Ethical? NY Times Columnist Tom Friedman Gushes Over Groups That He’s Funding


Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi found a new angle Tuesday on New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He asked: Should Friedman disclose when he writes about groups that he’s funding with his foundation? It seems like an obvious yes. But the Times says no. Farhi began: 

In two dozen opinion columns published by the New York Times over the past 15 years, Thomas Friedman has favorably cited the environmental organization Conservation International. He’s quoted its executives, employees and board members as experts on a variety of topics…He’s even traveled with the group’s scientists on excursions it organized to study fragile ecosystems in South America, Africa and Asia.

“Lost there, felt here,” he wrote in 2009, citing the group’s slogan — a reminder, he said, “that our natural world and climate constitute a tightly integrated system, and when species, forests and ocean life are depleted in one region, their loss will eventually be felt in another.”

What Friedman hasn’t divulged in any of his columns is that his family is a major financial supporter of Conservation International. According to public tax records, Friedman’s family foundation has donated $5.9 million to the organization since 2007, including $1.25 million in 2015….

The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author and his wife have been quiet benefactors, through their Ann B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation, of a long list of nonprofit groups engaged in education, environmental preservation and women’s health care, among other causes.

As you might guess, Friedman’s foundation recently gave $5,000 to Planned Parenthood (“women’s health care”).

The issue was raised at a Times shareholders meeting by a left-wing activist named Michael Petrelis. Publisher A.G. Sulzberger passed it on to subordinates who found disclosure unnecessary.

Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha reiterated that conclusion last month. She told The Post that although receiving money from an outside source might pose a conflict, “giving money to an organization doesn’t present the same issue.” Friedman isn’t receiving a personal benefit, she said, so “we see no ethical concern.”

Friedman declined to offer comment for this article.

It’s always amusing when newspapers say transparency isn’t necessary, and the journalist won’t return phone calls on his lack of transparency.

Petrelis was unmoved. He told Farhi “If Tucker Carlson had a charity and was giving money to the Proud Boys, I’d want to know that, and his viewers would want to know that.”  

On the whole, readers probably wouldn’t find it necessary for a columnist to disclose giving to less political charities than Planned Parenthood, but when you’re citing an advocacy group as the most wonderful experts, disclosure and transparency would be nice. 

Media companies and their owners would find it unbearable to have to disclose all of their philanthropic connections. Start with Jeff Bezos and Amazon and their charitable giving. The Washington Post would be pretty busy chasing all of that down.

What do you think?

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