On George Soros, Occupy Wall Street, and Reuters

By Felix Salmon
October 13, 2011

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Occupy Wall Street — the soi-disant “99%” — were being secretly funded by billionaire Davos Man George Soros, exemplar of the 1%? Well, no, it wouldn’t, actually. As Noreen Malone points out, lots of the 1% have, like Soros, expressed sympathy with OWS, including Bill Clinton, Ben Bernanke, and at least one member of the Buffett family. And when you’re sympathetic to a cause, and have lots of money, often you donate money to that cause.

But in this case it looks very much as though there’s no connection at all between Soros and OWS. That makes sense: for one thing, Soros is a creature of Wall Street himself, and for another, he tends to fund well-organized groups with specific goals. Which, clearly, OWS isn’t.

Which is why today’s Reuters story about the connection between Soros and OWS has elicited so much derision around the blogosphere. Beyond allowing us to shoehorn the #ows and #soros hashtags into a single tweet, there’s no real substance to it at all:

There has been much speculation over who is financing the disparate protest, which has spread to cities across America and lasted nearly four weeks. One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.

Soros and the protesters deny any connection. But Reuters did find indirect financial links between Soros and Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada which started the protests with an inventive marketing campaign aimed at sparking an Arab Spring type uprising against Wall Street. Moreover, Soros and the protesters share some ideological ground.

Yes, there are people — led, it would seem, by Rush Limbaugh — who are loudly speculating that Soros is funding OWS. There might conceivably be a story in their rabble-rousing, which could point out that Soros’s agenda is hardly secret — it’s right there on his website for all to see.

Alternatively, as John Carney points out, there’s an interesting story in the way that OWS has raised money, through crowdsourced means like Kickstarter.

But the angle we went with is not a story, especially since Soros says he’s never even heard of Adbusters.

According to disclosure documents from 2007-2009, Soros’ Open Society gave grants of $3.5 million to the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based group that acts almost like a clearing house for other donors, directing their contributions to liberal non-profit groups. Among others the Tides Center has partnered with are the Ford Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

Disclosure documents also show Tides, which declined comment, gave Adbusters grants of $185,000 from 2001-2010, including nearly $26,000 between 2007-2009.

The Tides Center is not some great sloshing pool of money which takes in money and hands it out. Yes, one of the many things that it offers foundations is the opportunity to create collective action funds, enabling a group of donors to channel their money in a collaborative manner. The fact that Soros gave money to Tides and that Tides gave money to Adbusters in no way means that there’s an “indirect financial link” between the two. That’s like saying that there’s an “indirect financial link” between me and Mitt Romney, because I lend money to Citigroup (I’m a depositor at Citibank), and Citigroup has given money to Romney.

Besides, OWS wasn’t even dreamed of back in 2009. If somehow some Soros money did make it to Adbusters between 2007 and 2009 — despite Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn’s clear statement that “he’s never given us a penny” — then that’s still a good two years away from any connection to OWS.

The article is particularly problematic from my perspective because I’m incredibly proud of Reuters’s long tradition of impartial journalism. I’m on the opinion side, not bound by such things, and if you think I’m biased you’re right. (I should mention here explicitly that this post, just like everything else on this blog, is my personal opinion. It may or may not be shared by others within the organization. But it should emphatically not be taken as representing the views of Thomson Reuters.)

Reuters news stories like the one about OWS are held to a very high standard of integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. And there’s lots in this article which tilts hard to the right.

There’s the idea that Rush Limbaugh is a good place to look if you want someone to “sum up the speculation” and provide the news hook for the entire story. The idea that the Council on Foreign Relations is a “liberal cause”. The idea that the protests were “triggered” by a campaign poster featuring a “battle-ready mob” of people “dressed in anarchist black”. The description of OWS as “the so-called occupation”. And then there’s this:

Since its obscure beginnings, the campaign has drawn global media attention in places as far-flung as Iran and China. The Times of London, however, was not alone when it called the protests “Passionate but Pointless.”

Reuters cannot — must not — get a reputation as a right-wing media outlet. We have to report the news as impartially as we can. In this case, there was no story, and nothing to report. Inventing a tenuous and intellectually-dishonest link between Soros and OWS might get us traffic from Matt Drudge — but that’s traffic which, frankly, we don’t particularly value or care for. Much more importantly, it serves to undermine the heart of what Reuters stands for. And we can never afford to do that.

