$364 Million from Taxpayers to Put Liberal Journalists’ Boots on the Ground in Syria

Rep. Smith: ‘Inexcusable and irresponsible.’ Led by self-described ‘Marxist,’ Internews founded liberal groups, promoted globalist agenda on taxpayer dime.

The 1st Amendment says Congress shall make no law “respecting the establishment" "of the press.” Someone should tell Congress. In 10 years, the U.S. government spent $364 million funding the liberal journalism nonprofit Internews, also supported by left-wing billionaire George Soros.

Internews was founded by a self-described Marxist anti-war protester. It has received $1.7 million from Soros, which pales in comparison to the fat government checks it has received. In 2011 alone, it sucked up $52,350,784 in government grants, according to its 990 tax forms. This made up 92.4 percent of the $56,644,153 in total reported revenue for that year.

And 2011 wasn’t unusual. According to the Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity, “all but $1.6 million of the $26.7 million in revenue it [Internews] reported in 2004 came from the federal government.”

Yet Internews runs a massive international journalism organization with a surprisingly small media footprint. Already a presence in more than 90 countries, including hotspot regions like Egypt, Libya and the “Palestinian Territories,” Internews has branched out into the latest conflict area to dominate the world stage: Syria.

Hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars have gone to this little-known, liberal journalism nonprofit since 2002, but the government agencies responsible for funding Internews didn’t seem to know much about it at all. And they certainly don’t like answering questions about it.

Maybe they realize what they are paying for. Far from being politically neutral, Internews pushes a liberal agenda and has helped to found at least three other liberal organizations.

To put its $364,325,778 in federal funding in perspective, Internews has gotten an average of $83,122.46 from taxpayers per day during the past 12 years. That’s $83,000 every single day for 12 years. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, said that so much money going to influence journalism is a real problem.

“People need unbiased information so that they can form their own opinions and make educated decisions.  It is only through fair reporting that the American people, and people worldwide, can benefit,” Rep. Smith told the Business and Media Institute. Smith, who heads the Media Fairness Caucus on the Hill, said: “One of the greatest challenges a democratic America faces today is a biased media.  It is inexcusable and irresponsible for the federal government to give American taxpayers’ dollars to a one-sided media organization.”

Many of Internews’ operations are based in regions hostile to the United States. Recently, Internews has posted job opportunities on its website, for programs based in Amman, Jordan, but focused on Syria. This “pan-regional Humanitarian Communications Program” will “disseminate timely, actionable and useful humanitarian information for target audiences about e.g. how to access and register for aid, provisions of food, water, shelter, security conditions, referral services, health practices and services, to name a few.” At least two of these positions, both labeled “Chief of Party,” required “journalism experience,” while the positions of “Humanitarian Radio Advisor” and “Humanitarian Reporting Trainer” required five years of media experience.

No Word on What Exactly Taxpayers Are Funding Here.

Most of Internews’ funding comes from the State Department and USAID. When asked, a USAID official told the Business and Media Institute that (emphasis added):

“Internews is one of many media training implementation partners that support USAID programs to train journalists on media skills, journalism ethics, communications during disasters and other media initiatives. Since 2009, Internews implemented more than 25 projects around the world for USAID.”

When pressed to say what these other “partners” were, USAID replaced the statement, with a second statement that said simply,

“Since FY 2009, Internews has received 25 awards from USAID for projects around the world.”

USAID did not respond to questions about how it justified funding a liberal organization so extensively

A State Department official statement admitted to $8.4 million in funding to Internews for two separate projects. The State Department did not respond to further questions from the Business and Media Institute.

The amount of government funding going to Internews is staggering. In 2011 alone, it received $52,350,784 in government grants, according to its 990 tax forms. This makes up 92.4 percent of the $56,644,153 in total reported revenue for that year. And 2011 wasn’t unusual. According to the Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity, “all but $1.6 million of the $26.7 million in revenue it [Internews] reported in 2004 came from the federal government.”

Those numbers, verified by Internews’ 2004 990s, mean that 94 percent of Internews’s budget for that year came from taxpayers. According to its 990s from 2002 to 2011, Internews received an average of 87.6 percent of all its funding from the government.

As might be expected, apparently giving so much money to Internews has made the government think that it controls the organization. Internews founder and president David Hoffman denied “much” pressure from the government on what to publish. Interviewed by The North Coast Journal in 2003, he spoke of the “government's failure to distinguish between what Internews is attempting to do – set up independent media – and what other governmental agencies, particularly the military, wants to do – issue propaganda to win hearts and minds.”

Ironically, in its “Toolkit for Reporting on Human Rights Issues,” Internews noted that “[i]n some places, the media are still controlled by the state,” and pointed to this as a cause for concern.

