Who’s Behind ‘Mother Jones’?

Who’s Behind ‘Mother Jones’?

Liam Sturgess | January 11, 2024

Late last year, the Honest Media project, our sister publication also funded by American Values 2024, published an article titled “Reporter Kiera Butler is a Disinfo Dupe.” Butler is a reporter for Mother Jones magazine whose areas of focus include former president Donald Trump, “Russian disinformation,” and “anti-vaxxers,” infamously describing natural immunity to COVID-19 as a “conspiracy theory.” As highlighted by Honest Media, Butler’s articles are frequently composed of a “mix of truth, lies, and spin” – a pattern that has extended to her coverage of independent presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Mother Jones has yet to respond to requests to issue corrections to the false statements identified by Honest Media. As we have frequently discovered through our investigations at The Kennedy Beacon, today’s ostensibly “liberal” and “independent” media is far too often captured by corporate and political interests – the very interests Mother Jones claims to push back against. For this reason, we decided to look into the history of Mother Jones and explore who may be influencing its agenda.

Background

Mother Jones magazine was named after “Mother” Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930), described by Women in History as a union activist and legendary advocate for workers rights. She was jailed multiple times for her efforts.

Following in her example, a group of liberal activist journalists gathered in early 1974 to begin planning Mother Jones magazine, as recounted in a retrospective article by Adam Hochschild. A non-profit organization called the Foundation for National Progress was incorporated in March 1975 to act as the magazine’s publisher and fundraising arm. The first issue of Mother Jones was published in 1976. Hochschild described the early days defined by “the afterglow of the 1960s,” which saw the magazine champion important issues of women’s rights, racial equality, and the anti-war movement.

Current Controversies

In recent years, however, the magazine has come under fire from liberals who feel it has failed to live up to its namesake. In her article for Paste Magazine following the 2016 presidential election, investigative reporter Naomi LaChance criticized Mother Jones for its rejection of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, arguing that “its namesake was, in fact, his ideological forerunner.” She quoted a former Mother Jones reader who described the magazine as “sort of the worst example of a lot of neoliberal media posing under the kind of classic leftist flag.”

Mother Jones has leveled numerous personal and political attacks against RFK Jr., including a long hit piece by its Washington, D.C. bureau chief, David Corn. Published on July 15, 2023 (while Kennedy was seeking the Democratic Party nomination), the article included dozens of false claims and misrepresentations about the candidate, whom he described as a “political virus” at risk of spreading among Democratic voters. Corn characterizes Kennedy’s positions on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, vaccine safety, his uncle’s assassination, and the potential health risks of 5G telecommunications technology as “dangerous nonsense,” lumping him together with Donald Trump, Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson (whom he described as “egomaniacal bullshitters who propagate disinformation for profit and personal gain”). “Robert Kennedy Jr. is a threat to America,” Corn concludes, “because he relentlessly and ruthlessly purveys conspiracism and irrationality.” Rather than engaging with Kennedy’s positions, Corn suggests that “[a]ny coverage of Kennedy that does not focus on this [conspiracism and irrationality] aids the destructive forces of distortion and disinformation.”

Corn is no stranger to controversy. In November 2017, Politico reported that Mother Jones executives had investigated reports of “inappropriate workplace behavior” by Corn towards multiple female staff members as far back as 2014. Mother Jones’ CEO and Editor-in-Chief both confirmed that they had conducted an investigation, and had “warn[ed] him about touching female staffers and insensitive descriptions of sexual violence.” FOX News took a more aggressive stance in its coverage, reporting that Mother Jones was reopening its investigation after new emails had surfaced documenting allegations of sexual assault.

Prior to the accusations, Corn was already an established talking head for the institutional media. As described by his alma mater, Brown University, Corn began his career with an internship at The Nation magazine, where he then took a job as an editorial assistant. He later became The Nation’s Washington editor where he remained until he joined Mother Jones in 2007.

On more than one occasion, Corn has been found to be playing defense for the establishment against its skeptics. In 1994, he published a book titled Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades, a biography of former Central Intelligence Agency official Theodore Shackley. Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Joseph Finder argued that Corn had “blame[d] Mr. Shackley for an enormous number of the C.I.A.’s failures over the past several decades,” offloading culpability from the agency to Shackley and his “rampant ambition.” While Shackley was undoubtedly worthy of intense criticism for his role in the CIA’s range of controversial activities during his tenure, Finder warned that Corn’s heavy focus on Shackley “seriously distorts the recent history of American intelligence.”

