Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

How Bill Gates bankrolls the news agenda

Nowhere does this concern loom larger than with the Gates Foundation, a leading donor to newsrooms and a frequent subject of favorable news coverage.

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 CureVac.

 critical questions about journalists’ tendency to cover the Gates Foundation as a dispassionate charity instead of a structure of power. 

Journalism’s Gates keepers,   Columbia Journalism Review, By Tim Schwab AUGUST 21, 2020  ,

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 organizations such as the Daily Caller News Foundation, 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.

I recently examined nearly twenty thousand charitable grants the Gates Foundation had made through the end of June and found more than $250 million going toward journalism. Recipients included news operations like the BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublicaNational JournalThe Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial TimesThe Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington MonthlyLe Monde, and the Center for Investigative Reporting; charitable organizations affiliated with news outlets, like BBC Media Action and the New York Times’ Neediest Cases Fund; media companies such as Participant, whose documentary Waiting for “Superman” supports Gates’s agenda on charter schools; journalistic organizations such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the National Press Foundation, and the International Center for Journalists; and a variety of other groups creating news content or working on journalism, such as the Leo Burnett Company, an ad agency that Gates commissioned to create a “news site” to promote the success of aid groups.  In some cases, recipients say they distributed part of the funding as subgrants to other journalistic organizations—which makes it difficult to see the full picture of Gates’s funding into the fourth estate. 

The foundation even helped fund a 2016 report from the American Press Institute that was used to develop guidelines on how newsrooms can maintain editorial independence from philanthropic funders. A top-level finding: “There is little evidence that funders insist on or have any editorial review.” Notably, the study’s underlying survey data showed that nearly a third of funders reported having seen at least some content they funded before publication.

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 CureVac.

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.

From virtually any of Gates’s good deeds, reporters can also find problems with the foundation’s outsize power,  if they choose to look. But readers don’t hear these critical voices in the news as often or as loudly as Bill and Melinda’s. News about Gates these days is often filtered through the perspectives of the many academics, nonprofits, and think tanks that Gates funds. Sometimes it is delivered to readers by newsrooms with financial ties to the foundation.

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.

From virtually any of Gates’s good deeds, reporters can also find problems with the foundation’s outsize power,  if they choose to look. But readers don’t hear these critical voices in the news as often or as loudly as Bill and Melinda’s. News about Gates these days is often filtered through the perspectives of the many academics, nonprofits, and think tanks that Gates funds. Sometimes it is delivered to readers by newsrooms with financial ties to the foundation.

…….  In 2015, Vox ran an article examining the widespread uncritical journalistic coverage surrounding the foundation—coverage that comes even as many experts and scholars raise red flags.   Vox didn’t cite Gates’s charitable giving to newsrooms as a contributing factor, nor did it address Bill Gates’s month-long stint as guest editor for The Verge, a Vox subsidiary, earlier that year. Still, the news outlet did raise critical questions about journalists’ tendency to cover the Gates Foundation as a dispassionate charity instead of a structure of power. 

Five years earlier, in 2010, CJR published a two-part series that examined, in part, the millions of dollars going toward PBS NewsHour, which it found to reliably avoid critical reporting on Gates. 

In 2011, the Seattle Times detailed concerns over the ways in which Gates Foundation funding might hamper independent reporting: 

To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin………

These stories offered compelling evidence of Gates’s editorial influence, but they didn’t attempt to investigate the full scope of the foundation’s financial reach into the fourth estate…………

NPR does occasionally hold a critical lens to the Gates Foundation. Last September, it covered a decision by the foundation to give a humanitarian award to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, despite Modi’s dismal record on human rights and freedom of expression. (That story was widely covered by news outlets—a rare bad news cycle for Gates.)

On the same day, the foundation appeared in another NPR headline: “Gates Foundation Says World Not on Track to Meet Goal of Ending Poverty by 2030.” That story cites only two sources: the Gates Foundation and a representative from the Center for Global Development, a Gates-funded NGO. The lack of independent perspectives is hard to miss. Bill Gates is the second-richest man in the world and might reasonably be viewed as a totem of economic inequality, but NPR has transformed him into a moral authority on poverty. 

Given Gates’s large funding role at NPR, one could imagine editors insisting that reporters seek out financially independent voices or include sources who can offer critical perspectives. (Many NPR stories on Gates don’t: hereherehere, here, here, here.) Likewise, NPR could seek a measure of independence from Gates by rejecting donations that are earmarked for reporting on Gates’s favored topics.

Even when NPR publishes critical reporting on Gates, it can feel scripted. In February 2018, NPR ran a story headlined “Bill Gates Addresses ‘Tough Questions’ on Poverty and Power.” The “tough questions” NPR posed in this Q&A were mostly based on a list curated by Gates himself, which he previously answered in a letter posted to his foundation’s website. With no irony at all, reporter Ari Shapiro asked, “How do you…encourage people to be frank with you, even at risk of perhaps alienating their funder?”

……………… If critical reporting about the Gates Foundation is rare, it is largely beside the point in “solutions journalism,” a new-ish brand of reporting that focuses on solutions to problems, not just the problems themselves. That more upbeat orientation has drawn the patronage of the Gates Foundation, which directed $6.3 million to the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) to train journalists and fund reporting projects. Gates is the largest donor to SJN—supplying around one-fifth of the organization’s lifetime funding. SJN says more than half of this money has been distributed as subgrants, including to Education Lab, its partnership with the Seattle Times.

………… Even perfect disclosure of Gates funding doesn’t mean the money can’t still introduce bias. At the same time, Gates funding, alone, doesn’t fully explain why so much of the news about the foundation is positive. Even news outlets with no obvious financial ties to Gates—the foundation isn’t required to publicly report all of the money it gives to journalism, making the full extent of its giving unknown—tend to report favorably on the foundation. That may be because Gates’s expansive giving over the decades has helped influence a larger media narrative about its work. And it may also be because the news media is always, and especially right now, looking for heroes.

A larger worry is the precedent the prevailing coverage of Gates sets for how we report on the next generation of tech billionaires–turned-philanthropists, including Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates has shown how seamlessly the most controversial industry captain can transform his public image from tech villain to benevolent philanthropist. Insofar as journalists are supposed to scrutinize wealth and power, Gates should probably be one of the most investigated people on earth—not the most admired.  A larger worry is the precedent the prevailing coverage of Gates sets for how we report on the next generation of tech billionaires–turned-philanthropists, including Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates has shown how seamlessly the most controversial industry captain can transform his public image from tech villain to benevolent philanthropist. Insofar as journalists are supposed to scrutinize wealth and power, Gates should probably be one of the most investigated people on earth—not the most admired.   https://www.cjr.org/criticism/gates-foundation-journalism-funding.php

May 13, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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