Conservative Funders of Climate Denial Are Quietly Spending Millions to Generate More Partisan Journalism

Millions of dollars have been pouring into conservative media outlets and student journalism projects from the same groups funding climate science denial, a DeSmog analysis has found.

Analysis of IRS tax filings shows the funding groups, including some linked to the oil billionaire Koch brothers, are trying to combat a perceived left-wing bias in media with cash to ideologically-aligned projects.

Many of the funded journalism projects also produce stories that claim human-caused climate change is either a liberal hoax or that policies to mitigate it, such as promotion of renewable energy, are an unnecessary drag on the economy.

DeSmog found that two linked funds — Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund — have been a key source of cash for organisations attacking climate science and opposing policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

DCF and DT have been described as the “dark money ATM” of the US conservative movement.

DeSmog investigation found that almost $500 million that has flowed into DCF and DT are untraceable.

The two funds are also being used to channel money into conservative journalism projects.

In 2014, the Daily Caller News Foundation — the non-profit arm of the Daily Caller website — accepted some $106,248 in two donations from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  Donors Trust also handed the Daily Caller $60,000 in 2014.

The Daily Caller regularly publishes stories that denigrate climate science while promoting Republican outbursts against cutting fossil fuel emissions.

Climate science denier and Republican supporter Foster Freiss helped bankroll the Daily Caller with a $3 million donationbefore it was launched in January 2010.

Several Daily Caller staff have spent time at the organisations analysed by DeSmog.

Investigative reporter Katie Watson spent three years at the Franklin Center’s Watchdog project, reporter Connor Wolf was an associate at the Charles Koch Institute, environment writer Michael Bastasch was a Koch intern, editor in chief Christopher Bedford was an associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and managing editor Paul Connor and reporter Casey Harper both spent time at the Young America’s Foundation’s National Journalism Center (NJC).

Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, one of the biggest beneficiaries of conservative-linked cash, received some $6.8 million from Donors Capital Fund in 2014, according to IRS filings.

Bankruptcy papers from the biggest coal company in the US, Peabody Energy, also reveal the Franklin Center as one of the “constellation of conservative thinktanks and organisations” to have received money from the coal giant, according to The Guardian.

The center says it supports and trains “investigative journalists” with two goals in mind. One is to “advance transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility in local government” which sounds like a worthy and ideology-free cause. 

But the second goal is to “spotlight free-market, pro-liberty solutions to difficult public policy challenges.”  In other words, the journalists are encouraged to lean a particular way when covering big issues.

“We offer a megaphone to those with the best free-market, pro-liberty solutions,” the website adds, just in case you were in any doubt.

“Our reporting shapes narratives, drives conversations, and lays the foundation for long-term change,” says the center’s latest annual report.

According to the annual report, Franklin now has “75 national and local media partnerships” and boasts their work is used by “Reuters, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, PBS NewsHour, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN en Español”.

Franklin’s public-facing site is Watchdog, where its energy stories invariably support fossil fuels while finding ways to criticise renewable energy.

Moulding student journalists

The Student Free Press Association has been another major recipient of funds travelling through DCF, with $265,650 arriving in 2014 alone.

The DC-based SFPA says it “opens critical doors for talented young conservative journalists” and its alumni are “counteracting liberal bias in the media, and are reshaping the future of political journalism”.

According to its website, the SFPA has sent several students to the Daily Caller as interns. The College Fix — the SFPA’s news outlet — also publishes stories disparaging of climate science.

The Young America’s Foundation says almost 2000 journalists have been through its National Journalism Center since it started in 1977.

According to its website, the National Journalism Center “provides an opportunity for students and recent graduates to get involved in combating liberal media bias through its press internships.”

In 2009, YAF accepted $150,000 for its journalism program through DCF.

NJC alumni include conservative firebrand Ann Coulter. In 2015, Coulter tweeted how she would send money “to any candidate who calls [climate change] bullshit”.

The Media Research Center accepted an $111,000 grant from DT in 2014. According to its website, MRC’s “sole mission is to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media.”

MRC helped one of its alumni, Marc Morano, to put together his 2016 climate science denial film Climate Hustle.

The American Spectator Foundation — which owns the magazine American Spectator — got $15,000 in 2014 from DCF, alongside a $16,470 grant from the Charles G. Koch Foundation.  The American Spectator’s climate coverage is broadly critical of moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The American Media Institute, a self-described “non-profit investigative news service”,  accepted $524,500 in donations in 2014 from DCF and its sister group, DonorsTrust. The AMI does not appear to have worked on any climate or energy stories.

One of the central tenets of journalism is to report “without fear or favour”. But the funding of many of these groups from ideologically-aligned sources suggests that on some of the world's most important issues, such as climate change, the funders want journalists to push their inquiries only in certain directions.


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