Archives for category: Media

Leonie Haimson writes here about Bill Gates and his successful efforts to buy positive media coverage for himself and the projects he funds.

She read the excellent investigative research on Gates’ strategic funding of influential media outlets by Tim Schwab.

She writes:

Reporter Tim Schwab just had a must-read piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about how the Gates Foundation provides grants to news outlets such as NPR, BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le Monde, the Seattle Times, and many others. These outlets frequently provide favorable coverage of the Foundation and its grantees, and potential conflicts of interest are too rarely admitted by these outlets.

Haimson goes on to describe in detail her own efforts to persuade the New York Times to acknowledge that one of its regular columns, called “Fixes,” is written by two journalists who are funded by Gates. “Fixes” has repeatedly praised Gates’ programs without identifying their conflict of interest.

She writes:

One of the media organizations Schwab discusses, Solutions Journalism, has received $7.6 million from the Gates Foundation since 2014 to write articles suggesting practical solutions to social problems and train other reporters to do so as well. Since then, as Schwab points out, SJ has repeatedly produced stories praising projects and companies that are Foundation grantees and/or have received personal investments from Bill Gates himself.

Solutions Journalism was founded by David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg in 2013 and they continue to run the organization and receive six figure salaries as CEO and VP for Innovation respectively…

Bornstein and Rosenberg also have a regular column in the NY Times called “Fixes”, which according to Schwab has run at least 15 favorable stories promoting the work of the Gates Foundation by name, without any mention that the columnists are funded by the Foundation as well.

Haimson goes on to document the praise that these columnists have lavished in Gates-funded projects, and their failure to mention criticism. In effect, they operate as a PR team for Bill Gates and his pet projects.

She cites the ethical standards of the Times as well as the organization Solutions Journalism and points out that they don’t meet their own professed standards.

What are Bill Gates’ ethical standards?

It’s rare indeed to read a critical article about how Bill & Melinda Gates use their vast wealth to burnish their image as the greatest benefactors of all time. This article by freelance journalist Tim Schwab, published in the Columbia Journalism Review, documents how the Gates have purchased a larger-than-life portrayal of themselves by strategic investments in the media.

With rare exceptions, the Gates’s have subsidized publications likely to write about them and guaranteed that they would be portrayed favorably. By doing so, they have undermined freedom of the press while assuring favorable treatment for themselves.

Schwab writes:

LAST AUGUST, NPR PROFILED A HARVARD-LED EXPERIMENT to help low-income families find housing in wealthier neighborhoods, giving their children access to better schools and an opportunity to “break the cycle of poverty.” According to researchers cited in the article, these children could see $183,000 greater earnings over their lifetimes—a striking forecast for a housing program still in its experimental stage.

If you squint as you read the story, you’ll notice that every quoted expert is connected to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helps fund the project. And if you’re really paying attention, you’ll also see the editor’s note at the end of the story, which reveals that NPR itself receives funding from Gates.

NPR’s funding from Gates “was not a factor in why or how we did the story,” reporter Pam Fessler says, adding that her reporting went beyond the voices quoted in her article. The story, nevertheless, is one of hundreds NPR has reported about the Gates Foundation or the work it funds, including myriad favorable pieces written from the perspective of Gates or its grantees.

And that speaks to a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world “through the lens of effective altruism”—often looking at philanthropy.

As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an underexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors. Nowhere does this concern loom larger than with the Gates Foundation, a leading donor to newsrooms and a frequent subject of favorable news coverage.

In Gates-funded articles, the rule seems to be: write whatever you want so long as you don’t criticize Bill or Melinda. Presenting them as saviors of society is good.

Strategic media investments pay off for Bill Gates.

Gates’s generosity appears to have helped foster an increasingly friendly media environment for the world’s most visible charity. Twenty years ago, journalists scrutinized Bill Gates’s initial foray into philanthropy as a vehicle to enrich his software company, or a PR exercise to salvage his battered reputation following Microsoft’s bruising antitrust battle with the Department of Justice. Today, the foundation is most often the subject of soft profiles and glowing editorials describing its good works.

During the pandemic, news outlets have widely looked to Bill Gates as a public health expert on covid—even though Gates has no medical training and is not a public official. PolitiFact and USA Today (run by the Poynter Institute and Gannett, respectively—both of which have received funds from the Gates Foundation) have even used their fact-checking platforms to defend Gates from “false conspiracy theories” and “misinformation,” like the idea that the foundation has financial investments in companies developing covid vaccines and therapies. In fact, the foundation’s website and most recent tax forms clearly show investments in such companies, including Gilead and CureVax.

