Special Report

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: Selecting for Activists

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: Social Madness, Local Partisans, and Big Bets
The Nonprofit News Sector | Targets of Liberal Activists
Big Philanthropy’s Play | Selecting for Activists

Selecting for Activists: DEI Pipelines

In addition to general investments in local outlets and state-level advocacy efforts, Big Philanthropy has sought to further control the talent pipeline of journalists seeking elevation to prestige outlets. And while explicit ideological tests might attract unwanted attention, a de facto ideological sorting test works just as well: the trendy emphasis on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Activist journalists express concern that the wrong sort of person prospers in the traditional “pipeline” to a journalism career. Doris Truong, an editor at the Washington Post, writes for Nieman Lab:

An overwhelming majority of journalists have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with one-third of American adults. Like attracts like, and this comes at the expense of our newsrooms not reflecting the communities we’re supposed to serve. We need more people of color in newsrooms—particularly in leadership positions—but we also need more military veterans and disabled journalists.[1]

It is important to note two things about activists’ desire to change the demographic composition of newsgatherers to be less pale, less male, and conventional in private interests. First, this is not a case of replacing conservatives with liberals. Major journalistic outlets are already liberal. The campaign would increase the proportion of committed left-wing progressive activists among major metropolitan journalists, replacing old-fashioned labor unionists and traditional liberals. This generational turnover has already led to controversy, most notably at the New York Times, where the publication of an op-ed calling for a harsh crackdown on rioting by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in 2020 led to a successful campaign to oust senior op-ed page staff, based on identity politics and reportedly backed by the NewsGuild union.[2]

Consider the following grant description from George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society.[3] In 2021, the foundation pledged $2.5 million over five years to Howard University for its “Center for Journalism and Democracy,” the academic home of 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones. The foundation stated that its grant would “train and support the next generation of Black investigative journalists in order to broaden the field of journalism, build a more inclusive and equitable sector, and strengthen American democracy as a whole.”

Second, a DEI or broader identity focus is an effort to direct the focus of coverage onto issues and areas of special interest to activists, especially identity politics issues and environmentalist scaremongering. For outlets that specialize in this coverage, activist foundation funding and cultural cheerleading are readily available.

As a case study, consider the 19th News, a women-and-LGBT-focused left-of-center online media outlet perhaps best known for its reporting on the workplace harassment allegations at the Democratic-aligned Lincoln Project, which was picked up widely and advanced the story.[4] But when not reporting on the misconduct of some well-compensated ex-Republicans turned Democratic operatives, The 19th News is, to quote promotional material for Breaking the News, a Tribeca Film Festival documentary on the outfit, seeking to “disrupt entrenched biases and push for accountability.”[5] (Reviews suggest the film is essentially a hagiography that gives as the 19th News’s only flaw a sometimes-insufficient zeal for left-wing identity politics.)[6]

Outlets like the 19th News supply talent pipelines to mainstream media outlets and provide content directly to broader media. The Tribeca-screened film on the 19th News includes a case when a story it produced on COVID-19’s impact on women ended up on the front page of USA Today, a top-five newspaper in the United States by circulation.[7] Control of the talent and content pipelines to commercial outlets is, in its own way, control of—or at least strong influence over—the commercial outlets’ product.

Contested Distribution: The Battle for Social Media

In 2022, a major distribution channel for journalism was upended. Prior to Elon Musk’s announcement that he intended to purchase Twitter (since rebranded “X”) and then his doing so in fact, the major social media companies, Big Government, Big Philanthropy, and international institutions happily— in the argument of some American lawyers and courts, too happily—set out to regulate so-called hate speech and so-called disinformation in the service of what the big institutions’ critics call “the regime.”[8]

But in late 2022, Musk’s Twitter stopped playing by the censorship dogmas of “the regime” and began releasing the Twitter Files, which documented how the censorship apparatus of Big Business, Big Government, and Big Philanthropy had operated. (Capital Research Center’s InfluenceWatch website has an extensive profile detailing what was revealed in the Twitter Files.)[9] The files demonstrated an extensive, formal process through which the federal government, especially intelligence agencies, colluded with quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations (QuANGOs in British political parlance) and the social media platforms to suppress distribution of reported stories critical of establishment political families, limit debate on issues such as COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates, and smear critics of the political establishment as agents of hostile foreign powers.

