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Right Turn
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 09/02/2011

Is the Center for Public Integrity’s work advocacy or journalism?

The Center for Public Integrity, which describes itself as “one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations,” runs iWatchNews, which bills itself as “the Center’s online publication dedicated to investigative and accountability reporting.” It lists its donors online, but does not break-out the amounts given by foundations that include two George Soros-funded entities, the Open Society Foundations and the Sunlight Foundation (which gets substantial funding from the Open Societies Foundation).

Alex Beam of the Boston Globe (no conservative is he) doesn’t buy that CPI is agenda-free. he writes today:

I’ve been hanging out on the website of the Center for Public Integrity which calls itself a “nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization.’’ At the CPI, it seems as if every day is Fear the Dread Koch Brothers Day.
Last week, the Center noted that the Kochs - pronounced like the drink “Coke’’ - who own a vast pile of refineries and chemical plants, have been resisting post-9/11 security regulations. In April, in a lengthy report on “Koch’s web of influence,’’ the Center wrote that “Koch Industries is spending tens of millions to influence every facet of government that could affect its global empire.’’
No Koch misstep evades the gimlet eyes of the Integrity People! Earlier this summer, they noted that “a foreign subsidiary of Koch Industries has been fined $4,700 by the Federal Election Commission for making 12 illegal donations totaling $26,800 to seven non-federal committees over a four-year period.’’ Where did this “investigative news organization’’ glean this tidbit? Hilariously, the Koch baddies reported the infraction voluntarily to the FEC.

CPI recently came under scrutiny by Politico, which ran a report on CPI’s co-ordination with Greenpeace on another anti-Koch story:

Last Wednesday, the Center for Public Integrity published a tough look at Koch Industries’s lobbying against post-Sept. 11 attempts to tighten safety regulations on its chemical businesses.
Shortly afterward, Greenpeace published its own report on essentially the same topic.
The timing was enough to prompt Koch Facts, the Koch Industries website that rebuts reporting about the company, to declare the two reports “a coordinated campaign against Koch that has been underway for some time.”
But was it really coordinated?
Yes and no, say Greenpeace and CPI.
“We did a piece on the Kochs a while back looking at their lobbying activities,” said Randy Barrett, spokesman for CPI. “Greenpeace got interested in that, and as we were doing research for the story, we became aware that they were also working on it, separately. There were conversations. They didn’t want to go ahead of us.”
So the two organizations worked out an arrangement that would have CPI publish just ahead of Greenpeace.
“They wanted to defer to us, just because we are an official news organization and they are an advocacy group,” he said. “There was no combined reporting on it.”

This seemed odd in the extreme. Why would a purported news organization co-ordinate the release of story with an advocacy group that was making allegations against the subject of the news entity’s report? I emailed Ellen McPeake to ask some questions. Instead spokesman Randy Barrett responded and said McPeake wouldn’t speak to me. Why not? “She already talked to Politico. She’s said her peace.” But I have more questions — why wouldn’t a news organization make available the subject of a conflict of interest accusation? Barnett said, “It is better for me to handle questions.”

Was this common practice, to co-ordinate with an interest group? He said, “It is unusual.” He told me that in the course of doing its story a “source”(could it be its COO?) told CPI that Greenpeace was also working on the Koch chemical plants story. Barrett said, “Basically we were crossing trails.” So the two decided CPI would go first. Barrett said that Greenpeace offered to “back off” and let CPI go first. But why would a news outlet consult on the release date of a story? Barrett assured me that “Honestly this is a first.” He emphasized that CPI is “really careful. We are a news organization and they are an advocacy group.”

In response to the CPI story in Politico, CPI ‘s Bill Buzenberg left a comment; a nearly identical in comment was followed by the Greenpeace media officer. This in turn was followed by another comment from a CPI employee. I asked Barrett if the two groups coordinated their response. He was adamant: “There was no coordinated report.”

I also asked why the amounts of the foundations’ donations were not listed. He said that information was “confidential” between CPI and the foundations. He told me that McPeake did not raise funds for either organization.

He then told me that “The gen­esis of this is that Koch Industries believes there is a lefttwing media conspiracy.” He complained that Koch did not respond to requests for comment and instead posted its own rebuttal. He said, "At no time have they challenged” CPI’s report. “The facts are the facts.”

After my phone interview with Barrett he emailed me the following: “Ellen McPeake is the Center’s chief operating officer and has absolutely no authority over our editorial decision making. There is a strict firewall between the business and editorial functions of our organization. Koch Industries has gone to great length to attack the Center’s credibility but it has failed to challenge a single fact in the chemical regulation story we wrote. It is evidence of a continued strategy to try and discredit the messenger rather than respond directly to the issues raised in our reporting.”

However, that part isn’t accurate. A Koch spokesman directed me to the KochFacts.com website, where Koch industries does challenge a number of key facts in the CPI report. For example, KochFacts states: “Fourteen of the 19 [Georgia Pacific] facilities listed are deemed to no longer meet the criteria for high-risk chemical facilities by the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these were removed from regulation after significantly reducing their use of certain chemicals. These include the mills at Camas [alleged by CPI to use chlorine] and Leaf River operations listed in the CPI’s report as among Koch’s ‘top ten.’” Likewise KochFacts asserts that CPI incorrectly claimed that formaldehyde was stored at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

In essence, Koch explains that it inherited plants in which the prior owners were not incompliance with federal regulations, Koch reported those violations (that had not been disclosed in the sale) and brought the plants into compliance. The flashy subheadline on the CPI report (“Koch argues that tough restrictions on petrochemicals aren’t necessary because there hasn’t been a terrorist attack here since 9/11”) is not documented in CPI’s report. Since CPI says that Koch would not talk to CPI, it’s not clear where that statement came from.

So what is going on here? Right Turn and other outlets (including Politico) have documented a well-orchestrated campaign against the Koch brothers by Soros-funded entities in various guises. That CPI has engaged in a non-stop accusations against the Kochs and that CPI is also funded by Soros money (at least in part) raise suspicion as to whether this is advocacy journalism (reporting with an agenda) or truly independent journalism. The co-ordination with Greenpeace certainly reinforces this perception. CPI complains that Koch didn’t share any of the data with CPI, but instead saved it up to present in rebuttal. That is a legitimate media strategy for Koch Industries, but it does lend itself to increasing the error-rate in reporting. Moreover, although as I pointed out the Koch website did rebut some allegations, it is not particularly detailed and does not fully illuminate the aspects of the report it considers biased or wrong.

As for CPI, the proof is in the pudding. It says it is independent and it doesn’t coordinate with advocacy groups as a practice. Until that’s proven false, I take its spokesman at his word.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 09/02/2011

Categories:  Conservative movement, Media

 
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