In the same way that the news media has given Gates an outsize voice in the pandemic, the foundation has long used its charitable giving to shape the public discourse on everything from global health to education to agriculture—a level of influence that has landed Bill Gates on Forbes’s list of the most powerful people in the world. The Gates Foundation can point to important charitable accomplishments over the past two decades—like helping drive down polio and putting new funds into fighting malaria—but even these efforts have drawn expert detractors who say that Gates may actually be introducing harm, or distracting us from more important, lifesaving public health projects.

The PBS Newshour has received millions from Gates and reliably gushes over Bill and Melinda and their munificence.

In 2011, the Seattle Times published an article critical of the Gates Foundation, then two years later received a generous grant to pay for education coverage, and criticism stopped.

NPR receives Gates largesse, and regularly cites Gates as an authority on everything. The most delicious irony is NPR treating Gates—one of the richest men in the world—as an authority on income inequality and poverty. That’s a good one.

Those of us who concentrate on education are aware that everything Gates has funded in a large way has been an abject failure—from his absurd claim that he had knew how to produce and measure good teachers to his huge investment in the Common Core. We won’t hear about those failures in the Gates-funded media.

What I find most puzzling about the Bill and Melinda is their vanity. Their need to be recognized and praised is boundless. I guess no one ever told them that the highest form of philanthropy is to be completely anonymous: to give without knowing who will receive your gift and to give with no expectation of gratitude. The lowest form of giving is the gift where one expects recognition. Sadly, they use their philanthropy to exercise power, to win praise, and to stoke their needy egos.

Robert Mackey of The Intercept reports that the White House plants far-right journalists in Trump’s press conferences and he makes sure to call on them. In the past, these fringe media never had White Gouse press credentials.

He writes:

IN AN APPARENT effort to make his daily news conferences even more like campaign events than they already are, the White House press office has been packing the briefing room with supporters of President Donald Trump from far-right media outlets who can be relied on to toss him softball questions and initiate attacks on his political rivals.

Clearly in on the plot, Trump solicited a question each day this week from one of the guests invited by his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, to stand at the back of the room — where representatives of One America News, The Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit compromised the health of reporters by violating social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

On Monday, Trump called on Chanel Rion, a far-right Republican operative and conspiracy theorist now working as a correspondent for One America News, a San Diego cable channel dedicated to spreading lies about Joe Biden and elderly protesters battered by the police.

Rion gave Trump the opportunity to unleash a familiar riff from his pre-pandemic rallies by suggesting to him that Biden might have been considering President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, as his running mate because, “she can best cover up a lot of the Obamagate surveillance crimes that have taken place during your campaign.” Trump responded by accusing Obama and Biden of “probably treason.”

The next day, Rion triggered another familiar Trump diatribe by asking for his take on the resignation of Carmen Best, the first Black woman to lead Seattle’s police force, after the city council voted to cut her department’s budget. “What does this say about our country?” Rion asked Trump. “And what does this say about the Defund Police movement?” The president replied by repeating the lie that Seattle’s Democratic mayor had let “a radical left group, Antifa and others, take over a big portion of the city.”

Nancy Flanagan writes here about why she is sticking with Facebook, despite it multiple flaws.

I was on Facebook for a brief time, then quit. Then resumed, then quit again. What I discovered was that when I quit Facebook, my identity remained there, waiting for me to return. I was reminded of King George III in “Hamilton” singing “You’ll Be Back.”

No, I won’t. It’s addictive, true. But anyone who wants to reach me knows how to get in touch. I don’t need another way to waste time. I have too many already. And I don’t want to direct a penny towards Mark Zuckerberg.

What do you think?

Will you stick with Facebook or did you quit? Or did you never sign up?

John Merrow thinks the White House press corps has failed to ask Trump tough questions. This was true during the 2016 campaign, he says, and its true now.

The recent Chris Wallace interview on FOX was a rare exception. Wallace has facts to challenge Trump’s lies.

But typically he ignores questions and answers questions that no one asks.

He always plays the victim, and a docile press lets him get away with it.

The Wall Street Journal, which has a teacher-bashing, union-hating pro-privatization editorial board, published an editorial warning about the dangers of policing the police.

The editorial included these sentences.

“There’s a case for police reforms, in particular more public transparency about offenses by individual officers. Union rules negotiated under collective bargaining make it hard to punish offending officers, much as unions do for bad public school teachers. By all means let’s debate other policies and accountability in using force.”

So, police brutality is the union’s fault. And killer cops are just like those “bad teachers” whose students don’t get high test scores. Clearly, the WSJ didn’t get the memo about the consistent failure of test-based accountability as a means of evaluating teachers.

Do I detect a false equivalency?

Other nations have police unions and a minuscule number of police killings, compared to the U.S. And since when did low test scores become comparable to a brazen act of crushing a man’s windpipe?

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post criticizes the New York Times for not allowing its reporters to tell the unvarnished truth. The Times suffers from “both side-ism.” The Times’s pretense of neutrality ends up falsifying the truth and distorting reality. The reality is that the president of the United States is an ignorant and malicious tyrant who endangers our democracy, our future, and the world.

There’s a provision in the New York Times ethics guidelines that limits what a news-side reporter may say during a television interview. “Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times,” note the guidelines.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. is a science and health reporter at the New York Times. He’s been analyzing the coronavirus story ever since the pandemic started roaring. His latest stop on that tour was an interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN, where, well, let’s just say that McNeil said things that could not appear under his Times byline:

“We completely blew it for the first two months of our response. We were in a headless-chicken phase, and yes, it’s the president’s fault, it is not China’s fault. The head of the Chinese CDC was on the phone to Robert Redfield on Jan. 1, again on Jan. 8, and the two agencies were talking on Jan. 19. The Chinese had a test on Jan. 13; the Germans had a test on Jan. 16. We fiddled around for two months, we had a test on March 5 and it didn’t work. We didn’t have 10,000 people tested until March 15. So we lost two months there, and that was because of incompetent leadership at the CDC, I’m sorry to say — it’s a great agency, but it’s incompetently led, and I think Dr. Redfield should resign. And suppression from the top: I mean, the real coverup was the person in this country who was saying, you know, ‘This is not an important virus, the flu is worse, it’s all going to go away, it’s nothing.’ And that encouraged everybody around him to say, ‘It’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s nothing.’ I had the same problem at the Times — I was trying to convince my editors, ‘This is really bad; this is a pandemic.’ It took a while to get them, it took a while to get anybody to believe this. … Getting rid of Alex Azar was a mistake — he was actually leading a dramatic response and then … in February he was replaced with Mike Pence, who’s a sycophant.”

Later in the interview, McNeil alighted on Trump’s briefing-room riffs about disinfectant and light as treatments for coronavirus. “This is not somebody whose grasp of the science is even third-grade-level,” said McNeil.

Had McNeil attempted to write in a New York Times story that “we blew it,” his editors might have inserted: “As coronavirus wended its way around the world, the Trump administration missed several critical opportunities to blunt its impact in America, according to interviews with 56 experts and current and former administration officials.”

Had McNeil attempted to write that the CDC was “incompetently led,” his editors would have inserted: “Decisions reached by Dr. Redfield over several weeks in January and February have drawn criticism from public health experts, who point to a slow-footed response that resulted in unnecessary deaths across the country.


“

Had McNeil attempted to write that Pence is a “sycophant,” his editors would have inserted: “The White House swapped Azar for Pence, a leader more attuned to the president’s preferences and sensibilities, not to mention his taste for official praise.”


Then again, we don’t necessarily need to resort to make-believe New York Times writing voice. There’s actual news copy from the newspaper on Redfield’s shortcomings. On March 28, the newspaper published an investigation by six bylined reporters on how the administration lost month stumbling over itself in pursuit of a workable coronavirus test. “Dr. Robert R. Redfield, 68, a former military doctor and prominent AIDS researcher who directs the C.D.C., trusted his veteran scientists to create the world’s most precise test for the coronavirus and share it with state laboratories. When flaws in the test became apparent in February, he promised a quick fix, though it took weeks to settle on a solution,” reads the story, which goes on to note Redfield’s consensus approach and “deliberative” temperament.


In a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog, Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said, “In an interview with Christiane Amanpour today, Donald McNeil, Jr. went too far in expressing his personal views. His editors have discussed the issue with him to reiterate that his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions. We are confident that his reporting on science and medicine for The Times has been scrupulously fair and accurate.”


That mild brushback seems appropriate in this case, though a specific mention of McNeil’s call for Redfield’s resignation might have been worthwhile. Such activism, after all, is extreme even for a veteran newsman exercising his analytical muscles in a freewheeling cable-news interview.


The mainstream media’s stated goal of neutral and officious-sounding analysis from reporters has been challenged repeatedly under President Trump. That’s because when it comes to Trump, sheer recitations of fact often double as condemnations.

“Good morning, presidential candidate Donald Trump last night told CNN that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” a news anchor might have told her audience in August 2015.




