When liberal investor George Soros gave $1.8 million to National Public Radio , it became part of the firestorm of controversy that jeopardized NPR’s federal funding. But that gift only hints at the widespread influence the controversial billionaire has on the mainstream media. Soros, who spent $27 million trying to defeat President Bush in 2004, has ties to more than 30 mainstream news outlets – including The New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press, NBC and ABC.
Prominent journalists like ABC’s Christiane Amanpour and former Washington Post editor and now Vice President Len Downie serve on boards of operations that take Soros cash. This despite the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethical code stating: “avoid all conflicts real or perceived.”
The investigative reporting start-up ProPublica is a prime example. ProPublica, which recently won its second Pulitzer Prize, initially was given millions of dollars from the Sandler Foundation to “strengthen the progressive infrastructure” – “progressive” being the code word for very liberal. In 2010, it also received a two-year contribution of $125,000 each year from the Open Society Foundations. In case you wonder where that money comes from, the OSF website is www.soros.org. It is a network of more than 30 international foundations, mostly funded by Soros, who has contributed more than $8 billion to those efforts.
The ProPublica stories are thoroughly researched by top-notch staffers who used to work at some of the biggest news outlets in the nation. But the topics are almost laughably left-wing. The site’s proud list of “Our Investigations” includes attacks on oil companies, gas companies, the health care industry, for-profit schools and more. More than 100 stories on the latest lefty cause: opposition to drilling for natural gas by hydraulic fracking. Another 100 on the evils of the foreclosure industry.
Throw in a couple investigations making the military look bad and another about prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and you have almost the perfect journalism fantasy – a huge budget, lots of major media partners and a liberal agenda unconstrained by advertising.
One more thing: a 14-person Journalism Advisory Board, stacked with CNN’s David Gergen and representatives from top newspapers, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster. Several are working journalists, including:
- Jill Abramson, a managing editor of The New York Times;
- Kerry Smith, the senior vice president for editorial quality of ABC News;
- Cynthia A. Tucker, the editor of the editorial page of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
ProPublica is far from the only Soros-funded organization that is stacked with members of the supposedly neutral press.
The Center for Public Integrity is another great example. Its board of directors is filled with working journalists like Amanpour from ABC, right along side blatant liberal media types like Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post and now AOL.
Like ProPublica, the CPI board is a veritable Who’s Who of journalism and top media organizations, including:
- Christiane Amanpour – Anchor of ABC’s Sunday morning political affairs program, “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.” A reliable lefty, she has called tax cuts “giveaways,” the Tea Party “extreme,” and Obama “very Reaganesque.”
- Paula Madison – Executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBC Universal, who leads NBC Universal’s corporate diversity initiatives, spanning all broadcast television, cable, digital, and film properties.
- Matt Thompson – Editorial product manager at National Public Radio and an adjunct faculty member at the prominent Poynter Institute.
The group’s advisory board features:
- Ben Sherwood, ABC News president and former “Good Morning America” executive producer
Once again, like ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity’s investigations are mostly liberal – attacks on the coal industry, payday loans and conservatives like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The Center for Public Integrity is also more open about its politics, including a detailed investigation into conservative funders David and Charles Koch and their “web of influence.”According to the center’s own 990 tax forms, the Open Society Institute gave it $651,650 in 2009 alone.
The well-known Center for Investigative Reporting follows the same template – important journalists on the board and a liberal editorial agenda. Both the board of directors and the advisory board contain journalists from major news outlets. The board features:
- Phil Bronstein (President), San Francisco Chronicle;
- David Boardman, The Seattle Times;
- Len Downie, former Executive Editor of the Washington Post, now VP;
- George Osterkamp, CBS News producer.
Readers of the site are greeted with numerous stories on climate change, illegal immigration and the evils of big companies. It counts among its media partners The Washington Post, Salon, CNN and ABC News. CIR received close to $1 million from Open Society from 2003 to 2008.
Why does it all matter? Journalists, we are constantly told, are neutral in their reporting. In almost the same breath, many bemoan the influence of money in politics. It is a maxim of both the left and many in the media that conservatives are bought and paid for by business interests. Yet where are the concerns about where their money comes from?
Fred Brown, who recently revised the book “Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media,” argues journalists need to be “transparent” about their connections and “be up front about your relationship” with those who fund you.
Unfortunately, that rarely happens. While the nonprofits list who sits on their boards, the news outlets they work for make little or no effort to connect those dots. Amanpour’s biography page, for instance, talks about her lengthy career, her time at CNN and her many awards. It makes no mention of her affiliation with the Center for Public Integrity.
If journalists were more up front, they would have to admit numerous uncomfortable connections with groups that push a liberal agenda, many of them funded by the stridently liberal George Soros. So don’t expect that transparency any time soon.
