THE BLOG
09/08/2014 10:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Gates Purchase of a 'Success' Narrative

Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media.

This is no surprise to me.

What did surprise me is the discovery that he meets with the media he funds (and others) regularly behind closed doors.

Yep.

Gates Briefs a Media He Pays For (And Then Some)

In February 2013, journalist Tom Paulson wrote a piece on Gates' private meetings with the media he funds. Paulson was not invited.

Notice some of the names:

I (Paulson) wasn't actually allowed behind the scenes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's recent meeting in Seattle entitled "Strategic Media Partnerships."

The Gates Foundation funds a lot of media - more than $25 million in media grants for 2012 (but still less than 1% of the budget).

I'm media but I wasn't invited. I asked if I could come and report on it, but was told the meeting was off the record. Those attending included representatives from the New York Times, NPR, the Guardian, NBC, Seattle Times and a number of other news organizations, non-profit groups and foundations. Not all were grant recipients, or partners. Some just came to consult. [Emphasis added this paragraph.]

In August 2014, I wrote about the Gates-funded, Seattle Times blog, Education Lab.

Education Lab is trying to offer predominately light, benign stories arguably designed to divert public attention from the increasingly-evident documentation regarding the failure of education privatization.

In Seattle, Gates is paying for the reporting of "positive outcomes."

What happens if the "outcomes" are not so "positive"?

Just don't write about that.

And it is easy enough if the funded organization's politics agree with those of Gates.

(The Gates grants website is clear that Gates actively seeks to pay those organizations that will agree with his agenda.)

In the comments section of my Gates-funded, Seattle Ed Lab post, University of Washington professor Wayne Au challenges one of the Gates-funded Ed Lab reporters on the "Gates agreement reporting" point. Here is an excerpt from Au's comment:

What is striking to me is the thin political range of the Ed Lab. I see mainly "safe" stories about mainstream stuff almost no one would would question....

...

In many ways you are in a similar position to the other Gates funded organizations locally - like the League of Education Voters. They tell me all the time, "Gates funds us but they don't tell us what to do." And my response to them is always, "Gates doesn't have to tell you what to do because your politics and agenda align with Gates. That's WHY they fund you. If you changed your agenda, you'd lose your Gates money..." Gates doesn't have to pull the strings. They just need to provide resources to the right policy actors. [Emphasis added.]

Au's entire exchange with the Ed Lab reporter is worth a read.

A Gates-funded Common Core Debate (?)

Gates funds media willing to promote his agenda. Sometimes those reporting have no issues because they agree with Gates. In other cases, it seems that there might be some willful shaping of a story in order to slant the outcome towards "Gates favor-ability."

Consider the September 9, 2014, Intelligence Squared debate on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The debate is entitled, Embrace the Common Core.

No slant there.

If one scrolls to the bottom of the debate announcement page, one sees that Gates-funded NPR is a sponsor.

And as journalist Tom Paulson notes in his piece on Gates' conferencing with the media, Bill is pushing for more "success stories":

Well, as a journalist who covers global health and poverty and is expected to double-check and unpack the often carefully packaged messages put out by the Gates Foundation, I can tell you that quite a few people [attending the Gates media conference] - again, mostly 'off the record' - do kick. They're not opposed to the overall goal, but many are concerned about the immense influence the philanthropy already has over the aid narrative.

One of the Gates Foundation's working assumptions is that the aid narrative is a bummer, mostly bad news, and what we need is more 'success stories.' [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that the "success stories" Gates wants are those in line with his agenda. When it comes to education, Gates loves CCSS, grading teachers using standardized test scores, instituting teacher pay-for-performance increasing class sizes, and an extending the school day.

So, let's get back to that Gates-funded, NPR-sponsored, September 2014 "debate" event, Embracing the Common Core.

It should come as no surprise that for all practical purposes, the "debate" leans in favor of CCSS via the inclusion of Gates-funded American Enterprise Institute (AEI) "scholar" Rick Hess, who is to argue "against" CCSS.

The best Hess has shown so far in "opposing" CCSS is a lukewarm dissatisfaction with it. He has, however, published a pro-CCSS book in November 2013 in which he examines how to "seamlessly integrate" CCSS "into accountability systems."

Moreover, likely during the time that he was either writing or had already finished his pro-CCSS book, in February 2013, Hess interviewed CCSS "architect" Jason Zimba.

Here is how Hess chooses to present Zimba and CCSS. I consider Hess' writing style as "loud plaid suit with pants too short." Perhaps readers will understand why after experiencing the following:

You didn't think the ferment around Common Core could keep building? Hah! Prepare for several more years of increasing wackiness. In the middle of it all is Jason Zimba, founding principal of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) and the man who is leading SAP after David Coleman went off to head up the College Board. SAP is a major player in Common Core implementation, especially with the aid of $18 million in support from the GE Foundation. Zimba was the lead writer on the Common Core mathematics standards. He earned his doctorate in mathematical physics from Berkeley, co-founded the Grow Network with Coleman, and previously taught physics and math at Bennington College. He's a private dude who lives up in New England and has not been part of the Beltway policy conversation. I'd never met Zimba, until we had the chance to sit down last week.

Now, I think readers know that I'm of two minds when it comes to the Common Core. On the one hand, it does have the potential to bring coherence to the education space, shed light on who's doing what, raise the bar for instructional materials and teacher prep, and so forth. On the other, there are about 5,000 ways the whole thing could go south or turn into a stifling bureaucratic monstrosity-and one rarely goes wrong when betting against our ability to do massive, complex edu-reforms well. Given all this, like many of you, I'm carefully watching how all this is playing out. [Emphasis added.]

Well. Safe to note that Hess is not a "dude" with serious reservations about CCSS. He's just "watching"-- and publishing a book in favor.

As far as the Gates-backed NPR-sponsored CCSS "debate" goes, right out of the starting gate, the established anti-CCSS stance belongs to only one of the four "debaters" -- New York principal Carol Burris.

Gates must be pleased. After all, he really, really wants CCSS.

2014-09-07-billgateshandsup.jpg
Image from blogs.smh.com.au

I must add that I continue to enjoy the irony of the Embrace the Common Core public opinion poll, which has remained steady at 11 percent in favor of "embracing" and 89 percent opposed out of over 42,600 responses.

2014-09-07-BillGatesfrown.jpg
Image from agenda21news.com

Excerpted from a larger post, "Gates, Other 'Philanthropy,' and the Purchase of a Success Narrative," posted 09-06-14, at deutsch29.wordpress.com