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When Integrity Doesn't Mean What You Think it Means

2:04 PM, Sep 6, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Center for Public Integrity

Politico's Keach Hagey reported last week on what appeared to be, and was later confirmed as, coordination between the not for profit and allegedly non-partisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the environmental activist group Greenpeace. Each organization had produced a report on the chemical industry and how Koch Industries, in addition to its support for free market policies, had also opposed some regulations that Greenpeace and CPI believe are necessary in order to save the whales or something. So Politico reports that the two groups coordinated the release of their reports—something CPI neglected to mention in the course of their own reporting—but that CPI was confident nothing untoward or unseemly or unethical had taken place. “We did a piece on the Kochs a while back looking at their lobbying activities,” Randy Barrett, a spokesman for CPI, told Politico. “Greenpeace got interested in that, and as we were doing research for the story, we became aware that they were also working on it, separately. There were conversations. They didn’t want to go ahead of us.” 

Ahh—there were conversations. So then Hagey reports that—surprise!—the chief operating officer of CPI also sits on the board of Greenpeace (it must have been a very intimate series of conversations that were had). At which point Jennifer Rubin starts asking questions about whether this is standard practice at CPI—as in, do you guys coordinate all your work with left wing advocacy organizations? The answer, again from Randy Barrett, was of course not. “Honestly this is a first.” 

At which point Hagey reports that—surprise!—this isn't the first time CPI coordinated its reporting with left wing advocacy groups. Moreover, they've taken funding from those same left wing advocacy groups to support the reporting they are coordinating with those advocacy groups. Per Hagey:

I found two other examples of the center coordinating with advocacy organizations around the release of its reports. In both cases, those organizations had funded the journalism, and then helped promote it – through press releases, events and links on their websites timed to coincide with the reports’ publication.

At which point Rubin goes back to CPI spokesman Randy Barrett with a pretty obvious question: Why did you lie about CPI's history of coordination with advocacy groups? At this point CPI declined to make Mr. Barrett available for any more comments and put Rubin on with the center's director, Bill Buzenberg. Rubin reports:

Buzenberg called me back quite agitated, insisting, “You need to get it through your head that we are solely responsible for our work. Nobody has anything to say about it.” As for his spokesman’s comments, Buzenberg said that the news organization’s designated spokesman was “not as clear as he should be on how we operate.” He reiterated, “You gotta get clear how we operate!” I asked him if his spokesman had been misleading. He repeated again that his press person wasn’t clear and in the future I should come to him.

As Rubin points out, “If a news group takes funding from groups with a particular bent and consistently produces work that confirms that bent there is a question as to whether the journalism is truly objective. By declining to work on stories from certain foundations CPI is pre-selecting its stories and thereby only investigating matters from foundations it in essence ‘likes.’ CPI insists there is a ‘firewall’ and there is no connection between funding and outcome. But who is kidding whom here?”

Advocacy journalism isn't an inherently bad thing, but lying over and over again does suggest a lack of integrity.

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