The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $319 million to fund news outlets, journalism centers and training programs, press associations, and specific media campaigns, raising questions about conflicts of interest and journalistic independence, Alan MacLeod reported for MintPress News in November 2021. “Today, it is possible for an individual to train as a reporter thanks to a Gates Foundation Grant, find work at a Gates-funded outlet, and to belong to a press association funded by Gates,” MacLeod wrote.
Based on examination of more than 30,000 individual grants, MacLeod reported that the Gates Foundation provides funding for “many of America’s most important news outlets”—including NPR (which has received $24.6 million in Gates funding), NBC ($4.3M), CNN ($3.6M), and the Atlantic ($1.4M)—and “a myriad of influential foreign organizations”—such as the Guardian ($12.9M), Der Spiegel ($5.4M), Le Monde ($4M), BBC ($3.6M), El País ($3.9M), and Al Jazeera ($1M). MacLeod’s report includes a number of Gates-funded news outlets that also regularly feature in Project Censored’s annual Top 25 story lists, such as the Solutions Journalism Network ($7.2M), The Conversation ($6.6M), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism ($1M), and ProPublica ($1M) in addition to the Guardian and the Atlantic.
Direct awards to news outlets often targeted specific issues, MacLeod reported. For example, CNN received $3.6 million to support “journalism on the everyday inequalities endured by women and girls across the world,” according to one grant.
Another grant earmarked $2.3 million for the Texas Tribune “to increase public awareness and engagement of education reform issues in Texas.” As MacLeod noted, given Bill Gates’s advocacy of the charter school movement—which undermines teachers’ unions and effectively aims to privatize the public education system—“a cynic might interpret this as planting pro-corporate charter school propaganda into the media, disguised as objective news reporting.”
In addition to cause-focused grants, the Gates Foundation has also provided $12 million to directly fund press and journalism associations. One organization, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents more than 200 outlets, received $3.2 million in Gates Foundation funding.
Additional Gates Foundation funds help to train journalists around the world “in the form of scholarships, courses, and workshops,” MacLeod reported. Given Gates’s known interests in the fields of education, health, and global development, the influence of Gates Foundation money on the training of journalists who will go on to work in those fields is another way that, in MacLeod’s words, the Gates Foundation maintains a “low profile” with “long tentacles.”
Although the Gates Foundation has often been lauded for its philanthropy, critics have warned about the ability of Bill Gates and other billionaires to use their extraordinary wealth to influence news and set the public agenda. From the acquisition of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, the wealthy Amazon founder, to Elon Musk’s stake in Twitter, tech billionaires increasingly wield “clear and obvious forms of media influence,” MacLeod wrote. (The publication of the MintPress News report predated the news that Musk sought to buy Twitter, a development that would only underscore the concerns raised by MacLeod.)
Noting that receiving Gates Foundation money does not make any media outlet “irredeemably corrupt,” MacLeod nonetheless warned that Gates’s money does introduce “a glaring conflict of interest whereby the very institutions we rely on to hold accountable one of the richest and most powerful men in the planet’s history are quietly being funded by him.”
No major corporate news outlets appear to have covered this issue. Independent journalist Matt Taibbi discussed it with Joe Rogan a few weeks after the publication of MacLeod’s report. The Grayzone republished the original MintPress News report, and Blaze Media published a story based on the MintPress story. As far back as 2011, the Seattle Times published an article investigating how the Gates Foundation’s “growing support of media organizations blurs the line between journalism and advocacy.”
Alan MacLeod, “Revealed: Documents Show Bill Gates Has Given $319 Million to Media Outlets,” MintPress News, November 15, 2021.
Student Researcher: Reagan Haynie (Loyola Marymount University)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)