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NY Times columnist David Brooks says think-tank role 'hasn't affected' his journalism

NY Times columnist David Brooks says think-tank role 'hasn't affected' his journalism
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New York Times columnist David Brooks maintained Friday evening that his second job for a high-profile think tank hasn’t influenced his reporting while pledging "changes" to address concerns raised by critics.

“It hasn't affected my journalism, but we are going to make some changes,” Brooks told PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff when asked about the controversy.

Brooks’s remarks come two days after it was revealed that, in addition to writing columns for the Times, he’s drawn a salary from the think tank the Aspen Institute for his work with a project called Weave: The Social Fabric Project since 2018.

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The project was partly funded by Facebook and Brooks has referenced both Weave and Facebook in his Times columns.

“Media critics are saying that you have written favorably about Facebook and about the project in your New York Times column,” Woodruff said. “So given that this is making news, David, we want to give you the opportunity to explain it, to ask if you are rethinking the decision, not to disclose this funding relationship."

“Yeah, first we did totally disclose it. It's, everything has been public,” Brooks replied. “The Times completely was... informed when I started Weave, what it was going to be, and how I was going to get compensated by Aspen,” he added.

It is not clear, however, that the current management of the Times’s opinion section was aware of Brooks’ Aspen ties before the story was broken by BuzzFeed News.

Brooks could not be reached for comment and the Times did not immediately reply to The Hill’s request for comment. They also did not comment to BuzzFeed about how much Brooks revealed to the paper or when.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Brook’s “current editors were unaware of the arrangement.” And after the PBS segment aired Friday, Post reporter Paul Farhi reiterated those claims on Twitter.

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“My reporting indicates that Brooks may have told a previous set of Times bosses but not his current ones. But there’s no record he disclosed it to readers,” Farhi tweeted.

 

According to an earlier BuzzFeed article, The Times was additionally not aware that Brooks had penned a lengthy column on Facebook’s corporate site and also appeared on a Facebook-produced video panel that promoted a study funded by the company.

Brooks mentioned either the Aspen Institute or Facebook in at least six of his Times columns without disclosing he was being paid by the institute or that Aspen was funded, in part, by Facebook.

During his PBS interview, Brooks did not explain why he hadn’t disclosed the Aspen salary to his Times' readers but did say he had not substantially reported on any of the institute's supporters.

“I have not meaningfully written about any organization or individual who has supported us, including Facebook,” he said. “I think I've mentioned Facebook in passing or Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Apple approves Parler's return to App Store | White House scales back response to SolarWinds, Microsoft incidents | Pressure mounts on DHS over relationship with Clearview AI Facebook unveils new audio features Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference MORE [in] passing, just a one or two sentences in my Times column. And we've checked the transcripts of the NewsHour. And it hasn't affected my journalism.”

Brooks said he understands why some people have questioned his work for Aspen.

“Some people have legitimately said, you can't be a journalist and a nonprofit leader at the same time, the roles are just conflicting,” Brooks said. “And this is a real legitimate concern, which I've thought about from day one.” 

“I do understand the concerns and I want to be beyond question,” he added. “And so we're going to make some changes, and we’re still working them out. We're going to make some changes so the people who have been critics are satisfied. And that's my goal in the next week or in the next few days. And so I hope we can resolve this issue.”

Woodruff closed the interview by mentioning that the NewsHour has also received funding from Facebook.

“I just want to say on behalf of the NewsHour, that Facebook has been a funder of our projects in the past,” she said. "And as we always have, we'll continue our policy of disclosing when we receive funding from them or any organizations that we cover.”