By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Not-so-full disclosure

The Boston Globe op-ed page today carries a column that criticizes the National Education Association’s endorsement of a union campaign to boycott Wal-Mart. The piece was written by Michael Reitz, whom the Globe identifies as “the director of the Labor Policy Center for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a nonpartisan, public policy research organization based in Olympia, Wash.”

Among other things, Reitz charges, “The NEA even criticizes the Walton family, the founders of Wal-Mart, for contributing to ‘anti-public education efforts like private school voucher initiatives and anti-public educations PACs.'”

Unfortunately, you will not be surprised to learn that the Globe – and not for the first time – has failed to perform due diligence with respect to an outside op-ed contributor. In five minutes of Googling, I was able to learn that the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) is anything but “a nonpartisan, public policy research organization.” And it turns out to be no surprise that the foundation is particularly exercised about Wal-Mart.

Here is a 2002 article posted on the website Media Transparency, which tracks “the money behind conservative media.” Although I wish the data were a little more up to date, I think it’s sufficient to prove EFF’s hyperpartisan nature. Here are three major donors to the EFF that should help to establish Reitz’s bona fides:

1. The Walton Family Foundation, which is the charitable arm of – yes – the Wal-Mart fortune left behind by the late founder, Sam Walton. According to Media Transparency, the foundation gave Evergreen $300,000 between 1998 and 2000, and has also given millions to other groups that support EFF’s conservative education agenda, such as tuition vouchers. No wonder Reitz expressed such shock and horror that the NEA “even criticizes the Walton family.”

2. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, controlled by the notorious right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife. The Scaife Foundation, Media Transparency discovered, gave Evergreen $150,000 from 1998 to 2000.

3. Boston business figure William Edgerly. In light of Tom Palmer’s eye-opening piece about the Pioneer Institute’s woes – published in the Globe Ideas section this past Sunday – the following excerpt from Media Transparency’s report is pretty interesting:

MEDIA TRANSPARENCY: Foundation for Partnerships Trust, funded and run by William Edgerly, CEO emeritus of State Street Bank and Trust of Boston. The foundation gave Evergreen a total of $70,000 in 1998 and 1999; at the time of the grant, Edgerly was chairman of Advantage Schools, a for-profit school operator run by former Pioneer Institute executive director Steve Wilson that clashed with the Massachusetts Education Association over operation of schools in the state. Edgerly is on the board of the Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts member of the State Policy Network.

Weitz’s success in placing his anti-NEA screed in the Globe was something of a coup for Evergreen: it currently leads the “What’s New” page on the organization’s website. And so the Globe has provided Evergreen with some undeserved credibility.

From time to time, the Globe’s policy of accepting paid advocacy ads for the op-ed page comes under fire, even though such distinguished papers as its corporate big brother, the New York Times, do the same thing. On July 21, for instance, the Boston Herald tweaked the Globe for its efforts to market that valuable real estate.

But at least with an ad, you know what you’re getting. Running Reitz’s Evergreen piece was far more insidious, because the reader was given no warning about the agenda behind the op-ed. Needless to say, full disclosure should have been provided. But I suspect that the Globe editors would rather have killed the piece than admit it was funded with money from the likes of Wal-Mart and Scaife.

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  1. Todd Wallack

    Technically, the Globe is right. Evergreen is a “nonpartisan, public policy research organization based in Olympia, Wash.” As a charity, Evergreen is legally barred from endorsing or supporting any particular candidate or party — which makes it nonpartisan. The second part of the phrase is just longhand for thinktank.The problem with the label is it isn’t very description. Almost all thinktanks can call themselves “nonpartisan public policy research organizations.” But some are liberal. Some are conservative. Some are all over the place. Evergreen makes no bones about the fact that it supports limited government and the free market. That’s its main purpose. And Globe readers deserve to know that.

  2. Anonymous

    Good Lord. Romenesko links to this item today, giving it headline treatment and once again ignoring the barrage of similarly themed pieces from the right end of the political spectrum.Every day, conservative and libertarian pundits/critics/bloggers/etc. point out stuff like this, both egregious and not-so. Such right-side criticism is everywhere on the Web, and is certainly far more extensive than its leftist counterpart. Yet Romenesko inexplicably spotlights this lone item directed at an innocuous op-ed in a Boston paper, an item grounded in “five minutes of Googling.”The saddest part is that so many journalists visit Romenesko believing it to be a straight-ahead clearinghouse for “media industry news” and commentary. And so the contemporary media’s fatal march — through the echo chamber, into the cocoon, pick-your-metaphor — goes on.

