New reporting highlights the links between Newsweek's new owners, IBT Media, and an evangelical college that threatens to punish students if they're caught engaging in "homosexual activity."
After a one-year print hiatus, Newsweek is back on newsstands and under the new ownership of IBT Media. In-depth reports in The Guardian and Mother Jones document the extensive ties between IBT and David J. Jang, the leader of an evangelical Christian sect called "the Community" and founder of the Bay Area Olivet University.
Writing for Mother Jones, Ben Dooley revealed that IBT CEO Etienne Uzac and Chief Content Officer Johnathan Davis have cultivated deep ties with Olivet and the Community:
- Olivet and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has founded, influenced, or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang's expenses. Money from other Community-affiliated organizations also helped fund IBT's early growth.
- Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT and other Community media entities, sometimes for as little as $125 a week. Both Olivet and IBT described these positions as internships, and said no-one was allowed to work illegally. Several students I spoke with say they were not told they were interns, and documents from Olivet and the businesses list students as reporters, editors, and salespeople.
- According to the Times, Uzac and Davis "said Jang had no financial stake in IBT or influence on the business." But the pair acknowledged to Mother Jones that Jang has provided "advice" to IBT. And while there's no evidence Jang controlled editorial matters, internal documents show him routinely weighing in on a wide range of business decisions, from personnel and business strategy to typography.
- Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth. He has said that media companies affiliated with the Community are part of a new Noah's ark designed to save the world from a biblical flood of information.
There aren't any formal links between the Community and IBT, but in an email unearthed by Dooley, Davis wrote that his ties to Jang's network were "inherently covert."
Davis' wife Tracy Davis is the president of Olivet University. The Guardian confirmed that besides hiring Olivet students to work for its media properties, IBT has also donated money to the college.
Guidebooks from the university's business and journalism schools state that the university will take "disciplinary action" against students who violate "Christian standards," including by participating in "homosexual activity." Olivet places "homosexual activity" on a par with "drunkenness," drug use, "cheating, plagiarism, forgery, lying," and sexual harassment.
Davis himself has drawn fire for having praised a 2013 op-ed by fringe "ex-gay" activist Christopher Doyle. As The Guardian reported, Davis called Doyle's piece "shockingly accurate" and lauded it for "cut[ting] like a hot knife through a buttery block of lies." In the op-ed, Doyle argued that "a sensitive nature," "an over-attachment to the opposite-gender parent and peers," and childhood sexual abuse predisposed people to same-sex attraction. Doyle also touted the discredited work of Mark Regnerus, who produced a bogus study claiming that same-sex parenting leads to negative outcomes for children.
Contrasting Davis with others in the "very gay friendly" media, Doyle called his warm words "a breath of fresh air," The Guardian noted.
Responding to concerns raised about his personal views, Davis released a statement in which he vowed to "respect diversity in our workplace" and "support a diverse range of opinions and values." Davis' homage to newsroom diversity, however, doesn't change the fact that Newsweek's corporate parent is complicit in anti-gay discrimination elsewhere.
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