Bill Gates is funding the media that is bullying people into following his lockdown orders and getting injected with his vaccine?
Is there any universe in which this isn’t one of the biggest “ethics in journalism” scandals ever?
BBC, NYT, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le Monde… and so on. All getting Gates’ money, all preaching coronavirus lunatic hysteria, all pumping up the Gates vaccine.
This is reaching towards Gamergate levels of ethics in journalism, and truly leading me to ask questions about ethnics in journalism – if you catch my drift.
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, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le 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.
The full scope of Gates’s giving to the news media remains unknown because the foundation only publicly discloses money awarded through charitable grants, not through contracts. In response to questions, Gates only disclosed one contract—Vox’s—but did describe how some of this contract money is spent: producing sponsored content, and occasionally funding “non-media nonprofit entities to support efforts such as journalist trainings, media convenings, and attendance at events.”
Over the years, reporters have investigated the apparent blind spots in how the news media covers the Gates Foundation, though such reflective reporting has waned in recent years. 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.
Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride said Gates’s money was passed on to media fact-checking sites, including Africa Check, and noted that she is “absolutely confident” that no bias or blind spots emerged from the work, though she acknowledged that she has not reviewed it herself.
I found sixteen examples of Africa Check examining media claims related to Gates. This body of work overwhelmingly seems to support or defend Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation, which has spent billions of dollars on development efforts in Africa. The only example I found of Africa Check even remotely challenging its patron was when a foundation employee tweeted an incorrect statistic—that a child dies of malaria every 60 seconds, instead of every 108.
Africa Check says it went on to receive an additional $1.5 million from Gates in 2017 and 2019.
“Our funders or supporters have no influence over the claims we fact-check…and the conclusions we reach in our reports,” said Noko Makgato, executive director of Africa Check, in a statement to CJR. “With all fact-checks involving our funders, we include a disclosure note to inform the reader.”
Earlier this year, McBride added NPR public editor to her list of duties, as part of a contract between NPR and Poynter. Since 2000, the Gates Foundation has given NPR $17.5 million through ten charitable grants—all of them earmarked for coverage of global health and education, specific issues on which Gates works.
NPR covers the Gates Foundation extensively. By the end of 2019, a spokesperson said, NPR had mentioned the foundation more than 560 times in its reporting, including 95 times on Goats and Soda, the outlet’s “global health and development blog,” which Gates helps fund. “Funding from corporate sponsors and philanthropic donors is separate from the editorial decision-making process in NPR’s newsroom,” the spokesperson noted.
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.
SJN acknowledges on its website “that there are potential conflicts of interest inherent” in taking philanthropic funding to produce solutions journalism, which SJN cofounder David Bornstein elaborated on in an interview. “If you are covering global health or education and you are writing about interesting models,” Bornstein said, “the chances that an organization [you are covering] is getting money from the Gates Foundation are very high because they basically blanket the whole world with their funding, and they’re the major funder in those two areas.” Asked if he could provide examples of any critical reporting about Gates emerging from SJN, Bornstein took issue with the question. “Most of the stories that we fund are stories that look at efforts to solve problems, so they tend to be not as critical as traditional journalism,” he said.
That is also the case for the journalism Bornstein and fellow SJN cofounder Tina Rosenberg produce for the New York Times. As contract writers for the “Fixes” opinion column, the two have favorably profiled Gates-funded education, agriculture, and global health programs over the years—without disclosing that they work for an organization that receives millions of dollars from Gates. Twice in 2019, for example, Rosenberg’s columns exalted the World Mosquito Project, whose sponsor page lands on a picture of Bill Gates.
My cursory review of the Fixes column turned up fifteen installments where the writers explicitly mention Bill and Melinda Gates, their foundation, or Gates-funded organizations. Bornstein and Rosenberg said they asked their editors at the Times to belatedly add financial disclosures to several of these columns, but they also cited six they thought did not need disclosure. Rosenberg’s 2016 profile of Bridge International Academies, for example, notes that Bill Gates personally helps fund the project. The writers argue that SJN’s ties are to the Gates Foundation, not to Bill Gates himself, so no disclosure is needed.
“This is a significant distinction,” Rosenberg and Bornstein stated in an email.
That’s a significant distinction, goy.
You see the distinction there – or are you too much of a dumb goy to see that distinction?
I sure wish the media would report on this massive scandal, but uh… that’s kind of the issue itself.