The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is an outfit of left-wing attack dogs disguised as an independent media and information outlet. The group characterizes pro-business or free-market advocacy as bought P.R. for major companies, but CMD takes significant sums of money from left-wing foundations to fund its agitprop.
CMD began primarily as a project of career far-left activists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, who used CMD as a platform from which to publish a series of books. Since Stauber and Rampton’s retirements, CMD has been run by Lisa Graves, a career Democratic Party and left-liberal activist who previously worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The group operates the publication PR Watch and a related Wiki-platform SourceWatch, which present the group’s hostile view of pro-business and free-market groups.
When New York City alt-weekly The Village Voice reviewed one of Stauber and Rampton’s books, the publication noted, “These guys come from the far side of liberal.” Twelve years hasn’t changed anything but the nameplates at CMD: The organization is still anti-corporate and far-left. CMD’s staffers come steeped in years of Democratic Party and left-wing advocacy group politics.
- Executive Director Lisa Graves was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department, moving on to serve the Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee under Leahy and as Senior Legislative Strategist for the ACLU.
- Deputy Director Mary Bottari served as a Press Secretary to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in the late 1990s. She also worked for the Ralph Nader-founded advocacy organization Public Citizen on that group’s anti-free trade projects.
- Freelance Contributor Beau Hodai also has written for liberal magazine In These Times and the magazine of anti-corporate media criticism organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
This continues a tradition established by founder Stauber and his colleague Rampton. Before founding CMD, Stauber was a field director for Jeremy Rifkin’s anti-biotechnology Foundation on Economic Trends. In 1992, Madison’s progressive newspaper, The Capital Times, identified Stauber as a campaign worker for the left-wing insurgent presidential bid of Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) against Bill Clinton. Rampton was a contributor to In These Times and helped to direct the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, taking part in a project that he said “channeled more than $7 million in loans to Nicaragua” while that nation was under Sandinista (Marxist) control.
This history of far-left agitation has earned CMD grants from some of the largest left-leaning foundations including the Foundation to Promote Open Society, part of billionaire currency trader George Soros’s progressive philanthropic empire. The Foundation gave CMD $100,000 in 2010.
The left-leaning Tides Foundation has given CMD $160,000 since 2006, including funding a PR Watch “senior researcher” in 2009. The Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, another major left-wing foundation which has Lyndon B. Johnson’s former press secretary and PBS host Bill Moyers as its president, has given CMD $250,000 in 2005 and 2006.
In Stauber and Rampton’s day, CMD was directly supported by even more left-wing interests. The duo’s book projects earned grants totaling $47,000 from the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which calls for, among other things, reducing the human population. Despite this history of far-left advocacy and funding, media sources often mistakenly cite CMD’s SourceWatch as an independent watchdog.
CMD founder John Stauber got his break in far-left activism with the Luddite Foundation on Economic Trends, founded by Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin called beef a “new form of human evil,” so it’s not surprising that Stauber and CMD ran with the mad cow disease scare when it broke in the late 1990s. To that end, Stauber and Rampton wrote a book entitled Mad Cow USA with financial support from the radical Foundation for Deep Ecology, a screed against the beef industry that predicted a pandemic of mad cow disease. In an environmentalist magazine, Rampton touted a prediction that American deaths from “mad cow” would be in the hundreds of thousands.
No such pandemic has arrived. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1993 there have been 23 cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in North American cattle. There have been only three human cases of variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of “mad cow,” in the United States, ever.
Interestingly for a group that made its name hyping a cattle-based disease epidemic that never came, today’s CMD runs a “Food Rights Network” which promotes, among other things, legalizing the production of unpasteurized (or “raw”) milk. According to the CDC, drinking unpasteurized milk can potentially expose a person to contracting E. coli, Campylobacter, or Salmonella. The CDC reports that while less than one percent of milk sold in the United States is unpasteurized, half of dairy-related foodborne illness outbreaks are linked to unpasteurized milk. According to the CDC, “Most public health professionals and health care providers consider pasteurization to be one of public health’s most effective food safety interventions ever.”