Mixing Advocacy, Scholarly Research and Journalism: Can the New America Foundation Square the Circle?

In the spring semester of 2008, I was a fellow researching a paper on think tank ethics ("The Perils of Non-Profit Journalism") at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. I was thus pleased when the New America Foundation's President, Steve Coll, spoke at the Shorenstein Center on March 11, 2008, and expressed his commitment to high ethical standards for journalists, researchers and other think tank staff.

New America Foundation logoThe New America Foundation is a Washington, DC based think tank that has pioneered the introduction of journalism to the traditional think tank mix of advocacy and research. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Steve Coll is the former Managing Editor of the Washington Post and spent 20 years at the Post as a reporter and editor. Currently, in addition to serving as New America's President, Mr. Coll writes a column for The New Yorker magazine. Launched in 1999, the New America Foundation currently employs more than 100 individuals and has an annual budget of over $10 million. Its Chairman of the Board is Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, Inc.

Journalism "Saved My Life"

Aaron Glantz, the author of books about Iraq including The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle against America's Veterans, has written a powerful and emotional account of his encounter with a veteran who told him that his reporting "saved my life." Glantz has written about James Eggemeyer, an Iraq war veteran whose war injuries left him disabled and homeless while the Veterans Administration dithered on his disability


Jonah's Wail

"What happens when media monitors mangle journalism in ways far more severe than the work they're supposed to be appraising?" asks Eric Boehlert, analyzing a supposed critique of liberal media bias by conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg. Boehlert catches Goldberg in numerous distortions and outright falsehoods.


Lead Pipes vs. Crack Pipes

On January 26, the New York Times examined "The Epidemic That Wasn't" -- breathless news reporting from the 1980s that predicted an epidemic of irreparable damage to inner-city children whose mothers used crack cocaine. Actually, it turns out, the so-called "crack babies" are doing fine.


A Government Bailout for Journalism?

"In what may be a sign that we're approaching the time for last resorts, discussion of government funding for American journalism is gaining traction," writes Bill Mitchell of the Poynter Institute. "If government funding plans are among our options, let's explore them now, before the pressure's on to accept desperate measures without sufficient time to consider the consequences." In the Los Angeles Times, Geneva Overholser and Geoffrey Cowan point out that American journalism is suffering its own financial crisis, even though more people are consuming news than ever before.


The Cost of SLAPPing Down Journalism

Alan Rusbridger, who edits the British Guardian, thinks fear of libel lawsuits from big corporations may have contributed to journalists' failure to adequately report on the dangerous economic decisions that led to the recent implosion of the global financial system. In an article for the New York Review of Books, he recounts his own paper's "most recent serious brush with the British defamation laws" earlier this year when it was sued for libel by Tesco, one of the largest public companies in Britain and the fourth-largest retailer in the world.

The case centered around a report in the Guardian in which Rusbridger admits that the newspaper got some of its facts wrong. It reported correctly that Tesco was using complex financial deals to avoid paying taxes, but its reporters misunderstood the particulars of the arrangement, and "the sums avoided were much less than we had supposed."

The ensuing libel lawsuit from Tesco consumed more than a million dollars in legal fees, and threatened to go to millions more before it was settled out of court.


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