On George Soros, Occupy Wall Street, and Reuters

Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:44pm EDT

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Wouldn’t it be ironic if Occupy Wall Street — the soi-disant “99%” — were being secretly funded by billionaire Davos Man George Soros, exemplar of the 1%? Well, no, it wouldn’t, actually. As Noreen Malone points out, lots of the 1% have, like Soros, expressed sympathy with OWS, including Bill Clinton, Ben Bernanke, and at least one member of the Buffett family. And when you’re sympathetic to a cause, and have lots of money, often you donate money to that cause.

But in this case it looks very much as though there’s no connection at all between Soros and OWS. That makes sense: for one thing, Soros is a creature of Wall Street himself, and for another, he tends to fund well-organized groups with specific goals. Which, clearly, OWS isn’t.

Which is why today’s Reuters story about the connection between Soros and OWS has elicited so much derision around the blogosphere. Beyond allowing us to shoehorn the #ows and #soros hashtags into a single tweet, there’s no real substance to it at all:

There has been much speculation over who is financing the disparate protest, which has spread to cities across America and lasted nearly four weeks. One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.

Soros and the protesters deny any connection. But Reuters did find indirect financial links between Soros and Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada which started the protests with an inventive marketing campaign aimed at sparking an Arab Spring type uprising against Wall Street. Moreover, Soros and the protesters share some ideological ground.

Yes, there are people — led, it would seem, by Rush Limbaugh — who are loudly speculating that Soros is funding OWS. There might conceivably be a story in their rabble-rousing, which could point out that Soros’s agenda is hardly secret — it’s right there on his website for all to see.

Alternatively, as John Carney points out, there’s an interesting story in the way that OWS has raised money, through crowdsourced means like Kickstarter.

But the angle we went with is not a story, especially since Soros says he’s never even heard of Adbusters.

According to disclosure documents from 2007-2009, Soros’ Open Society gave grants of $3.5 million to the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based group that acts almost like a clearing house for other donors, directing their contributions to liberal non-profit groups. Among others the Tides Center has partnered with are the Ford Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

Disclosure documents also show Tides, which declined comment, gave Adbusters grants of $185,000 from 2001-2010, including nearly $26,000 between 2007-2009.

The Tides Center is not some great sloshing pool of money which takes in money and hands it out. Yes, one of the many things that it offers foundations is the opportunity to create collective action funds, enabling a group of donors to channel their money in a collaborative manner. The fact that Soros gave money to Tides and that Tides gave money to Adbusters in no way means that there’s an “indirect financial link” between the two. That’s like saying that there’s an “indirect financial link” between me and Mitt Romney, because I lend money to Citigroup (I’m a depositor at Citibank), and Citigroup has given money to Romney.

Besides, OWS wasn’t even dreamed of back in 2009. If somehow some Soros money did make it to Adbusters between 2007 and 2009 — despite Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn’s clear statement that “he’s never given us a penny” — then that’s still a good two years away from any connection to OWS.

The article is particularly problematic from my perspective because I’m incredibly proud of Reuters’s long tradition of impartial journalism. I’m on the opinion side, not bound by such things, and if you think I’m biased you’re right. (I should mention here explicitly that this post, just like everything else on this blog, is my personal opinion. It may or may not be shared by others within the organization. But it should emphatically not be taken as representing the views of Thomson Reuters.)

Reuters news stories like the one about OWS are held to a very high standard of integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. And there’s lots in this article which tilts hard to the right.

There’s the idea that Rush Limbaugh is a good place to look if you want someone to “sum up the speculation” and provide the news hook for the entire story. The idea that the Council on Foreign Relations is a “liberal cause”. The idea that the protests were “triggered” by a campaign poster featuring a “battle-ready mob” of people “dressed in anarchist black”. The description of OWS as “the so-called occupation”. And then there’s this:

Since its obscure beginnings, the campaign has drawn global media attention in places as far-flung as Iran and China. The Times of London, however, was not alone when it called the protests “Passionate but Pointless.”

Reuters cannot — must not — get a reputation as a right-wing media outlet. We have to report the news as impartially as we can. In this case, there was no story, and nothing to report. Inventing a tenuous and intellectually-dishonest link between Soros and OWS might get us traffic from Matt Drudge — but that’s traffic which, frankly, we don’t particularly value or care for. Much more importantly, it serves to undermine the heart of what Reuters stands for. And we can never afford to do that.

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