Troubling questions: media donations to the Clinton Foundation

clintonfoundation

While listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting the other day I heard an interviewer mention that Public Radio International (PRI) had given money to the Clinton Foundation.

A review of the Clinton Foundation’s records reveals that PRI has, in fact, donated $10,000 – $25,000 to the Foundation. The purpose of the donation is not given.

Talk about bizarre. A major non-profit media organization that relies on donations itself, turns right around and gives some of its limited resources to another non-profit, the Clinton Foundation.

I asked PRI to explain, but they didn’t respond.

In the process of researching the issue, I learned something even more disturbing. PRI is one of dozens of media organizations that have donated to the Clinton Foundation, creating or maintaining questionable symbiotic relationships.

One of the other media donors is Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a non-profit provider of programs to public television stations that relies on donations itself.

Media, which harp on their commitment to ethical behavior, clearly have a problem here. How can they not see it?

Last week the Clinton Foundation said it won’t accept donations from corporations or foreign entities if Hillary Clinton is elected president. A halt to accepting media donations should be adopted, too.

Other media-related donors to the Clinton Foundation include:

$1,000,000-$5,000,000

 Carlos Slim, Telecom magnate and largest shareholder of The New York Times Company

 James Murdoch, Chief Operating Officer of 21st Century Fox

 Newsman Media, Florida-based conservative media network

 Thomson Reuters, Reuters news service owner

 

$500,000-$1,000,000

 Google

 News Corporation Foundation

 

$250,000-$500,000

 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Publisher

 Richard Mellon Scaife, Owner of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

 

$100,000-$250,000

 Bloomberg Philanthropies

 Howard Stringer, Former CBS, CBS News and Sony executive

 Intermountain West Communications Company, Local television affiliate owner (formerly Sunbelt Communications)

 

$50,000-$100,000

 Bloomberg L.P.

 Discovery Communications Inc.

 Mort Zuckerman, Owner of New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report

 Time Warner Inc., Owner of CNN parent company Turner Broadcasting

George Stephanopoulos, Communications director and senior adviser for policy and strategy to President Clinton

 

$25,000-$50,000

 AOL

 HBO

 Hollywood Foreign Press Association

 Viacom

 

$10,000-$25,000

 Knight Foundation

Turner Broadcasting, Parent company of CNN

 Twitter

 

$5,000-$10,000

 Comcast, Parent company of NBCUniversal

 NBC Universal, Parent company of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC

 Public Broadcasting Service

 

$1,000-$5,000

 Robert Allbritton, Owner of POLITICO

 

$250-$1,000

 AOL Huffington Post Media Group

 Hearst Corporation

 Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour co-anchor and managing editor

 The Washington Post Company

 

Penn, El Chapo and Rolling Stone: throwing journalistic ethics to the wind

Mexican photojournalists hold pictures of their murdered colleague Rubén Espinoza during a demostration held at the Angel of Independence square in Mexico City. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Mexican photojournalists hold pictures of their murdered colleague Rubén Espinoza during a demostration held at the Angel of Independence square in Mexico City. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Rubén Espinosa, 31, a photographer for the Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, was killed in a Mexico City apartment in August, along with four women. Each had been beaten, tortured, and shot in the head.

Espinosa was the 13th journalist working in Veracruz to be killed since Governor Javier Duarte from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) came to power in 2011, according to Article 19, an international organization defending freedom of expression and information.

But what does Sean Penn care about that? His interest is in self-aggrandizement. Tossing humanity aside, he arranged to do a secret, exclusive interview of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a murderous drug cartel leader known as El Chapo, that was published January 9 by Rolling Stone.

Sean Penn (L) greets El Chapo

Sean Penn (L) greets El Chapo

This is the same paragon of journalistic ethics that published the since discredited story of a gang rape of a student at a University of Virginia fraternity. A report by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism reviewing Rolling Stone’s pursuit and coverage of that story said the publication didn’t follow “basic, even routine journalistic practice”.

The same criticism applies to Penn’s story, a stream of consciousness essay that reads like something written by a drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson, requiring the reader to suffer through over 4000 words about the derring-do involved in getting to El Chapo before Penn even meets him.

“I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men,” wrote Penn. “But I’m in my rhythm.” So why consider “…those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike…” who’ve died at El Chapo’s hands? Journalistic glory awaits.

Besides, as Penn wrote, El Chapo doesn’t engage in “gratuitous kidnapping and murder”. He’s “…a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.” Well, that explains it.

You might be surprised that, as a former reporter, I’m not too concerned about the ethics of Penn interviewing El Chapo, even though he’s clearly a drug lord who has committed murder and mayhem. Any good reporter would try to do the same.

I also don’t think Penn doing the interview and not advising law enforcement of his contact with Guzman, and where he could be found, is an ethical error.

My gripe is about something Rolling Stone admitted right up front, without any apparent shame: “Disclosure: … an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication.”

Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s publisher, even told the New York Times. “I don’t think it was a meaningful thing in the first place.”

The problem is that’s a massive breach of journalistic principles.

It also raises legitimate questions about the contents of the article. Wenner said El Chapo didn’t ask for any changes, but how can the reader trust that? Admitting that the subject was given a pre-approval opportunity invites a lot of speculation about the truth.

Wenner compounded the problem by telling the Times, “We have let people in the past approve their quotes in interviews.”

That’s a bad move, too. It’s OK to go back to sources to clarify facts, to avoid making errors, but not to give them quote approval.

Politico argues that pre-approval was no big deal. “It was only common sense for El Chapo to demand story approval lest a geographically revealing detail get folded in and lead to his capture. In other words, the El Chapo story probably would not have been granted without the pre-publication concession—and without having a swaggering celebrity amateur to report and write it.”

Saying it’s OK to grant pre-approval if that’s the only way to get a story done is a cop out if there ever was one. That’s a slippery slope that can justify all sorts of ethical compromises to get a story.

And that’s where trust in journalism is lost.