Update: After a rather confusing series of events, the old version of the story is still online, while a recast version is here. Both of them now carry the headline “Soros: not a funder of Wall Street protests”. Which is an improvement.

42 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Good for you. Great piece. I was amazed to see that “article” as well.

Posted by steinpiaz | Report as abusive

Felix:
Did you send this to your superiors? It makes me wonder who approved of that Soros/OWS story.

Posted by PhilPerspective | Report as abusive

Felix, you’re a guy with some integrity. And your audience will follow you wherever you go. I know you need a platform (although I would pay a few bucks a month to visit your blog and anything else you sponsored). Still, it’s got to feel uncomfortable cashing a check from Reuters after something like this. I know I’ll have mixed feelings visiting your blog knowing that Reuters might get revenue from it, no matter how small.

This “article” by Reuters is gutter journalism. Who’s “behind” the OWS movement? Um, why does there need to be anyone “behind” a group of people expressing their opinion? Who was “behind” the Boston Tea Party? Who was “behind” the opposition to the Vietnam War? Who was “behind” the Arab Spring? Who’s “behind” Reuters?

The supposed connection between George Soros and the OWS movement “reported” in this piece is right out of the playbook of Joe McCarthy.

Posted by Sfdude | Report as abusive

I can’t say my comment is particularly unique but holy hell that OWS piece is (still, hours later) unbelievable.

I don’t mean that I can’t believe someone printed it. I can’t believe *Reuters* printed it as an actual “news” piece. I would still be surprised it got through the editors even if it was an editorial.

What the hell is going on over there?

Posted by DarienTrain | Report as abusive

Felix,

You’re Right and you are wrong. George Soros has seeded discord across the Globe through his “Philanthropy”, and cronies, and magically benefits Billions from the wreckage using Insider Trading – (Documented Convictions, not Speculation)

The AdBuster buy was not likely Direct, but Van Jones wouldn’t be eating without George’s “Philanthropy” and HIS fingerprints are all over this waste of Carbon Footprints.

Posted by JoeElector | Report as abusive

Ditto. I’ve already lost a great deal of confidence in Reuters. And, equally problematic, is their decision to pull that story and replace it with one stating pretty much the opposite, without any indication that they “erred”.

As I suggested on that comment thread, actions like this make me believe we need an Occupy The Media movement, too.

Posted by aloysiusflyte | Report as abusive

JoeElector, your views are uninformed speculation that is very much part of the problem. I only hope that you are able to somehow figure that out for yourself one day, for your sake and mine.

Posted by aloysiusflyte | Report as abusive

Well, I hope you are right. Personally I go by the –if it quacks like a duck theory. When a news organization behaves as if it is bought and sold, someone in its upper management IS bought and sold.

This is usually true even if there are still some honest reporters there.

Posted by tconnor | Report as abusive

The disturbing trend here is that of manufactured news. The fact that Reuters fell prey to the cynical experts such as Limbaugh, whose stock in trade is seizing upon some non-event (the alleged Black Panthers intimidating voters at the polls, “death panels,” a yearly “War on Christmas”) and hyping it up via a shallow, unquestioning echo chamber until it seems as though it is actually something worth paying attention to … that is something that Reuters should take a look at.

And by “take a look at,” I mean that unless you want this whole sorry mess to come back at you in six months … or six weeks … or six days … you are going to have to devote a significant amount of time doing what you do best – but have avoided, out of some outdated sense of professional courtesy (or some such).

Basically, you are going to have to abandon the crumbling facade of journalistic neutrality and go on a crusade against the manipulators. The liars. The cynical, self-serving wretches who twist words to fire up low-information voters into an ignorant frenzy. This is not going to be an easy decision to make. But sooner or later, you are going to have to do it.

Else, you might as well get used to an ever-increasing number of scandals, embarassments and shame, all coming from the increasingly toxic stew foisted on the public that you should have been alerting, should have been fighting for.

Posted by Digital_Pilgrim | Report as abusive

Felix, this was a great piece, and I thank you for referencing the story I wrote on Gather News. You did an excellent job picking this ridiculous story apart.

