Liberal Giving for “Foundation Journalism”

Herbert and Marion Sandler are the billionaire California financiers who contributed $13 million to pro-Kerry 527 organizations in 2004–including $2.5 million to the Voter Fund–and subsequently joined George Soros’s Democracy Alliance (of fellow billionaires) to build a liberal think-tank infrastructure. The New York Times reports that they have committed $10 million to start a nonprofit that will hire investigative journalists. The group, called Pro Publica, whose chairman will be Mr. Sandler, plans to hire 24 journalists to write stories about business and government misdeeds. Pro Publica plans to give away its stories to interested news organizations at no cost. Besides the Sandlers, the group has received funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies (whose new CEO is Gara LaMarche, former U.S. program director at Soros’ Open Society Institute) and the JEHT Foundation.

If this Times story concerned Rupert Murdoch it would probably have caused more commentary. The Times only says the Sandlers’ project is an innovative response to newsroom cutbacks.  However, Slate’s Jack Shafer questions whether what he calls “foundation journalism” can be non-partisan and non-ideological, for which he is chided by Eric Alterman, of all people, writing in Media Matters.  Alterman is shocked, shocked that liberal activism would be imputed to the promotion of serious investigative journalism.

Of course, ideological advocacy and investigative journalism have gone hand-in-hand since the days of Ida Tarbell. The Nation magazine has an affiliated Nation Institute with $3 million in revenue (2005) and Mother Jones is the principal product of the Foundation for National Progress (2006 revenue: $9.6 million). Reporter David Corn recently announced he’s leaving the Nation to head up a new seven person news bureau at Mother Jones.

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