NB Exclusive: Chamber of Commerce Blasts Media for Shoddy Coverage of Unsubstantiated ThinkProgress Smear

On Wednesday, the far-left blog ThinkProgress unveiled an "investigation" that alleged, without any conclusive evidence, that the Chamber of Commerce was spending funds acquired from foreign-owned companies on political activities in the United States, a crime under U.S. law.

ThinkProgress demonstrated that such funds entered the Chamber's general fund, and that money from the general fund was used to pay for political activities. But it readily admitted that it could not show the same funds attained abroad were used for those activities. Instead, it demanded the Chamber prove the licit nature of its political funds. Some in the media ran with the story, despite that lack of evidence.

So was the Chamber consulted or asked for comment by media outlets that reported on the ThinkProgress post? In an interview with NewsBusters, Chamber COO David Chavern says they were not. And while the New York Times's initial coverage was an editorial, MSNBC discussed the issue on two separate programs. Neither, Chavern claims, made an attempt at balanced coverage.

I asked Chavern during a phone conversation on Thursday how he explained this apparent breach of the most basic standards of journalism.

I think it comes back to the old axiom - which has now become a universal law in the media - that you don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. There is such a demand for eyeballs, that that demand to get people to look at you or read you trumps anything like journalistic integrity or fact-finding.

It is important for ThinkProgress to get readers and it is important for them to promote their bloggers. That's more important to them than the facts of how we fund the Chamber. And similarly, there are traditional news organizations that get pulled into the same trap.

If you get in to the world of facts or if you get into the world of two sides to the story, that muddies up the narrative, that makes it less exciting and less interesting to eyeballs.

Further, you have the inherent drama of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is a major business organization, as somebody to wonderfully paint as a bad guy, whereas unions, who are often much bigger and much better funded, seem to be given a great big pass by the media generally. So that is clearly a double standard.

So is the media's approach to the story indicative of a larger left-wing slant among the news media?

I think there's a couple different things going on. There are some folks who have an axe to grind, and a political slant, and they're just looking for any narrative that supports that slant. I think there are other folks that just like drama, and certainly business as the bad guy is an easier picture to paint than unions as the bad guy.

I do think most broadly there is a common view in the media that business is inherently suspect and that labor unions, because they represent, supposedly, numerous workers out there, have more credibility, even thought the facts state that unions are some of the largest, most intensely self-interested organizations in the world.

The burden of proof seems to have fallen on the Chamber to prove that ThinkProgress's accusations are false. Some individuals in the media have run with these accusations, essentially demanding that the Chamber prove a negative. Is that a fair position for the mainstream media to take?

Absolutely not, clearly. Again, ThinkProgress is not a news organization, certainly has no inherent credibility itself, makes an outrageous accusation and then demands that we disprove the accusation in the full hope that we either somehow become complicit or that we then do open up all information to them from which they would then try to develop new lines of attack

I have no need to prove myself to ThinkProgress. I would be really interested for somebody to look into who funds ThinkProgress. They don't seem to be too evocative about that. I know that their parent organization, Center for American Progress, was initially funded by the Sandlers, who were the founders of the subprime giant Golden West Financial. They have also received substantial funding support from George Soros.

That seems to all be ok, but the onus is on us to talk about where our money comes form. I feel no obligation to prove myself to ThinkProgress or anybody else. I am quite confident in both our representation of our members' interests, and also our compliance with the law.