Et Tu NPR?
The interview also included a link to a NPR State Impact profile page for Michele Rhee that reads like it was crafted by Rhee's publicist, describing her as a crusading reformer trying to "build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education." The profile makes no mention of the controversy surrounding Michele Rhee's reform tactics, which have been discredited in a series of test-score cheating scandals.
NPR might describe State Impact's coverage of StudentsFirst as "news reporting" but at times it feel closer to outright shilling.
So, why would public radio be so willing to gush about groups like StudentsFirst and their pro-privatization agenda?
Well... it might have something to do with the fact that both NPR's State Impact and Rhee's StudentsFirst are funded by the same pro-privatization groups. In this case, the Walton Family Foundation, which has been funneling over $100 million a year to various right-wing efforts to break teachers unions and privatize public education--and that includes both NPR and StudentsFirst.
In 2012, the foundation gave Rhee's StudentsFirst $2 million. That same year, it cut NPR a hefty check for $1.4 million. The foundation classified both handouts--one to a respected news organization; the other to a notorious astroturf outfit--as "K-12 Education Reform Grants" to "Shape Public Policy." Among other grantees funded under this category include the the ultra-libertarian Institute for Justice and the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, both Koch-connected outfits involved in the nasty business of busting unions.
How much of the Waltons' $1.4 million NPR grant went specifically to fund the State Impact project is not entirely clear, but State Impact does list the Walton Family Foundation as a major donor on a "Supporters" page, hidden several clicks away from the program's homepage.
Looking through NPR's recent education coverage, it becomes clear very quickly that this glaring conflict-of-interest is not one-off event or an accidental editorial misstep.
In fact, pro- charter school bias and undisclosed conflicts-of-interest run rampant through NPR's education reporting. Take the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the past decade, it has funneled around $8.5 million to National Public Radio and its affiliate stations and networks, according to data compiled by the Seattle Times. And a good chunk of that money was specifically earmarked for "improving" NPR's education reporting.
For example: In 2009, the foundation gave National Public Radio a grant of $750,000 to support coverage of education issues on NPR programs, including the 'Morning Edition' and 'All Things Considered'." That same year, it sent another $651,768 to Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media to "strengthen the quality and quantity of reporting" on education issues. American Public Media produces NPR's Marketplace programming, which has also come under the corrupting influence of Wall Street and pro-austerity interests. (Read our previous reporting on that issue here, here, and here.)
A combined total of nearly $3 million from Gates and the Waltons? That's a whole lot of money just for education coverage -- and all of it's coming from two of the biggest backers of the push to privatize public education.
As recent investigation by Dissent magazine found that private philanthropies spend a combined $4 billion a year to hand public K-12 education to the private sector. The Gates and Walton foundations sit at the top of the food chain, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropic gifts to increase their leverage over a sector that's worth up to $1 trillion a year.
In 2011, the New York Times reported on the incredible scope of Gates' funding of education issues.
And sure enough, hosts and reporters of those NPR programs routinely struggled to cover charter schools, parent trigger campaigns and pro-charter outfits funded by Bill Gates and the Walton family in a positive light, all while keeping readers and listeners in the dark about the NPR's financial conflict of interest.
Here are just a few examples:
In December 2012, NPR's Morning Edition ran a six-minute segment titled, "In California, Parents Trigger Change At Failing School" about Parent Revolution and its parent trigger campaign in Adelanto.
The program described Parent Revolution in generally positive terms and gave a lot of air time to Ben Austin, the Beverly Hills political operative who runs the group and helped push the parent trigger law through California's legislature in 2010. It also aired the unsubstantiated rumors spread by Parent Revolution that the nefarious teachers' union threatened undocumented immigrants were with deportation if they signed Parent Revolution's trigger petition. (As I revealed in my "Pulling the Trigger" piece, the exact opposite was true: Parent Revolution was offering to help fix the immigration problems of undocumented parents in return for their support of the parent trigger campaign.)
In the end, NPR conceded that Parent Revolution's campaign was "incredibly disruptive" to the community, but concluded that it was a step in the right positive direction:
And, while the program identified the Gates and Walton foundations as funding Parent Revolution and the parent trigger movement (the two foundations gave a combined $7.8 million to Parent Revolution from 2009 to 2012), NPR didn't see fit to tell listeners that Walton and Gates were also major funders of their own education coverage.
But this wasn't NPR's first mention of Parent Revolution and Adelanto. Two months earlier, in September 2012, it had broadcast another parent trigger conflict-of-interest fluff job: a segment on Talk of the Nation called Parent-Trigger Laws: A Bold Plan To Save Schools.
For nearly 15 minutes, host Neal Conan promoted "Don't Back Down," an "issues" movie in which indie superstar Maggie Gyllenhaal uses the parent trigger law to fight back lazy school teachers and their corrupt union bosses. Conan then used the film (which was produced by right-wing billionaire and school privatization supporter Phillip Anschutz) to describe a real life parent trigger campaign that was being waged by Parent Revolution in the desert town of Adelanto.
Here's Conan introducing the segment:
Conan's sole guest was Sean Cavanagh, an assistant editor at the influential Education Week magazine.
Cavanagh praised parent trigger "reform" law, and described Adelanto's parent trigger campaign as having wide parent support: "I can't think of many issues where it's easy to get, you know, 51 percent of parents at a school behind -- behind any effort."
And this is where NPR's coverage got real sleazy.
See, not only was NPR's Conan doing a fluff piece on a corporate front group bankrolled by two of the radio network's major funders, without disclosing this conflict-of-interest to listeners. But Cavanagh, the sole expert invited onto the program to talk about these issues, was also being paid out of the same bucket, and he wasn't saying anything about it either.
In 2011, the Gates Foundation gave Education Week a $2 million grant to support coverage "focusing on the education industry and innovation in K-12 education." The foundation gave the Education Week an additional $5.2 million from 2005 to 2009 to create "special reports on education"
Among other duties, Cavanagh runs Education Week's "Charters & Choice" blog. A few days ago, that blog boosted a study published by Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice that supposedly shows how school vouchers and other school privatization schemes "can help boost the academic performance of students making use of those programs." As it turns out, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which was founded by Milton Friedman and his wife Rose in the mid-90s, is also funded by the Waltons. Their foundation gave the outfit a combined $1.02 million from 2011 to 2012.
So not surprisingly, talking to Conen on NPR, Cavanagh had nothing but kind words to say about Parent Revolution:
That's right. That's right. Parent Revolution has been helping the parents from the very beginning. Their director is Ben Austin, who's actually a former Clinton administration, White House official. And they've been very active in trying to help the parents carry this movement forward. At the same time, you know, they make the argument, look, this is a parent-led effort, and we are going to do what the parents at Desert Trails Elementary want.
Let's go through that again: here we have a NPR program in which everything--the host, the interviewee and the subject being discussed--are all funded by the same pro-privatization outfits. And disclosures? Not a single one.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.