to former Democratic congressional candidate Rebekah Jones for allegedly copying the paper’s articles to her fake news site, which she used to level attacks against Republican governor Ron DeSantis.
An editor for the Pensacola News Journal told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday that the paper's articles were stolen by Jones without permission.
"From what we were able to determine, that site was created by failed congressional candidate Rebekah Jones," said Pensacola News Journal executive editor Lisa Nellessen Savage. "Jones was sent a cease-and-desist letter by our company for taking various PNJ stories and reposting them on her site without permission."
The legal warning comes after the Free Beacon reported that Jones—a former Florida health department data worker who gained national fame in 2020 after claiming to be a COVID "whistleblower"—founded "My Northwest Florida," a local news outlet that hailed Jones as an "international hero" and accused DeSantis’s administration of committing various crimes. Jones, who lost her congressional race against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) last year, is back in the news this month after claiming her 13-year-old son was "kidnapped on the governor’s orders." The middle-schooler was arrested by the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office after allegedly posting threats that he wanted to "shoot up the school." There is no indication DeSantis had anything to do with the arrest.
Jones told the Free Beacon last week that she wasn’t behind My Northwest Florida. However, corporate records state she founded it on Nov. 15, 2022.
In addition to flattering articles about Jones, My Northwest Florida also published legitimate local news and crime stories, which appeared to be copy-and-pasted from established media outlets like the Pensacola News Journal and the South Santa Rosa News.
The Pensacola News Journal isn’t the first outlet to accuse My Northwest Florida of poaching its work. Romi White, the publisher of South Santa Rosa News, told the Free Beacon last week she was shocked to see two of her articles reposted on the website without permission.
"That’s my hard work that I’ve done, and she’s using it on her website apparently," said White. "I’m beside myself right now. I’m just furious."
White told the Free Beacon that Jones reached out to her late last year after losing the election and asked if they could partner to launch a national news website. White said she declined because she didn’t believe Jones was credible.
"She said it would stretch from Texas to Tallahassee, Florida," said White. "I was not interested in doing it because she and I just have very core value differences."
My Northwest Florida has published just a handful of articles since it launched last year, and many of them were reprinted from other outlets. One of the few original pieces was a lengthy investigative story, which accused the Florida State Attorney’s office of forging Jones’s signature on a plea agreement while prosecuting her in a hacking case last year. Jones admitted guilt as part of the plea deal.
Jones, who has repeatedly promoted the article to her 418,000 Twitter followers, hasn’t disclosed her role in the news outlet. She denied it was her website in a phone call with the Free Beacon last week.
"No, my website is MissInformational.com," she told the Free Beacon, referring to another group she runs that seeks to combat "disinformation." When asked about the corporate records, Jones hung up. She did not call back and didn’t respond to a subsequent call and written request for comment.
Twitter users have questioned Jones’s connection to My Northwest Florida for months, noting that the contact phone number for MyNWFL.com is the same as Jones’s campaign number, and an archived version of the website’s "About" section said it "continues the Campaign for Good led by congressional candidate Rebekah Jones." Jones’s name also appears to be listed at the top of the outlet’s email account.