The Columbia Journalism Review, the Columbia School of Journalism's media watchdog, published an extensive exposé by Tim Schwab detailing how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's financial ties to newsrooms, media organizations and fact-checkers, affects coverage about the foundation and topics related to its philanthropy. Using evidence from tax forms, publicly disclosed grant money, and media coverage itself, the exposé shows how publications from all across the political spectrum and even seemingly neutral publications, have bent their coverage to spin Bill Gates and his foundation's agenda in a positive light.
Whereas newsrooms once scrutinized Bill Gates for Microsoft's antitrust case with the Department of Justice, today, Bill Gates is nearly universally venerated by the press as a generous philanthropist. American news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic have even cited Bill Gates as a de-facto public health expert, despite him not having any medical training.
Schwab highlights how the grants given to newsrooms affect coverage on issues related to education, agriculture and healthcare, areas that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is heavily involved in. He points to the lack of negative coverage in American news outlets, particularly outlets which received grants from the Foundation, multiple specific cases of journalistic malpractice, the suppression of viewpoints contrary to Gates' agenda, and the recent 250 million in grants the foundation gave to newsrooms as evidence of this.
The exposé starts by showing how The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives funding to NPR in return for favorable coverage. One story on global poverty, for example, cited only two sources, the Gates Foundation and a representative from the Center for Global Development, a Gates-funded NGO.
"The lack of independent perspectives is hard to miss." Schwab writes. "Bill Gates is the second-richest man in the world and might reasonably be viewed as a totem of economic inequality, but NPR has transformed him into a moral authority on poverty."
The influence on coverage is sometimes more subtle. In August of 2019, NPR published a profile on a Harvard-run opportunity creation experiment designed to help low-income families find housing in wealthier neighborhoods. Schwab found that every expert cited in the piece was connected to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. NPR often publishes pieces written from the perspective of Gates and his grantees while reporting favorably on the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation regularly, especially in relation to their public health initiatives. Schwab writes,
"By the end of 2019, a spokesperson said, NPR had mentioned the foundation more than 560 times in its reporting, including 95 times on Goats and Soda, the outlet’s “global health and development blog,” which Gates helps fund...Even when NPR publishes critical reporting on Gates, it can feel scripted. In February 2018, NPR ran a story headlined “Bill Gates Addresses ‘Tough Questions’ on Poverty and Power.” The “tough questions” NPR posed in this Q&A were mostly based on a list curated by Gates himself, which he previously answered in a letter posted to his foundation’s website."
Schwab documents instances in which fact-checkers lied to protect Gates' from supposed "conspiracy theories" which are actually publicly verifiable facts. The fact-checkers Politifact and USA Today's fact-checker gave false ratings to the claim that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations has investments in companies developing vaccinations. The foundation's website and most recent tax forms show that the Gates Foundation does in fact have investments in such companies, including Gilead and CureVac. The Poytner institute which owns Politifact and Gannet which owns USA Today, both receive funds from the Gates Foundation.
Schwab concludes from the evidence that reporting on education, agriculture, and healthcare are particularly likely to be influenced by Foundation grants. My own investigations seem to confirm this. I have not found any major American newsrooms which reported on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations conflict of interest in funding ethically problematic observation studies on experimental vaccinations. A Reuter's Fact Check refuting the myth that Bill Gates was on trial in India fails to even mention that he was criticized for having conflicts of interest. The fact-check takes the word of PATH, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded non-profit's word as fact and disregards the finding of the Indian Parliament's Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare Investigation. According to the investigation, the studies that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded disregarded the possibility that the deaths of girls who took part in the study were related to the experimental vaccination, and instead labeled the deaths as caused by suicide. India's The Economic Times reports.
"The committee found that consent for conducting these studies, in many cases, was taken from the hostel wardens, which was a flagrant violation of norms. In many other cases, thumbprint impressions of their poor and illiterate parents were duly affixed onto the consent form. The children also had no idea about the nature of the disease or the vaccine. The authorities concerned could not furnish requisite consent forms for the vaccinated children in a huge number of cases…. The standing committee pulled up the relevant state governments for the shoddy investigation into these deaths. It said it was disturbed to find that “all the seven deaths were summarily dismissed as unrelated to vaccinations without in-depth investigations…the speculative causes were suicides, accidental drowning in well (why not suicide?), malaria, viral infections, subarachnoid hemorrhage (without autopsy) etc.”
Reuter's may have refuted the myth that Bill Gates was on trial in India, but their coverage completely misses the point that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded ethically compromised studies on vaccines while holding investments in vaccine developing companies.
Schwab closes his exposé with a call to action to hold billionaires to a higher level of scrutiny. He writes.
"A larger worry is the precedent the prevailing coverage of Gates sets for how we report on the next generation of tech billionaires–turned-philanthropists, including Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates has shown how seamlessly the most controversial industry captain can transform his public image from tech villain to benevolent philanthropist. Insofar as journalists are supposed to scrutinize wealth and power, Gates should probably be one of the most investigated people on earth—not the most admired."
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