Despite its almost non-existent profile in the U.S., Internews has quite an extensive global reach. The organization operates in more than 70 countries, with global partners including Al Quds University (a Palestinian University), Central European University (which has received at least $250 million from Soros since 2000) and the University of California Berkeley (one of the most liberal colleges in the United States). Internews also claims to have trained more than 10,000 people in “journalism, production and management skills” in 2007 alone, according to the website.

More than $6.3 million in federal grants to Internews were designated for Palestinian organizations, including $124,400 to “sponsor the first-ever Palestinian social media conference.”

Government funding doesn’t mean balanced reporting. An article in Hoffman’s local paper, The Times-Standard, admitted that Internews has “what might be considered ‘left-wing’ origins.” Soros’s Open Society Foundations have given $776,311 to Internews since 2000, and Hoffman claims that the organization had gotten at least a million more before that.

Internews has also founded liberal organizations including Link TV, the Earth Journalism Network and Climate Commons. The Global Director for Internews’ Environmental Program called giving climate change skeptics equal time “false balance.”

Internews boasts prominent journalists on its board, including Chris Boskin, former chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Maureen Orth, special correspondent for Vanity Fair and John Walsh, Executive VP and Executive Editor for ESPN.

Recently appointed National Security Advisor Susan Rice also sat on the board of Internews from 2002 to 2005. Before being appointed, Susan Rice served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Rice gave false information on at least five different Sunday talk shows just days after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

A ‘Citizen Rising’

A 2013 book by Hoffman, “Citizen’s Rising,” failed to mention anything specific about Internews. It did, however, thank a number of people for “consistently supporting” Hoffman’s work, including former member of the National Security Council Tara Sonenshine, Raisa Scriabine of USAID, former Indiana Democrat Rep. Lee Hamilton of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Marguerite Sullivan of the State Department, Hamilton Fish of liberal publications The Nation and the Washington Spectator, and of course Susan Rice, George Soros and former president of Soros’ Open Society Institute Aryeh Neier.

While not giving much information about Internews, the book did provide some insight into Hoffman’s own influence with the U.S. Government. According to the first chapter of “Citizen’s Rising,” Hoffman personally both wrote and delivered a message from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to his Soviet counterpart, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet Lev Tolkunov.

After delivering the letter, Hoffman helped Tolkunov draft a response and delivered it back to O’Neill for him. “Back at the hotel, I had to shake my head at the surreal absurdity of writing letters on behalf of both the Soviet and American parliaments to each other,” Hoffman wrote.

These letters resulted in the seven segments of the Emmy award-winning “Capital to Capital,” series. This series featured the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, and Leonid Zolotarevsky, a Russian newscaster, as moderators, while political leaders from both sides debated each other, in an attempt to coexist. Hoffman credited these little-known “televised spacebridges” with “substantial arms reduction treaties” by “putting a face on the ‘enemy’ that they had been taught to fear” for both Americans and Soviets.

The official book launch party for Citizens Rising was held on Nov. 5 at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington D.C. The Human Rights Campaign, a liberal pro-gay marriage organization, refers to pro-traditional marriage organizations as “anti-gay extremists,” and even insisted on calling the conservative Family Research Council a “hate group” the week after that label inspired a shooting at FRC headquarters which injured the building manager. The Human Rights Campaign has also gotten $600,000 from Soros since 2000.

Helping to Expand the Left’s Influence.

Like so many other Soros-funded groups, Internews promotes a liberal agenda. Internews co-founded Link TV in 1999. That group, a left-wing news outlet and member of the liberal Media Consortium, has received $1,376,000 from Soros since 2000.

Jamal Dajani, Internews VP for Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, was formerly the VP of International News for Link TV, and worked for former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. Dajani is also a board member for New America Media, which is part of the Media Consortium, and blogs for the popular, left-wing site The Huffington Post.

Big on promoting environmental and climate change alarmism stories, Internews also founded the Earth Journalism Network, an environmental news organization. Together, Internews and the Earth Journalism Network co-founded Climate Commons, an interactive climate change site. But Internews doesn’t see a problem with hyping climate change as news.

James Fahn, the Global Director for Environmental Programs at Internews, warned against the “false balance” of giving climate change skeptics equal time, in an article he wrote for SciDev.net in 2009. “Some journalists, trying to be fair and balanced, report the views of climate change sceptics [sic] as a counterweight to climate change stories. But this can be a false balance if minority views are given equal prominence to well-accepted science.”

BMI contacted Internews to ask how it justified so much government funding, and whether or not it claimed to be politically neutral. Internews’ PR representative, John Boit of Melwood Global, responded that the group was “non-partisan,” noting that:

“With the goal of ensuring access to information for everyone, Internews has worked in more than 90 countries helping to develop local independent media since 1982. Its work includes such projects as disaster relief information to displaced populations, building and equipping radio stations run by and for the local population in underserved areas, training journalists in developing nations, and providing technical assistance.

”A non-partisan international development nonprofit, Internews' work has been funded through the US Agency for International Development, independent foundations and individual donors.”

Boit and Internews did not reply to additional requests for comment.

