Franklin Center

Tags ››› Franklin Center
  • Right-Wing Media Rush To Defend Industry-Funded Climate Denier Willie Soon

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Willie Soon

    Conservative media have been quick to rush to the defense of climate science denier Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has recently come under fire for accepting over $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry without disclosing this conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. Among the most impassioned defenses of Soon was an article penned by a writer at the Daily Caller with connections to some of the organizations that funded Soon's research.

    Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center detail the extensive and problematic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and Soon, one of the contrarian scientists often cited by prominent climate science deniers like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The documents reveal that Soon described many of his scientific papers, which largely focus on the claim that the sun is primarily responsible for recent global warming, as "deliverables" produced in exchange for money from fossil fuel interests. The revelations, which were recently covered by several media outlets, reveal a potentially serious breach of scientific ethics in at least eight of the papers Soon has published since 2008, and the Smithsonian Institution has directed the organization's Inspector General to investigate Soon's ethical conduct.  

    Several right-wing media outlets are already aggressively defending Soon. Shortly after the initial reports, the Daily Caller published an article criticizing the "attack campaign" against Soon by "firm believers in global warming." The article's author, PG Veer, dismissed the criticisms of Soon, claiming that opponents "are looking for conflicts of interest" rather than challenging Soon on "the facts."

    Yet Veer himself is a former fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, which was created from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- one of the organizations that provided money for Soon's research. Veer currently works for the Franklin Center, which has received significant funding from Donors Trust, another organization that bankrolled Soon.

    Breitbart has also carried Soon's water, defending him in at least five different articles so far. Columnist James Delingpole defended Soon for "telling the truth" about climate change, writing that the latest news is a "continuation of a vendetta which has been waged for years against an honest, decent, hardworking -- and incredibly brave -- scientist who refuses to toe the official (and increasingly discredited) line on man-made global warming."

  • Koch-Funded News Outlet Defends Dark-Money Organizations

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Conservative news outlet Watchdog.org released a six-part series defending dark-money organizations -- politically focused groups that conceal the identities of their donors -- but failed to disclose its own funding from the Koch brothers and other conservative dark-money players.

    The Watchdog.org series, titled "A License to Speak: The Dark Money Deception," defends the use of dark money in support of political initiatives. In the series, Watchdog.org claimed that regulation of dark money ensnares private citizens in government bureaucracy and dampens free speech, and it compared dark-money organizations to civil rights groups that protected members' identities out of concern about violent reprisals.

    The Franklin Center, publisher of Watchdog.org, is funded largely in part by one of the biggest conservative dark money spenders, Donors Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that pools large donations for support of conservative causes while protecting the identity of the donors. As Mother Jones reported, Donors Trust is the "dark-money ATM" for conservative causes across the country and is heavily supported by right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch:

    Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.Wisconsin's 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too.

    Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who've given at least $10,000 fill the group's coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA's Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired by none other than David Koch.

    The Franklin Center is among the major benefactors of Donors Trust, receiving 95 percent of its funding from the group in 2011. A Harvard University discussion paper on news coverage and state government quoted Franklin Center president Jason Stverak as saying, "I ran a Republican Party. We disclose that fully on [the Franklin Center] website. But at the end of the day it's the same standard that you would hold Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, New York Post, Fargo Forum from my home state of North Dakota to -- you will judge any news organization based upon the content that they produce."

    In addition, Donors Trust's chief executive Whitney Ball told The Guardian that donations from the trust, like those made to the Franklin Center, are not given to progressive causes. "It won't be going to liberals," Ball said. This agenda is clearly expressed in the journalism produced by Watchdog.org. For example, after the Franklin Center launched a Watchdog affiliate in Maine, the Portland Press Herald noted the questionable work of the Watchdog sites:

    According to a story written last spring by Laura McGann in Washington Monthly, Franklin Center Watchdog websites across the country have engaged in a similar pattern of investigative muckraking.