It’s a scene journalists dream about – a group of coworkers toasting a Pulitzer Prize. For the team at investigative start-up ProPublica, it was the second time their fellow professionals recognized their work for journalism’s top honor.
For George Soros and ProPublica’s other liberal backers, it was again proof that a strategy of funding journalism was a powerful way to influence the American public.
It’s a strategy that Soros has been deploying extensively in media both in the United States and abroad. Since 2003, Soros has spent more than $48 million funding media properties, including the infrastructure of news – journalism schools, investigative journalism and even industry organizations.
And that number is an understatement. It is gleaned from tax forms, news stories and reporting. But Soros funds foundations that fund other foundations in turn, like the Tides Foundation, which then make their own donations. A complete accounting is almost impossible because a media component is part of so many Soros-funded operations.
This information is part of an upcoming report by the Media Research Centers Business & Media Institute which has been looking into George Soros and his influence on the media.
It turns out that Soros’ influence doesn’t just include connections to top mainstream news organizations such as NBC, ABC, The New York Times and Washington Post. It’s bought him connections to the underpinnings of the news business. The Columbia Journalism Review, which bills itself as “a watchdog and a friend of the press in all its forms,” lists several investigative reporting projects funded by one of Soros foundations.
The “News Frontier Database” includes seven different investigative reporting projects funded by Soros’ Open Society Institute. Along with ProPublica, there are the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting and New Orleans’ The Lens. The Columbia School of Journalism, which operates CJR, has received at least $600,000 from Soros, as well.
Imagine if conservative media punching bags David and Charles Koch had this many connections to journalists. Even if the Kochs could find journalists willing to support conservative media (doubtful), they would be skewered by the left.
For Soros, it’s news, but it nothing new. According to “Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire,” he has been fascinated by media from when he was a boy where early career interests included “history or journalism or some form of writing.” He served as “editor-in-chief, publisher, and news vendor of” his own paper, “The Lupa News” and wrote a wall newspaper in his native Hungary before leaving, wrote author Michael T. Kaufman, a 40-year New York Times veteran. The Communist Party “encouraged” such papers.
Now as one of the world’s richest men (No. 46 on Forbes’ list), he gets to indulge his dreams. Since those dreams seem to involve controlling media from the ground up, Soros naturally started with Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Columbia is headed by President Lee Bollinger, who also sits on the Pulitzer Prize board and the board of directors of The Washington Post.
Bollinger, like some of Soros’ other funding recipients, is pushing for journalism to find a new sugar daddy or at least an uncle – Uncle Sam. Bollinger wrote in his book “Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century” that government should fund media. A 2009 study by Columbia’s journalism program came to the same conclusion, calling for “a national fund for local news.”
Conveniently, Len Downie, the lead author of that piece, is on both the Post’s board and the board of the Center for Investigative Reporting, also funded by Soros.
Soros funds more than just the most famous journalism school in the nation. There are journalism industry associations like:
- The National Federation of Community Broadcasters;
- The National Association of Hispanic Journalists;
- And the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Readers unhappy with Soros’ media influence might be tempted to voice concerns to the Organization of News Ombudsmen – a professional group devoted to “monitoring accuracy, fairness and balance.” Perhaps they might consider a direct complaint to one such as NPR’s Alicia Shepard or PBS’s Michael Getler, both directors of the organization. Unfortunately, that group is also funded by Soros. At the bottom of the Organization of News Ombudsmen’s website front page is the line: “Supported by the Open Society Institute,” a Soros foundation. It is the only organization so listed.
The group’s membership page lists 57 members from around globe and features:
- Deirdre Edgar, readers’ representative of The Los Angeles Times;
- Brent Jones, standards editor, USA Today;
- Kelly McBride, ombudsman, ESPN;
- Patrick Pexton, ombudsman, The Washington Post.
The site doesn’t address whether the OSI money creates a conflict of interest. But then, who could readers complain to anyway?
There’s more. The Open Society Institute is one of several foundations funding the Investigative News Network (INN), a collaboration of 32 non-profit news organizations producing what they claim is “non-partisan investigative news.” The James L. Knight Foundation also backs the network and is possibly the most-well-known journalism foundation. Knight President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen is on the board of directors for ProPublica.
INN includes the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the liberal web start-up MinnPost, National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, National Public Radio, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The network had included the liberal Huffington Post investigative operation among its grants, but HuffPo investigations merged with the possibly even more left-wing Center for Public Integrity, on whose board Arianna Huffington sits.
Liberal academic programs, left-wing investigative journalism and even supposedly neutral news organizations all paid for by a man who spends tens of millions of dollars openly attacking the right. George Soros is teaching journalists that their industry has a future as long as he opens his wallet.
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.