A newspaper partners with a university on a long-term media project, creates a non-profit foundation, which then pays reporters to go after a sitting Congressman. What could go wrong?
California State University Fresno is partnering with the Fresno Bee, a McClatchy newspaper, to raise non-profit money to report about Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
McClatchy’s Shaky Financial Outlook
“McClatchy, the newspaper chain and media conglomerate, has been caught deliberately printing easy-to-prove-false fake news regarding a key GOP congressman at the center of the hoax investigations Democrats are using to target President Donald Trump, then turning around and using said false reports to financially boost the company amid serious concerns about the company’s falling stock price,” Breitbart reported.
“McClatchy’s financial outlook is now so bad that the company received a warning in September of this year from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) that it will be delisted if it does not get its act together financially, with the NYSE giving McClatchy 18 months to come into compliance with its standards, otherwise it will lose its listing.”
“A McClatchy newspaper is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support its education reporting,” Nieman Labs said in an article, which also reported:
“While McClatchy tries to suss out what might work locally — some Google News Initiative money is supporting an experimental trio of new sites, and CEO Craig Forman is still expecting “greater digital advertising revenues in the future” — there’s a newfound opportunity in The Fresno Bee’s local philanthropic community, focusing on education journalism.”
The Bee also has the wild card of having its high-profile congressman suing the outlet (and a Twitter cow). Republican Devin Nunes, who has played a significant supporting role in various elements of the Trump-Russia investigation, filed a defamation lawsuit against McClatchy in April over an article mentioning others’ certain party behavior involving a winery he has invested in. He’s been outspoken about his hometown paper before, saying that the Bee works with “radical left-wing groups” to advance “fake news”.
The situation has placed quite a spotlight on the news outlet, but it’s also given the Bee an opportunity to draw financial contributions from supporters beyond a subscription or advertisement. “There are many people who read about The Fresno Bee’s coverage of Devin Nunes and wanted to help,” Gustus said. “Previously we didn’t have an outlet for those people. Now we do. That’s big — it reframes our relationship with the community.”
The nonprofit is also financially benefiting the Bee by relieving the newspaper some of its payroll costs, while the Fresno Bee’s corporate foundation is using corporate funds for the anti-Devin Nunes project.
Former Bee executive editor to become institute’s first executive director
“Fresno State has established the Institute for Media and Public Trust to study media literacy and “fake news,” and develop strategies to restore trust in all forms of media,” the Fresno Bee reported. “What resulted is the Impact Media Fund – a fiscal sponsorship that will manage and fund projects and programs that drive transformation and improve our community through solutions-oriented journalism.
To solidify the relationship between Fresno State and the Bee, “The first executive director of the new institute will be former Fresno Bee executive editor Jim Boren.”
“Fresno State President Joseph Castro said the First Amendment will be at the center of the institute’s work,” the Bee reported. Notably, Fresno State President Joseph Castro has also contributed to the Institute for Media and Public Trust as one of the Founding Partners.
Is This Legal?
The Globe spoke with an attorney about the blending of the non-profit institute at Fresno State and the Bee. The attorney who asked that her/his name not be shared out of concern for retribution in the pages of the Bee. “Under the law, the tax-exempt status of a nonprofit is blown whenever a party that ultimately controls the nonprofit (i.e. the Bee) receives any kind of private inurement or benefit from the nonprofit’s operation,” the attorney said.
The Fresno Bee decided to spend most of its energy attacking Nunes—and has, through the parent company McClatchy, which dispatched the organization’s congressional correspondent Kate Irby to write an extraordinary amount of pieces about him, Breitbart found. Irby has written, since Aug. 1, a total of 35 articles. Seventeen of them, nearly half of the work she has done in the past couple months, have been about Nunes.
“Irby’s inaccurate story is not the only one the Fresno Bee ran making these false claims against Nunes. The newspaper actually ran an unsigned editorial by its ‘McClatchy California Opinion Editors’ that furthers the false smear against the congressman,” Breitbart said.
The Fresno Bee’s unsigned editorial also falsely includes Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), falsely claiming that McClintock was a member of the House Intelligence Committee. But that did not stop the Fresno Bee from inaccurately claiming that he sits on the committee. He does not.
