AP takes $8 million in grant money; flushes old ethics rules out the window

by | Feb 20, 2022

 


This week the Associated Press (AP) proudly announced an injection of eight million dollars from five “philanthropic organizations” that will be used to establish a new, worldwide, climate journalism unit. Setting aside the obvious debate around public policy and climate change, the move remains highly controversial, and everyone, including the AP, knows it. That’s why, in its announcement, the organization bent over backwards to project an illusion of objectivity.

The AP used to be one of the world’s most respected journalism organizations, with a business model built around licensing revenue from about 1,400 other member news organizations who pay licensing fees to AP for the content generated by their hundreds of news bureaus around the world. But the shrinking universe of newspapers and media outlets over the last two decades has significantly reduced AP’s cash flow, forcing AP’s leadership to seek new funding streams.

And as we’ve previously pointed out, news organizations have been all too eager to toss their previous reservations about taking cash from corporations (non-profit or otherwise) and embrace the brave new world of agenda-influenced journalism. There’s nothing specifically wrong with having a particular editorial slant. The problem in the AP’s case (and with so many other media outlets) is that they feign objectivity and pretend the donations don’t influence their reporting. But that’s impossible.

Even for the world-wide Associated Press, eight million in cash is a lot of money. It’s enough to pay the salaries of two dozen reporters for three years. And it’s enough to make the Associated Press leaders talk out of both sides of their mouth when answering questions about the cash and the organization’s supposed objectivity.

Case in point: In an ABC News write up of the $8 million gift, Associated Press Vice President Brian Carovillano contradicted himself within the space of a few sentences:

AP accepts money to cover certain areas but without strings attached; the funders have no influence on the stories that are done, Carovillano said.

Both sides had things to learn.

For Carovillano, it was getting used to the idea that funders weren’t just being generous; they had their own goals to achieve. “This is a mutually beneficial arrangement,” he said.

Somehow, in the minds of media organizations like AP, they claim their funders have no influence on their work, and yet also acknowledge that the funders receive a benefit.

Both statements can’t possibly be true.

Consider the mission of the Rockefeller Foundation’s participation in the AP’s climate change grant. The group’s primary focus in recent years has been to promote media narratives and public policy around climate change, including tens of millions in grants expressly for the purpose of installing climate change government bureaucrats in cities all over the world. Now, they also have a media partner in the AP, which will undoubtedly be more than receptive to publishing narratives that boost Rockefeller’s mission.

Another AP donor, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, provides helpful classroom resources for teaching school-aged children all about the horrors of climate change. Now, thanks to the AP’s reporting, they’ll have actual news reports to reinforce the lesson plans.

Quadrivium, yet another of the AP’s benefactors, is listed on InfluenceWatch as “a left-leaning grantmaking foundation that provides funding to social and political research groups.” The group embraces a specific political ideology, and now they have a powerful partner in the Associated Press.

The Walton Foundation, likewise, has a similar agenda that includes influencing environmental policy as one of their biggest objectives in their 2025 five year plan. And the news reports from this new AP unit will bolster their public policy objectives.

Similarly, the Hewlett Foundation, the fifth and final AP donor, has aggressive public policy goals that are closely aligned with left-leaning political organizations.

Still not convinced? Even the AP acknowledges they have an agenda when it comes to reporting on climate change. Three years ago, the news organization wrote a glowing story about the “billions of dollars” committed to fight climate change by philanthropic organizations (including several that are now funding the AP). And in its announcement that Peter Prengaman will lead the AP’s new climate change unit, AP executive editor Julie Pace offered this description of the AP’s editorial approach to the issue:

“Climate change is among the most important issues of our time. Peter’s appointment will help put coverage of climate change at the center of AP’s global news report, with a focus on holding governments and powerful interests accountable, and exposing the inequities of climate change’s effects.”

Apparently, philanthropic organizations with billions to just give away aren’t considered “powerful interests” but rather heroes to be celebrated. Bottom line, the AP has a political agenda when it comes to climate change, and now they’ve got powerful, politically active funders to fuel their news coverage.

Would AP accept money from right-leaning philanthropic groups like the Koch Foundation to form a new reporting unit on any topic? In 2018, the Washington Post engaged in public hand-wringing over the Koch Foundation’s relatively benign gifts to help promote freedom of speech in journalism. Here’s what they had to say about it then:

The contributions are welcome in an era in which many journalism organizations are struggling financially. But they’ve also caused unease among some journalists about the foundation’s motives and intentions. Some have wondered whether the money is an attempt to greenwash the Koch brothers’ more controversial activities…

Are those same journalists now wringing their hands over AP’s latest move? Not so far. They’re all-too-happy to have a paycheck. Ironically, while the AP readily took $8 million in cash gifts, it still bars its own employees from accepting gifts valued at $25 or more:

Associated Press offices and staffers often are sent or offered gifts by sources, public relations agencies, corporations and others. Sometimes these are designed to encourage or influence AP news coverage or business… Whatever the intent, we cannot accept such items

Unfortunately for the AP, the very act of hand-waving away the ethical complications of taking $8 million in gifts means they’ll have a much harder time clinging to the facade of objectivity.

2 Comments

  1. Chris

    “AP accepts money to cover certain areas but without strings attached; the funders have no influence on the stories that are done, Carovillano said.” That is the way it should be. Tell the TRUTH no matter who is funding you.

    Reply
  2. elizabeth

    Following this logic, it would unethical to accept funding from the american cancer association to report on cancer incidence, because the ACA has a bias in favor of showing increase in rates of cancer. Except they would not object to a report showing the opposite. Would climate change funding agencies object to a report showing climate change is not happening? You haven’t proved that in any way. It’s all innuendo. Speaking of hidden agendas, what are the financial underpinnings of The Capitolist? Are there ties to any industry that would benefit from downplaying climate change as an immediate threat? apologies for the innuendo.

    Reply

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