Media fairness

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

"Media fairness" is a public relations catch-phrase for the common desire that polluting and harmful industries have for a compliant media which publishes only non-critical material on big corporations.

In 1996-97 Burson-Marsteller promoted the idea to Philip Morris that it lead an industry attack on the credibility of the media using such things as the recent outrage over paparazzi after the death of Princess Diana. It sought to use the credibility of some media watchdog organizations for lobbying purposes, suggesting:

...[T]hose we feel should be targeted for a potential partnership are starred on the chart on the following page. The characteristics these organizations share is a credible mainstream ideology, high-profile presence, and history of working on corporate-funded projects.[1]

The days when the popular media were seen as allies of tobacco in support of the Freedom to Advertise campaign, were long gone, and, as B-M explained, "the vexing question is not IF there is a need for greater media fairness, but rather HOW we will achieve this goal."[2]

Media surveys

In the late 1990s, Phillip Morris (PM) had funded a Louis Harris poll of 3004 adults, which found that only 51% of adults think the media "usually get the facts right." PM saw this as an opportunity to get into bed with Press Clubs and journalistic schools, which were also becoming highly critical of the media moguls and the tabloidization of the American press. They identified a number of possible targets:

  • Denver Press Club, for instance, was seen as being "receptive to partnerships, sponsorships and exhibits for all of its activities," while the
  • Milwaukee Press Club - "has periodic civic/social dinners, holds an annual meeting and awards scholarships to journalism students. Sponsorship opportunities may exist for one of these events."
  • New York Press Club - "holds numerous business and social events including monthly meeting, debates, seminars, an awards dinner, a holiday party and a summer boat trip. These events offer a plethora of opportunities to propose speakers and sponsorships. [S]ponsorship is solicited for the annual Christmas party and for the annual Installation Awards Dinner held in May."[3]

Favored Media Watchdogs

  • National News Council: In 1973, the National News Council was formed with a $100,000 grant from the Twentieth Century Fund to counter the "unfair reporting" of the Nixon Administration.[citation needed] The council, however, never enjoyed the support of the journalism establishment. It lasted only a decade because of opposition from prominent journalists like Walter Cronkite, and the two key publishing groups, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.[citation needed]

Philip Morris's strategy document for December 1997 list seven media watchdog groups which it viewed as potential partners in "media fairness initiatives during 1998" (e.g. establishing a study of the "liberal media") to cost $20-30,000. The study was to be conducted in "the top 10 media markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Atlanta)."

Their list including:

CMPA has shown an interest in investigating issues of media fairness, and has done so at the request of Philip Morris in the past.

  • The Media lnstitute - This was the outfit of Republican right-winger Leo Brent Bozell III (See below)
  • The Twentieth Century Fund - supposedly a nonpartisan foundation involved in "progressive public policy". But also the fund which, In 1973, gave the the National News Council $100,000 to counter the "unfair reporting" of the Nixon Administration.[citation needed]
  • The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward press, politics and public policy issues. The Center conducts regular national surveys which measure public attentiveness to news stories, as well as general trends in values and political and social attitudes. The Pew Center is sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Since the Pew Research Center is fully funded by a Pew Charitable Trusts grant, the possibility of a direct corporate donation is unlikely, although the company could publicly support Pew initiatives.[citation needed]

Credibility is the key

This shows the way in which the lobbying industry chooses to use a highly credible organization as its front. Those watchdogs with the most credibility, (according to B-M) were The Pew Center, followed by the Center for Media and Public Affairs and the Roper Center, and:

In addition, the modus operandi of these three organizations most closely parallels the objectives of this strategy, in that they are all oriented towards research in the public interest.[citation needed]

In this case, Philip Morris was not intending to use corrupt intermediary institutions at all, but to turn to their own advantage those with high credibility. The manipulation would come after the survey, when they planned to control the promotion of the findings:

Once the study is completed, we recommend holding a C-SPAN televised press conference at the National Press Club to announce the results and the call to action.

PM's sponsorship of the study and press conference should be fully disclosed, with the disclaimer that the company is taking a totally hands-off approach to the study and initiatives stemming from it.

Their assumption that, following the "independent survey" there would necessarily be a "call to action", suggests that they had no intention of "taking a totally hands-off approach". They then planned to spend another $75-100,000 to:

... launch a roadshow of the study in these markets. The goal of the roadshows would be to create the want for news councils in targeted communities and gain buy-in from local business leaders and media organizations [using] several press/business clubs that would be ideal partner for PM in this initiative, they include: The Atlanta Press Club; City Club of Cleveland; Denver Press Club; Economic Club of Detroit; Milwaukee Press Club; New York Press Club; and the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania;

They clearly expected to see business-oriented conservative forces controlling these new local News Councils, and, in Stage 3, they would move into journalism training:

Journalism schools are not only the training ground for future reporters, they also have the potential to serve as hotbeds of controversy regarding stories that appear in campus newspapers. In order to lay the groundwork for the understanding of the importance of a fair and accountable media among the journalists of the future, we recommend working with a professional news organization to establish a scholarship contest for student-designed media fairness programs.[citation needed]

Other Watchdog Organizations

These were media watchdog groups that seemed to be rejected as a suitable partner for the survey project, probably because they were too obviously partisan.

  • The Media Institute (TMI) is a nonprofit research foundation specializing in communications policy and the First Amendment.<>. Burston-Marsteller points to the value of the tobacco industry maintaining its contact because:

TMI hosts a Communications Forum luncheon series with luncheons held eight times per year. Attendance at the luncheons is by invitation only, but Philip Morris is a sponsor of the Forum and could potentially place a speaker in the future. Also, the luncheons are not planned far in advance so next steps could be rapid. The next series will be held November 20, 1997 and will feature panelists discussing copyright protection policies. No series are planned beyond that date.[citation needed]

  • Communications Research Corporation (CRC) - a daughter organization to TMI, which is actually a:

...private consulting practice which provides advice, strategic planning, and implementation services for a wide range of communications issues from the standpoint of policy and public affairs. TMI also links to the Freedom of Expression Foundation and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, of which Robert O'Neil is the director. Both groups seem to have purposes similar to that of The Media Institute.

  • Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Enterprise. (See above.)
  • Freedom of Expression Foundation (See above.)
  • The Media Research Center was established by Leo Brent Bozell III with Scaife, Carthage, Olin and other right-wing foundation money. B-M says that this is a:

... conservative watchdog group which attempts to promote political balance by exposing liberal biases that exist in the media. While MRC does accept corporate donations and thus, could be eligible for a grant from the company, their credibility is suspect due to their obvious bias.

... is a conservative media watchdog organization which seeks to make the public aware of the liberal bias which exists in all types of media. AIM hosts a speaker's bureau program in which various members can be scheduled for appearances to address the issues of media unfairness. In addition, AIM offers internship opportunities and schedules panel discussions.

AIM hosted a panel discussion on October 18, 1997 which was carried by C-SPAN. Discussions covered topics such as the death of Vince Foster, the crash of TWA Flight 800 and campaign finance reform.

While AIM's speaker's bureau program and panel discussions offer avenues for corporate donations to fund media fairness initiatives, the group's obvious bias may affect their credibility as a research organization.[citation needed]

Media Training Organizations

The tobacco industry was deeply involved journalism training:

  • National Journalism Center (NJC) - Philip Morris regularly funded this Center.[citation needed] It held 12-week, "scholarship-type" training courses for selected students (often promoted by politicians -- usually Republican) -- and it ran what amounted to a job-placement agency with the media establishments for its graduates. It started journalists like Michael Fumento on their careers as corporate media lobbyists. PM consultant Richard T. Hines suggested that PM should fund a journalism internship program here to produce a stable of journalists sympathetic to tobacco issues.[5]
  • International Journalism Center - Philip Morris was planning to establish, along with the London-based Adam Smith Institute and the Krieble Institutes (plural), an international version of the National Journalism Center. [6] Richard Hines (who supported all right-wing causes: Oliver North; the Confederacy; segregation, and white supremacy, [1] while working as a consultant to Philip Morris) was behind the idea, and he had many possible contacts with think-tanks in Europe who could be used to hide the tobacco connection.[7]
  • Foundation for American Communications (FAC) was a journalism training group which kept itself pure by not accepting corporate funding, except from the major media organisations. B-M dismisses it because:

...FACS seems more concerned with improving the technical content of media reports than with improving ethical issues of fairness or accuracy. As such, a general operational grant is unlikely to foster such ideals, except in an abstract way.

