Over the past several years, the billionaire George Soros has been busy, busy befriending and building a growing network of "independent, nonprofit investigative journalism centers," including the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the ostensible goal of which is to fill in "reporting gaps" and to protect a strong free press as newspapers collapse across the globescape.
But there's a big, big problem with those so-called investigative reporting centers, and it's not just because they are laughably left-of-center. That they are, but the bigger knot is their lack of honesty about their leftist tilt.
For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Soros, let's recap. He is an ultra-leftist activist, not to mention the 46th richest man in the world, with a $14.5 billion net worth. In the 2004 elections, he poured a lot of that worth into two leftist organizations, MoveOn.org and America Coming Together, in an attempt to defeat President George W. Bush. He committed $10 million to the latter and $2.5 million to the former before finally spending nearly $27 million for Democrats altogether.
Soros doesn't stop spending with activist organizations. Since 2003 he has funneled more than $50 million to various media outlets - he chipped in $1.8 million to National Public Radio, for example. Much of the money flows through Soros's Open Society Foundations (that website address is www.soros.org) and his Open Society Institute. For instance, Open Society gave the leftist publication ProPublica a two-year contribution of $250,000 and coughed up $651,650 in 2009 alone for the "independent watchdog group" Center for Public Integrity.
All of which brings us to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ). When they launched in 2009, you would have thought they were as poor as church mice, living under an overpass in Milwaukee, if you read their press release and various news accounts. Andy Hall, a veteran journalist for the Wisconsin State Journal, supposedly started the center with $2,000 in seed money and a severance package from the State Journal.
Baloney. Does anybody really believe this was not a George Soros operation from the get-go? After all, Charles Lewis, a board member from day one, has Soros connections way back to when he ran (and founded) the Soros-funded nonprofit Center for Public Integrity. WCIJ board chairman Brant Houston also has connections to Soros as chairman of the board of the Investigative News Network, another Soros-backed operation, and he's cofounder of the global Investigative Journalism Network, which has received consistent support from the Open Society Institute, according to its website.
So the Soros money was bound to cascade into the WCIJ from the very beginning. There's nothing wrong with that so long as there's full disclosure, but there wasn't full disclosure at the start, just the opposite. They portrayed themselves as living in a virtual media hovel when money was set to surge in like waves in a hurricane. While they do disclose those funding sources these days, we are supposed to believe they are part of a diverse array of supporters they've since attracted by their hard work, rather than principals who planned and conceived the media scheme.
Neither has there been full disclosure about these various centers' stories. It's not so much that individual reports are slanted to the left; rather; it's the topics that careen leftward. They're fond of investigating corporate corruption, but not so much into scrutinizing government corruption. They prefer to dig into the dossiers of Republicans much more than those of Democrats, though sometimes the latter will become a target. They are much more prone to stress the importance of manmade climate change in their "investigations," while not covering substantial disagreements within the scientific community about the cause of climate change.
And they are absolutely in a lather over a new favorite topic for environmentalists these days: Sand fracking, and the frickin' dangers it supposedly poses to the environment.
The question is, who chooses these topics? Take a look at the fast-growing number of Soros-funded centers - they are blooming everywhere, like tulips in the spring, the Colorado Center for Investigative Reporting, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism and on and on - and even a cursory look at the selected subjects shows an amazing similarity.
They all are pretty much probing the same body, as it were, as if 30 doctors in a hospital operated on one patient while 29 more lay dying.
There's obviously a lot of talk going on among officials and reporters at the various centers, and they themselves like to tout the notion of collaborative journalism. Here's how Mr. Lewis put it in 2009: "Collaboration needs to become central to journalism's mission - and the mainstream press needs to get on board."
Well, no, the mainstream press doesn't need to get on board. The truth is, these topics are not so much the result of collaborative journalism as they are the product of journalism by committee, and a self-appointed committee at that.
They represent a cookie-cutter approach to news. The liberal elite "collaborates" and decides what stories are in the public interest, and then deliver that to the centers template-style, rather than engaging in traditional newsgathering, in which enterprising reporters build their stories on the streets from the ground up, working in a competitive environment. Competition, not collaboration, produces great journalism in the public interest.
Collaboration is in fact the antithesis of media independence. The idea is to control the news from the top down. They think they know what news you need and what news you don't.
What they want is not so much journalism in the public interest but public journalism period, as opposed to private-sector journalism. They want government- and liberal-establishment-controlled media, and "nonprofit" is the new code word for it.
There's nothing wrong with approaching the news from a specific political perspective. So-called objective journalism has always been overrated, and something of a myth. British journalism has never bought into it, for one; it has been more honest with its political biases.
It's not that reporters shouldn't try to get both sides of a story, but even the most objectively determined reporters still have to choose what to put in and what to leave out, as must their editors. And when you are deciding what to put in and what to leave out, the innate biases in human beings will play a role, however subconsciously, even for the most flinty-eyed objectivists.
No, it's not the political perspective that's bothersome about Soros's centers, as much as I disagree with it. It's the dishonesty. There are news services in Wisconsin that come to the table from the right side - the MacIver Institute and Media Trackers - but they are both up front about their conservative political views. And with that knowledge on the table, they do a reputable job of delivering valuable information.
Not so the Soros outfits. They are trying to propel an agenda by misleading the public about both their mission and their objective. They talk of independence and the public interest, but they have no interest in either. Theirs is a collaborative and collective journalism, not an independent one, that serves a very liberal special interest.