Council on Foreign Relations

Pandering to Plutocracy

In the New Cold War, one of the casualties is independent journalism. 

Next month, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and former St. Louis Post-Dispatch foreign correspondent Jon Sawyer of the non-profit Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting are slotted to appear at the Gateway Journalism Review online fundraiser. They are being touted for their roles as defenders of the free  press. Unfortunately, there is reason to question that characterization.

That’s because both journalism icons are compromised by their ties to U.S. government national security interests, corporate cash and funding from non-government organizations. For journalists such as Woodruff and Sawyer, turning a blind eye to these influences is a matter of self interest.

According to the Pulitzer Center’s 2018 tax return, Sawyer’s annual salary is $214,000, along with $39,000 in additional benefits and expenses. Kem Sawyer, his wife, is also on the Pulitzer Center’s payroll. She received $80,000 for being a consultant.

Being a public television news anchor is even more lucrative.

 NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff.

Woodruff received a salary of more than $500,000 in 2017, and scored another $27,000 in other benefits. Her compensation package is tucked away in the 2018 non-profit tax return of the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association of Arlington, Va., which is the corporation that runs WETA-TV, the PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Woodruff works for a subsidiary of WETA — NewsHour Productions LLC, a corporation registered in Virginia. In 2017, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees this byzantine network, gave NewsHour Productions $4.4 million. But that’s a fraction of the news operation’s budget.

The bulk of the funding comes from a myriad of individuals and foundations some of whose names harken back to the industrial tycoons and robber barons of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Those names include Ford, Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller. New money is represented by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Other sources of NewsHour funding come from corporate sponsors such as BNSF Railroad and Johnson & Johnson.

In short, NewsHour funders represent the most entrenched wealth and power in America, a plutocracy that holds the purse strings of philanthropic lucre capable of buying the loyalty of jingoistic journalists.

Woodruff herself is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential private group that sets American foreign policy objectives and has close ties to the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities. In the past, another prominent funder of the program was Leidos, a private intelligence-gathering corporation that receives billions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon and various U.S. spy agencies.

This cozy relationship often makes it difficult to distinguish the difference between propaganda and news.

Earlier this year, for example, the NewsHour failed to inform viewers that Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, was formerly a national security advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Rosenberg was interviewed by PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor about the alleged dangers posed by Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Alcindor and Woodruff also refrained from mentioning that the Alliance for Securing Democracy is funded by the German Marshall Fund, a Cold War government think tank that has provided funding to the NewsHour in the past.

Experts interviewed on the news program are frequently affiliated with think tanks and advocacy groups that receive funding from the same non-profit organizations that fund the NewsHour. These obvious conflicts of interest are, nevertheless, often overlooked, which results in slanted news coverage.

The Pulitzer Center’s biased reporting on Venezuela, which airs periodically on the NewsHour, dovetails with CIA and U.S. State Department efforts to destabilize that nation’s internal affairs and depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.  This is not a coincidence.

In 2018, Indira Lakshmanan, the executive editor of the Pulitzer Center, and Jamie Fly, a top official from the German Marshall Fund, gave keynote speeches at a meeting of members of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which was organized to discuss how to best promulgate propaganda for the U.S. military. The meeting was part of a seminar held by the U.S. Institute for Peace, which is a government think tank created not to bring peace but wage wars through American global interventions. The U.S. Institute for Peace helped formulate policy positions for the wars in Iraq and and Afghanistan.

In his opening remarks at the seminar, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife said, “Truth is not always enough to counter an adversary’s narrative.” …[B]y being better storytellers, not simply couriers of facts and raw data, we may be better equipped for future challenges.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Silfe

Lakshmanan of the Pulitzer Center warned the gathering that the American public is vulnerable to foreign propaganda. “Americans of all political stripes need to realize that they are potential targets,” she said. “We can all be inadvertently weaponized.”

American produced propaganda in the guise of news reporting is apparently acceptable to the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Invitations to the Gateway Journalism Review fundraiser include a quote attributed to Judy Woodruff that says: “A free press is at the heart of a democracy; it’s what ties the American people to their government, to each other, and to the rest of the world.”

Her words represent a worthy ideal. The problem is PBSNewsHour does not represent the free press.