Monday, November 16, 2009

More on

In the wake of our revelations concerning the affiliations of, publisher Len Lazarick has not responded to our story. But our investigation continues.

On November 2, the same day we wrote about’s secret right-wing links, Maryland Morning’s Sheilah Kast interviewed Lazarick and asked him about his site’s backing. Following is a partial transcript.

Kast: You’re a non-profit, Len, but it’s a business, and you’ve put a lot of the last few months into getting it going. Has that been more difficult than you expected?

Lazarick: I can’t say it’s more difficult than I expected, but it’s really been nice in the last two weeks to actually get back to reporting and doing content and not worrying about incorporation and bank accounts and workers comp for [reporter] Andy [Rosen] and health insurance and libel insurance and…

Kast: Part of why we’re talking to you is we think, as I guess you do, that this could be the wave of the future in journalism. So, do journalists need to get used to putting time into those kinds of activities?

Lazarick: Well, obviously as you grow, those things take up less time of what you’re doing. There’s always administrative sort of stuff that you have to do. But those things will take less time. And we just found out, literally, that we’re going to be getting a couple of paid fellows for the session next year from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. So we are likely to have four full-time reporters at the statehouse, which may wind up being the largest organization there.

Kast: The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is where you got your start-up grant, $100,000 as I understand it?

Lazarick: Uh, yeah, they don’t… actually, they don’t like us to talk about how much money is on, but yeah, they gave start-up funding, but eventually we have to become self-sufficient like YPR.

Kast: Right. Tell me about the Franklin Center.

Lazarick: They’ve been starting up these things around the country. They had been already funding investigative reporters at state-level think tanks. They’re focused on openness, transparency, accountability, responsiveness and they were founded in order to keep a light on state government. The American Journalism Review did a survey five years ago. There were about 600 statehouse reporters for daily newspapers around the country. This year there are 350. We know that national news is going to be covered by a lot of people. We expect that local news is going to be covered by smaller local newspapers. But it’s the state level where a lot of federal money gets spent, and certainly all the state money gets spent, needs that level of scrutiny.

Kast: I’m not trying to play gotcha here, but I’m struck, as you pointed out, the Franklin Center says its mission has to do with supporting openness and accountability. And yet, just as they don’t like you talking about how much your grant is, they don’t disclose their donors. I’m wondering if it’s uncomfortable not to know, or maybe you do but the public doesn’t know, the ultimate source of your start-up money.

Lazarick: No, actually I don’t, and there… other than their funding the proposal, there are no strings attached as far as I know.

Kast: Judging from the biographies of some staff at the Franklin Center, there are people with strong conservative credentials. That’s great, but as a journalist you know your next step would be to say “and where do they get their money” and we can’t find that out.

Lazarick: When I was told that the people at the Franklin Center have to sign and endorse the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, then I largely stopped worrying about what is the ideological orientation of some of the people involved in this.
The Franklin Center does not mention Lazarick or on its website, but Lazarick has claimed to receive funding from them in interviews with the Gazette and Howard County’s Business Monthly. Let’s take Lazarick at his word on that for a moment. The Franklin Center’s staff includes a person who vetted appointments for Virginia Republican Governor Jim Gilmore and raised money for a conservative legal foundation, a former reporter for the Washington Times and a former writer for National Review Online. There are no staffers with obvious liberal pedigrees. Jason Stverak, the organization’s President, “was Regional Field Director for the Sam Adams Alliance, where he worked with state groups and associations committed to promoting the free market policies. Jason also served as North Dakota Executive Director for the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee and spent six years as the Executive Director of the North Dakota Republican Party.” As Kast said in her interview with Lazarick, the organization does not disclose its donors.

The Franklin Center does admit that it was founded in January 2009 with a start-up grant from “the Sam Adams Alliance,” an organization that says little on its home page. The group merely states, “We are expanding our mission to serve a broad need for strategic communications among individuals and organizations who support free enterprise.” The Alliance’s Wikipedia entry says that its Chairman is an official with the conservative Club for Growth and the Center for Competitive Politics, which fights campaign finance regulation. The Alliance’s President was formerly the Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party.

Every affiliation we have turned up for links to a right-wing group, including the Media Research Center, the Business and Media Institute, the Free State Foundation and now the Franklin Center and the Sam Adams Alliance. But Lazarick chooses not to disclose any of these ties, except for the Franklin Center, and ignores our reporting.

Lazarick wants to be regarded as an equal to mainstream media (MSM) news sources like the Post, Gazette and Sun. Here’s the problem: those organizations disclose their affiliations. The Post is a publicly-traded company that files regular reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Gazette is owned by the Post. The Sun is part of the Tribune Company, which is owned by real estate billionaire Sam Zell. The Examiner is owned by conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz. The Washington Times is owned by Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. All of the above is public record.

Disclosure is embraced even by many in Maryland’s blogger community. MPW founder David Lublin said he was an American University professor in this blog’s very first post. I disclosed my employment by the Carpenters Union even before I became a regular writer on MPW. Conservative blogger Brian Griffiths is up front about his relationships with the Maryland Republican Party. Monoblogue’s Michael Swartz discloses his membership on the Wicomico County Republican Party Central Committee on his home page. And Just Up the Pike’s Dan Reed wrote about his hire by Montgomery County Council Member George Leventhal.

So now the largest statehouse news operation may well belong to a website with unknown financing and murky links to right-wing groups that does not meet the minimal disclosure standards of many bloggers. Is this what the world will look like after the mainstream media is gone?