NPR ombud Alicia Shepard has a piece (5/25/11) about internal discomfort with a recent $1.8 million grant from the George Soros-connected Open Society Foundation.
The money is for a worthy purpose.
NPR is using the two-year grant as seed money to start a local-national initiative, known as the Impact on Government project. Eventually, the plan is to have two public radio reporters in every state keeping tabs on state government issues that are woefully under-reported by the media. This is to be a multi-media project for radio, the Web and social media.
It's hard to argue against the need for more vigorous coverage of statehouse issues. Corporate-owned media are not likely to do this, so local public radio would seem like a good fit.
Shepard writes that some NPR journalists are uncomfortable with taking money from a foundation tied to someone with well-known political views. Shepard cites one:
"I do have problems with it precisely because he is so left wing and were he on the other side I would still have problems with it," said a long-time NPR producer. "I don't have a problem with people supporting particular causes but I do have a problem when obvious partisanship spills over into your support of those causes."
Shepard seems to share the unease, writing that having other funders for the project would help alleviate perception problems:
Diversification of funders would go a long way toward diluting any suspicions about a Soros connection. The sooner NPR can provide a varied list of funders for this project, the quicker valid concerns about perceptions and reality will diminish–if not go away.
If the goal is to quiet the critics on the right, who have made a lot of noise about the Soros money, then having a few other funders is not likely to matter.
But it's worth pointing out the fact NPR gets a lot of money from major (and not so major) corporations. If the problem with Soros funding is that his politics might affect the journalistic product, are similar worries expressed about NPR's connections to this (very partial) list of corporate donors listed in NPR's 2009 annual report? If not, why not? Many of them have political agendas they pursue in Washington and elsewhere.
American Express Company
America's Natural Gas Alliance
Bank of America
Constellation Energy Group
Dow Chemical Company
General Motors Company
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Toyota Motor Corporation
University of Phoenix
Wells Fargo Advisors