The same dynamic emerges in a famous 2016 letter that the New York Times wrote after then-candidate Trump threatened a lawsuit against the paper for its coverage of Trump’s treatment of women. The letter from New York Times lawyer David McCraw read, in part:


“Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.”


Facts, all of them — though they’re such terrible facts that they sound like biased denunciations.
Such is the coronavirus backdrop — unfathomable pronouncements of incompetence, indifference and cluelessness from the president in public appearance after public appearance. What’s an experienced health reporter to say?

A new study reported in VOX contends that viewers of the Sean Hannity program on FOX News were likely to spread the coronavirus because of his assurances that it was not dangerous.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, media critics have warned that the decision from leading Fox News hosts to downplay the outbreak could cost lives. A new study provides statistical evidence that, in the case of Sean Hannity, that’s exactly what happened.

The paper — from economists Leonardo Bursztyn, Aakaash Rao, Christopher Roth, and David Yanagizawa-Drott — focused on Fox news programming in February and early March.

At the time, Hannity’s show was downplaying or ignoring the virus, while fellow Fox host Tucker Carlson was warning viewers about the disease’s risks.

Using both a poll of Fox News viewers over age 55 and publicly available data on television-watching patterns, they calculate that Fox viewers who watched Hannity rather than Carlson were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, and that areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson had higher local rates of infection and death.

“Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” they write. “A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28.”

This is a working paper; it hasn’t been peer reviewed or accepted for publication at a journal. However, it’s consistent with a wide body of research finding that media consumption in general, and Fox News viewership in particular, can have a pretty powerful effect on individual behavior.

A spokesperson for FOX News disputed the story and claimed it relied on “cherrypicking.”

Patrick O’Donnell is one of the best education journalists in the nation. He has covered charter and cyber charter scandals in Cleveland and in Ohio without fear or favor. Ohio, as you may have noticed, is awash in charter corruption.

O’Donnell worked for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer until last weekend, when the newspaper pushed out its leading journalists and told them they could cover far-flung areas if they want to stay employed. The order from on high essentially fired union journalists and gutted the newspaper’s coverage of Cleveland.

The Plain-Dealer is part of Advance Publications, which is owned by the billionaire Newhouse family. Advance is engaged in cost-cutting that will destroy local journalism. It’s all about the Almighty Dollar.

The Hechinger Report invited two eminent scholars to write about how public schools might respond if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the Espinoza v. Montana case. In this case, rightwing libertarians seek to eliminate Montana’s constitutional prohibition on spending public money for tuition in religious schools. In effect, they want to eliminate the line separating church and state. The Trump-enhanced Supreme Court has already ruled that it is permissible to discriminate on religious grounds against same-sex couples in a Colorado case where a baker refused to bake a cake for two men. Homophobia is okay if it is based on deep religious convictions.

The Hehinger Report asked Bruce Baker of Rutgers, an expert on school finance, Preston Green III of the University of Connecticut, a constitutional lawyer, to consider the ramifications of this case if the Court favors the plaintiffs.

They wrote the article, then discovered that Corey DeAngelis of the libertarian Reason Foundation and the CATO Foundation (founded by the Koch brothers) objected to their views, basing his objection on an entry in Wikipedia. He insisted that an earlier Supreme Court decision forbade private schools from discriminating on the basis of race. Professor Green said DeAngelis was wrong.

Instead of inviting DeAngelis to write a letter to the editor or post a dissenting comment, which is customary, the Hechinger Report inserted an editor’s note inside the article.

This is the paragraph with the editor’s note responding DeAngelis’ complaint. By the time you read this, the “editor’s note” may have been deleted. I was informed by an editor that the publication had decided to delete it.

Let’s assume that there exist state legislatures that would prefer not to have taxpayer dollars used to support religious schooling. Perhaps they are concerned with supporting schools that might discriminate in admissions or other treatment on the basis of sexual orientation of children or parents, or even race. (Editor’s note: Current Federal law does not permit private schools to discriminate on the basis of race.)

Preston Greene III wrote the following response as a warning to others: The Hechinger Report puts Wikipedia on the same level as scholarship. (DeAngelis received a Ph.D. in education policy from the Walton-funded Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, which holds a single point of view on school choice, and he regularly trolls anyone who disagrees with choice ideology on Twitter).

My own note: Fred Hechinger, for whom the Hechinger Report was named, was born in Germany and came to New York in 1936 at the age of 16. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City and the City College of New York, at that time a free public college. He and his wife Grace were personal friends of mine. He opposed public funding of religious schools. He supported free and universal public schools. This is how the Hechinger Report describes the man whose name it bears: “Fred M. Hechinger was education editor of The New York Times, an author of several books and an advocate for public education. The Hechinger Report continues his efforts to produce and promote high-quality education coverage.”