...dedicated to the ideals of "free enterprise, limited government and American values [as a] nonprofit, conservative organization which aims to be "a vehicle for changing the culture of America's newsrooms and for returning the press to its traditional role as watchdog of government."

Farrah and his associate Christopher Ruddy were the fanatics behind the claims that the Clintons had murdered Vince Foster.[9] As the B-M document says:

Recently the WJC has been involved in investigative projects surrounding the deal of Vince Foster and the Lippo Group financial controversy.
WJC does accept corporate donations, and the company (ie Philip Morris) could benefit by being involved with a forum, seminar or internship sponsorship. The company has already donated over $100,000 in unrestricted grants over the past three years. However, the fact that the WJC does exhibit a conservative bias could affect the credibility of its research[citation needed]

This [2] only tells a fraction of the story. As part of the Arkansas Project Philip Morris passed extra money via its think-tank paymaster Roy Marden, to the Pacific Legal Center, then to the Western Journalism Center, and on to the journalist Ruddy.

  • Freedom Forum - a nonpartisan, international foundation dedicated to free press, which:

...does not accept unsolicited grant applications, and does not solicit or accept financial donations. It is funded entirely through an endowment established by Frank E. Gannett in 1935 and has assets totaling nearly $900 million. {[fact}}

  • Washington Institute for Policy Studies, which B-M describes as:

... a conservative, nonprofit organization which seeks to further the principles of "individual liberty, limited government, and free enterprise" by combating the liberal media bias.

Recently, the WIPS broke into two separate groups. WIPS continues to study policy oriented issues such as electric utility deregulation, the "Three Strikes, You're Out" law, workers' compensation and public subsidies to private corporations.

The other half of the WIPS is the CounterPoint Center for ReMediation which publishes CounterPoint. The CounterPoint Center is a new nonprofit corporation which focuses on the role and performance of the mass media in American democracy. John Hamer is its President. In a letter to Burson-Marsteller on November 4 1997, John Hamer stated, "if Burson-Marsteller would be interested in having us speak to your colleagues or perhaps prepare a report on media performance, we'd be happy to discuss it with you. In addition, one of the services we now offer is detailed media content analysis, which specific clients might find very helpful in deciding how to respond to unfair or inaccurate coverage."[citation needed]


  1. Burson-MarstellerPhilip Morris Media Fairness Initiative Analysis and Recommendations Speech/presentation. December 2, 1997. 56 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2071004777/4832
  2. Burson-MarstellerPhilip Morris Media Fairness Initiative Analysis and Recommendations Speech/presentation. December 2, 1997. 56 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2071004777/4832
  3. Philip Morris Media Fairness Initiative Analysis and Recommendations Speech/presentation. December 2, 1997. 12 pp. Bates NO. 2071004821/4832
  4. Burson-MarstellerPhilip Morris Media Fairness Initiative Analysis and Recommendations Speech/presentation. December 2, 1997. 56 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2071004777/4832
  5. Hines RT; Richard T. Hines Consulting Letter to M. Winokur May 26, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2025496776/6778
  6. Hines RT; Richard T. Hines Consulting Letter to M. Winokur May 26, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2025496776/6778
  7. Author unknonwn Europe List. August, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2025496760/6773
  8. See David Brock, 'Blinded by the Right
  9. Scarborough R. All News Plus/Washington Times IRS audits target conservative groups: Liberal nonprofits escape scrutiny January 17, 1997. Bates No. 2077271685/1689

<tdo>search_term="Media Fairness Program"</tdo> Additional recommended search criteria: "media fairness," "proactive media"