    "As often as not, their reporting is thin and missing important context, which occasionally leads to gross distortions," wrote McGann. She detailed several instances in which Watchdog websites broke stories, which after additional phone calls turned out to be misleading or untrue.

    "This sort of misleading reporting crops up on Watchdog sites often enough to suggest that, rather than isolated instances of sloppiness, it is part of a broad editorial strategy," wrote McGann, who is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and a former editor of the Washington Independent, a liberal D.C. news source.

  • Right-Wing "Watchdogs" Push "Bogus" EPA Map Conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fox News EPA

    A group of right-wing news sites coordinated across the U.S. are baselessly pushing a conspiracy theory that the Environmental Protection Agency has been hiding new maps that reveal an "alarming" power grab. But the maps of U.S. waterways were simply updated from versions created during the Bush administration, and are helping the agency keep drinking water safe more efficiently.

    Earlier this year, the EPA proposed clarifying which waterways are under the protection of the Clean Water Act, as companies have been able to pollute "beyond the law" due to legal confusion. Conservative media have been accusing the EPA of attempting "the biggest land grab ever" with this revision, even though the clarification will not add any new waterways compared to the EPA's historical authority -- in fact, it will cover fewer bodies of water than it did under President Ronald Reagan.

    In line with this conservative media narrative, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the EPA on August 26 of hiding maps that would allow them to advance the planned revision in order "to control a huge amount of private property across the country." Rep. Smith's claims are being uncritically touted by Watchdog.org, a conservative news website with state bureaus across the nation. Watchdog.org's Colorado bureau stated that the maps "graphically show the increase reach [sic] of the EPA's regulatory authority," including a map for Colorado they called "particularly alarming." Their North Dakota bureau published an article claiming that a landowner is already experiencing "the federal government attempting to regulate wetlands that aren't always wet." And an article from their Maryland bureau was boldly headlined: "Maps reveal EPA water grab in Maryland," going on to state that "the Maryland map plainly shows how much more authority the rule would give over bodies of water in the state of Maryland."

    However, the maps, which were created during the Bush administration and recently revised to reflect new data, are not intended to show the scope of the EPA's jurisdiction, but will provide a scientific tool for the EPA to better understand which water bodies need protection. An EPA spokesperson explained to the Washington Examiner:

    Let us be very clear -- these maps have nothing to do with EPA's proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose. They were first created during the Bush administration to identify waters that would be vulnerable as a result of a 2001 Supreme Court case and pending litigation. The maps were subsequently updated to reflect new data and a 2006 Supreme Court decision.

    The agency added in a response on their website that the maps "do not show the scope of waters" to be regulated but "show generally the location" of water bodies and "serve as a tool for visualizing how water flows across our nation and in regions of this country," and will ultimately help to "reduce leg work, saving time and money." Furthermore, the width of the waterways was distorted on the maps for ease of use by water resource managers "mak[ing] it seem like water is more prevalent than it really is."

    Jon Devine, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), stated on the NRDC's blog that "Only in the House of Representatives and the any-government-is-bad-government press could an expert agency having a map prepared from another expert agency's public data be a reason for hysteria."

    Devine's statement was prescient. The Watchdog.org bureaus are a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which advocates "free markets" and "limited government," according to its president. The Franklin Center, which claims to provide 10 percent of daily reporting from state capitals and owns at least 55 news sites around the country, aims to "expose corruption and incompetence in government." Their funding comes almost completely from Donors Trust -- of which the Koch brothers are top contributors -- also known as the "Dark-Money ATM" of the right wing.

    Devine stated in an email to Media Matters that the media's concern over the EPA's maps characterize the "bogus" rhetoric of calling the rule unprecedented:

    People are using distorted maps to distort what the administration's Clean Water Protection Rule would do, but they can't escape one fact that shows how bogus all of the rhetoric is - if this proposal were finalized, fewer water bodies would be protected by the Clean Water Act than was the case during the Reagan administration. Because this proposal focuses on waters that science shows are important to people's health and well-being, it is critical that a strong rule be finalized as soon as possible.

