The media loves disclosure of potentially conflicting interests, except when it comes to their own business. Something about the reporter’s notebook story Sebastian linked to kept rubbing me the wrong way. Then I realized that while the reporter disclosed the source of his funding & research in the notebook, the stories that came out of the Joyce Foundation fellowship made zero mention of the fact that they were bought & paid for by an organization that views gun ownership as a public health problem.
Looking at the work by Brandt Williams, there’s no mention on the website or in the audio files of what aired that he was paid $5,000, plus additional support to cover meetings with anti-gun groups. In fact, the audio files start with an introduction that asks listeners to support their work. The bio for Williams makes no mention of the fact that he’s a Joyce Journalism Fellow, another clue that would tip listeners off to any potential bias in his articles funded by the Foundation.
There’s no way that Williams and any other reporters involved can claim that their work is free of bias since a stipulation of taking the $5,000 was that their work be written in order to “have a major public policy impact.” In addition to Williams, Joyce was willing to fund up to six other writers or broadcasters who were based “in midwest and northeast region with priority given to journalists in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” Since Joyce doesn’t appear to list them, the coordinating organization doesn’t list them, and no results turn up on media sites for titles and terms such as “Joyce Journalism Fellow,” it could be hard to figure out exactly who was paid for these planted stories.
In addition to outright paying for coverage at the rate of $5,000 per story or series, Joyce also funded travel & networking opportunities for their grantees to hang out with the leaders of anti-gun groups. The Foundation describes it rather innocuously:
To kick off the project, the Center will hold regional hands-on workshops for the selected reporters.
In reality, fellows were flown to Chicago for a workshop that primarily featured these speakers:
- Tom Diaz, Violence Policy Center
- Ben Van Houten, Legal Community Against Violence
- Rose Cheney, Firearm Injury Center
- Ben Hayes, ATF
- Nicholas Roti, Chicago PD CAGE (Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement) program
Yet, not a single mention of the obvious slant in speakers by Williams in his notebook entry for the trip. It begs to question whether any of the fellows raised any serious concerns about this project whatsoever.
Beyond the initially purchased stories, this fellowship program from Joyce is seeking to create a long term network of journalists working to advance their public policy initiatives. Take a look at some of the other resources that Joyce helped fund to keep them on a short leash:
To help facilitate the reporting program, the Center will also provide research assistance to help the Fellows gather data, develop contacts, and manage resources on gun violence stories. The Center will also create online tools for project participants to exchange information with colleagues and post questions for Center trainers and administrators. An electronic library containing articles, research, and media sources will be developed for peer journalists unaffiliated with the project.
Gee, the funders looking to advance policy in a specific direction set up a database of source material for the fellows to use – there’s no chance of bias there, is there? But they are members of the esteemed fourth estate, so we’re supposed to trust them instead of asking them for a bit of honesty or disclosure in this case.
If we want a general guide to where the articles bought by Joyce ended up, we can probably get a pretty good idea from the mention in the Williams notebook that one anti-gun group focused on gun laws in Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. If you see any obviously biased feature stories dated from late last fall to the end of this month turn up in those states, then you likely have a Joyce-funded reporter on your hands. Just don’t expect them to reveal that fact.