PolitiFact Failed to Disclose Possible Conflicts of Interest in Israel Election ‘Fact Check’

Politifact Truth-O-Meter

TEL AVIV – PolitiFact, which is part of a new group that will help Facebook flag “disputed” stories, last year rated as “Mostly False” a claim that the U.S. funded an election effort in Israel via the nonprofit One Voice aimed at defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

PolitiFact left out of its declaration on One Voice that Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist who lists himself as an adviser and donor to PolitiFact, documents on his personal website that he has been “helping out” One Voice, where he writes he also serves as an adviser.

Also missing from PolitiFact’s rating about the One Voice claim is that One Voice is partnered with Google, which also happens to be a donor to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies,  which owns the Tampa Bay Times. PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times.

A senate investigation in July concluded that the State Department did not do anything illegal in funding One Voice to the tune of nearly $350,000 in 2013, but that the infrastructure created by One Voice at the time of the State Department financing could have been used last year in the anti-Netanyahu campaign.

While PolitiFact noted that its March 25, 2015 “Mostly False” designation “may change as more evidence comes to light,” it did rely largely on One Voice’s word on the matter while failing to note the ties between PolitiFact and the partners of One Voice.

Aaron Sharockman, PolitiFact’s executive director, responded to a Breitbart News request about why the relationships with Newmark were not mentioned in the article about One Voice.

“Craig Newmark is one of many people who have supported PolitiFact’s independent journalism over the past nine years,” Sharockman wrote in an email statement. “Contributors donate to PolitiFact knowing they have no say over what we fact-check, or how we rate a claim. The first time contributors see a fact-check is when it’s published.”

Sharockman did not respond as of this publication to a follow up email request for comment about why PolitiFact left out the ties between Google, PolitiFact and One Voice.

These kinds of overlapping partnerships and financial relationships underscore possible ethical, financial and political conflicts with an outfit like PolitiFact helping to determine which news articles should be designated as “disputed” by Facebook.

Last week, Facebook announced it will work with “third-party fact checking organizations” that are signatories to the code of principles drafted by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which is hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Breitbart News last week reported that a cursory search of the Poynter Institute website finds that Poynter’s IFCN is openly funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundations as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, the National Endowment for Democracy and Newmark’s foundation.

Poynter’s IFCN is also funded by the Omidyar Network, which is the nonprofit for liberal billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The Omidyar Network has partnered with Open Society on numerous projects and has given grants to third parties using the Soros-funded Tides Foundation. Tides is one of the largest donors to left-wing causes in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the financing by Google and Newmark to Poynter and those entities’ ties to PolitiFact and One Voice raise questions about PolitiFact’s designation of the One Voice story as “Mostly False.”

In this case, the State Department in September 2013 provided nearly $350,000 to One Voice, the group that partnered with V15, which was an effort openly seeking to ensure that Netanyahu lost last year’s election.

There was no evidence that State Department money directly financed the anti-Netanyahu effort, but PolitiFact simply took One Voice’s word on the matter when the organization denied that any of the State money was utilized for the election campaign.

At the time, I visited V15’s nerve center, which was located inside One Voice’s Tel Aviv offices, and conducted an in-person interview with V15 co-founder Nimrod Dweck, who was quite open about the goal of ensuring the replacement of Netanyahu’s government with a center or left-wing coalition.

“We want to bring a change in the political sphere so that the center and left parties will form the next coalition. That’s our goal,” Dweck told me at the time.

V15 made headlines for hiring 270 Strategies founder and ex-Obama campaign staffer Jeremy Bird as a senior consultant. Bird was deputy director for Obama’s 2008 campaign and served as the national field director for the president’s 2012 reelection bid.

Dweck told me that Bird’s organizing skills were critical to V15’s anti-Netanyahu efforts.

“Israelis don’t know how to run field (operations) as Americans (do), and that was the major contribution of Jeremy’s team,” he said.

Meanwhile, the issue of State funds to One Voice formed the basis of a PolitiFact item titled, “Blog claims U.S. funded anti-Netanyahu election effort in Israel.”

PolitiFact correctly documented the amounts of State Department financing:

Affiliates OneVoice Israel got $233,500 from the State Department to spend in Israel and OneVoice Palestine got another $115,776 to spend in the Palestinian territories. That adds up to a little more than $349,000.

PolitiFact also noted questions that were raised by Gerald M. Steinberg, a professor at Bar Ilan University and head of NGO Monitor:

Steinberg is suspicious that State Department dollars helped V15, at least indirectly, but he can’t know for sure based on the information available.

In a draft report Steinberg shared with PunditFact, all he has are questions.

“Did OneVoice use U.S. government funds to launch V15? If not, and since money is fungible, did U.S. government funds free up other OneVoice financing to facilitate V15? Full transparency on the parts of the U.S. State Department, OneVoice, and V15 is necessary to verify or disprove the allegations and claims.”

PolitiFact then seems to have taken One Voice at face value and noted a denial by the State Department about the use of the funding for any anti-Netanyahu campaign:

Payton Knopf, senior director of global communications for OneVoice, said the money helped fund a series of “town-hall style meetings on university campuses and provided support to the Knesset Caucus for the Two-State Solution in organizing a meeting with 300 Israeli students and (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas in February 2014.”

Knopf told us the State Department money was spent by November 2014 – nearly four months ago. OneVoice, he said, never “spent any U.S. government funds in connection with the recent elections in Israel. Claims to the contrary are simply wrong.”

There are two important points to unpack there. If OneVoice says it spent the money by November 2014, that would be before the Israeli elections were even scheduled. That happened in December after Netanyahu called for early elections.

The State Department said in a briefing that “no payment was made to OneVoice after November 2014.”

PolitiFact concluded that the claim about State funding being used for the V15 campaign rates “Mostly False,” although the agency noted, “PunditFact’s rulings are based on when a statement was made and on the information available at that time.”

Yet PolitiFact has not updated its ruling with the findings of a Senate probe, which concluded some of the State funds could have been used to create the One Voice infrastructure that was deployed by V15 against Netanyahu.

“In service of V15, OneVoice deployed its social media platform, which more than doubled during the State Department grant period; used its database of voter contact information, including email addresses … and enlisted its network of trained activists, many of whom were recruited or trained under the grant, to support and recruit for V15,” the Senate inquiry stated.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an author of the probe, slammed the State Department for providing funds to a “politically active group.”

“The State Department ignored warning signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” Portman stated, according to Politico. “It is completely unacceptable that US taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East.”

The Times of Israel reported:

In a statement, OneVoice highlighted that the report found no wrongdoing by the group and said that it was “forthright” in reporting its work to the State Department.

“One Voice will continue its important work promoting peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement said.

Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.

With research by Brenda J. Elliott and Joshua Klein.


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