  • Report: Right-Wing Dark Money Group Provides 80 Percent Of Franklin Center Funds

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    New tax filings acquired by Mother Jones reveal that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity received 80 percent of its grant money from the Donors Trust, dubbed the "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."

    As Media Matters has previously documented, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, provide individuals and organizations a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning causes and media outlets. They are the primary financial backer for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which, according to the tax documents obtained by Mother Jones, received $9.2 million from the fund, accounting for "nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012."

    The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide "10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide." Nearly all of their 2011 funding also came from Donors Trust, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Steven Greenhut, formerly the vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center, previously criticized Media Matters for reporting on the group's deep right-wing ties and funding.

    Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have raised more than $500 million since their creation in 1999 and poured the money into various conservative groups and causes -- including bankrolling a campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change; funding an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons featuring Fox News' John Stossel; and fully-funding the Project on Fair Representation, which successfully challenged portions of the Voting Rights Act. Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.

    2012 was a record-breaking year for Donors Trust, with $96 million funneled to right-wing groups. From Mother Jones:

    Last year, DonorsTrust (and its sister group, Donors Capital Fund) doled out a record $96 million, making it one of the largest honeypots for right-leaning groups. That's an increase from $85 million in 2011 and $78 million in 2010. DonorsTrust CEO Whitney Ball, who cofounded the group in 1999 and sometimes appears at the Koch brothers' donor summits, says the increased giving stems from her organization's growing profile and also conservative donors' anger at the Obama administration. And despite worries about donor burnout within the conservative ranks, Ball says DonorsTrust is on track for another great year in 2013.

    One of the biggest winners to emerge from the hundreds of pages of DonorsTrust tax documents is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a Virginia-based nonprofit that trains conservative and libertarian think tanks to do investigative journalism, funds right-leaning news outlets, and hires reporters for those outlets. The Franklin Center received $9.2 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which accounted for nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012.

    [...]

    Other major recipients of DonorsTrust money include the Mercatus Center ($3.9 million), a libertarian think tank housed at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Mercatus has long-standing ties to the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who sits on the group's board; Koch's top political adviser, Richard Fink, founded Mercatus and is also a member of the think tank's board. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a leading denier of man-made climate change that publishes the skeptic site ClimateDepot.com, pocketed more than $3.34 million. And the Hudson Institute, a 52-year-old Washington-based think tank, nabbed a $4 million donation from DonorsTrust. Other big-name recipients of DonorsTrust money include the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative "bill mill"; the State Policy Network, which oversees state-level conservative think tanks in all 50 states; and the charitable arm of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group. DonorsTrust does not fund so-called 501(c)(4) groups, the kind of politically active nonprofits that played an outsize role in the 2012 elections.

  • Shadowy Right-Wing Group Generates Media Coverage For Conservative Policy From Coast To Coast

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    State Policy Network

    A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy reveals an expansive network of closely allied right-wing groups, funded in part by Charles and David Koch and other corporate and conservative sources, operating as the State Policy Network (SPN).

    The Center notes that while many of the organizations allied with SPN claim to be independent, their agendas often mesh together and work in concert with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has often circulated model legislation in state legislatures aimed at promoting conservative causes, including the controversial NRA "Stand Your Ground" law in several states. The report also explains that SPN affiliates are required to share their publications with each other, and as the head of the Alabama Policy Insitute (an SPN affiliate) told National Review, "We trade information all the time and borrow ideas from each other."

  • Right-Wing Media's Latest Zombie Myth: Congress Is "Exempt" From Obamacare

    ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    Florida Watchdog.org, an offshoot of the Koch brothers-funded Watchdog.org, parroted right-wing media claims that Congress is receiving an "exemption" from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by receiving a "special subsidy" from the government for its health insurance. However, this zombie lie is not based in fact and is due to a Republican effort to politicize the implementation of the law.