This is stunning. As Breitbart notes, “McClatchy, the newspaper chain and media conglomerate, has been caught deliberately printing easy-to-prove-false fake news regarding a key GOP congressman at the center of the hoax investigations Democrats are using to target President Donald Trump, then turning around and using said false reports to financially boost the company amid serious concerns about the company’s falling stock price.”
They may claim that the funds used from the Foundation will be earmarked for “education” projects unrelated to anti-Nunes communications, but the tell is when McClatchy admits that the effort was designed or resulted in attracting anti-Nunes donors from outside the community, combined with another tell in a Vice News interview, used by Nunes in a campaign ad, when Fresno Bee editor Joe Kieta attempts to “revise and extend his remarks” following an admission in the Vice interview of his bias, the attorney explained.
The Vice reporter says, “So you are just giving up on that pocket of the readership and the community that believes Devin Nunes?”
“I wouldn’t say I am giving up on him, but I do think there are just some people… we’re never going to convince them,” Kieta says.
Kieta later said he had publicly admitted that bias and attempted to correct the mistake. “That quote was taken in an interview I did with Vice News, and the question was asked to me, “are you just giving up on people who didn’t agree with you? It had nothing to do with Nunes supporters, it had nothing to do with the Nunes campaign,” Kieta said.
Kieta totally misrepresented the Vice News reporter’s quote which was: “So you are just giving up on that pocket of the readership and the community that believes Devin Nunes?”
Nunes sued McClatchy for $150 million in damages, over an article in the Fresno Bee about a lawsuit filed against a winery that Congressman Nunes has invested in, KVPR Public Radio Central Valley reported. A lawsuit filed against the winery by a former employee alleges that guests on a yacht owned by the winery had been snorting cocaine and soliciting prostitutes. The article stated that the Congressman was not directly connected to those events, but by associating him with them, his lawsuit argues the company “weaponized its powerful pen and used it as a terrible sword.”
‘The Education Lab’
“The Fresno Bee is making a bold move to flip the script with the launch of Education Lab – a team of four journalists who will dive deep into coverage of education in the central San Joaquin Valley,” the Fresno Bee Editor Joe Kieta reported about launching its own non-profit.
“This lab will significantly expand reporting resources in The Bee’s newsroom for coverage of and engagement around education issues critical to the advancement of the region.”
“And behind this expansion of The Bee’s newsroom is a new funding model for journalism that partners with philanthropy to support important storytelling that the community needs. It’s a concept that will allow us to do meaningful work while we build a bridge to a more sustainable business model. It also opens critical opportunities for engaging stakeholders in new and innovative ways.”
The Bee’s Education Lab will host four journalists: two reporters (one covering early education through K-12 and another covering higher education), an engagement reporter who will seek to better engage the lab’s journalists with the community, and an editor who will lead the efforts. The editor will report up through The Bee’s newsroom and me.
Education Lab’s funders believe strongly in more solutions-oriented education coverage at The Bee. We will keep funders updated on our work, but their influence ends there.”
Except it appears The Fresno Bee has stepped outside of that narrow education box into the world of partisan politics. And they’ve fundraised on going after Congressman Devin Nunes, according to the Breitbart article. “The Fresno Bee in California, the company has shifted business strategy to incorporating nonprofit and foundation funding of issues-based coverage into its model,” Breitbart said.
“’There are many people who read about The Fresno Bee’s coverage of Devin Nunes and wanted to help,’ Lauren Gustus, a McClatchy editor said in the Nieman Labs interview. ‘Previously we didn’t have an outlet for those people. Now we do. That’s big — it reframes our relationship with the community.’”
The Education Lab reports, “The Foundation established the Media Fund in the spring of 2019 to identify problems, curate and interpret data, educate and engage citizens, amplify local voices, break down barriers, develop viable solutions, socialize ideas, measure and track progress, improve accountability, and drive transformation.”
Looking more like a war chest than education fund, the Bee has raised $246,000, from the Central Valley Community Foundation (led by former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin), Fresno State, the California Endowment, and various Fresno donors.