MediaWatch: June 1989
Table of Contents:
Study: Reporting Follows Media Money
Last month MediaWatch published a study of the media's philanthropic foundations, demonstrating a pattern of financial support for liberal groups. When the foundations studied gave to political groups in the 1980s, they allocated 89.7 percent of their donations to liberal organizations and only 10.3 percent to conservative ones.
This month we have taken the research a step further, using the Nexis news data retrieval system to survey all news stories on selected political grantees from 1987 and 1988 in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. The foundations connected to them are, respectively, the New York Times Company Foundation, the Times Mirror Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund.
MediaWatch selected three issue areas that were supported most by media foundations: environmental groups, judicial groups opposed to the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and political think tanks. The study found that newspapers whose foundations donate money to a group also give that group more coverage. Think tanks that benefitted from media funding got less ideological labeling than newspapers connected to foundations that did not contribute.
Environmental Groups: A good example of the differences in coverage emerged in stories on the environment. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a recipient of $21,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, had 123 mentions in The New York Times. By comparison, non-contributing media companies covered EDF markedly less: 70 mentions in the Los Angeles Times, and 46 in The Washington Post. The National Audubon Society, given $8,000 by the New York Times Company Foundation and $90,000 by Times Mirror, was a subject of 72 stories in The New York Times and 69 stories in the Los Angeles Times. The Philip L. Graham Fund gave no money, and The Washington Post mentioned them in only 27 stories. The World Wildlife Fund-Conservation Foundation, which took in $157,000 from Times Mirror and $13,000 from The New York Times, appeared in the Los Angeles Times on 66 occasions and The New York Times on 61 occasions. The Graham Fund did not contribute, and the Post included them in only 27 articles.
Bork Opponents: A second area of marked difference in coverage was among judicial interest groups who opposed the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the most active anti-Bork lobbies, took in $20,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund in 1987 and $4,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation over four years. Times Mirror did not provide any financial support. In 1987 and 1988, The Lawyers Committee was a subject in 50 Washington Post stories, 14 in The New York Times, but only 7 in the Los Angeles Times.
The Women's Legal Defense Fund (WLDF) was granted $30,000 by the Philip L. Graham Fund, and was mentioned in 25 stories in The Washington Post. Compare that to 16 mentions in The New York Times, and 5 in the Los Angeles Times, which refrained from giving. The Graham Fund has given to WLDF's domestic violence project in Washington and not ostensibly for their liberal judicial agenda, but when the D.C. police department decided to make arrests in domestic violence cases, the Post placed the story on the front page and referred to WLDF four times, using their statistics.
The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) received $2,000 from the Washington Post Company and $10,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation. CDF tallied 86 mentions in The Washington Post and 51 in The New York Times. The Los Angeles Times, which did not give, was last with 41. The Feminist Press has received $15,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, but nothing from Times Mirror or the Philip L. Graham Fund. In 1987 and 1988, the Times mentioned the Feminist Press in 15 book features, compared to two each in The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The Post's "Book World" gave two brief mentions to Feminist Press books in its "New In Paperbacks" section. The Los Angeles Times reviewed one book and mentioned another in passing. But The New York Times gave them an entire feature story, two mentions in their "New and Noteworthy" section, and nine full-fledged reviews of 12 Feminist Press books.
Think Tanks: Differences are obvious in the coverage of two think tanks the media have identified as conservative: the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation. AEI received $32,500 from Times Mirror, $6,000 from the New York Times, and $10,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. Heritage received no money. AEI was mentioned in 478 stories to Heritage's 385. Of those mentions, 58.7 percent tagged Heritage and 17.2 percent labeled AEI. Heritage managed to place 18 editorials and book reviews in the three newspapers, while AEI had 64, not including editorials from moderate AEI political analyst William Schneider, a regular Los Angeles Times columnist.
The liberal think tanks that received media money were even less labeled than conservative groups that were funded. The Urban Institute has received $115,000 from Times Mirror, $5,000 from the New York Times Foundation, and $50,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. While AEI was labeled 17.2 percent of the time, the Urban Institute received only three labels in 140 stories (2.1 percent). The liberal Brookings Institution obtained $29,000 from the New York Times Company Foundation, $55,000 from the Times Mirror Foundation, and $10,000 from the Philip L. Graham Fund. Brookings was mentioned in 737 stories, but labeled only 10 times (1.4 percent).
It's hard to imagine any direct orders from corporate management to reporters demanding more coverage for grant recipients, but the pattern that emerges reveals very interesting, if merely coincidental, correlations. A media company which feels that a group is impressive enough to deserve funding seems to feel it is impressive enough to deserve their publicity.