Behind AP's 'Nonpartisan' Initiative To 'Reach New Audiences in an Election Year': Democratic Megadonors

(cropped from Mario Tama/Getty Images)
May 29, 2024

The Associated Press will partner with five nonprofit news organizations to beef up "nonpartisan" local news coverage in advance of the November election. Liberal advocacy groups and Democratic megadonors fund all of the AP's new partners, raising questions about the wire service's promise to provide "unbiased" news.

One of the AP's partners in the newly launched content-sharing agreement, California-based nonprofit CalMatters, was cofounded by Simone Otus Coxe, a public relations guru who contributed $100,000 to a pro-Joe Biden super PAC in 2020. Billionaire investor Laurene Powell Jobs's company, Emerson Collective, has contributed more than $1 million to CalMatters, as have Google cofounder Eric Schmidt's foundation and venture capitalist John Doerr. The trio have donated north of $5 million to President Biden's various political committees, according to campaign records.

That's representative of the funding arrangements for the AP's other newsroom partners: Nebraska Journalism Trust, Honolulu Civil Beat, Montana Free Press, and South Dakota News Watch. The wire service on Tuesday announced a content-sharing partnership with the five outlets that allows each partner to "share AP journalism" with its audiences. The AP in turn will distribute stories from the outlets to the thousands of news organizations that subscribe to its wire service.

The AP says the initiative aims to "reach new audiences in an election year," but the five organizations' liberal backing raises questions about whether they will receive the kind of unbiased news coverage it promises readers. Two of the outlets, CalMatters and Honolulu Civil Beat, coordinate with States Newsroom, a network of local news outlets that the AP itself has said is funded by "left-leaning sources." One media watchdog said States Newsroom "has been bought by people with a political agenda."

It's the latest partnership for the AP and liberal news organization billed as a nonpartisan initiative. The AP launched a content-sharing agreement in March with the Texas Tribune, an Austin-based outlet funded by a familiar group of Democratic donors: Powell Jobs's foundation, Bill Gates's foundation, and others. The Washington Free Beacon reported that liberal philanthropies such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Outrider Foundation, and the Ida B. Wells Society, cofounded by controversial historian Nikole Hannah-Jones, fund the AP's coverage of climate change, race, and democracy.

The AP's content-sharing arrangement initiative comes ahead of an election that Democrats worry will hand control of the White House and both houses of Congress to Republicans. Biden trails former president Donald Trump in most polls, and a slew of Democratic incumbents face tough Senate races.

There appear to be few if any conservative donors to the consortium, according to a Free Beacon analysis, and many of the news outlets share the same deep-pocketed Democratic backers. Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, donated to Nebraska Journalism Trust through the Emerson Collective, which has given more than $5 million to the American Journalism Project, a "venture philosophy" charity that in turn has given nearly $1 million to the Montana Free Press and at least $10,000 to the Nebraska Journalism Trust.

Pierre Omidyar, the progressive eBay cofounder who owns the liberal website The Intercept, has donated to Honolulu Civil Beat, which calls itself the only news organization in Hawaii that covers public affairs. Omidyar's Democracy Fund has given more than $1 million to the American Journalism Project.

John Arnold, a billionaire whose funding for police reform initiatives has drawn comparisons to progressive megadonor George Soros, funds CalMatters, Nebraska Journalism Trust, and the Montana Free Press through his firm Arnold Ventures.

Coxe, the CalMatters cofounder, has contributed more than $1 million to CalMatters and $160,000 to Montana Free Press. Her family charity, Coxe Family Fund, donates to Nebraska Journalism Trust.

South Dakota News Watch is funded by the Miami Foundation, a left-of-center philanthropy, and the Solutions Journalism Network. The network, which says it is "leading a global shift" in the journalism industry, is funded by Powell Jobs's Emerson Collective, the Gates Foundation, and progressive charities such as the Tides Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.

The Quadrivium Foundation, the philanthropy of James Murdoch, the anti-Trump son of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, has donated more than $5 million to the American Journalism Project. Biden supporter and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark's fund has donated $1 million to the project. Steve Silberstein, a prolific Democratic donor who also backs Media Matters, a Democratic opposition research website, has contributed more than $100,000 to CalMatters.

Dozens of other left-of-center organizations fund the consortium. The ACLU of Hawaii is a donor to the Honolulu Civil Beat. The Sherwood Foundation, a charity funded by Warren Buffett's daughter to foster "equity through social justice initiatives," is a "transformational" donor for the Nebraska Journalism Trust.

The Associated Press did not respond to a request for comment.