July 24, 2008Critiques of liberal philanthropy are nothing new: indeed such criticisms have regularly surfaced ever since liberal foundations were created in the early twentieth century. In the past few years, however, the number of critical scholars and activists writing about practices of liberal foundations has grown rapidly, and there is now a blossoming literature showing the funding strategies of these highly influential philanthropists are antidemocratic and manipulative. The antidemocratic nature of liberal foundations is epitomized by the long history of collaboration (that formerly existed) between the largest major liberal foundations (like the Ford Foundation) and the US Central Intelligence Agency. Moreover, recent research has demonstrated the key leadership role that liberal foundations played in developing the means by which powerful elites could manufacture public (and elite) consent.
By focusing on a variety of progressive media-related groups in North America (including most notably the Benton Foundation and the newly launched The Real News Network), this article will discuss the limits of current funding strategies, and reflect upon alternative, arguably more sustainable (and democratic) methods by which civil society media groups may be created and sustained. It will be argued that the integral hegemonic function of liberal philanthropy has already deradicalised all manner of progressive social movements, and that civil society media groups need to cut their institutional ties with such financing sources. Admittedly solutions cannot be implemented immediately, but considering the increasing ascendancy of neoliberal media regimes worldwide it is vital that progressive concerned citizens call attention to this significant issue.
Liberal philanthropy plays a critical role in promoting and sustaining progressive media outlets within civil society, which are also referred to as 'alternative’ or 'autonomous’ media. Historically, the 'big three’ US-based liberal foundations – the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation – have nurtured progressive causes on both the national and international scale, dealing with issues ranging from health care and civil rights to environmentalism.  In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the influence of conservative philanthropy,  however, the same has not been true for liberal philanthropy: two notable exceptions to this trend are Professor Joan Roelofs seminal book, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s recent addition, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. This omission is problematic on a number of levels. Despite being ostensibly progressive, the major liberal foundations have at one time or another vigorously promoted all manner of not so progressive issues like eugenics, elite planning, and free trade; while they also worked hand-in-hand with the US Government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In this context, the big three liberal foundations have also funded the research of many of the 'founding fathers’ of mass communications research, arguably helping them to develop the capabilities for 'manufacturing consent’ for elite interests. 
Although the importance of money to progressive social movements and their associated media outlets is obvious to most people, surprisingly few academics have addressed this subject. It is widely acknowledged that conservative funding has, over the past few decades, driven the ideological orientation of mainstream media outlets rightwards. Research also suggests that liberal funders have had a detrimental and antidemocratic influence on processes of social change in general.  Such research also questions the role that 'charitable’ donations arguably play in sustaining capitalist hegemony. However, what is the effect specifically on the development of progressive media? To date only Bob Feldman (2007) has provided a critical examination of the nexus between liberal philanthropy and alternative media operations.  The lack of critical enquiry into the influence of liberal philanthropy on the media of progressive social movements is problematic, as media are integral to the function of social movements. This article will try to address this blind spot.
Compared to today, in the late 1960s and 1970s critical awareness among media activists was relatively high, thanks in part to a series of articles in the influential Ramparts magazine which asked: 
"Can anyone honestly believe that the foundations, which are based on the great American fortunes and administered by the present-day captains of American industry and finance, will systematically underwrite research which tends to undermine the pillars of the status quo, in particular the illusion that the corporate rich who benefit most from the system do not run it – at whatever cost to society – precisely to ensure their continued blessings?"
More recently, building upon this commonsensical interpretation of the role of liberal philanthropy within capitalist societies, Andrea Smith points out that: "From their inception, [liberal] foundations focused on research and dissemination of information designed ostensibly to ameliorate social issues-in a manner, however, that did not challenge capitalism".  Using this interpretation of the role of liberal philanthropy as a starting point and drawing upon Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony this article will expand upon Feldman’s ground-breaking study. It will document how liberal foundations have (and continue to) actively shape the evolution of progressive media groups in North America.
Initially, this article will introduce the work of the Benton Foundation, a liberal foundation that has played a pioneering and catalysing role in supporting progressive media ventures. It will then provide a detailed analysis of a globally significant media project, The Real News Network, which has been supported by liberal philanthropy. Drawing upon power structure research it will critically examine some of the key people and funders.  Finally, the article will discuss the limits of current funding strategies, and suggest an alternative, arguably more sustainable (and democratic) method by which civil society media groups may be created and sustained in the future.
Putting Progressive Communications on the Philanthropic Agenda
Upon the initiative of the late William Benton (1900-1973), the William Benton Foundation was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) private foundation in 1948, although in 1981 it was renamed the Benton Foundation. This foundation is now recognised as one of the leading sponsors of non-profit progressive media projects in the United States, alongside the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Its founder, William Benton is today credited as having "pushed the envelope… within the foundation world, urging them to take communications seriously and to use it to build democracy".  However, like most of the big liberal foundations in the US, the Benton Foundation has elitist roots: William Benton had strong links to the Rockefellers’ and other assorted corporate and political elites. Given this history, we must ask: "What type of democracy was William Benton trying to build?" This question will be addressed in the following.
The Benton Foundation is currently chaired by William Benton’s son, Charles Benton, who like his father maintains close ties to a number of less than progressive individuals, not least through his position on the Board of Trustees of The American Assembly.  Furthermore, he is a member of the international founding committee of The Real News (discussed later), and a trustee of the Education Development Center. The latter is a non-profit that describes its work as being "dedicated to enhancing learning, promoting health, and fostering a deeper understanding of the world." It was created in 1958, and from the beginning the Ford Foundation has been involved with its work. From 1958-68 the Ford Foundation helped the Center create a "complete high school physics curriculum" for US schools.  Another notable early supporter of the Education Development Center’s activities was the US Agency for International Development (AID), which between 1961 and 1976 funded their African Mathematics Programs.  Today the Center has a staff of over 500 people and a budget in excess of $90 million. Its funding comes from USAID and liberal philanthropic organizations such as the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. 
Sitting with Charles Benton on the Board of Trustees of the Education Development Center is Larry Irving, the former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Irving is "widely credited with coining the term 'the digital divide’" and with being "a point person" in ensuring the successful passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Jim Kohlenberger, the Benton Foundation’s current senior fellow also "worked to help pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996".  This Act was strongly opposed by all progressive media groups.
Nonewithstanding these links to people who worked against progressive media groups in the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Benton Foundation has, and continues to be, an important supporter of progressive media initiatives within the United States. In a recent interview, Charles Benton explained that the Benton Foundation began funding of communication projects in the early 1980s, a time they were not on the agenda of other foundations. In 1981, the Benton Foundation "decided to work in support of philanthropy, and particularly the Council on Foundations, to try to beat the drum and raise the cry about the importance of communications to both foundations and their grantees". Since these early days the Benton Foundation’s annual budget for media reform has increased considerably and they now give away around $1 million a year to help "educat[e] the media reform community – policymakers, funders, and activists—about the crucial debates that help shape our media future".  The following section of this article will discuss the backgrounds of some key Foundation staff and directors.
The Benton Foundation: People and Projects
The president of the Benton Foundation from October 2001 to August 2004, Andrea L. Taylor, is a co-founder of Davis Creek Capital, LLC, a private equity fund created to invest in Internet and new media businesses led by women and people of color. Taylor was also involved in setting up the Media Fund at the Ford Foundation in the late 1980s, where she worked for nearly a decade to distribute some $50 million to independent media projects. Taylor presently serves as a trustee of the Ms. Foundation for Women, is a former director of the Cleveland Foundation, and the Council on Foundations: the latter group is an umbrella association of more than 2,100 grant making foundations and corporations that describes itself as "the voice of philanthropy".
After her work at the Benton Foundation, Taylor became vice president of the aforementioned Education Development Center, where she helped create, and was the founding president of, their Center for Media and Community. The Benton Foundation supported the launch of this center with a three year $668,000 grant, which has been described as the "largest single commitment in the foundation’s history". Other funders of the Center for Media and Community at the Education Development Center include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In June 2006, Taylor became Director for U.S. Community Affairs at Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft chief executive officer (CEO) Bill Gates is also the founder of the largest liberal foundation in the world, the Gates Foundation, a foundation that distributed some $2 billion of grants in 2007 alone.  Since 2002, the Gates Foundation has also worked closely with the Benton Foundation, for example on their WebJunction project – a project which aims to facilitate public access to computing facilities in public libraries within the United States.
The current president of the Benton Foundation (since 2006) is Gloria Tristani, the former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member. Trisani presently also serves on the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee alongside Charles Benton, is a member of The Real News international founding committee, and sits on the Board of Directors of Children Now. Other Children Now directors with a media background include Geoffrey Cowan (former head of Voice of America, currently a director of the Public Diplomacy Council), Donald Kennedy (editor-in-chief of Science magazine, a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation), and Lenny Mendonca (a director of the New America Foundation).
The Benton Foundation’s administrative manager, Cecilia Garcia first joined the Foundation in 1997. She has also helped produce the CD-ROM version of "Chicano: History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement," a major PBS documentary that was produced by the National Latino Communication Center with the help of a $0.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation.  Recently Garcia took some time out from her duties at the Benton Foundation to serve as the executive director of Connect for Kids – a childrens’ advocacy group that is managed by the Ford Foundation-funded non-profit, Forum for Youth Investment. Two of the five directors of Connect for Kids’ have links to the Benton Foundation: Joseph Getch, former Chief Financial Officer for the Benton Foundation and member of the Council on Foundations' research committee, and Charles Benton’s wife, Marjorie Craig Benton, board chair of the Council on Foundations from 1994 to 1996. Marjorie Craig Benton also serves as a director of the Microsoft-linked non-profit group, Room to Read.
Like their staff, Benton Foundation board members are well linked to political elites and the broader world of liberal philanthropy. Alongside Charles Benton, the other eight directors are: Adrianne Benton Furniss, former president and CEO of the Chicago-based publisher/distributor Home Vision Entertainment (acquired by Image Entertainment in 2005); Michael Smith (Benton Foundation Treasurer), former Australian Chairman of public relations firm Weber Shandwick, and CEO of his own firm, Inside PR; Elizabeth Daley, Founding Executive Director of the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication from 1994 to 2005; Terry Goddard, former Mayor of Phoenix, and trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 1992 to 2001;  Lee Lynch, former CEO of the Carmichael-Lynch Advertising Agency, and spouse of Terry Saario (a former director of the Benton Foundation and former program officer at the Ford Foundation); Henry Rivera, former FCC commissioner, and a partner of the law firm Wiley Rein and Fielding (controversial for defending the use of fake news); Leonard J. Schrager, former president of the Chicago Bar Foundation and the Chicago Bar Association; and Woodward Wickham, former vice president of the MacArthur Foundation, and a director of OneWorld United States.
Wickham’s links to the latter group are worth reviewing as OneWorld United States was created in 2000, as a joint project between the Benton Foundation and OneWorld International. OneWorld International is a Ford Foundation supported group that describes itself as the "world’s favourite and fastest-growing civil society network online, supporting people’s media to help build a more just global society". OneWorld also has links to the Benton Foundation: Larry Kirkman, currently a director of OneWorld United States, and chair of OneWorld International was president of the Benton Foundation from 1989 to 2001.
Charles Benton’s media connections are also of relevance to the topic of this article: In addition to presiding over the day to day activities of the Benton Foundation, Charles Benton is also chairman of Public Media, Inc. (a film and video publisher and distributor) and served as a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (known as 'the Gore Commission’). Charles Benton is also a member of the international founding committee of the recently launched alternative media network The Real News.The final section of this article will examine the philanthropic background of The Real News in some detail.
The Real News Network
Founded in 2007, The Real News describes itself as a "non-profit news and documentary network focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism". The Real News website proudly claims that they are "member supported and do not accept advertising, government or corporate funding" (emphasis in the original).  The site adds, "the Real News will be financed by the economic power of thousands of viewers like you around the world. Just 250,000 people paying $10 a month will make it happen", and claims there is "NO government funding; NO corporate funding; NO advertising; NO STRINGS".
The Real News’ mission statement suggests that Real News promotes independent and investigative journalism and is a grassroots effort. It fails to mention, however, that the project was launched with millions of dollars provided by leading US American liberal foundations. There may well have been no strings attached to the seed money, but there is little doubt that the foundations chose to support their project – as opposed to any alternative ones – because the Real News formula suited the foundations’ own philanthropic interests. How much influence the liberal foundations had in determining the makeup of The Real News advisory boards and founding committees will remain unknown until the issue becomes the focus of an in-depth investigative report. An investigation that is unlikely to be forthcoming from The Real News itself.
That said, this article does not aim to cast doubt on the progressive nature of the journalistic output of The Real News. The quality of the content is indisputably high and offers a real alternative to mainstream media. This article does try to draw attention, however, to the fact that The Real News has relied heavily on liberal philanthropists. It also tries to raise the question as to what this reliance means for the future of genuine grassroots initiatives attempting to promote comparable progressive media projects. In order to open the discussion the following sections of this article will briefly chart the launch of The Real News network, and the backgrounds of the people who are associated with the project.
The Real News can be considered the flagship project of a non-profit group that is known as Independent World Television (IWT). From Toronto (Canada), and formed in 2003, IWT was co-founded by Paul Jay and Sharmini Peries. Paul Jay, who is presently the CEO and chair of The Real News is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who was formerly the creator and executive producer of Canadian Broadcasting Centre Newsworld’s debate program counterSpin. On the other hand, Sharmini Peries, who until recently served as the director of policy and development for IWT, is an executive director of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. These two groups are have close connections to the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy.  The National Endowment for Democracy plays a big role in promoting United States’ foreign interests – which most notably saw them support the 2002 coup that temporarily removed President Hugo Chavez from power.  Ironically, Peries presently serves as a foreign policy advisor to President Chavez.
In 2005, Independent World Television received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to conduct a "feasibility and planning study on an innovative idea to create a news and current affairs TV network funded primarily by viewers". Two other liberal foundations, the MacArthur Foundation and the Haas Foundation also contributed to this planning study. IWT set out to create what would become The Real News using the services of EchoDitto – a consulting group that has done much work on projects connected to the United States’ Democratic Party. A website was launched on June 15, 2005 (www.IWTnews.com) to build an online community of supporters and donors. The goal of this first phase of IWT’s project was to raise a $7 million start-up budget from individual donors and foundations. By January 2007 IWT had "raised $5 million from several foundations, charitable trusts, individuals and unions, including the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation".  Having achieved this level of philanthropic support, IWT was then able to create The Real News website, at first with a limited news service to help get the full journalism project off the ground.
In an interview in early 2007, IWT co-founder Paul Jay said that during their first year of operations The Real News only required a further $4 million in funding from the public, but thereafter, with a full service provided, estimates their annual budget will require around $30 million a year. Obtaining such high levels of funding from the public within such a short space of time will undoubtedly be difficult. Camilo Wilson, one of IWT’s Internet strategy consultants suggested that this goal is too optimistic, noting that IWT will probably have to depend on greater support from liberal foundations in order to reach its long-term goal. 
In the following, this article will introduce some of the individuals who have given their support to launching this new media network.
Founded in 2003, the founding committee of the Independent World Television/The Real News consisted of 84 individuals, including Paul Jay as chair. The committee includes well-known progressives such as British member of parliament Tony Benn (UK), host of the popular "Democracy Now!" program Amy Goodman (USA), media scholar Robert McChesney (USA), media critic Danny Schechter (USA), literary author Gore Vidal (USA), historian Howard Zinn (USA) and journalist/author Naomi Klein (Canada).
Incidentally, Klein has provided a rare critical overview of the Ford Foundations history. In her book, The Shock Doctrine, she observes that the Ford Foundation was the "leading source of funding for the dissemination of the Chicago School ideology throughout Latin America". She adds,
"[Ford-funded institutions played a] …central role in the overthrow of Chile’s democracy, and its former students… appl[ied] their US education in a context of shocking brutality. Making matters more complicated for the foundation, this was the second time in just a few years that its protégés had chosen a violent route to power, the first case being the Berkeley Mafia’s meteoric rise to power in Indonesia after Suharto’s bloody [1965-66] coup." 
The Benton Foundation is also well represented on the IWT founding committee, with Gloria Tristani, Charles Benton and Mark Lloyd (former general counsel to the Benton Foundation now a senior fellow at the George Soros-linked Center for American Progress).
However, the IWT’s founding committee also includes some people with less progressive backgrounds such as Salih Booker, current executive director of NED-funded group Global Rights, and former head of the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies Program, and former program officer for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa; Kenneth Roth, executive director of the NED-linked Human Rights Watch; Kim Spencer, President of Link TV, and co-founder of the NED-funded Internews; Shauna Sylvester, founder and executive director of the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS); and Jenny Toomey who until recently was the executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, and now serves as the program officer for Media and Cultural Policy at the Ford Foundation.
Indeed, even radical media critics, like Robert McChesney, work closely with these foundations, as his media reform group, Free Press, has also obtained Ford Foundation monies; while as early as March 1996, McChesney was a panel participant at the "Symposium of The Future of Public Service Media" – an event that was sponsored by both the Benton Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Given that Ford and Benton Foundations have extensive funding and personal ties in so many projects of progressive social change it is hardly surprising that most of the representatives of IWT’s founding committee also work for non-profit groups and projects that are funded by the Ford Foundation. However, this almost 'natural’ state of affairs should give us pause.
