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Franklin Center to critics: Read our stuff before you diss us

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Steven Greenhut is vice-president for journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Steven Greenhut of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has a message for non-profit journalists he claims are "breathlessly trying to portray us as right-wing-funded shills for the Republican agenda, without bothering to look at the substance of our work."

Everybody would be better off "if someone in this echo chamber would judge us on the character of our content rather than on the perceived biases based on assumptions about our funding," Greenhut writes in a commentary piece today on Watchdog.org, which is Franklin's investigative and political reporting platform.

In addition to his commentary today, he also dealt with the issue in a March 12, 2013, column on Huffington Post that asked "Has mainstream media forgotten how to report?"

As Franklin's vice president for journalism, Greenhut oversees a network of 30 editors and reporters covering politics and state government issues in 17 states, plus a staff of three reporters who focus on national issues.

His work and that of his editors and reporters has been criticized recently by Media Matters for America, the Center for Public Integrity, the UK's Guardian daily, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

The MMA is a liberal-oriented advocacy group that describes itself as "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

The Center for Public Integrity is devoted to "revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism," while the CJR is published by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University "to encourage excellence in journalism in the service of a free society."

These three groups may sound like they are entirely separate and distinct but Greenhut thinks otherwise because of the marked similarities in their approaches to covering Franklin. He also points to a reporter who writes for two of the groups.

"First, Media Matters wrote a piece about us, followed by a piece by the Center for Public Integrity that cites Media Matters, then Media Matters echoed CPI. The estimable Guardian and Columbia Journalism Review then regurgitated the same stuff without bothering to contact anyone from our organization. When we contacted the Guardian and CJR, they wouldn't allow a rebuttal -- but instead asked us to post our response in the readers' comment section," Greenhut said.

The shared personnel is CJR reporter Sasha, who notes on his personal web site that he also writes for CPI.

Noticeably absent from the critical coverage are direct quotations from stories written by reporters directed by Greenhut. The Guardian piece, for example, makes a concrete charge - that Franklin reporters are paid by anonymous "conservative billionaires" in "an aggressive anti-climate media strategy, led by the Franklin Centre, to push back against climate action," with particular focus on wind farms and solar energy projects, and against state efforts to expand such efforts.

But while the Guardian cites two specific donors as funding the alleged campaign, the UK publication doesn't cite a single example of a Franklin news story published as a result of the funding.

On that very point, Greenhut writes that "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.'"

Greenhut's responses to Franklin's critics highlights an issue - the extreme imbalance between mainstream media coverage of the funding behind conservative groups and the funding behind liberal and left-wing groups - on which I focused earlier this week as well, here and here.

The extreme imbalance is seen in searches of the sites of The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as that of Common Cause, the grand poobah of "money corrupts politics" advocacy.

Searches of this trio's web sites found hundreds of links to posts concerning Charles and David Koch, the libertarian businessmen seen on the Left as epitomizing the evil influence of the wealthy, but barely dozens of links to posts about the Tides Foundation, the San Francisco-based foundation that has funded virtually every left-wing or radical cause and group since before the Clinton administration.

The same imbalance is seen among Franklin's critics. Searches of the Guardian's site, for example, found 145 posts on the Koch Brothers, but only 10 to Tides. For CPI, the imbalance is especially extreme, with 2,270 posts mentioning the Koch Brothers and nine in which Tides appears, which is perhaps ironic considering the fine investigative work the group has done on a variety of other issues.

For CJR, the numbers are 105 Koch Brothers posts and a mere four on Tides.

The MMA numbers - 52 for Koch Brothers and 111 for Tides - appear to indicate an imbalance in the opposite direction, but many of the Tides link are to MMA posts criticizing Glenn Beck, who often focuses on the funding activities of left-wing foundations like Tides.

In the final analysis, criticism that assumes the published work product of an editor or reporter must necessarily reflect the biases and ideologies of the funders of his or her employer is an example of the ad hominem fallacy. Even so, it is a common template for media critics across the political spectrum.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner. He is an advisory board member for the Franklin Center.