Sunday, March 20, 2005

Until very recently I was unaware of how at least seven broadcast journalists had charitable foundations and that two of them accept money from corporations.

There may be nothing ethically wrong with this, but my main concern is the issue of whether the journalists and their employers divulge information about the foundations and who funds them.

In a March 6 profile of CNN's new president Jonathan Klein in the Los Angeles Times, he was asked if talk show host Larry King qualifies as a journalist.

"I define a journalist as someone who asks questions, finds out answers and communicates them to an audience. Larry King has proven that he's among the best in the world at doing that," Klein told the paper.

But many television journalists don't have a foundation bearing their name that take sizable grants from a pharmaceutical firm.

The day after Klein's comments appeared in print, the Larry King Cardiac Foundation issued a release announcing an upcoming gala in Washington to raise funds to assist patients with heart disease.

"In support of the Foundation's ambitious goal to 'Save a Heart a Day,' Eli Lilly and Company recently committed to a $100,000 grant as well as donation of the vital anti-thrombotic medication ReoPro (abciximab) through Lilly's patient assistant program, Lilly Cares," noted the release.

Providing surgeries to people with heart illnesses is noble cause, but I'm not persuaded a journalist should attach his name to a charity that takes money from a drug company and still expect to maintain a degree of impartiality and balance.

The foundation's tax filings show it has given $2,877,506 since 1998 to individuals and research programs since 1998.

King's bosses have no problem with their best-known personality establishing his foundation. Indeed, the bio for King on CNN's site mentions his foundation and the work it does.

However, CNN does not disclose the King charity's partnership with the Lilly Company and in the interests of media transparency, I think the cable network should reveal King's ties with the firm.

King is not alone among broadcast journalists with a foundation.

Peter Jennings of ABC News' World News Tonight has a charity bearing his valued name. The IRS 990 files for the Peter Jennings Foundation show he is the primary contributor, with additional revenue generated from the foundation's stock holdings.

From 1998 through 2003 the foundation gave out $480,000 to dozens of charities addressing social matters; literacy, homelessness, hunger and drug addiction. Practically all of the charities are in New York metropolitan area. The nonprofit receiving the most money from Jennings' foundation during that period was Teach for America. Jennings has donated $125,000 to the group.

Unlike King's biography on CNN's site, the ABC News site's information on Jennings does not provide any inkling of his private foundation.

Barbara Walters, also of ABC News, has a foundation to support institutions of her choosing.

Only three years worth of IRS 990 reports for the Barbara Walters Charitable Trust are available on the web: 2001, 2002, 2003. The reports illustrate how the trust receives all of its funding either from Walters or stocks.

Walters' trust gave out $1,288,835, and like Jennings, the recipients are in same geographic area addressing similar social problems. The biggest donation from the trust was a $1 million gift to her alma mater Sarah Lawrence College for a visual arts center.

The trust is not referenced on Walters' bio page on the ABC News site.

Two journalists at NBC News have foundations: Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw.

The Russert Family Foundations has only two directors; the NBC news man and his wife, Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine.

Funding for the foundation comes from the couple and starting in 1998, it has doled out a total of $353,430. Most of the Russert nonprofit's largesse went to Catholic schools and charities across the country.

Although he's retired from anchoring duties, Brokaw will produce news specials and offer commentary for NBC. His Brokaw Family Foundation gets its money from Fast Track Productions, which may be Brokaw's production company. Googling Fast Track Productions turned up no hits explaining what it is or who runs it.

In any event, this foundation funded assorted charities, primarily environmental and conservation groups around the nation, to the tune of $1,717,050 from 1998 through 2002.

Two things stand out in the list of contributions made by Brokaw's foundation. First, about 20% of the donations went to organizations in his home state of South Dakota. And second, the Committee to Protect Journalists has taken in $175,000 from the foundation, which is in keeping with Brokaw's professional duties.

The web site for NBC News fails to mention both men's foundations.

Over at Fox News, correspondent Gerald Foundation has his Maravilla Foundation and according to the Harry Walker Agency, an exclusive speaker's agency that represents him, in 1990 "he founded the Maravilla Foundation; a nonprofit organization dedicated to equal opportunity education and 'adopted' a class of junior high school students. Rivera promised to subsidize their college education contingent upon completion of high school."

For the years 1998 through 2003, Rivera's charity has contributed $241,601 for the students' college costs.

And Fox's bio page for Rivera omits any reference to the Maravilla Foundation and its work.

Not to be outdone by its network and cable counterparts, the Public Broadcasting System also employs a journalist with a charity.

Talk show host Tavis Smiley has a foundation bearing his name and since 2000, his foundation has spent $3,398,820 conducting workshops and leadership forums in major cities encouraging youth in college and career endeavors, according to tax returns.

The web site for the Tavis Smiley Foundation reveals significant funding comes from several corporations, including Coca Cola, Hyundai and Microsoft.

PBS's web site highlights the foundation on the Smiley show's page.

In my opinion, as a news consumer, media transparency demands that CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox and PBS disclose as much information as possible on their sites educating readers about these foundations, their funding sources and who receives money from the charities.

(A note about my sources. Much of the information about the foundations came from their tax files posted on

No comments: