Friday October 11, California Globe published CSU Fresno Partnering With Fresno Bee To Raise Nonprofit Money To Report About Rep. Devin Nunes, about the Bee newspaper partnering with Fresno State University on a long-term media project in which a non-profit foundation is created. Evidence shows the foundation then pays its reporters to go after Fresno area Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who dominates the foundation’s coverage. Since August 1, of 35 stories produced by the foundation, 17 were negative stories about Devin Nunes. Interviews by other news organizations with two McClatchy/Fresno Bee editors confirm this.
By Saturday, Fresno State got in touch with the Globe asking for corrections to the article. Patti Waid, Communications Director at Fresno State, included a formal statement from the University in her email to the Globe:
FRESNO STATE STATEMENT
Oct. 11, 2019
“A news report today by California Globe incorrectly claims Fresno State’s involvement in a Fresno-based media-related initiative.
“First, the headline is patently false in claiming the University ‘is partnering with The Fresno Bee to raise nonprofit money to report about’ our congressman.
“Next, contrary to implications in said news report, Fresno State is not financially supporting The Fresno Bee’s Education Lab, a new initiative that includes the hiring of an editor and four reporters who will focus on education stories. To be clear, the University did recently host and sponsor McClatchy’s California Influencer Series event, which is focused on issues affecting P-16 education throughout California; however, that series is independent of The Fresno Bee’s Education Lab.
“Lastly, Fresno State’s Institute for Media and the Public Trust, which was founded in 2018, is independent of The Fresno Bee and of the aforementioned Education Lab. The Institute – whose goal is to promote news literacy, and bridging the trust gap between news consumers and media – is directed by Fresno State faculty, and receives no funding from The Fresno Bee.”
The Globe responded saying the article she referenced is well-sourced and has links to many references, including links to other credible articles on the same subject, links to Fresno Bee articles, and to the Institute for Media and Public Trust. The Globe linked to articles by Harvard’s Nieman Lab, Breitbart, KVPR Public Radio Central Valley, the Fresno Bee, and Vice News.
Within two hours of Fresno State’s email, the Globe received an email from Joe Kieta, Editor of the Fresno Bee:
On Oct. 11, your story, headlined “CSU Fresno Partnering With Fresno Bee to Raise Nonprofit Money to Report about Rep. Devin Nunes,” appeared in the California Globe. This article includes inaccuracies regarding The Fresno Bee and California State University, Fresno.
The Fresno Bee requests that the California Globe correct the following inaccurate statements:
The headline inaccurately connects The Fresno Bee’s Education Lab initiative with its political reporting about Rep. Devin Nunes. The Education Lab reports on local education policy and practice and not congressional politics.
The Fresno Bee has not “partnered” with Fresno State “to raise non-profit money to report about Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA),” as is reported in the story.
The Fresno Bee has not collaborated with the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State. The story inaccurately links the two.
Fresno State is not a contributor to the Education Lab or the Impact Media Fund at the Central Valley Community Foundation.
You did not reach out to me or anyone at The Fresno Bee to confirm any information prior to publishing this story. All of the above issues could have easily been addressed. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you to revise and correct the inaccuracies.
Joe Kieta, Editor
The Fresno Bee
[Mr. Kieta included his email address, as well.]
In response to Ms. Waid’s and Mr. Kieta’s request for corrections, the Globe did not see correctable errors.
Answers to Correction Request
Mr. Kieta’s assertion that “the Fresno Bee has not ‘partnered’ with Fresno State ‘to raise non-profit money to report about Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA),'” we note that the definition of partner is, “a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; associate.”
The Nieman Labs article interviewing Lauren Gustus, McClatchy regional editor, said, “The Fresno Bee is one of dozens of McClatchy outlets, but had the best — well, most unique — opportunity to pilot this method in the central region of California. ‘We started to have the conversation with other community foundations in other communities that McClatchy serves,’ Gustus said. ‘The community foundations want to make impact and if there’s an entity that’s going to work with them to make impact and to raise money to make an impact, generally that’s positive for both of them.’”
Nieman Labs continued:
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.”
High-profile lawsuits, whether with news outlets or fake cows, don’t happen in every community. But this shift from a purely commercial transaction to one with philanthropy on the financial sidelines presents a new mindset for the company overall.
“We have an opportunity to engage our communities in a new relationship which ultimately can lead to a new model for local journalism,” she [Gustas] added. “I think that local communities are more prepared than ever to have that conversation with us. So where are we?”
The Fresno Bee page listing The Education Lab founding contributors also says, “Support The Education Lab by donating to the Impact Media Fund at the Central Valley Community Foundation.”
