In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, billionaire philanthropist Craig Newmark spent close to $200 million on news media projects to help fight “disinformation,” secure “voting integrity,” and defeat Donald Trump. More importantly, after a raft of multimillion-dollar gifts to New York’s leading journalism schools, he is poised to shape the future of journalism. However, after the recent dramatic collapse of one of his flagship investments at the Harvard Shorenstein Centre, Newmark’s low-profile news media meddling has been thrust into the spotlight.
Craig Newmark, in case you were wondering, is the Craig in Craigslist who, since leaving the company in 2000, has been spending his wealth on what he calls philanthropy.
In 2015, he established Craig Newmark Philanthropies, built, he claims, on Sunday School principles and the belief that “a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.” It’s a charming sentiment but hardly believable. In a 2022 TWiT Tech podcast, Newmark repeated this line but with a telling addition: “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy. It failed us in 2016.”
Newmark is a Bay Area leftist. Since 2019 he has made numerous large political donations to the DNC and to well-known individual Democrat candidates, including $105,000 to Joe Biden in 2020 and a $1 million donation to ProPublica to fund its Electionland project. He gave $500,000 to the leftist Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law organization. This group acts as a vehicle for pushing DNC policies, including suing for expanded mail-in voting and opposing voter ID laws. In 2019, he donated $5 million to The Leadership Conference Education Fund for similar purposes. While claiming to protect voting integrity for altruistic reasons, he, in fact, meddles in it for political gain.
Like many Democrats, Newmark reacted to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 with dramatic political radicalization. Unable to accept that Trump had won, Newmark fixated on conspiracy theories surrounding Russian influence. Even in the 2022 TWiT podcast, he still referred to Russian bot farms and trolls whom he believes swung the election for Trump by spreading disinformation on social media. Such claims have been proven definitively false, most recently by a study conducted by New York University, which led even partisan left-wing outlets such as Vox and Jacobin to abandon notions of decisive Russian interference.
Nonetheless, the Russian-interference hoax caused Newmark to tumble down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole. The only problem is that this conspiracy theorist is a billionaire.
What followed his 2016 radicalization were large donations to several left-wing organizations to combat supposed election-altering disinformation, also known as information that’s unfavorable to Democrats, in the run-up to 2020. One such beneficiary, First Draft, received $1.5 million to support this effort. However, the fact that he also partnered with Google News — a strategic partner of his foundation — to push its work into newsrooms across America prior to the election is a terrifying portent of political narrative control to come. Another $5 million was awarded to the Poynter Institute to establish the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership. Poynter is the bogus “fact-checking” organization that largely exists to censor conservatives, and the thoroughly corrupt PolitiFact is the institute’s best-known product.
Newmark’s ongoing election meddling is bad enough, but it’s his quiet purchasing of the future of news media that should have Americans most concerned. In a 2018 Google talk, Newmark stated, “New York is the country’s hub of news media and influence and connection.” This helps explain why Newmark saved his largest donations for NYC’s journalism schools.
In 2019, he donated $10 million to Columbia University to create The Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security. Prior to this, he had been and continues to be on the board of the department’s influential Columbia Journalism Review. In 2016, Kyle Pope was hired as editor, and since then, the journal has lurched from one ethics crisis to another as it’s become increasingly embroiled in left-wing activism.
In an infamous 2016 post, David Mindich stated in reference to covering Trump, “We’ve reached a turning point”; it is time for “journalists to abandon their objectivity.” That abandonment of objectivity also meant wading into the culture wars that tore the nation apart throughout the Trump era, even giving bylines to openly Antifa writers such as Kim Kelly and writing puff pieces for Antifa outlet Unicorn Riot. Newmark’s funding of the school’s journalism ethics department is a masterclass in Orwellian doublespeak.
Newmark donated $20 million to the City University of New York in 2019 to establish The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. His friend Jeff Jarvis, an entrenched Trump/Russia hoax peddler, was given the position of director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.
Among Jarvis’ greatest disinformation hits are Tweets such as “Trump isn’t taking a salary because, one way or another, he is paid by Russia,” “He works for Russia,” and “‘The perfect target’: Russia cultivated Trump as asset for 40 years – ex-KGB spy.” Even into 2022, Jarvis regularly ranted about Trump, often making vulgar references to sexual acts to describe any reporter who gave him airtime. Newmark’s financial patronage of a professor who openly peddles disinformation for political gain is deeply concerning, but it is not an isolated case.
What has finally brought Newmark’s work into the news is the recent high-profile firing of Joan Donovan and the winding down of her Technology and Social Change Project (TaSC) at the Harvard Shorenstein Center. The center was funded by a $5 million donation from Newmark. As outlined in detail here, Donovan is an activist who got her start running communications for Occupy Wall Street. She, in turn, packed the TaSC center with other activists she sourced from Twitter.
In a Twitter exchange with former HuffPo journalist Luke O’Brien in 2021, Donovan stated that O’Brien — who has deep ties to Antifa — “introduced me to a hacker. I learned more in that evening than I ever did in grad school about how the news is made.” The lead of Newmark’s multimillion-dollar disinformation resource center for journalists thus endorsed the most unethical approach to journalism imaginable.
And it got worse from there. Her hires were a who’s who of activist journalists and mercenary data scientists. Yet after she was fired, Newmark robustly defended Donovan, claiming, “Joan Donovan’s work must continue, for our national security. … She is defending the country against people who want to do us harm.”
Another crisis at the Shorenstein Center was the retraction of a controversial article by its peer-reviewed “Misinformation Review,” which also resulted in a lawsuit against Harvard and the authors of the paper. A devastating internal review of the paper concluded: “The argument … appears to rely entirely on subjective interpretations of a handful of tweets. … While these interpretative claims occur within an atmosphere of scientific method and big data, the role of these data and methods is never clarified.”
It was a humiliating verdict for an academic disinformation center, but the rot goes deeper. The lead author of the retracted article, Mutale Nkonde, has since appeared at a media ethics roundtable at Santa Clara University in 2022 funded by Newmark. She also delivered a lecture for the Newmark Civic Life Series in late 2022.
The Harvard debacle is a serious blow to Craig Newmark’s quiet takeover of the news media landscape. The decision by Harvard to throw out one of his flagship projects opens up larger questions surrounding his work.
If Newmark is allowed to continue quietly pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the American media landscape unchecked, then he will continue to affect election outcomes through disinformation manipulation, and he will continue to produce generations of activist journalists who will tear at the fabric of American democracy.