Soros Grantee Aids Soros Grantee: NPR Covers 'Scandal' of Fox News VP Calling Obama a 'Socialist'

In the same week, leftist hedge-fund billionaire/philanthropist George Soros announced he was giving millions to Media Matters for America and to National Public Radio. So NPR might have found it wise to avoid publicizing Media Matters initiatives and risk being seen by many as a walking conflict of interest. That’s not what’s happening. Instead, Soros is happily seeing his grantees play very nicely together. On March 26, Politico reported that Media Matters declared  "war on Fox" and a campaign of "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" against not just Fox, but Rupert Murdoch's empire in general. Three days later, on the March 29 All Things Considered,  NPR was participating in it.

It began with Media Matters giving the world a tape of FNC executive Bill Sammon on a 2009 fundraising cruise for Hillsdale College proclaiming that he thought 2008 charges that Barack Obama was a socialist were "rather far-fetched," but thought Obama made it very plausible upon taking office. Media Matters said the tape showed "Lying" by Sammon. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, already looking like a robot-for-hire in his reporting on NPR’s Schillergate scandal, became the wind beneath their wings in promoting it. 

Folkenflik’s story didn’t scream about "lying" like Media Matters, and contained no quote from an MMFA official. Only Sammon was quoted. But the bias was in the story selection. Why is this a story, not just a small factoid? Besides acting like a cog in the Soros Journalism Machine? NPR’s Sammon hunt began like this:

MICHELLE BLOCK: Controversy now around a top political news executive at the Fox News Channel. It centers on a lecture he gave in 2009. In it, the executive confided that he had suggested on the air that then-candidate Barack Obama was socialist, even though he didn't believe that to be the case. As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, audio of the lecture was obtained by the liberal press advocacy group Media Matters For America, a frequent critic of Fox.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Bill Sammon is vice president for news and managing editor of the Washington bureau at Fox News. He made the remarks while aboard a cruise in the Mediterranean for attendees of a fundraiser for Hillsdale College, an explicitly conservative campus in Michigan, back in the summer of 2009.

It is easy to imagine that NPR green-lighted this story as yet another way to try and dim the lights on Schillergate. They may have delighted in the opportunity to air another story of "secret" remarks by corporate executives that make consumers question the news product. Except Folkenflik underlined Sammon oversees news coverage (he's not a fundraiser like Ron Schiller):

FOLKENFLIK: In an interview today with NPR, Sammon said he was trying to characterize what conservatives thought.

SAMMON: I was, frankly, astonished that that was a serious topic of conversation in a presidential campaign, if for no other reason than it just isn't the kind of thing you normally hear someone talking about with a presidential candidate.

FOLKENFLIK: Sammon's speech focused largely on Mr. Obama's emotional tumult over his abandonment by his father and his racial identity. Sammon says calling his remarks mischievous speculation was inartful and that he hues to Fox News' promise of a fair and balanced approach to news coverage. He says he would not label Obama a socialist.

SAMMON: I have refrained from drawing judgments like that. I don't take it's the place of somebody like me to be saying, this guy's a capitalist or this guy's a socialist.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox's top opinion hosts are all, to varying degrees, conservative. Sammon, on the other hand, oversees news coverage. And Media Matters has previously released memos from Sammon guiding coverage that seemed to encourage specific phrases unflattering to the White House policies under Mr. Obama. Sammon says he just wants to make sure both sides of every story are covered.  

Is NPR serious? It's a scandal that a news executive would "encourage specific phrases unflattering to the White House"? As if the job of every journalist was to flatter the White House when Obama is president? Does NPR want to suggest that leftist executives like former NPR veep Ellen Weiss -- the one with the liberal rabbi husband on Obama's commission of faith-based experts -- never "encouraged" a tilt to reporters? Or was the encouragement utterly unnecessary?

Speaking of socialists, Folkenflik didn't suggest it was a scandal when PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers gave a wild-eyed socialist speech at a 2005 "Media Reform" conference of lefties, even though it demolishes any notion that PBS is a network for fair and balanced journalism.  Moyers attacked "the radical right of the Republican Party...because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth." Was it fair for Moyers to call his opponents the "radical right" if it was unfair to call Obama a "socialist"?

Actually, David Folkenflik covered that speech -- but not with Moyers in the scandal seat. On the May 20, 2005 Morning Edition, the scandalous figure was again a conservative journalist -- Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who dared to suggest that there was a liberal bias on PBS and NPR. Even as Folkenflik cited executives like NPR president Kevin Klose suggesting Tomlinson had "no facts" on NPR's bias, Folkenflik brought in Moyers for support, not glaring rebuttal:

FOLKENFLIK: Tomlinson felt the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers was not balanced. `Moyers is an unfettered liberal and populist whose Friday-night shows, reporting and commentary reflected his often fiery tone.' But Moyers says many conservatives have appeared on his show for extended and even-handed interviews. Moyers no longer appears on the show he created. It's been cut to 30 minutes. At Tomlinson's urging, PBS started a show centered around The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial board to balance "NOW" on Fridays. At a recent speech in St. Louis, Moyers took direct aim at Tomlinson, and he says he got into hot water because he broke the rules of Washington journalism.

BILL MOYERS (PBS Host): Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news. 

FOLKENFLIK: Other figures in public broadcasting are also critical. NPR's Klose says Tomlinson has failed to explain what he's doing and why he's doing it.

KLOSE: If I had any criticism at all, in addition to his inability to show any kind of a cooperative embrace of all the diversities inside public radio, he's not been very eloquent or actually even very clear or straightforward about what it is he intends.

FOLKENFLIK: PBS President Pat Mitchell is set to give a major address in Washington. She's expected to defend PBS and to express concerns about the CPB board's motivations in trying to assert more control over public broadcasting. After complaints by two congressional Democrats, CPB's inspector general is investigating whether Tomlinson's activities broke the law by engaging in illegal political interference in public broadcasting. Tomlinson says he's simply acting to ensure that its news programs are balanced. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

This story came before Tomlinson was shown the door -- and PBS crushed the two short-lived right-leaning shows The Wall Street Journal Editorial Report and Tucker Carlson Unfiltered. What came next was the newest version of an hour-long Bill Moyers Journal. Once again, Folkenflik was more cog than fair-and-balanced reporter.

No listener should ever trust public broadcasting when the subject is journalistic bias and media ethics. They have major troubles with both.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis