Education Reform

Tim Schwab: The Puzzling Rules about Financial Ties of Writers at the New York Times

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Tim Schwab, an independent journalist, has written several articles about the Gates Foundation and its canny strategy of subsidizing the media to assure favorable coverage. In his latest article, he describes how the New York Times has shielded two journalists with financial ties to the Gates Foundation. The Times apparently has a double standard. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed reported that Times’ columnist David Brooks was receiving a salary from the Aspen Institute while writing glowing articles about the Aspen Institute’s programs. In response, the Times required Brooks to give up his salary and retrospectively added an acknowledgement of his connection to several columns that lauded the Aspen Institute.

But for some inscrutable reason, the editors at the Times have ignored complaints about the financial relationship between the two other Times writers and the Gates Foundation.

Schwab writes:

Last summer, buried at the end of a long CJR investigation, I reported that two Times columnists, David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg, had been writing about the Gates Foundation for years without disclosing that they work for an outside group, the Solutions Journalism Network, that is heavily funded by the foundation. The columnists acknowledged the undisclosed conflict and asked the Times to belatedly disclose their ties to Gates in several previously published columns. The Times never followed through. In 2020, it told me it wasn’t a priority.

In the wake of the Brooks scandal, I followed up with the paper. I contacted Kathleen Kingsbury, the editor of the opinion section. I had previously contacted Kingsbury in 2019 and got no response. Kingsbury told me that the Times was finally adding belated financial disclosures to Bornstein and Rosenberg’s previously published columns. She noted in March that new disclosures had been appended to four columns, and the Times was working through a technical hurdle to correct two additional columns.

But Kingsbury wouldn’t tell me which ones, or how the Times decided it only six needed disclosures. In my CJR investigation, I had found fifteen columns that mention Bill and Melinda Gates, their private foundation, or the work it funds. I located one corrected column, a glowing review of the Gates-funded World Mosquito Program, which I had highlighted in my CJR investigation. Yet, Rosenberg wrote about the project again in 2019, and that column remains uncorrected.

Kingsbury also wouldn’t address why the Times deemed Brooks’s financial engagement with Aspen was incompatible with his column, but Bornstein and Rosenberg’s ties to the Gates-funded Solutions Journalism Network were not. When I pushed the Times to explain, Eileen Murphy, senior vice president of corporate communications for the Times, would not provide clarification. “We’re comfortable with where we have landed on this issue,” she said.

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