The Nieman Labs article, based largely on an interview with McClatchy regional editor Lauren Gustus, said Fresno State was a contributor to The Education Lab. If that’s erroneous, did McClatchy/Fresno Bee ask Nieman Labs for a correction? If so, did Nieman Labs refuse to correct it? There are no updates to the Nieman Labs article.
That’s important because this additional article by Bee editor Joe Kieta about The Education Lab says, “We have been working with community partners for more than a year in an effort to listen, learn and shape our next steps. Along the way we have been assisted by Joaquin Alvarado, who runs a journalism incubator called Studio To Be, and Ashley Swearengin, the former Fresno mayor who now is chief executive of the Central Valley Community Foundation. We’ve also reached out to the regional education community, including Fresno State and State Center Community College District, among others. 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.” (left)
Reporter: “So you’re kind of just giving up on that pocket of the readership or the community that believes Devin Nunes.”
Kieta: “I wouldn’t say I’m giving up on them, but I do think that there’s some people who, you’re just never gonna convince them.”
When Kieta was asked about that quote later, he denied that the question had anything to do with Nunes or his supporters. (Again, the question was, “So you’re kind of just giving up on that pocket of the readership or the community that believes Devin Nunes.”) When asked by KVPR Valley Public Radio (at 5:35 mark) about his quote, Kieta said:
“So that quote was taken during an interview I did with Vice News a few months ago. And the question was asked to me, ‘Are you just giving up on people who don’t agree with you?’ It had nothing to do with Nunes supporters, it had nothing to do with the Nunes campaign in specific.”
As the Globe reported, “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.” California Globe spoke to an attorney about the blending of the non-profit institute at Fresno State and the Fresno Bee newspaper. “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.
Whether the Bee itself has a pronounced anti-Nunes bias is a matter for its readers to adjudicate (and now the courts, courtesy of Nunes’ defamation suit). But it’s hard to deny the appearance problem here. Kate Irby, for example, is the Fresno Bee’s Congressional correspondent. According to an analysis by Breitbart, she has written a total of 35 articles since Aug. 1. “Seventeen of them, nearly half of the work she has done in the past couple months, have been about Nunes.”
The accusations of bias are not limited to the extraordinary number of stories, but the timbre of those stories, including this one, in which Irby characterizes a widely publicized prank that was pulled on Congressman Adam Schiff by two Russian telephone pranksters known as Vovan and Lexus as some sort of craziness Nunes was deploying. She got the entire story wrong, including the nonsensical assertion that “Nunes, R-Tulare, did not identify who he believes attempted to obtain nude photos of the president.” There’s been no correction. And in case any doubt remained about where Irby personally stands on the appropriateness of Devin Nunes to represent the people who elected him, one need only follow her on Twitter, where snarky commentary on a subject she covers is the rule more than the exception, as evidenced here, here and here.
But again, if Joe Kieta and the Bee want their reporters to focus nearly exclusively on a single Congressman and to do so with stories that are so incorrect it’s hard to conclude they’re written in good faith, that’s their prerogative. As a private company, the Bee can be as biased as it likes.
The problem here is that Irby’s activism is the beneficiary, at least indirectly, of the generosity of the non-profit foundation. The foundation hasn’t hired any dedicated reporters yet for the non-profit project. But the non-profit has raised $246,000, which is going to the Fresno Bee. Once at the Bee, no one knows where it goes. They have no dedicated education reporter in California. So what has become of that quarter million bucks, at a company that is teetering on the brink of insolvency?
Meanwhile, since the Globe article was published, the online page of the Fresno Bee’s The Education Lab that lists its contributors and fundraising goal has been altered.
Saturday his name was removed. (see screen captures below)
California Globe contacted the California Attorney General’s office of Charities to ask about California law regarding the use of non-profit funds for anything other than what the charitable organization was set up for. The AG’s recorded response promised that a callback would be provided within three working days.
However, on the issue of California Law On Charitable Solicitations, the AG website says, “The acceptance of charitable contributions by a charity or any person soliciting on behalf of a charity establishes a charitable trust and a duty on the part of the charity and the person soliciting on behalf of the charity to use those charitable contributions for the declared charitable purposes for which they are sought.”
Sunday, Ms. Waid emailed the Globe saying Fresno State President Joseph Castro would be in Sacramento and would like a meeting with the Globe, Wednesday October 16.
Monday we emailed back asking for a same-day phone call with President Castro. Additional information surfaced, including information about a fundraiser for the Fresno Bee’s The Education Lab, held at the University-owned home of Fresno State President Joseph Castro, sometime earlier this year, in which donors to the project were present.
By the time of publication of this article, the Globe did not receive a returned phone call or email from the Fresno State President’s office.
Support the (Fresno Bee’s) Education Lab by donating to the (Fresno State) Impact Media Fund at the Central Valley Community Foundation (run by former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin).