-By Warner Todd Huston
Several newspapers have recently announced that far left leaning, non-profit foundations such as The Ford Foundation have given them hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover “the news.” Many wonder if this “coverage” is being programmed by these left-wing moneymen. Others note that the tax-exempt, left-wing foundations are essentially lending U.S. government subsidies once remove to both newspapers and NPR. Is this all merely a way to “save” the news gathering industry, or are left-wing organizations just buying the news and pushing their far left narrative through stealth?
NPR’s On The Media recently talked to several members of the Old Media about the huge grants that The Ford Foundation and others have given traditional media outlets such as the Washington Post, the L.A. Times and NPR and positing the questions above. Naturally the Old Media representatives pooh poohed any thought that the left-wing organizations are buying news coverage and claimed that newsrooms and editorial boards are insulated from any influence by their funders.
This grant-making to news agencies is nothing new, of course. As far back as 1993 the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation had been granting large amounts to fund “journalism.” In 2009 the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to 21 “civic organizations” to report the news. More recently, this sort of grant giving has continued with a $1.8 million grant to National Public Radio from left-wing, anti-American philanthropist George Soros and the Ford Foundation gave $500,000 to the Post and a whopping $1 million to the L.A. Times.
There is no doubt that journalism has fallen on tough times in this electronic era. Newspapers have been shutting down by the dozens and those that are left are shedding jobs, cutting salaries, eliminating benefits, and, consequently, covering fewer and fewer news worthy events. With advertising drying up and newspapers and other newsgathering organizations losing money something certainly has to give.
Many in the news industry see non-profit grant making as one of the ways to save detailed coverage of news that might otherwise go unreported. On the other hand, what does this money buy the grant givers? Does it buy them favorable coverage of the subjects and ideas they are in business to push? Or are they really just in it for purely altruistic reasons?
Both news producers and the non-profit grant givers say no. On the NPR podcast linked above, The Ford Foundation’s Jonathan Barzilay says that grant givers don’t expect newsrooms to cater to their ideas in any way.
That may be true… for now. But if grant taking becomes the main or even an important means of funding for news organizations, how long will it be before they do start catering to the pet causes, or ideals of deep-pocketed foundations in order to get more funding?
Consider the left’s main complaint about researchers funded by cigarette manufacturers or oil companies. They claim that the funding guides the research. Why shouldn’t we assume that the funding of the news by hardcore, left-wing foundations wouldn’t eventually (if it isn’t already) coloring the coverage of “the news”?
If money from oil companies makes research funded by them less reliable, or even bogus, then what does that make “news” funded by hardcore, left-wing foundations?