Step aside Fox: Billionaire starts news agency to promote right-wing agenda

Blackstone co-founder Peterson's was former ch...

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The story looks like it’s about Fox, but unfortunately, it’s not. There’s a new rich sociopath in town.

His name is Pete Peterson and he wants to buy yer newz.

The retired mogul has created a digital news agency he dubs “The Fiscal Times” and hired eight seasoned reporters to do the work there.

So what’s The Fiscal Times’ agenda? You know, cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The uge. See also: “Entitlement reform.” Did I mention this dude used to be a Nixon administration cabinet member? Did I even need to point that out?

Simply the rantings of a despot, right? Maybe Peterson’s agenda would have had a reach no further than the deeply held beliefs of a bus stop schizophrenic had the Washington Post not stepped it to hand this asshole a megaphone.

With his great wealth, Peterson could have also bought a newspaper to publish his dispatches, but he did better than that. He hooked up with the Washington Post, which has agreed to “jointly produce content focusing on the budget and fiscal issues.”

Dean Baker first noticed this, and promptly tore Wapost a new one.

If the Fiscal Times becomes a regular source of news articles at the Post we can probably soon expect to see pieces from National Rifle Association’s “Firearms Gazette” and the Tobacco Industry’s “Smoking Today.” It is unfortunate that technological changes may have made the traditional newspaper economically unviable, but it would have been much better if the Washington Post could have had a dignified death.

This is pure propaganda. There is literally no reason to have Peterson contribute anything to Wapost. I’m sorry. Maybe there is one reason (for Wapost, anyway): He’s extremely rich.

Believe it or not, the Obama White House had planned to give Peterson a starring role in its “fiscal responsibility summit.” The Nation helped squelch those plans by running an article written by William Greider, who fiercely responded to the billionaire’s looting scheme.

But fear not, fans of plutocracy. Peterson’s little disciples are still bunkered in the White House.

Budget director Peter Orszag once co-authored a “reform” plan that would raise the payroll tax on young workers and cut benefits for older people near retirement. Isn’t that clever? Pinhead economists evidently think that workers won’t notice. Now the billionaire is cranking up another fight. We should finger him again, big-time, and all those who willingly collaborate in his plot.

Social Security looting is the kind of thing the citizenry can miss because the looters do it gradually. They use vanilla language like “entitlement reform” to put everyone to sleep so they can raid the vaults in peace. Greider suggests people make a lot of noise about this. He’s right. Tell your Congress representatives not to gut entitlement programs. (Phone calls always work better than emails. Personal visits with 30 of your closest friends always work better than phone calls.)

Also, tell Wapost not to publish billionaire propaganda as newz: Email complaints to [email protected] and [email protected]


  1. Michael Roston

    I’m curious Allison: Would you also object to the Washington Post using a story put together by Pro Publica? What about the HuffPost Investigative Fund?

  2. Allison Kilkenny

    It’s all about goals. If Pro Publica was aggressively working to slash the social safety net, then yes, I would object. Last I checked, HuffPost’s investigative fund was working on bank failures and regulatory lapses. So it’s more a fund in the model of “by the people, for the people.”

    You’re sort of comparing watchdog apples to propaganda oranges. The Fiscal Times-Wapost marriage is a billionaire funneling propaganda thru a national paper with the goal of robbing taxpayers. Very different things.

  3. Michael Roston

    Pro Publica is funded by the Sandler family who make no bones about their liberal political leanings, and the Investigative Fund has HuffPost’s name attached to it, and it isn’t funded by ‘the people,’ but by ‘some people’, just like the Fiscal Times.

    I think what you call ‘watchdog’ a lot of people you disagree with might call ‘propaganda.’ So, I think we’re looking at fruit of the same tree, you just don’t like the branch these apples are coming from. Let’s not pretend that those outlets don’t have political leanings, however explicitly unstated they might be.

    I think there are more important questions that you’re eliding in your condemnation of the Fiscal Times and the Washington Post using its content:

    1. What firewalls exist between any news-producing 501(c)(3)’s founders/investors and its actual working staff?

    2. Are their legitimate, transparent editorial procedures for all content produced by that 501(c)(3) within the organization?

    3. Is the content subject to the editorial protections and procedures that all news stories are subject to by the publication that distributes it?

    4. Is the content worthy of being published as ‘news’ rather than opinion by the outlet?

    5. Is the content sufficiently identified as coming from a source that’s distinct from the publication that’s distributing it?

    In my own estimation, I thought the Fiscal Times article was rather flimsy in terms of its news value, and that the Washington Post needs a superior manner of identifying news content that its own journalists did not produce. The other 3 questions are harder to answer.

    And I have to say, personally, I’m opposed to news organizations taking on 501(c)(3) status at all because I think our country is better served by a fully private press that is able to make explicit editorial statements about politics. If major outlets became non-profits, they wouldn’t be allowed to endorse a particular political candidate, and might need to shy away from certain kinds of political condemnations that it routinely makes now. So I’m generally not really in favor of news outlets distributing content from 501(c)(3)’s that produces ‘news’ whether it’s Fiscal Times or ProPublica.

  4. Allison Kilkenny

    Funding by “some of the people” pretty much describes not only every investigative fund out there, but also every major newspaper. Every media outlet functions at the behest of its editors, and higher up, their corporate masters. So without getting too heady here: everyone has biases, and by extension, every media outlet has a political leaning (no matter how aggressively they propose to be “neutral.”)

    So like all of those people, you’re right, I do prefer the liberal fruit. What I meant by “outcome” was — who does the fund help or hurt? In the case of Huffpost, the fund is currently working on examining how homeowners got screwed in the subprime mortgage bubble scandal. The Fiscal Times is now working on taking Social Security away from taxpayers. I can’t even begin to pretend like those are similar things. One benefits the people (who happen to be the majority) suffering because of the unscrupulous behavior of Washington and Wall Street, and the other benefits the highest echelons of the plutocracy.

    I think the role of investigative journalism should be to expose corruption and empower the people (meaning the little people, not the CEOs).

    And I have to say, personally, I’m opposed to news organizations taking on 501(c)(3) status at all because I think our country is better served by a fully private press that is able to make explicit editorial statements about politics.

    Well, let’s not forget it was that news structure that led us into war and miseducated the population numerous times about their economy. It didn’t take 501 status to derail the mainstream media. It just took corporate sponsorship.

    But I agree with #4: Is the content worthy of being published as ‘news’ rather than opinion by the outlet?

    That seems like an easy fix. Publish it as opinion. And then run another op-ed challenging the views, and then vice-versa. Otherwise, any “respectable” news outlet has to fact-check the claims (which, in FT’s case, are highly dubious).

  5. libtree09

    I’m a bit confused by this little back and forth.

    What does “…jointly produce content focusing on the budget and fiscal issues.” mean? Fiscal Times said that they hired eight reporters, are they actually reporters digging for facts or are they writing editorials? Does the word “jointly” mean that the Post will fact check and material will be under review from a WaPost senior editor or that the newspaper will share its reporters to say, cover the wisdom of using social security to lower the deficient? Just asking.

    Roston seems to make a case that ProPublica’s agenda is liberal but it is led by a guy from the Wall Street Journal and another from the Oregonian. Every investigative piece should have at least two solid sources, if any story has the facts and is in the public interest than it is worthy of publication if it does not pass that bar it is not. That is the basis of Journalism whether your publisher is Martha Graham or Hearst. If Investigative journalism dedicated to the public trust is a liberal concept, a leftist idea, where does that leave the rest of the media?

    The problem raised at the Post is that Fiscal’s first article in the arrangement used itself as a source to support its argument or story. Therefore it should not have been published unless it found another source or two.

    Not a good start for someone looking for creds. The article ran Friday and by Monday they were hiring someone from the NY Times. Hey we’re
    balanced like Pro Publica! So maybe they are sincere about being a real news outlet that will report on the facts with less slant.

    Roston is right that the Journalistic waters have been muddied by all these new outlets that do indeed have single minded sponsors. In the past one would have to do things the hard way by actually putting a great deal of money where one’s mouth is, today?, not so much. The line has been blurred between a news outlet and a public relations organization. They both use graduates with Journalism degrees but only one is obliged to follow the ethics and rules of the Journalism profession. Both the Times and the Nation had their reputations trashed by employees who didn’t and made shit up. It’s that public trust thing.

    Therefore any legit news organization has the obligation to reveal the source and any possible bias of any material outside its organization, if that is, you play by those the old rules of MSM. I would like to see more of this as desperate newspapers try to shore up content, any content, paid by whatever PR agency, hired guns of think tanks or pet organizations of zillionaires. This content may be cheaper than paying a dollar a word but it has bitten the WaPost in the ass.

    The bottom line is this: Whatever is written, straight story or opinion is must be backed by facts from unbiased sources.

    Can we at least try to come to some conclusions about our state of affairs without using the crutch of the obviously bias and sometimes corrupt? Can we hear an opinion on the war from someone other than a former general couched by the Pentagon and working for various military contractors? Can we hear about social issues from others than Focus on the family or Planned Parenthood? On climate change can we at least attempt to source out that PR bulletin or study and see if it funded by Al Gore or Exxon? Or hear a policy issued debated without a former legislator who is not or does not have a family member in the employ of some vested interested lobbyist group?

    Such laziness is inexcusable…They used to do it with a battered Rolodex and an old rotary phone and lots and lots of shoe leather.

  6. alwarner

    I agree with Allison, it’s about the end goals of the organization, not whether two competing groups are organized with similar form. Billionaires buy the news, the media, the employees, the distribution. There is no way a person becomes a billionaire on a million dollars a year compensation, without deals you or I would never see. Lots of people must have been screwed along the way to making PP a billionare. So what makes anyone think he’s stopped?

  7. My only suggestion would be to check out who is actually heading Peterson’s foundation and you’ll realize that the cause is one based on rationality and a legitimate concern for our future generations. David Walker, President of the PGPF was actually comptroller for both Bush and Clinton White House GAOs and was never a big fan of the latter Bush. I attended a speaking event where he gave us an overview of the mission of the PGPF and most of the dissatisfied attendees were actually staunch conservatives. So, while I very much like most of what is being discussed at this site, I would encourage you to dig a bit deeper into Peterson’s background and what his organization is attempting to do.

  8. andylevinson

    RE:So what’s The Fiscal Times’ agenda? You know, cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The uge. See also: “Entitlement reform.” Did I mention this dude used to be a Nixon administration cabinet member?

    This is America….we still have freedom of the press…anyone can have their own media outlet…own reporters….this is America

    In Iran or China, you couldn’t have a “True Slant”…..dictators fear the free flow of information and opinion….even in oppression of Iran, there are still some brave souls, who are putting their life on the line……

    The democrats are cutting half a trillion from medicare to finance obamascare

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