Similarly, Corn was criticized in an open letter by David Ray Griffin, founder of the Center for Progress Studies, for demonizing his fellow liberals who challenged any aspect of the government-sanctioned narrative surrounding the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. In an article condemning CNN host and environmental activist Van Jones for signing a “9/11 Truth” petition, Corn described skepticism around the event as an “unsound idea” that “would infect the left and other quarters.”

Notably, Corn has repeatedly used the term “infect” to describe ideas with which he disagrees. In January 2023, he published an op-ed on so-called “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” in which he described supporters of the former president as “eager to infect others with their psychosis.” Prior to that, in an October 2020 Mother Jones piece, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “plotting to infect and undermine the 2020 presidential election.”

Funding and Supporters

At the bottom of various online Mother Jones articles is a note explaining that the magazine adopted a non-profit model “because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.” While that may have been true at the outset, it certainly is not today.

The MacArthur Foundation – built on the wealth of the MacArthur banking family, identified by Duke University as “one of the largest private foundations in the United States” –has provided just shy of $3 million to Mother Jones, with the largest grants made between 2014 and 2023. Liberal mega donor George Soros had donated over $1 million to the organization as of 2008 through his Open Society Foundations, according to a review of its financial statements published by Mike Ciandella in 2013. The Ford Foundation has provided just shy of $1 million in grants to Mother Jones from 2016-2021. Without a doubt, most Americans would qualify these donors as “corporate billionaires.”

But it’s not just big money funding Mother Jones. As reported in Inside Philanthropy, the magazine has successfully “cultivated a substantial base of small donors.” Notably, a substantial portion of this base appeared following the surprise election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. In a March 2017 article for the San Francisco Chronicle, the editorial staff at Mother Jones was quoted as hoping that “much more is to come” on the Trump front, after “the magazine saw a 160 percent increase” in small donations and “tripled revenue” from recurring donors. In short, Mother Jones profited handsomely from its enthusiastic coverage of the former president, motivated by what the magazine’s editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery described as a “reward” for its “probative, investigative journalism.” One such reward came from big tech executive Rob Glaser, whose foundation provided Mother Jones a $250,000 grant to investigate alleged links between Trump and Russia (after the magazine launched a $500,000 crowdfunding campaign to fund its efforts in May 2017).

Given the fact that much of the narrative underlying Mother Jones’ “Trump-Russia Investigation” was written based on “speculation portrayed as fact,” discerning readers might wonder if the financial incentive outweighed the magazine’s interest in journalistic integrity.

Of course, organizations need funding to survive, and Mother Jones shouldn’t be faulted simply for attracting the support of high-powered donors and politically-charged readers. To help maintain the independence of this non-profit venture, one might expect that the fundraising and editorial operations would be kept separate. In the case of the Foundation for National Progress and Mother Jones, however, it doesn’t appear any walls exist whatsoever. Comparing Mother Jonesstaff and board of directors pages to the Foundation for National Progress’ records on OpenCorporates reveals that its executive leadership hold the same positions at both organizations. Further linking the business and editorial sides is the fact that Monika Bauerlein, the organizations’ CEO, previously served for nine years as co-editor of the magazine. Similarly, Secretary Sara Frankel originally worked as a fellow with the magazine.

Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark joined several other concerned philanthropists in providing nearly $1 million in “dedicated funding” for Mother Jones’ “ambitious democracy reporting,” which the magazine claims will allow it to “continue pursuing investigative reporting on voter suppression, disinformation, extremism, and political corruption.” Newmark is also a primary benefactor for the Poynter Institute, which recently gave Robert F. Kennedy Jr. its “Lie of the Year” award for his alleged “campaign of conspiracy theories.”

Rather than hold true to the populist values of its namesake, or the anti-corporate charter with which it started, Mother Jones appears to have long since succumbed to the influence of its funders. While journalistic activism has an important role to play in modern discourse, one would not be faulted for placing Mother Jones alongside the Associated Press as a well-funded, agenda-driven machine masquerading as a virtuous non-profit initiative.

Liam Sturgess is an investigative reporter for The Kennedy Beacon. He is also a writer for the Canadian Covid Care Alliance and founder of Sturgess Prime Productions. He was the founding co-host and producer of the Rounding the Earth podcast, and publishes a Substack series called Microjourneys.

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