Facebook's top news executive has her own media outlet — and it's been savaging Elizabeth Warren
|Judd Legum||Nov 11, 2019|| 36||11|
This is the online version of the Popular Information newsletter. You can get independent accountability journalism in your inbox every week. Sign up here:
Former NBC News anchor Campbell Brown is a top Facebook executive who was hired in January 2017 to lead the company's "news partnerships team." That means Brown is in charge of "Facebook News," the company's high-profile new effort to feature "quality news" in a dedicated tab. She is also a co-founder and director of her own media outlet that, in recent weeks, has harshly attacked one of the leading Democratic candidates for president, Elizabeth Warren.
In 2015, Brown co-founded The 74, which focuses on the public education system, and served as editor-in-chief. Even after joining Facebook in 2017, Brown has maintained an active role in The 74, where she is a member of the board of directors. According to documents filed with the IRS in 2017, Brown dedicated five hours per week — the equivalent of a month-and-a-half of full-time work — working for The 74.
That's the same amount of time Brown spent on The 74 prior to joining Facebook. (2017 is the most recent year that this information is publicly available.)
Beginning this fall, The 74 has harshly criticized presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. On October 23, The 74 published an article with this headline: "Elizabeth Warren’s Education Plan Is Exactly What We Need — If Our Goal Is to Make the Achievement Gap Permanent." The piece described Warren's detailed education plan as "a cut-and-paste genuflect to the public relations departments of America’s national teachers unions." It goes on to claim that Warren is not a "straight shooter" and lacks a "moral center." The piece eventually dispenses with education policy altogether and launches into a diatribe of attacks on Warren:
She’s a millionaire who raves about socialism. She was Republican before she was a Democrat. She was for school choice before she was against it. She was for charter schools before she was against them. She was for standardized testing before she was against it.
She was Native American before she wasn’t.
This piece is not an aberration. An October 10 piece described Warren as "the second coming of Karl Marx."
An October 24 column accuses Warren of standing "against an institution designed to create opportunity for our nation’s children." Warren, according to the article, wants to "override… the clear preferences of the black and brown voters whom progressives claim to fight for."
An October 28 piece describes Warren as "another tired politician signing up to pledge undying loyalty to a system that is so clearly failing too many of our children." The column says Warren backs "the regressive status quo that leads our children into the school-to-prison pipeline."
Brown features her affiliation with The 74 on both her Facebook page and her Twitter profile.
Facebook did not answer a detailed set of questions about Brown's current duties at The 74 and whether there was a conflict with her work at Facebook. But the company sent Popular Information the following statement: "The 74 is not part of Facebook News. Campbell’s work with The 74 is well-known and she’s been transparent about her role with the nonprofit for many years.“
Campbell Brown's friend Betsy DeVos
Both Brown and The 74 are tightly linked to Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education. DeVos, who Brown calls a "friend," provided a two-year grant through her family foundation to help launch The 74. (The 74 has not disclosed the amount of DeVos' contribution.) Brown also served on the board of The American Federation for Children (AFC), a non-profit that DeVos founded and chaired.
The AFC is a right-wing organization that spends heavily to support Republicans at the state level. It spent millions, for example, to support former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and his allies. The 74 and the AFC co-sponsored a Republican presidential forum in Iowa in 2015.
In a column published after DeVos' nomination was announced, Brown lavished praise on DeVos. Brown called DeVos "tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons." She described DeVos as "a born decision-maker, thick-skinned, never long discouraged by setbacks and impervious to hostile criticism."
After DeVos was nominated by Trump, The 74 began including a disclaimer on articles about DeVos, noting her role in funding the site. The disclaimer also said that Brown did not edit stories involving DeVos. That disclaimer, however, last appeared in 2017.
The 74's coverage of DeVos has been occasionally critical, but mostly laudatory. Headlines about DeVos' tenure as Education Secretary on The 74 include:
While DeVos has been excoriated by civil rights groups, including the NAACP, The 74 interviewed a civil rights leader who praised DeVos. In June, DeVos herself gave an exclusive interview to The 74. The interview, which did not mention DeVos' controversial policy moves on sexual assault and LGBTQ rights, did not include any disclosure of DeVos' prior funding for the site.
Brown's The 74 featured bigoted Daily Caller editor
While Brown served as editor-in-chief of The 74, the site featured at least 11 pieces from Eric Owens, an editor at The Daily Caller. Owens "has a long history of penning racially insensitive, sexist, and transphobic attacks on students and teachers."
Owens, for example, wrote in The Daily Caller that white privilege is a "radical and bizarre political theory that white people enjoy a bunch of wonderful privileges while everyone else suffers under the yoke of invisible oppression." In another Daily Caller column, Owens called college students "delicate, immature wusses who become traumatized, get the vapors and seek professional counseling any time they face adversity."
After Brown joined Facebook, The Daily Caller was named an official Facebook fact-checking partner, despite The Daily Caller's history of inaccurate reporting.
Brown thinks Breitbart is a "quality" news source
Brown's role with The 74 raises further questions about the ideological underpinnings of Facebook's nascent news tab, which has not been rolled out to all users. Brown's team elected to include Breitbart — an unreliable and noxious right-wing site that was literally caught laundering white nationalist talking points — among the 200 "quality" sources included in the launch.
On Facebook, Brown defended the decision:
I also believe that in building out a destination for news on Facebook, we should include content from ideological publishers on both the left and the right - as long as that content meets our integrity standards for misinformation. All the content on Facebook News today meets those standards. If a publisher violates our standards by posting misinformation or hate speech on our platform, they will be removed from Facebook News.
It's unclear how Breitbart could meet any "integrity standard for misinformation." In 2017, for example, Breitbart "made up a false story that an immigrant started deadly Sonoma wildfires." The story, which was not backed by "any evidence," was picked up by other right-wing outlets like The Drudge Report and InfoWars, and spread quickly on Facebook. In 2016, Breitbart dispatched a reporter to a small Idaho town to report on a fake "Muslim invasion." It hawks scam cryptocurrencies to its readership.
Breitbart is banned from being cited as a source on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia says Breitbart "should not be used, ever, as a reference for facts, due to its unreliability." Brown, however, believes it is a quality news source for Facebook readers.
Facebook has refused to release a list of the 200 publications approved for inclusion in the news tab.
Facebook's hostility toward Warren
The 74's hostility toward Warren echoes comments by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In leaked audio of a company meeting, Zuckerberg said it would "suck" if Warren became president because she posed an "existential" threat to the company. Zuckerberg promised to "go to the mat" to fight Warren's agenda. An excerpt:
I mean, if [Warren] gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.
After the audio leaked, Zuckerberg did not express regret for trashing one of the leading Democratic candidates for president in a company meeting. Instead, he linked to a transcript of the audio from his Facebook page, calling it an "unfiltered version of what I'm thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics."
Zuckerberg has donated $600,000 to The 74 in 2019 through his foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Zuckerberg's foundation describes The 74 as "a non-profit, nonpartisan news site covering education in America."
Related reading: The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook
Thanks for reading!