Despite a roughly $52-million annual budget, 30 years of operation and a staff and board that include media veterans and CEOs and offices in more than 70 countries, Internews has a very small media footprint. Since its founding, the three major networks have mentioned Internews exactly twice: once on CBS’s “The Early Show” when an interviewee mentioned the organization in passing and once on “ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings” in Jan. 1997, when a former ABC employee, then director of operations for Internews, was killed in Kazakhstan.

Internews is also conspicuously absent in U.S. newspapers. With the exception of six of op-eds written by Internews staff, and a handful of passing mentions, Internews has almost no American media presence at all since its founding. The Washington Post noted how Internews gets its funding twice: once on Jan. 11, 1997, and once on Jan. 18, 1997, when it said that “Internews gets about 70 percent of its money from the U.S. government and much of the rest from George Soros’s Open Society Institute.” The Jan. 18 story was about the same ABC reporter, Chris Gehring, who was killed.

Founded by Hoffman, a “Marxist anti-war activist,” “draft resister” and “anti-nuclear protestor,” Internews advertised itself as an organization dedicated to helping encourage a free press around the globe. According to an interview with Hoffman by John Hopkins University, the organization received a million dollars in seed money from Soros in 1992. In the interview, Hoffman insisted that “Internews turns down money from any source if it carries a requirement to promote an American geo-political agenda.” But apparently he has less of a problem with sources that promote a strong left-wing, globalist agenda.

According to a December 1995 article in Wired about the group, Hoffman contrasted the organization’s message of tolerance and human rights with a distaste for the actual word “peace.”  “I hate that word – peace,” Hoffman said in the article, noting that network executives would tune out when they heard the word. The same article noted that “many observers” might consider Hoffman’s use of U.S. taxpayer money to fund his operations around the globe as “mighty suspicious and ethically complex.”

Hoffman said that he thought that the Bush administration had tried to “influence and even package the news reported to the American public.” According to him, Internews was a counter to that, although he claimed that “conservatives have been stronger supporters than liberals.” Hoffman dismissed ties to any political party, claiming that “any ideology is dangerous, whether religious or political.”

Internews: A Liberal Agenda Funded by Soros – And the American People

Like many other journalism groups, Internews also has close ties to George Soros. Internews has received $776,311 in Soros funds since 2000, and $1 million in seed money in the early ‘90s. The organization also has several former Soros employees on staff, including President and CEO Jeanne Bourgault, who used to be a consultant for the Open Society Institute, and Josh Machleder, Internews VP for Europe and Eurasia Programs and for the Global Human Rights project, who also used to work for the Open Society Institute.

Soros has given more than $52 million to fund media operations since 2000. The Earth Journalism Network has also received funding from Soros, according to its 2010 brochure, but the amount was not specified.

The U.S. Department of State and three of its bureaus (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative) are listed as donors in the Internews annual reports for 2007 and 2008. They were also listed on the Internews “current donors” page, along with USAID and several UN departments.

The Business and Media Institute contacted the State Department repeatedly to determine how much money was donated to Internews. After five phone calls, the State Department pointed to only $8.4 million given to Internews between 2006 and 2012. BMI requested further information, but so far has received no response. USAID initially responded to requests by BMI but failed to provide any answers, and both Internews and the State Department were contacted with follow-up questions, but has not responded since June 12 of last year.

Rep. Smith told BMI that such actions by the government were unacceptable. “The federal government owes it to the American people to invest their federal tax dollars in a manner that is in Americans’ best interests.  Over the last 11 years, more than $364 million taxpayer dollars have been spent on a liberal journalism nonprofit organization known as ‘Internews.’  The organization also has received significant private funding from billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.  The American people want and deserve balanced media reporting, not one-sided coverage of the issues. “

Internews Donors:

American Taxpayers: $364,325,738 between 2002 and 2013. All information was taken from the 990 tax forms for Internews.

  • 2011: $52,350,784 (92.4% of total revenue)
  • 2010: $30,101,939 (71.6% of total revenue)
  • 2009: $30,745,460 (92.9% of total revenue)
  • 2008: $28,003,819 (90.5% of total revenue)
  • 2007: $25,236,162 (94.2% of total revenue)
  • 2006: $23,040,293 (91.2% of total revenue)
  • 2005: $21,331,917 (86.2% of total revenue)
  • 2004: $25, 069,832 (93.8% of total revenue)
  • 2003: $19,667,454 (86.7% of total revenue)
  • 2002: $15,019,035 (75.0% of total revenue)

According to USASpending.gov, taxpayers also gave Internews $63,079,778 in 2012, and have already given $52,011,182 so far in 2013.

Other Donors (Since 2000):

Knight Foundation: $2,600,000

MacArthur Foundation: $ 1,985,000

Open Society Institute (Soros): $1,776,311

Tides Foundation: $37,500

— Mike Ciandella is Research Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Mike Ciandella on Twitter.