  3. Anonymous

    Okay, then, please post examples and let everyone judge.

  4. Anonymous

    Its interesting that The Globe didn’t check things out. A very good friend of mine just had a letter to the editor printed by The Globe, but without the Globe calling to verify that she was the actual author. That’s standard procedure at every paper I’ve ever worked at. – David Wilson

  5. Anonymous

    “. . . the Globe’s coporate big brother, the New York Times . . .”. Excuse me, but The Times is not the Globe’s “big brother”–it is the Globe’s owner, which any younger brother can tell you is not the same thing. Cute is fine except when it befogs the truth.

  6. Sven

    Try subscribing to a search for “Evergreen Freedom Foundation” in Google News. You’ll be amazed how often these PR agencies in sheep’s clothing turn up on the editorial page and, even worse, cited as authorative sources in straight news stories with zero mention of their financial backers. I did the same with another “nonpartisan, public policy research organization,” the Heartland Institute, which has been waging “free-market” jihad against municipal-owned wireless. It’s strongly suspected that Heartland receives significant funding from telcom companies. But Heartland won’t disclose its funders. (It is known for a fact, however, that it received funding from tobacco and energy companies while advocating against smoking and environmental regulations).I came across this interesting rationalization for conflicts of interest from Heartland president Joseph Bast in the comments to a blog post:For many years, we provided a complete list of Heartland’s corporate and foundation donors on this Web site and challenged other think tanks and advocacy groups to do the same. To our knowledge, not a single group followed our lead. However, critics who couldn’t or wouldn’t engage in fair debate over our ideas found the donor list a convenient place to find the names of unpopular companies or foundations, which they used in ad hominem attacks against us. Even reporters from time to time seemed to think reporting the identities of one or two donors–out of a list of hundreds–was a fair way of representing our funding or our motivation in taking the positions expressed in our publications.After much deliberation and with some regret, we now keep confidential the identities of all our donors. If you do not approve of this policy, your argument is not with us but with those who would abuse a sincere effort at transparency. We urge anyone who sees the need for objective research and commentary on public policy issues to join us as a Member or donor.In other words, “It’s unfair to point to our corporate funders, whose ideas are fantabulous but reputations so ghastly that the mere mention of their names derails the debate.” Wonderful.

  7. Anonymous

    Re: Whether the NYT is a big brother or owner of the Globe: Technically, big brother is correct. It’s the New York Times Co. that owns the Globe, and it owns the New York Times, too. Both newspapers are owned by the company.

  8. Sven

    P.S. If you’re looking for a laugh, check out Roy Edroso’s amusing takedown of an op-ed by chemical industry flack Liz Whelan in the New York Post. Such people are not total hacks — that is to say, while they may be Satan’s emissaries on earth, they do take professional pride in their own work, and add filigrees and flourishes partly to increase effectiveness but also, I believe, out of pure love of craft. For example, there is some obvious merit to the author’s accusations against the sugar barons — among others, that they had hooked up with pure-food types not out of altruism but as a way to fight Splenda’s increasing share of the sweetener market. This is the spoonful of sucralose, so to speak, that helps work down the public’s gullet a larger message: that people who oppose synthetic foods on whatever grounds are anti-technology “chemicalphobes.”Organizations such as this are not about arguing a case, but adding strands to a narrative. Facts may be used as part of the grapeshot, but they are by no means the only or even most important part of the armamature. Painting an investigation of questionable scientific assertions as an inquisition on the order of Galileo’s, for example, lifts the issue out of the debating chamber and into the realm of dreams. You certainly don’t want to side with inquisitors or chemicalphobes. Now eat this chlorinated sugar.