Posted by RenoBerkeley | Report as abusive

Great work oh boy! Soros who gives out millions of dollars — gave to an organization who supports adjusters (along with many other organizations). I hardly find that convincing evidence that Soros is the wizard of oz here, sitting behind a curtain pulling levers.

Keep trying though, you will eventually stumble onto some kind of explanation for why thousands of people are risking arrest all over this country…..

Posted by matildajohnson | Report as abusive

But it’s been perfectly acceptable to be constantly a left-wing organization all these many years? It was one article! Too bad your so called journalistic integrity doesn’t ring true or you would have found hundreds of articles in years pst as offensive as you found this piece

Posted by blueblue | Report as abusive

Yes:

“Reuters cannot — must not — get a reputation as a right-wing media outlet. We have to report the news as impartially as we can. In this case, there was no story, and nothing to report. Inventing a tenuous and intellectually-dishonest link between Soros and OWS might get us traffic from Matt Drudge — but that’s traffic which, frankly, we don’t particularly value or care for. Much more importantly, it serves to undermine the heart of what Reuters stands for. And we can never afford to do that.”

Maybe someone should pass the word along to the AP.

Posted by distortiontruth | Report as abusive

At a minimum your reporters could get the name correct. It’s the Tides Foundation, not the Tides Center. Sloppy reporting is sloppy reporting.

Posted by flory | Report as abusive

Thanks for this, Felix. You are clearly doing your best as usual with responses like these to uphold my trust as a reader, and it’s appreciated.
There’s a story behind the story here, though. Is it possible you can follow the stench upstream to identify the source behind it? Someone obviously has an axe to grind with #OWS, as you note, and feels threatened enough by the outbreak of populism to engage in yellow journalism.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_jour nalism

Posted by melior | Report as abusive

“The Times of London, however, was not alone when…”

What a source! They might as well have said, “Rupert Murdoch, however, was not alone when…”

Posted by leoklein | Report as abusive

I think there is zero danger of Reuters becoming a “right-wing media outlet”. Fabricators of news? They already have that reputation. Apologists for genocidaires and terrorists. Tick. People willing to fall for any fake translation, quote or doctored document. Tick. Employers of people with, at best, a tenuous grasp of their subject material. Ditto. Weird, none of that bothered you at all. I guess when it comes to instant retractions, helps to be a multi-billionaire with an army of lawyers.

I doubt after nearly 3 years of non-stop incitement from such worthless “journalists” such as Morgensen and Eissenger that you need to pay anyone to go out and demonstrate. As we all know, if you borrowed and can’t pay it back you are a victim, bankers are getting record bonuses – including the many tens of thousands who have lost their jobs, all foreclosures are fake, the Fed was doing something dodgy making loans that were paid back in full and if Obama just spent like crazy then the world would be great.

PS love this article coming out after you trashed News Corp for having some ethics slip-up.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

Well said, Danny_Black.

Posted by alea | Report as abusive

Felix Salmon – you have truly added a “slice of lime and soda” to the conversation. Thank you for introducing alternative explanations for the “funding” of OWS, other than the suggestion that George Soros is a donor to the cause. To me, it is too bad that so much attention is focused on “how did this happen?” “how did it grow?” “who is behind this?” I prefer to skip those questions and lend an ear to become a listener. As I hear the unrehearsed expressions of a very diverse group of people, I get a feeling that the unpolished words are coming from the hearts and souls of these people — who have stood up — not just for themselves — but also for me. As I listen, I find myself agreeing with OWS and those who are exercising freedom of speech and freedom of assembly throughout our Nation. This is a time for those who do not agree with pro-active involvements such as we are seeing through “Occupy” to withhold judgment until the full story is told. Each sound byte will come together in a chorus — harmonizing on a theme of a vision of a better Nation. The orchestra and the chorus is now working without a composer, without a score, without instruments, but with fervor. Rather than insisting that they have an orchestra conductor or a stage manager or a bureaucratic leader, I feel it’s better than the efforts evolve toward a work of art — humanity expressing simple human needs, wants, and vision. Without vision, all will wither. Our people need dialog, camaraderie, communication, listeners and speakers — each getting a turn, each part of the solution. I consider the people who are occupying Wall Street to be each be an individual with a valuable, exclusive, intimate and touching story to tell. There are many who do not wish to be “touched” — emotionally, mentally, spiritually, psychologically, or physically — by those whom they do not know, respect, honor, or hold in esteem. The folks who are not “touched” and who hold their spirits in frozen withdrawal from “those people whom they do not understand, nor hear” are missing important messages. Those who fail to listen may miss out of some of the most beautiful people, the most dear, the most worthy of concern, and the most precious. I find myself listening, but — after the “listening” step — action must follow. Involvement and actions that spring as a response to others’ needs are the actions that will bring light upon the path of the listener/responder/actor. May I grow in answering with more than words. Thank you, Reuters. I’ve long appreciated your unbiased approach and turn to you for information on many occasions. Salmon, you brought clarity to the OWS/Soros undocumented assertion, lending clarity to the true situation and showing we do better when we do not jump to conclusions drawn on hypotheses that fall short of a basis in truth. — Buz

Posted by HarrietValentia | Report as abusive

You are wonderful. I applaud you for writing this excellent post. It is a very convincing critique. You also help us understand what is wrong with a lot of journalism.

But the reason I approve so very strongly is that you are criticizing your employer in public. This shows great integrity and some courage.

The world would be a much better place if there were more people like you.

Posted by robertwaldmann | Report as abusive

Lots of the 1% have, like Soros, expressed sympathy with OWS…but…there’s no connection between Soros and OWS [because] Soros is a creature of Wall Street himself.

This argument is incoherent.

Posted by krugginator | Report as abusive

I think in the name of honesty you should have described Limbaugh as a journalistic puss-oozing festering boil plumbing the depths of political depravity but that would have probably got you called out by the Righties ..

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

@Felix

As others have noted, the motivation here remains unclear but with some consensus that the piece was titled and written merely to develop traffic.

But there’s another possibility here too which bears serious consideration.

It is an old and common propaganda technique to place a claim in an apparently objective or dependable news outlet which will them be propagated elsewhere. Eg, Britain’s Daily Mirror carries some item which, the next morning, Dick Cheney cites on ABC – with the suggestion or implication that the sourcing is external/objective so deserving greater credibility or to suggest that there is some growing consensus supporting a claim or opinion.

Because the framing of this piece so conveniently echoes and bolsters the right wing framing (OWS not grassroots at all but just one more Soros project) it is acutely suspicious.

Any way you or others at Reuters can suss out the whos and the hows responsible for developing this piece as it originally appeared?

Posted by butter11 | Report as abusive

When will Reuters fully accept that not everyone believes the horseflop emanating from NewsCorp?

I agree with OWS. Corporate money in politics has gone too far. MSM is not in touch with the actual citizens but rather only the top 1%, and the only difference between Rethuglicans and Democrats is on meaningless wedge issues.

In all seriousness, Felix, where’s your hit piece on the trade deals that were just passed?

Posted by Unsympathetic | Report as abusive

God bless you, Felix Salmon, for reminding Reuters editors and publishers of what they used to stand for.

I was shocked, dismayed and ultimately saddened when I read that story. It was so clearly a plant from some right wing screed. The reporters involved, at the very least, owe us an apology and at the very most, ought to resign in disgrace and lift the shame off a fine organization.

This must not be tolerated.

Posted by Actor_212 | Report as abusive

robertwaldmann, seriously?

What is wrong with “journalism” is that the decline in basic rudimentary fact checking. Now days what passes for “journalism” is a mix of reprinting press releases, cut and paste “churnalism” and opinion pieces masquerading as news.

Integrity and “courage” does not represent regurgitating publicly what I will happily bet is the happy consensus in his office.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

@Danny_Black: For someone that is supposedly so educated, you certainly display all the traits of a garden variety internet troll. One of the main reasons that I enjoy Felix’s blog so much is the civil and well thought out discourse that often takes place in the comments section. You’re always the notable exception to the rule.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

spectre855, thank you for dealing squarely with the facts and your well-thought refutation of my claims.