Big Philanthropy and the legion of interest and pressure groups it funds are not taking the crack-up of this cartel lying down. Led arguably by Pierre Omidyar (the former chairman of eBay), the liberal foundation world and the activist groups it funds are pushing for regulation of social media companies with an eye toward adopting European-style regulations to control online speech and debate.[10] A report by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard promoted a “risk-based approach” to narrative construction by social media in order to “encourage continued international cooperation by pulling the conversation out of the U.S. political context”—in short, to circumvent the First Amendment and the jealous guardians of American liberty in political and public life.[11]

Omidyar has financed the public relations campaign of Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager turned so-called “Facebook Whistleblower.”[12] Alleging that Facebook knew that “misinformation, toxicity and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” Haugen demanded congressional regulation of content moderation on social media platforms. In the words of conservative commentator Christine Rosen,

They [left-of-center tech critics like Haugen] and their Democratic allies might rail against the platforms themselves, but if you look closely at the solutions they are proposing, it’s clear they sense an opportunity to bend the platforms further to their political will, rather than destroy them.

Haugen’s effort was also deeply involved with the Center for Humane Technology, an Omidyar-funded advocacy group for which former Obama administration spokesman Bill Burton was working.[13] While many on the right initially jumped on Haugen’s claims to hit political opponents within Big Tech, even tech-industry skeptics like Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) later came around to concern over the breadth of her proposals as likely to promote censorship of conservatives.[14]

With Musk breaking the de facto “regime” cartel over social media content distribution, a struggle has commenced to either re-establish that cartel or break it further.

The Left’s Order of Battle

Left-wing foundations have made massive investments into nonprofit journalism and related campaigns. By staking $500 million to fundamentally upend the marketplace of local news, the institutional Left cynically hopes to buy the trustworthiness of local news as a skin-suit for radical-left propaganda. The institutional Left continues to expand its existing state-level “nonprofit newsrooms” that distribute ideological agitprop. A rising focus on DEI and leftist-aligned “communities” in media talent pipelines will strengthen the “internal mobs” at major outlets who brook no dissent from the radical line. And if social media falls, then control of the information flow will revert to the metropolitan-liberal Left and its radical allies just as it was in the era of the one-newspaper town and three television channels under the Fairness Doctrine.

The Left is taking journalism seriously. Is the Right?

This article was published in the April 2024 issue of Capital Research.


[1] Doris Truong, “Inverting the Talent Pipeline,” NiemanLab, https://www.niemanlab.org/2021/12/inverting-the-talent-pipeline/.

[2] Michael Watson, “Social Conservatives, Can Unions Make It Any Clearer They Hate You?,” Capital Research Center, June 10, 2020, https://capitalresearch.org/article/social-conservatives-can-unions-make-it-any-clearer-they-hate-you/.

[3] Open Society Foundations, “Awarded Grants.”

[4] Amanda Becker, “Inside the Lincoln Project’s ‘Toxic’ Workplace: Accusations of Sexual Harassment and a Culture of Infighting,” USA Today, February 15, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/02/15/inside-lincoln-project-claims-harassment-sexism-toxic-workplace/4483922001/.

[5] Tribeca Film, “Breaking the News,” https://tribecafilm.com/films/breaking-the-news-2023.

[6] Stephen Saito, “Tribeca 2023 Review: A Newsroom Becomes Its Own Captivating Story in ‘Breaking the News,’” Moveable Fest, June 8, 2023, https://moveablefest.com/breaking-the-news/.

[7] Aisha Majid, “Top 25 US Newspaper Circulations: Largest Print Titles Fall 14% in Year to March 2023,” PressGazette, June 26, 2023, https://pressgazette.co.uk/media-audience-and-business-data/media_metrics/top-25-us-newspaper-circulations-down-march-2023/.

[8] SCOTUSblog, “Murthy v. Missouri,” https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/murthy-v-missouri-2/.

[9] InfluenceWatch, “The Twitter Files,” https://www.influencewatch.org/movement/the-twitter-files/.

[10] InfluenceWatch, “Pierre Omidyar,” https://www.influencewatch.org/person/pierre-omidyar/.

[11] Shorenstein Center, “Towards Digital Platforms and Public Purpose,” 2023, https://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/DIGI-Final-Report_July5_2023.pdf.

[12] Emily Birnbaum, “The Tech Billionaire Aiding the Facebook Whistleblower,” Politico, October 20, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/10/20/tech-billionaire-aiding-facebook-whistleblower-516358; and Christine Rosen, “Facebook Is Bad— But Its Critics Are Worse,” Commentary, November 2021, https://www.commentary.org/articles/christine-rosen/facebook-frances-haugen-big-tech/.

[13] InfluenceWatch, “Center for Humane Technology,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/center-for-humane-technology/; and Eliana Johnson, “Top Democratic Operative Bill Burton Advising Facebook Whistleblower,” Washington Free Beacon, October 4, 2021, https://freebeacon.com/politics/top-democratic-operative-bill-burton-advising-facebook-whistleblower/.

[14] Santi Ruiz, “Blackburn Says Facebook Whistleblower’s Plan Would Silence Conservatives,” Washington Free Beacon, October 21, 2021, https://freebeacon.com/politics/blackburn-says-facebook-whistleblowers-plan-would-silence-conservatives/.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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