  • WatchdogVA Prescribes Bad Medicine For Medicaid Expansion

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    WatchdogVA, an affiliate of the Koch Brothers funded Franklin Center, promoted unsubstantiated fears in asking legislators to weigh several considerations when determining how to expand Medicaid in Virginia, including fears over the federal government's role and a doctor shortage. The conservative blog also recommended block granting or privatizing the program, both of which would have disastrous consequences on Medicaid.

  • Media Matters' Joe Strupp Named A Finalist For Mirror Award For Media Reporting

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    StruppMedia Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp has been named a finalist for the prestigious media industry reporting Mirror Award for Best Single Article - Digital Media for his 2012 story, "How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage."

    In a statement, Media Matters Founder and Chairman David Brock called Strupp "an invaluable addition to the Media Matters team" and said that the "well-deserved honor speaks to his incredible abilities as a journalist."

    Strupp's reporting detailed the rise of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a conservative news outlet funded by major right-wing donors and staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers that seeks to publish its ideological journalism in the pages of state and local newspapers.

    According to the Mirror Awards website:

    The Mirror Awards are the most important awards for recognizing excellence in media industry reporting. Established by Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the awards honor the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public's benefit.

    This is the fourth time Strupp has been named a finalist for a Mirror Award, with the previous three coming for his reporting for Editor & Publisher. It is the first time a Media Matters reporter has been recognized by the Mirror Awards. 

  • Virginia Media's Distorted Push For Dangerous Uranium Mining

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    Two Virginia media outlets are pushing gubernatorial candidates to lift a ban on uranium mining in Virginia while ignoring the state's particular vulnerability to environmental and health risks from mining.

    In a March 21 editorial, The Richmond Times-Dispatch advocated for uranium mining, highlighting a study by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which found that a radium and uranium refinery had no health or environmental effects on people in the surrounding area.

    But the facility at the study's focus does not actually mine uranium at their site, it refines it. And in locations where they do mine, there are environmental differences between Canada and the United States. Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Canadian mines are located in areas with different climates and are more isolated from population centers. Indeed, a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences found that storms and erosion from rainfall could pose a risk to uranium mines:

    Virginia is subject to relatively frequent storms that produce intense rainfall. It is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for as long as 1,000 years. Natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall, or drought could lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or if they fail to perform as designed.

    A study by the city of Virginia Beach found that a "catastrophic failure" -- due to a natural event for example -- of a uranium containment structure could lead to radioactive substances contaminating drinking water for an extended period of time.

    Canadian mines have also faced significant environmental problems in the past, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center report.  On three occasions Canadian mines have flooded or contaminated waste water has leaked from these projects.

    Virginia Watchdog, the Virginia affiliate of the Franklin Center For Government and Public Integrity -- a right-wing group which provides free statehouse reporting to local newspapers but receives large amounts of money from anonymous conservative donors -- similarly ignored the risks posed by Virginia's climate, instead quoting a Washington Times editorial in favor of uranium mining and the company who wants to mine the area.

  • Franklin Center Exec Criticizes Media Matters For Highlighting Group's Ideology, Funding

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    FranklinA top executive at a conservative non-profit that oversees a nationwide network of state news websites is criticizing Media Matters for reporting on the group's deep right-wing ties and funding.

    Steven Greenhut, vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, offered the criticism in a March 12 piece for The Huffington Post. The Center has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states from an avowed free-market perspective and allows other state news outlets to republish their work for free; they claim to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.

    Greenhut writes that while in the past he has downplayed the idea that the media has a "liberal bias," his "recent experience on the receiving end of a series of supposed exposes has left me rethinking my tendency to cut fellow journalists some slack" due to the "shoddy reporting techniques used to try to embarrass the organization where I work."

    He explains:

    For some reason, journalism enterprises that are funded in much the same way that we are seem bothered by this. We've been so open with them that even the reporter for the left-wing Media Matters praised me for our openness. Not that it seeped into his reporting: His final piece on us last year could have been written without the months of research and interviews given that it ignored our best arguments, made connections that didn't exist and, basically, concluded that conservatives fund and work for conservative-oriented groups. No big deal.