Weird how upset people get when their cherished beliefs are questioned.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

Similarly I’ve been surprised by the difference between David Brooks’ writing and his appearances on the News Hour. The former occasionally being right wing propaganda and the later being extremely well though out. So in addition to the author, you have to look who is publishing it. But just as Reuters reporting is fairly well balanced, so, too is the NYT. But they are guilty of publishing lies as truth. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/opini on/brooks-where-the-jobs-arent.html rebutted on http://planetsave.com/2011/10/13/milquet oast-radicals-rebuttal-to-ny-times-david -brooks-op-ed/). Here the reputable source is not what you think.

I guess the solution is that the reader needs to either do their own fact checking, or check the blogosphere for trustworthy confirmation before spreading what supposedly reputable sources publish. Thanks for providing that Felix!

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive

Looks like your colleagues, Mark Egan and Michelle Nichols, have just purchased a golden ticket in the Juan Williams lottery (a/k/a, the Faux News sweepstakes). Being a whore may be the world’s oldest profession, but it has never paid this good!

Posted by SleepyFloyd | Report as abusive

Danny_Black, my goal wasn’t to refute anything. I was simply making an observation about your always inflammatory and confrontational comments. Anyway, I won’t take away from the topic at hand any further. As the old saying goes, don’t feed the trolls.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

LEEDAP, again maybe i have a romantic view of what a journalist or a news organisation is meant to be but surely basic fact checking should be part of their job?

The NYT coverage of topics I have some awareness of is usually laughably incorrect with basic fundamental factual errors. At least two of the reporters – who wrote a rather good book on the financial crisis – are capable of writing without making howlers. Presumably this is a difference in fact checking and editing.

Most of the time this is just noise so not really important, but when it works itself up into a media feeding frenzy it can have very very serious consequences.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

Felix your post is the most left wing I have read from a reporter.
You really show your spots by blaming Rush Limbaugh and Drudge.
We all know that George Soros is a socialist who wants to take
over the government of the U.S. and he is doing it thru any
means necessary including the current administration.

Posted by ajgarre | Report as abusive

Good post, but what is Reuters actually doing to fix it in a serious way?

Posted by thelonius | Report as abusive

There is a down side to the haphazard way these protests are being handled by the “organizers” and I have yet to see ANY media, ANY, report on the destruction to the lives of the people that these “protesters” claim to be representing. It’s appalling to me that anybody would want common hard working citizens to be hamstringed from working in the cities where this mayhem is happening. Small vendors, small business owners, cabbies, tourist oriented venues, are all suffering as a result of this thug militia style campout. My heart goes out to the working class that may not have a check this week. If this is the kind of “change” that Nancy Pelosi and her ilk want to support? I will NOT be voting for Obama again or any of his cronies. There are better ways to influence change, but they require hard work, running for office or working for a candidate who has similar values, etc. Voting would be a good start for some of these bums as one reporter on CNN quoted that a staggering number of those OWS participants don’t even vote! It’s much easier to score dope, have sex under tarps, walk around naked, and deface public parks and avenues claiming that it’s not fair that you don’t have a better life. God, it makes me sick.

Posted by lilbear216 | Report as abusive

Felix knows a fake story when he reads it. God knows, he knows how it’s done. This is the sound of a pendulum changing direction.

Posted by RegisAmes | Report as abusive

Reuters = worthless trash

The article has been taken down, but for a moment Reuters has shown its true colors. That’s good enough for me to delete teh Reuters bookmark off my browser. Reports from Reuters are now worthless trash.

Posted by TexasReader | Report as abusive

Thanks for you share this article ,it’s good .

Posted by coln | Report as abusive

That’s interesting cuz I got email from several of Soros’ operation today that asked me to join in on the American Spring.

Soros, CIA Behind Imported Revolutions http://bit.ly/GBfyTN

Posted by NHampshire | Report as abusive

What’s not to think when they predict it, admit it, proud of it?

Gene Smart, OTPOR, CIA, SOROS, and all his groups, all working toward the American Spring = Sharia Law or martial law.

Posted by NHampshire | Report as abusive

BTW I have never listened to Limbaugh, and my assertions are not speculation. This is all a false flag and any of you complicit in OWS are just helping to bring about socialism, Sharia, or martial law, which is what the elites want.

You are what we call “useful idiots”.

Posted by NHampshire | Report as abusive

Just as I thought — FELIX has no response and can’t admit he’s been had.

Posted by NHampshire | Report as abusive