This article has focused on a small part of the philanthropic work undertaken by two foundations, the Ford Foundation and the Benton Foundation. Many other foundations are now engaged in ostensibly progressive media work: for example, in 2005 the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. It is no exaggeration to say such foundations wield enormous influence over which organizations grow and flourish, and which do not.
Those of us who take it as granted that the United States is a plutocracy not a democracy, find in this state of affairs their belief confirmed that the richest have access to society’s financial and political resources, and that they can engage in large-scale social engineering to make sure civil society is shaped in a manner compatible with their own elite interests. However, even activists, researchers and theorists who believe the United States is (or at least should be) a country of pluralism and representative democracy should be concerned about the amount of money flowing from these liberal foundations and begin documenting its effects on the development of the American progressive mediascape.
The first step towards short-circuiting philanthropic colonization of independent media systems, and civil society more generally, is for progressive groups to collectively act to delegitimize 'charitable’ manipulations. Yet if this process only occurs within the most radical parts of civil society – i.e. by groups that are already largely excluded from foundation funding – then overall very little will change. Even if some less radical groups presently supported by liberal foundations cut their ties to liberal foundation funding, the outcomes will be limited. Though this would swell the ranks of those operating outside of the liberal foundation-civil society nexus, other groups and individuals who are unaware (or unconcerned by) the problems associated with liberal philanthropy will quickly move into their place. A critical part of any campaign to encourage disassociation from elite funders needs to see the undertaking a large-scale education campaign directed towards the multitude of employees presently working within the non-profit industrial complex. 
Furthermore, a broad coalition of progressive groups need to work to problematize the current structure of civil society, and encourage the creation of civil society groups that embody and promote democratic principles rather than those that adopt corporate organizational structures designed to maximize revenue streams. Contrary to some progressive commentators’ advice it is important to remember that the non-profit sector does not have to be run like the business sector:  The public already gives a vast amount of money to charity each year. The problem is how this money is distributed, by whom and to whom. Currently, unaccountable and elite-run foundations distribute the public’s money to a select group of organizations who write proposals to fit the funder’s philosophy and who put their personnel on their boards. Diverting just a small proportion of this substantial and growing flow of financial resources toward truly progressive media projects – that is those that embody democratic structures that are founded without support of liberal philanthropists or foundations – will enable concerned citizens and media activists to move more confidently toward building a society with democratic structures.
Michael Barker is a British citizen based in Australia. Most of his other articles can be found here.
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 Barker, M. J. (2008), 'The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform,’ Global Media Journal, 1 (2), June 2, 2008.
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 Smith, A. (2007), 'Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,’ in INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. (Eds.), The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (pp. 1-18). Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, p.4.
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 Barker, M. J. (2008), 'Social Engineering, Progressive Media, and the Benton Foundation,’ A refereed paper presented to the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association International Conference, 2008: Power and Place, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand, July 9-11, 2008.
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 For a broad critique of USAID, see Weissman, S. (1974), The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid. San Francisco: Ramparts Press.
 Kelly, P. J. (2004), 'A Conversation with Charles and Marjorie Benton,’ Foundation News and Commentary, March/April 2004.
 Benton Foundation (2008), 'Who We Are,’ Benton Foundation.
 Benton Foundation (2005), '2005 Annual Report,’ Benton Foundation. Available at http://www.benton.org/benton_files/ar05_spreads.pdf Accessed on 28 April 2008.
 Barker, M. J. (2008), 'Bill Gates as Social Engineer: Introducing the World’s Largest Liberal Philanthropist,’ A refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Science Association conference, University of Queensland, July 6-9, 2008.
 For a critique see Barker, M. J. (2008) The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform?
 The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently headed by Ford Foundation trustee, Richard Moe.
 Citations obtained from The Real News website in May 2008.
 Barker, M. J. (2008) '"Independent" Journalism Organizations and a Polyarchal Public Sphere,’ Center for Research on Globalization. ??
 Barker, M. J. (2006). 'Taking the Risk out of Civil Society: HarnessingSocial Movements and Regulating Revolutions,’ Refereed paper presented tothe Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006.
 Dindar, S. (2007), 'Heard the Independent News?’ Ryerson Review of Journalism.
 Dindar, S. (2007), 'Heard the Independent News?’ Ryerson Review of Journalism.
 Klein, N. (2007), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Random House, pp.145-6.
 INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. (2007), The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.
 C.f. Shuman, M. H. & Fuller, M. (2005), 'The Revolution Will Not Be Grant Funded,’ Shelterforce, The Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Building, Issue 143.