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Is non-profit journalism, the growing practice of using tax free foundation dollars to sponsor what used to be done by now-fading advertiser-supported media, just for liberals?


Not if San Diego hotel magnate and GOP publisher Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego has anything to say about it - and it does, in a new "collaborative project of editorials and independent commentaries,” created "in partnership" with a Virginia non-profit corporation that has been tied to the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

On Sunday, the U-T - which has tried everything from racy Twitter collections (including a photo of a young woman giving the finger to the Rock and Roll Marathon) to its own glitzy TV news operation - rolled out its latest:

Today, the U-T San Diego Editorial Board, in partnership with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, launches a project that we boldly hope will help change the direction of California before the Golden State becomes a failed state.

This series is unabashed commentary. But our assessment is informed by weeks of research along with lengthy interviews with key Democrats and Republicans.

According to the paper's announcement, Manchester's friend and political ally, Carl DeMaio, the ex-councilman and failed GOP mayoral candidate now running against Democratic Congressman Scott Peters, will offer his wisdom on "the proper size of government."

In addition, says the U-T, its "impressive lineup" of governmental expertise includes:

Former Gov. Gray Davis on how the Democrats became beholden to the special interests of the Left, and former Gov. Pete Wilson on how the Republican Party lost its way in California.

Former state Sen. Gloria Romero on how organized labor took control of California.

Education reformer and former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee on California schools and obstacles to reform.

But what exactly is the Franklin Center and precisely what role is it playing in the U-T crusade?

Depending on who's doing the talking, Franklin is either a faithful watchdog of big government or a right-wing plot to destroy legitimate journalism.

Founded in 2009 and headed by Jason Stverak, a one-time executive director of the North Dakota Republican party who managed ex-New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani's failed 2008 presidential bid in that state, the Alexandria, Virginia based non-profit reported getting $6.6 million in contributions during 2011, the most recent year for which disclosure reports are available.

According to its website, the center is intended "to help fill the void created as the nation’s newspapers cut back on their statehouse news coverage and investigative reporting in the wake of falling circulation and revenues."

All publications have a mission and a voice. We are unabashed in ours: to spotlight waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars by state and local governments.

We conform to the Society of Professional Journalists standards, follow AP style and are not partisan or political, but we always ask these questions when reporting on events: What does this mean for taxpayers? Will it advance or restrict individual freedom?

According to an April 2 report posted online by the Columbia Journalism Review, "In 2011, fully 95 percent of the Franklin Center’s revenues came from a charity called Donors Trust, whose top contributors were the Koch brothers."

The Franklin Center’s Vice President of Journalism, Steven Greenhut, told CJR that its donors play no role in shaping its coverage. When we sent Greenhut a list of questions for this piece, Greenhut responded in depth—and promptly published his answers in a strongly worded piece disputing any notion that conservative donors taint Watchdog’s coverage.

In his online reply to the questions posed by CJR, Greenhut wrote:

You are investigating the sources of our funding, as if there is anything there to actually investigate beyond what you, CPI, Media Matters, the Guardian and other lefty publications have already written.

Yes, Franklin Center is funded by donors and, no, we do not publish their names to respect their privacy.

Left-wing journalism enterprises also are funded by donors and often do not publish the names of their donors, but we haven’t seen any reports from CJR on those groups.

If you believe that conservative donors undermine our journalism, then surely you must believe that liberal donors undermine the journalism done by those outfits.

Then again, I suspect that the real problem is one of political philosophy: we have a different take on the news than you do.

Check out our stories on Watchdog.org and you might be shocked at how often we take aim at Republicans, how we criticize corporate welfare, promote civil liberties and present favorable articles on proposals to legalize marijuana.

By the way, since my reporters don’t know who funds the Franklin Center, I’m not sure how they can be unduly influenced by these supposed “dark money sources.”

The U-T San Diego story heading up the paper's new collaboration with the Franklin Center is co-bylined by Greenhut and U-T editorial chief Bill Osborne.

Speculation is rife that the newly announced alliance heralds a future work in progress between Manchester and the billionaire Kochs.

The suggestion that the La Jolla mega-millionaire and the oil magnates could become a major force in California journalism has been around for a few months, as the CJR report on Franklin noted:

A blog post in the LA Weekly, filed after the writer spoke to a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, suggested that the Kochs might team up in bidding for the paper with Doug Manchester, owner of the former San Diego Union-Tribune, known now as U-T San Diego.

Big-money sponsored news and spin is nothing new to San Diego, of course.

As previously reported here, La Jolla billionaire Democrat Irwin Jacobs, a major donor to President Barack Obama and other liberal causes - including the ACLU's efforts to abolish the state's death penalty - has given substantially to KPBS, San Diego State’s public television operation, and the Voice of San Diego, a local online news non-profit.

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photog921 June 3, 2013 @ 11:01 a.m.

Excellent piece. Very revealing. Who would have known? It takes a lot of looking under the layers to find the "reason" things are happening. It's not by chance and it's not benign.


Don Bauder June 3, 2013 @ 1:05 p.m.

Excellent piece of journalism, Matt. Best, Don Bauder


rdotinga June 3, 2013 @ 11:03 p.m.

So what about the big-money publisher of the Reader, who has a conservative political agenda and has pushed it through the pages of his newspaper?

Also: "Liberal" Irwin Jacobs endorsed very-non-liberal Carl DeMaio for mayor. Calling him a pure "liberal" is pure BS. (disclosure: I'm a freelance contributor to VOSD)


Fred Williams June 10, 2013 @ 9:21 p.m.

Hey Randy, old buddy, bold super-pro journalist with a bright future...remember when I told you to look into Lawful Intercept technology a few months back?

Well, you sure missed an opportunity. Maybe instead of policing the comments looking to deflect any criticism of your pay masters, you should be doing some...uh...journalism?

Matt Potter and Don Bauder can show you how it's done.


monaghan June 4, 2013 @ 10:47 a.m.

We certainly agree with VOSD freelance contributor rdotinga that VOSD moneybags Irwin Jacobs is a BS liberal.

As for plutocrat Reader publisher Jim Holman, he does financially support Roman Catholic-based pro-life causes and those campaign contributions are regularly reported by Reader senior editor Matt Potter. I don't share Holman's views on abortion, but I respect his principled commitment and appreciate the fact that he NEVER "pushes" his personal views "through the pages of his newspaper."

On the contrary, modest millionaire Holman rides the bus to work and for 40+ years has developed the alternative weekly Reader's unique strong advertising (SoCal fountain-of-youth) to support its unique strong news coverage (see Potter's scary story above) and many eclectic well-written features in weekly print and daily on-line editions. We appreciate all this -- and the fact that the Reader spares us any editorial Opinion.


glenn Aug. 4, 2013 @ 12:05 p.m.

I worry whenever one media outlet talks about another media outlet. It just sounds like competitors talking smack. The credibility is just not there.


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