In a November 24 Washington Examiner op-ed, Cheryl K. Chumley promotes the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, touting its “collaborative approach to investigative journalism” and how it hires “veteran reporters with traditional muckraking skills.” But Chumley is eager for you to dismiss all the evidence that the Franklin Center is a conservative group.
After quoting Franklin Center chief Jason Stverak saying how his organization partners with others to generate its stories, Chumley writes:
The majority of these organizational partnerships are forged with nonprofits of conservative or free-market bent. But Stverak says dismissing Franklin Center as a “right-wing group news site” is no more justified than ignoring ProPublica as a “leftist” media outfit.
ProPublica was started in 2007 with financial backing from wealthy liberal activists like Herb and Marion Sandler. Stverak, a former North Dakota Republican Party executive, praises the group's 2010 Pulitzer Prize recognition.
Note that Chumley doesn't mention where the Franklin Center gets is financial backing. That's because it has refused to release such information. (Media Matters' Joe Strupp has reported how the Franklin Center is one of a new crop of conservative nonprofit journalism organizations that like to keep their funding sources hidden from the public.) Stverak told Washington Monthly -- which noted that such secrecy “is more than a little ironic given Franklin's obsession with transparency in government” -- that it was irrelevant because his organization's credibility hands on the quality of journalism it produces, not who funds it.
There have been questions about the quality of that journalism. Chumley touts as the Franklin Center's top scoop the story of “White House claims to have saved jobs in districts that didn't even exist,” stating that it “generated national recognition for Franklin's venture into investigative reporting soon after its inception.” But as Washington Monthly points out:
The only problem: the story was, at best, misleading. In a “fact check” feature on Watchdog's scoop, the Associated Press's Matt Apuzzo took the step that the Watchdog reporters had not: he checked to see what was happening to the money. As it turns out, the funds were going exactly where they were supposed to go, not vanishing into black holes as the Watchdog sites had implied. The problem was simply that a handful of the local government agencies and nonprofits that had received stimulus funds had mistyped the zip codes when they entered information about their projects into the federal database. In other words, all the fuss had been over a few stray typos. "[T]he 'phantom congressional districts' are being used as a phantom issue to suggest that stimulus money has been misspent," Apuzzo concluded.
Even Chumley's noting that the training prospective reporters receive “includes a Computer-Assisted Investigative Reporting boot camp taught by Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott, who is a Franklin advisory board member” is presented not as evidence of conservative bias -- the Examiner's editorial page under Tapscott is aggressively conservative -- but as evidence that journalists receive training. Never mind, of course, that the link Chumley provides to Tapscott's boot camp goes straight to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Chumley quotes Stvernak saying, “We ask the tough questions. When we push our reporters, when we train them, we tell them, 'You are not a stenographer.' I believe in an aggressive and honest Fourth Estate.” Unfortunately, by not challenging Sternak on his organization's funding and pretending that the group really isn't conservative despite all the evidence to the contrary, stenography is precisely the approach Chumley took in writing about the Franklin Center.