Special Report

ProPublica’s Weaponization of Journalism: The Ugly Truth

ProPublica: How Investigative Journalism Can Be Weaponized (full series)
The Good | The Bad | The Ugly Truth

The Ugly Truth

By cherry-picking facts and basing reports on insinuations ProPublica crafted a narrative so egregiously one-sided that many started to question its commitment to unbiased reporting. Bad journalism happens, especially in nonprofit newsrooms, but such a long string of errors coupled with always-convenient timing staggered belief. Suspicion emerged that ProPublica’s sudden flurry of bad Supreme Court speculations might not be entirely organic, and many deduced that they were witnessing something truly ugly.

ProPublica’s status as a nonprofit newsroom naturally made its donors the obvious suspects for potential outside influence on editorial decisions, and while ProPublica insisted that its “Journalism by Insinuation” was launched independent of donor influence, reports have revealed strong reasons to doubt the claim. Katelynn Richardson of the Daily Caller News Foundation, itself a nonprofit newsroom, reported that many of the largest donors to ProPublica had also donated large sums to the “ethics experts” ProPublica had cited in its reports and to several left-wing organizations openly advocating for court packing.[1]

For example, the Sandler Foundation, launched by the late Herb and Marion Sandler (whose subprime lending business helped spark the 2008 housing crisis), was ProPublica’s founding donor, giving them $40 million over the years.[2] As Richardson reported, the Sandler Foundation had also given $7.5 million to the Campaign Legal Center and $6 million to the American Constitution Society, both of whom were quoted by ProPublica as “ethics experts” in several of the articles in their series.[3] These incestuous relationships continued in the fight to hurt the high court, as the Campaign Legal Center turned around and used ProPublica’s reporting to call for a Department of Justice investigation, while the American Constitution Society called on Congress to “check the Supreme Court” with legislation.

“Our newsroom operates with fierce independence,” ProPublica told the world, but their shoddy reporting, activist funding, and convenient timing belied that claim. The real cherry on top came when Richardson revealed that the Sandler Foundation also sent a $500,000 check in 2019 to Demand Justice, the virulent left-wing group spawned by the Arabella Advisors network which spent millions smearing Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barret during their confirmation processes.[4] Hilariously, Demand Justice even hand-picked Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson for President Biden and has plans to pick four more, because the group openly calls for the Court to be “expanded” to 13 justices, a number that would conveniently give left-wing justices the majority (if they were picked by the current administration).

The Sandler Foundation wasn’t the only suspect donor. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a $3 million donor to ProPublica, had also given generously to the ringleaders of the Supreme Court smear, including $5 million to the Campaign Legal Center and $800,000 to the American Constitution Society, who, as noted, were cited as “ethics experts” to give legitimacy to ProPublica’s attacks.[5] Hewlett also gave $700,000 to the Alliance for Justice, a liberal which has long led a campaign calling on Justice Thomas to resign, and $175,000 to Fix the Court, a laughably hypocritical activist group also spawned by Arabella Advisors, whose own many financial improprieties were first exposed by Capital Research Center itself.[6]

And the list didn’t end there. The Ford Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Foundation to Promote Open Society—all these ProPublica megadonors were also giving millions to a tightly aligned network of organizations leading the charge for court packing by weaponizing ProPublica’s reporting.

Investigative Journalism Has Long Been a Left-Wing Weapon

ProPublica’s weaponizing of “investigative” journalism follows a well-established pattern in left-wing activism. Other examples include the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which was set up in 2017 to push such work.[7] It has never received support from any conservative donor, but it has received considerable left-wing funding from the Ford Foundation, John Arnold, Pierre Omidyar’s network, and George Soros’s philanthropies, and it conducts it work around the world. In America, its focus has included support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Another example of weaponizing investigative journalism and media “watchdogs” that operate in the style of Media Matters comes from the Left’s takeover of Colorado, as described in The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care). That book explains how four left-wing megadonors, working with skilled activists, took a reliably red state and, first, won both houses of the state legislature in 2004, and then by 2008 won nearly all state-wide offices, the congressional delegation, and the state’s electoral college votes. The strategy involved a variety of types of nonprofits, but one critical type worked in the field of media.

An Associated Press (AP) reporter was chosen to head up Colorado Media Matters, an offshoot of Media Matters for America which is based in Washington, DC, with the goal to “correct conservative misinformation” in the media. But what that meant in practice, The Blueprint reports, was largely pushing the mainstream liberal media further to the left; for example, demanding that Colorado Public Radio (!) be even less kind to conservative views. Thanks to the Gill Foundation and other left-wing donors, the AP reporter received a six-figure salary and a staff of 12.[8] Soon the group’s “fantastic research skills” had resulted in thousands of cases of “fact-based research and activism [that] has held the media accountable.” Left unsaid: and helped change the entire climate of public opinion in a once-conservative state.

The appeal of these kinds of investigative journalism operations is clear: By shifting public opinion and pressuring already-left-leaning media outlets to move even further leftward, all kinds of political power can be cultivated. And of course, investigative journalism is a double-edged weapon: The sharp edge is used against one’s political opponents, while the other edge is purposefully blunted, because it is used gently if at all against one’s political friends—as seen at ProPublica, for instance, in the relative number of “investigations” made against Justice Clarence Thomas versus those made against Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


[1] Katelynn Richardson, “ProPublica’s Top Donors Also Bankroll Activist Groups Targeting Justice Clarence Thomas,” Daily Caller, June 20, 2023, https://dailycaller.com/2023/06/20/propublica-donors-clarence-thomas/.

[2] InfluenceWatch, “Sandler Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/sandler-foundation/.

[3] InfluenceWatch, “Campaign Legal Center,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/campaign-legal-center/. InfluenceWatch, “American Constitution Society for Law and Policy,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/american-constitution-society-for-law-and-policy/.

[4] InfluenceWatch, “Demand Justice,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/demand-justice/.

[5] InfluenceWatch, “William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/william-and-flora-hewlett-foundation/.

[6] InfluenceWatch, “Alliance for Justice (AFJ),” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/alliance-for-justice/; InfluenceWatch, “Fix the Court (FTC),” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/fix-the-court/; and Parker Thayer, “Fix the Court May Have Financial Disclosure Problems,” Capital Research Center, May 15, 2023, https://capitalresearch.org/article/fix-the-court-may-have-financial-disclosure-problems/.

[7] InfluenceWatch, “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ),” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/international-consortium-of-investigative-journalists-icij/.

[8] InfluenceWatch, “Gill Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/gill-foundation/.

Parker Thayer

Parker Thayer is a Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. A native of Michigan, he recently graduated from Hillsdale College.
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