American Media Institute Is Duping Mainstream Media Outlets Into Running Its Right-Wing “Investigations”
Research ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON
News outlets have been running investigative features authored by the American Media Institute (AMI) without disclosing that the organization receives large amounts of funding from right-wing organizations and that AMI’s staff includes conservative journalists and activists.
American Media Institute Is A Self-Described “Independent” Journalism Nonprofit That Places Stories In Major Outlets
AMI Bills Itself As An “Independent Source Of Exclusive In-Depth Investigative Journalism.” From AMI’s website:
We are your independent source of exclusive in-depth investigative journalism, bringing you genuine scoops that have become harder to find and costlier to pursue, but remain absolutely crucial to building a news outlet’s readership, reputation and profit.
The American Media Institute is founded by veterans of the (sic) The Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest. Our driving principle is the fearless pursuit of the truly important stories. Our subscribers have access to scoops and must-read stories on an exclusive basis for 24 hours. Publications can pick and choose what they publish without obligation and put stories through the same editorial process as for wire copy and other news. Our internal promotion team amplifies the impact of the stories through television, radio, online, and social media outlets. [American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16]
AMI Partners With Publications Including Fusion, Politico Magazine, And U.S. News To Push Its Stories. [American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16; Fusion, 10/18/16; Politico Magazine, 4/5/16; U.S. News & World Report, 10/14/16]
Despite Billing Itself As “Independent,” AMI Is Largely Funded By Right-Wing Dark Money Group
AMI Tax Forms Indicate $559,475 Grant From Donors Trust In 2014. AMI’s most recent tax return indicates that the group received a grant of $559,475 in 2014 from Donors Trust and that other grants to AMI comprised just $140,000 total that year:
[American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16]
Donors Trust Is “The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement.” In 2013, Mother Jones reported that Donors Trust “has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the most influential think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups in the conservative movement” in order to fund “the right's assault on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, economic regulations, and the very premise of activist government”:
Working out of an nondescript brick rowhouse in suburban Virginia, a little-known organization named Donors Trust, staffed by five employees, has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the most influential think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups in the conservative movement. Over the past decade, it has funded the right's assault on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, economic regulations, and the very premise of activist government. Yet unlike its nearest counterpart on the progressive side, the Tides Foundation, a bogeyman of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Donors Trust has mostly avoided any real scrutiny. It is the dark-money ATM of the right.
Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.Wisconsin's 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too. [Mother Jones, 2/5/13]
Donors Trust Is A Heavy Funder Of Conservative Media Outlets. According to tax documents reviewed by Media Matters, in recent years Donors Trust has steered money to the Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org, Daily Caller News Foundation, and Heritage Foundation, which publishes the Daily Signal. [Media Matters, 4/27/16]
AMI Was Also Funded By A Foundation Run By A “Anti-Gay Mega-Donor”
AMI Received $40,000 From The Chiaroscuro Foundation In 2014. The AMI’s 2014 990 tax form indicates a contribution from “Chiaroscoro Foundation” (sic):
[American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16]
The Chiaroscuro Foundation Is Run By “Anti-Gay Mega-Donor” Sean Fieler. [People for the American Way, 10/9/14]
Fieler: Gay Relationships Do Not “Lend Themselves To Monogamy, Stability, Health And Parenting In The Same Way Heterosexual Relationships Do.” [The New York Times, 1/30/13]
AMI’s Staff, Board Of Directors, And Media Advisory Board Feature Conservative Journalists And Activists
AMI Is Run By Anti-Obama Author Richard Miniter. Richard Miniter, the CEO of AMI, is the author of a 2012 anti-Obama book called Leading From Behind that included inaccuracies such as mixed-up dates to accuse Obama of being slow to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. [American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16; Media Matters, 8/21/12, 8/22/12]
Other Conservative Figures Are Associated With AMI. AMI editor and board member Niger Innis is the national spokesperson for right-wing group Congress of Racial Equality, AMI media advisory board member Mark Hyman used his position as an employee of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting to promote conspiracies about President Obama’s birth certificate, and AMI media advisory board member and current Daily Mail U.S. political editor David Martosko oversaw the smear of a U.S. senator with false prostitution claims while at the right-wing Daily Caller. [American Media Institute, accessed 10/19/16; The Intercept, 8/17/15; Media Matters, 6/8/09, 3/5/13]
Outlets That Run AMI Stories Often Fail To Disclose AMI’s Right-Wing Funding Or Ties
AMI Attack On Clinton Foundation Published At Fusion. AMI partnered with Ken Silverstein to write a feature at Fusion concluding that the Clinton Foundation’s work “left a toxic legacy in Colombia.” AMI was identified in the article only as “a nonprofit news service.” Fusion later expressed “regret” in an editor’s note that said the piece did not meet the publications “standards”:
Editor’s note: The original version of this story did not meet our standards, and it has been revised accordingly. The update includes comments from the Clinton Foundation on its activities in Colombia. We regret that this information was not included at the time of original publication.
The American Media Institute, a nonprofit news service based in Alexandria, Virginia, partnered with Fusion to send us to Colombia to investigate the Clinton Foundation’s impact. We interviewed more than 50 people in Colombia and found ground realities that contrasted, often starkly, with the nonprofit’s claims about its good work. [Fusion, 10/18/16]
AMI Placed Investigation In The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Charging That “Immigrants Take Big Bite Of US Marshals' Custody Resources.” Authored by AMI writer Arthur Kane, the article included no explanation of what AMI was or how it is funded. [Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 10/3/16]
AMI Placed Investigation In The Herald That Attempted To Scandalize The Amount Of Money The State Department Spent On Alcohol While Hillary Clinton Was Secretary Of State. The article, authored by Arthur Kane, sought to scandalize the amount of money the State Department spent on alcohol for diplomatic purposes and requested comment from the Clinton campaign. The Herald, a South Carolina publication, described AMI in a footer on the article as “an independent investigative journalism organization.” [The Herald, 7/8/16]
AMI Placed Investigation Of Liberal Political Donations In Politico Magazine That Included “Editing Error” That “Understated” Political Donations By Conservative Mega-Donor Sheldon Adelson. AMI placed an article in Politico Magazine suggesting that journalists were participating in a “conflict of interest” by being members of the Communications Workers of America, a union for journalists that has donated money to liberal politicians. The article was affixed with a correction explaining that “because of an editing error by American Media Institute, an earlier version of this article understated political donations since 1990 associated with Sheldon Adelson, as tallied on a list of top organization contributors by OpenSecrets.org.” The article did not explain how AMI is funded:
Democrats seeking the White House can usually count on cash donations from some of the same journalists who cover them—though the journalists themselves are not necessarily aware of this conflict of interest and their participation in it is rarely disclosed by their news organizations.
The donations occur through the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America—the umbrella union for guild journalists at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other papers, as well as for many TV and communications workers. The CWA has been one of Bernie Sanders’ biggest contributors throughout his Washington career, records show. In December, following a vote by its members, the union endorsed the avowed socialist in his contest with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Because of an editing error by American Media Institute, an earlier version of this article understated political donations since 1990 associated with Sheldon Adelson, as tallied on a list of top organization contributors by OpenSecrets.org. The article omitted his Las Vegas Sands, with $70.4 million in contributions, more than the Communications Workers of America’s $44.2 million; Adelson Drug Clinic, which the article noted contributed $43 million, was not the only Adelson spending vehicle on the list. [Politico Magazine, 4/5/16]