Preston C. Green III

I am writing this post to alert my fellow professors about a situation I recently encountered after publishing a piece with the Hechinger Institute. This organization approached Bruce Baker and me to write an op-ed explaining the possible consequences of the Espinoza v. Montana State Department of Revenue case. In this case, the Supreme Court is considering whether states can prohibit parochial schools from participating in a tax-credit scholarship program. It is generally expected that the Court will hold that states cannot act in this manner.

In this op-ed, we explained that states might respond to this potential decision by placing curricular restrictions on participating schools or even refusing to fund private education altogether. We even posited that states might respond to the Court’s expected decision by dramatically reducing their investment in charter schools.

We did not get much pushback for these points in the op-ed. However, Corey DeAngelis, adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and the Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, claimed on Twitter that we were wrong to suggest that parochial school participants in school voucher programs might even consider discrimination on the basis of race. He supported this assertion by citing a Supreme Court case, Runyon v. McCrary. DeAngelis posted a screenshot of the purported holding, which he got from Wikipedia. According to this summation, Runyon held that “[f]ederal law prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of race.” On the basis of this “evidence,” DeAngelis demanded that Hechinger correct this alleged error.

I responded on Twitter by posting a screenshot of the pertinent part of the actual case, which included the following statement (italics added):

It is worth noting at the outset some of the questions that these cases do not present. They do not present any question of the right of a private social organization to limit its membership on racial or any other grounds. They do not present any question of the right of a private school to limit its student body to boys, to girls, or to adherents of a particular religious faith, since 42 U.S.C. § 1981 is in no way addressed to such categories of selectivity. They do not even present the application of § 1981 to private sectarian schools that practice Racial Exclusion on religious grounds. Rather, these cases present only two basic questions: whether § 1981 prohibits private, commercially operated, nonsectarian schools from denying admission to prospective students because they are Negroes, and, if so, whether that federal law is constitutional as so applied.

The italicized section clearly established that the Court in Runyon did not address the question of whether § 1981 prohibited sectarian schools from racially discriminating on the basis of religious belief.

DeAngelis insisted that a retraction was in order reposting the Wikipedia screenshot and claiming that parochial schools would never discriminate because they might lose their tax-exempt status. Other people joined in on Twitter claiming that we were fearmongering because no school would ever consider discriminating on the basis of race for religious reasons – the stakes were too high.

Although I would like to believe we are past the time that schools would not overtly try to discriminate on the basis of race, I do not share this rosy view. My parents received part of their education in racially segregated public schools in Virginia. And although I did not attend a racially segregated school, I also experienced several incidents of overt discrimination.

The Hechinger editor asked Bruce Baker and me over email about the Twitter avalanche from DeAngelis and his supporters. I explained that DeAngelis’s understanding of Runyon was incorrect. The Court’s decision expressly did not address the legality of parochial schools claiming racial discrimination on the basis of religious belief. I even cited cases in which parochial schools attempted to exploit this loophole in Runyon (the courts rejected this assertion on the ground that the discrimination was not based on sincere religious belief).

Two days later, our editor emailed Bruce Baker and me again, explaining that her superiors wanted to place a note after the offending sentence to the effect that racial discrimination violated federal law. We responded by explaining that this statement was overly broad. It was true that parochial schools that discriminated on the basis of race ran the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. It was also true that a parochial school that discriminated on the basis of race ran the risk of losing its federal funding (if it received such aid). However, it was false to assert that federal law explicitly prohibited parochial schools from racially discriminating in their admissions. To summarize our position: While it was unlikely that a parochial school would discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions policy, federal law did not explicitly prohibit it.

Our editor then responded by suggesting an editors’ note that federal law made it unlikely for a parochial school to discriminate on the basis of race. I agreed to that parenthetical statement.

To our surprise, the following day, we received an email from the editor telling us that her superiors had overruled her. The overly broad editors’ note was back in. We were also told that there was nothing we could do about it. We have yet to hear any convincing explanation why Hechinger rejected our reasoning regarding this legal issue.

I am disappointed and, frankly, outraged, that Hechinger acted in this manner. When DeAngelis challenged our assertions, we cogently explained why we believed he was wrong. Yet Hechinger did not support the well-reasoned legal opinion of two scholars in the field it had specifically asked to research this issue. Instead, it bowed to online pressure even after we had spent more time providing additional background and case law. Other professors should consider our experience if Hechinger approaches them for an op-ed.