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Is #OccupyWallStreet Part of the Soros Brand?


Reuters ran a story last week that attempted to paint George Soros and his foundation’s donations as an organizing element of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations. As much as this may be red meat to the right, I have to say that the story’s math was thin.

Here’s the equation: Soros’ Open Society Institute gave $3.5 million from 2007-2009 to the Tides Center. In that same period, Tides gave $26,000 to Adbusters, the group that proclaims to have initiated the Wall Street occupation.

Sure, Soros has been said to be sympathetic to the “cause,” but is he orchestrating the demonstrations? Probably not. At least not in a coordinated, marching-order sense.

However, there are some interesting connections.

In the media reform space, which I follow closely, Soros and Tides, among others, have spent over $100 million this past decade funding the efforts of radical groups like Free Press (surprisingly, sitting atop of this pyramid is not George Soros; rather, it’s the Ford Foundation, which has given over $12 million to media reform activists in the last ten years alone).

One name that stands out among the “media reformers” as they’re connected to the OWS movement is Free Press’s Tim Karr. To be sure, there is a firm connection between Soros and Tides to Karr’s employer. Since 2003, Free Press has received $1.26 million from Soros’ Open Society Institute; and from 2005-2007, nearly $215,000 from Tides.

Throughout the OWS occupation, Karr has been actively tweeting his support of the protestors. From those numerous tweets, one can see his vocal criticism of how the press covers the demonstrations, ostensibly goading them to present a more “balanced” (that is, favorable) reporting of the events. He has also urged that OWS demonstrators “Occupy the Internet,” too, presenting the next logical step as it relates to his main focus of work–Net Neutrality. Finally, he has posted 80-plus portraits of the New York demonstrations from weeks of photography, generally portraying the assembled activists as modern-day, everyman heroes.

That seems like a lot of off-the-clock activity for Free Press’s “campaign director.” Someone must be covering that time for his paycheck, right?


Elsewhere, this video hints at Karr’s more formal engagement with OWS, wherein the moderator of the panel on which he’s speaking highlights, albeit tenuously, his work promoting the occupation (at the 40-second mark of the video).

As to Karr’s connections to Adbusters / Tides, there are many. If you Google Tim Karr and Adbusters, you see their collaboration going back for several years through various conferences, speaking engagements, and other events.

Added to this, there is this mildly fascinating Tides connection between Karr and Liza Pike, director of New Media Mentors. In this piece, Pike promotes OWS, giving advice to further the “cause.” And as part of her article, she uses Karr’s portraits taken at OWS.

Interestingly, Pike’s New Media Mentors project is a Tides collaboration, and she sits on Free Press’s board.

I’m sure if I wanted to I could fund numerous other connections between Soros and the groups he funds to the OWS events. But as to an overall Soros coordination of the OWS demonstrations or a smoking gun? That remains to be seen.

So, what does all this mean?

It is evident that some Soros money has helped, if indirectly, several progressive front groups exploit the “buzz” that is OWS. But I think if these efforts were part of a plan, they’d be organized akin to what we see with Net Neutrality–i.e., virtually all of the activist groups in lockstep, shopping their cookie-cutter bullet points in an aggressively open and notorious manner to effect a clear policy objective (whatever that may be here).

That’s largely absent in this case.

Perhaps the cost of overtly siding with the decidedly anti-capitalist OWS protests is an un-American bridge too far. In other words, for the foundations–which seek to influence policy through the funding of public interest groups, “alternative” media outlets, and academia–they see such open support as leading with one’s chin, interfering with their longer-range, boil-the-frog game plan to “transform” America.

Who knows?

What seems clear to me, though, is that in this world where reputation plays a huge part in whether ideas and their messengers find acceptance, connections matter. Consequently, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Yet I’ve read of no stories where Soros or Tides or the numerous other progressive funders have adequately distanced themselves from the OWS “message.” In fact, the opposite seems more the truth.

Is OWS the Soros (and the others’) “brand”?

If so, America should boycott that “product.” It is a cardboard sham of an offering not worth the plastic wrapping it comes in.

If not, from a branding standpoint, it might serve their interests to clear up any confusion that the connections have created, and disavow the OWS movement and whatever it stands for.

Something tells me, however, that that ain’t happenin’ any time soon.


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