  9. Anonymous

    As soon as I got halfway through that article, I smelled something piscatorial and it wasn’t coming from the Boston Fish Pier. I glanced at the author’s vitals at the end of the story. As soon as I saw “non-partisan …. research center” I knew this was BS. I didn’t even need to google the name. One could argue that the end note ID’ng Evergreen is sufficient because those types of brief IDs are standard practice on op-ed pages with scarce, precious space. What a crock! By failing to give readers an honest accounting of this outfit’s identity, it allows someone with a clear ideological bias to hide behind the cloak of “non-partisanship.” The fact that the Walton family is one of their major funders compounds the infraction. The SCLM Globe’s op-ed editors show that they take their readers for fools and/or despise the teachers’ union so much that they don’t mind letting a dubious organization perpetuate a fraud to take a shot at them.

  10. Anonymous

    The problem with the individuals who are so incensed that Evergreen Freedom Foundation managed to secure a bit of ink to rebut the NEA’s endorsement of a Wal-Mart boycott is that the incensed individuals don’t know the meaning of the word “nonpartisan.” Hint: it does not mean “neutral.” Dan Miller

  11. Anonymous

    “For many years, we provided a complete list of Heartland’s corporate and foundation donors on this Web site and challenged other think tanks and advocacy groups to do the same. To our knowledge, not a single group followed our lead.”Is this correct?What would be the most feasible and effective standard for Op-Ed disclosures, and how could it be implemented?(I want to see it implemented for regular columnists too.)Anna in Calif

  12. Waveflux

    …the incensed individuals don’t know the meaning of the word “nonpartisan.” Hint: it does not mean “neutral.”It doesn’t mean “paid representative,” either.

  13. Anonymous

    Your blog is really nice! :)Mikewebhosting news

  14. Lis Riba

    A very good friend of mine just had a letter to the editor printed by The Globe, but without the Globe calling to verify that she was the actual author.The Globe has printed several letters from me in the last couple years* and I don’t remember ever being contacted to confirm. Mind you, I do follow their guidelines and include my street address and phone number below the email, so presumably they at least confirm that I’m a real Massachusetts resident. Or maybe they’ve already got me on file somewhere as a legit correspondent.Regardless, the only way I know whether the Globe prints my letters is by seeing them in the paper. In most cases, the Globe has edited my letters — usually minor grammatical changes, but they’ve also truncated what I sent them — without reviewing those with me either. [If they had, maybe I could’ve prevented them from introducing an error to my last missive.]The fact the Globe edits letters without notifying the sender was probably most prominently spotlighted by the case of Eric Alterman back in February*Aug 2003, June 2004, last month

  15. Anonymous

    The problem is not that the organization is actually technically “non-partisan,” it is that describing it as such creates a misimpression in the mind of the reader. The organization in question is not an academic one. It does not submit any of its thinktankery for peer review or similar scrutiny. Its writer’s salary is paid in part by entity he’s defending. It is bad journalism to allow such nonsense to appear in a newspaper with no additional explanation. This is just a tiny example of America’s omni-present right-wing bullS#!t machine. Billions of dollars have been spent over the years to pay the salaries of guys in “think-tanks” and for unprofitable publishing houses and magazines. So we get the pathetic irony of this or that conservative “intellectual” on tv or in print extolling the virtues of hard work and free enterprise even as he or she clings to the pasty teet of, say, Richard Mellon-Scaife (or Rupert Murdoch or the Koch family).

  16. Sven

    the incensed individuals don’t know the meaning of the word “nonpartisan.” Hint: it does not mean “neutral.”The issue at hand is not “partisanship,” it’s “transparency.” The only purpose of these outfits (aside from an attempt to present a phony “academic” imprimatur), is to act as cut-outs for their funders who otherwise wouldn’t have any credibility in the debate.The mafia uses the same tactic – laundering its dirty money through supposedly legitimate businesses.

  17. Anonymous

    Speaking of researching funding…guess who invests in Wal-Mart stock as part of their pension? None other than the Teachers’ Union located in Washington State with the EFF. Talk about lack of disclosure concerning the union’s boycott of Wal-Mart. While the teachers are asking us to boycott shopping there I doubt they’ll boycott their pension payments. Details here: (Retirement Funds can be found on page 71 of pdf.) (Labor and Industries’ Funds can be found on page 103 and 109.)