    But in mid-February, the game started again. Another left-wing, foundation-funded journalism group, the Center for Public Integrity, released a report about our funding. Media Matters wrote about us yet again, and its headline captured the gist of all these stories: "Franklin Center Top Donor Is Right-Wing's 'Dark Money ATM.'"

    Greenhut is apparently upset that our reports, while providing himself and other Franklin Center leaders with the opportunity to defend the group, revealed that the organization is funded by a massive right-wing donor organization; staffed by former employees of groups backed by the Koch brothers; makes even editors who use the outlet's reports uneasy due to its ideological bent; and has had its affiliates denied credentials by some statehouse reporters associations.

  • Franklin Center Top Donor Is Right-Wing's "Dark Money ATM"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Nearly all of the 2011 funding for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which oversees state news sites nationwide, came from a single foundation that has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing causes, according to a recent report of the Center for Public Integrity.

    CPI detailed that the foundation, Donors Trust, provided 95 percent of the Franklin Center funding in 2011, citing Internal Revenue Service documents. The Center uses that funding to support websites and affiliates providing free statehouse reporting from a "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" to local newspapers and other media across the country.

    The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.

    Since it was created in 1999, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, have raised more than $500 million from various individuals and organizations, among them billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, and doled out $400 million to a constellation of right-wing causes. That includes $86 million distributed in 2011 alone.

    Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."

    The $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center in 2011 was the second-largest gift made that year by Donors Trust. Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund had previously given a combined contribution of $25,000 to the Franklin Center in 2010.

    Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.

    Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, told CPI, "Koch is among an exclusive pool of donors who have used Donors Trust as a 'pass-through.' It obscures the source of the money. It becomes a grant from Donors Trust, not a grant from the Koch brothers."

    CPI produced this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups.

    The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles Koch and his brother, David.

    Steven Greenhut, Franklin Center's vice president of journalism, was listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has received significant funding from foundations headed by the Koch Brothers.

    Other top Franklin Center staffers with current or past Koch ties include Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives & outreach; Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach; Alicia Barnaby, Coalitions Coordinator; and the Franklin Center's director of development, Matt Hauck.

  • FLASHBACK: Franklin Center's Full-Throated Defense Of ALEC

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    As corporate sponsors fled from the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the media's scrutiny increased earlier this year, ALEC's allies at the right-wing Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity rushed to the organization's defense.

    ALEC, which uses donations from major corporations to promote conservative model bills for use in state capitals across the country, came under fire in April from progressive groups. This followed the revelation of ALEC's involvement in voter ID legislation as well as legislation based on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law written by the National Rifle Association and linked to the death of Trayvon Martin. ALEC subsequently eliminated the task force that had approved those model bills, but corporations have continued to abandon the group, with five leaving this week.

    Over a nine day period that month, the Franklin Center published vigorous defenses of ALEC from Franklin Center's president, vice president of journalism, and one of its board members, who acknowledged serving as public sector chair of an ALEC task force.

    Franklin Alec

    Yesterday Media Matters' Joe Strupp noted in a lengthy profile of the Franklin Center:

    The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.

    The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.

    According to the Center on Media and Democracy, a progressive group that monitors ALEC, "The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a 'Vice-Chairman' level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. The Franklin Center was one of about 60 companies and institutions represented in the conference exhibition hall." In October 2011, CMD reported extensively on the Franklin Center's ALEC ties. 

  • How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    When Idaho state legislators proposed a seemingly uncontroversial bill to ban access to commercial tanning beds by minors earlier this year, IdahoReporter.com took up the issue with force.

    The state news website, an affiliate of the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and overseen by the free market Idaho Freedom Foundation, posted six stories on the proposal between Feb. 16 and March 22, when the bill was voted down in a state Senate Committee.  

    The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.

    The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.