  18. Anonymous

    I’ve had a letter to the editor printed recently and was not called either. But I’m a subscriber AND I’m registered with the web site.

  19. Leopold

    The issue at hand is not “partisanship,” it’s “transparency.”This is, of course, an important point, like many of the points presented in this thread.But most folks of the conservative persuasion would laugh heartily — or heartily laugh, if they’re copy editors — at the indignation oozing from all these comments. The right has to deal with this kind of stuff, and far worse, every day in the major media. Shelves of books have been written on the topic, as you all know.Here you get one questionable description of a think tank — a single word written by a liberal editorial department — and you’re instantly up to your ears in self-righteousness and Romenesko links.Amazing.

  20. Sven

    Here you get one questionable description of a think tank — a single word written by a liberal editorial departmentYou’re missing the point entirely. This isn’t about semantics; it’s about disclosure and misrepresentation. I’m not arguing that Wal-Mart shouldn’t appear in the hallowed pages of the librul media, but it shouldn’t be allowed to speak through a sockpuppet. Wal-Mart could have replied under it’s own name. Why didn’t it?Ironically, such behavior is precisely the reason the reputation of companies like Wal-Mart sucks in the first place, and why they attempt to cloak their identity in public debates.

  21. Anonymous

    Er, I think you’re missing the point, which is about the media, not Wal-Mart.

  22. Anonymous

    As for the EFF being a “sockpuppet” for Wal-Mart, it looks like the EFF doesn’t have much love for corporate welfare or tax subsidies:State tax exemptions survived this session agencies and programs to eliminate Boeing contract and the state’s Constitution their masters at Wal-Mart are paying attention to the EFF’s actions; EFF must have missed their marching orders.

  23. Sven

    Hopefully their masters at Wal-Mart are paying attention to the EFF’s actions; EFF must have missed their marching orders.Oh, brother. Even assuming Wal-Mart is in favor of “corporate welfare” as defined by the EFF in those instances, what does it prove that EFF would go against its interest in those cases? It doesn’t change the fact that EFF was a sock puppet – in exchange for cold, hard cash – for Wal-Mart in the instance described here.Any large lobbying shop or PR firm (which is what EFF is, except for the fact that its clients can deduct fees from their taxes) has dozens of clients, some of whom are wildly at cross-purposes. Obviously, a direct attack on Wal-Mart is going to be a higher priority for Wal-Mart, just as cutting taxes is for Richard Mellon Scaife.To get back to the point and satisfy Anonymous above, would the Boston Globe run an op/ed from, for example, Richard Edelman of Edelman PR (or whoever represents WM) defending Wal-Mart without disclosing that Wal-Mart is Edelman’s client? Hell no, they wouldn’t. Then why is it doing essentially the same thing with EFF, and on top of that imply that it’s a disinterested party?

  24. Greg

    I’m with Todd – EFF, which I was familiar with when I worked in Seattle, is technically nonpartisan, but of course they’re conservative. They don’t like the NEA in the first place, and they don’t like high spending in Washington State, where most of their energies are directed. The place is based in Olympia, not far from the state capitol building. So I’m having trouble understanding why you’re so peeved – would you demand the same laborious background for an op-ed contributor funded by, say, George Soros? As Seinfeld’s Kramer would say, “He’s a sweet kid!” This stuff is pretty typical, Dan.

  25. Sven

    Would you demand the same laborious background for an op-ed contributor funded by, say, George Soros?Now that’s a good question. I could say that Soros doesn’t get any financial quid pro quo from the organizations he sponsors, but that would be nit-picking, wouldn’t it? So yeah, full disclosure, especially if the op-ed in question was a defense of George Soros. At least Soros makes it easy to find out who he’s giving money to. The Globe as added this note to the Reitz editorial, at least in the online version:(Clarification: A column that appeared yesterday by Michael Reitz of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation that criticized the National Education Association’s boycott of Wal-Mart should have noted that the foundation has received grants from the Walton Family Foundation. Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart.)D’oh!

  26. Anonymous

    Reviewing the info from media transparency, it looks like EFF received funding from the Walton Foundation in 2002. How does a grant from 2002 equate to Wal-Mart (versus Walton Foundation) paying EFF to write the oped from yesterday’s Globe?

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