By Eric Siddall
The Marshall Project claims to be a “non-partisan, non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Donors fund it, and they state in their Code of Ethics that they will disclose to their readers when writing about one of their donors. Until now, I believed them.
In October 2017, on the eve of their publishing a commentary lauding the use of “risk assessment tools” in setting bail, I was asked to provide a 100-word “sidebar” to the commentary. I immediately responded, specifically discussing the widely used risk assessment tool developed by a foundation created and funded by Houston billionaire John Arnold.
The Marshall Project editor rejected my submission stating they wanted to “avoid that kind of calling out on the op-ed page because it requires fact checking and lawyers.” Their reasoning can be seen in the full e-mail exchange at a link below. Never mind the ADDA had covered this issue in previous blogs, (The Real World and The Failure of Bail Assessment Tools and What Is the Arnold Foundation Hiding) and provided the Marshall Project Commentary Editor with a link to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle which documented our allegations. Simple checks that an organization claiming to be a major news source should be happy to undertake. Instead, I was asked to rewrite a portion of the 100-word piece and remove direct references to the Arnold Foundation.
It now seems the more plausible explanation for their rewrite demand was that the Arnold Foundation is a major funding source for the Marshall Project. When the Marshall Project ran the story on risk assessment tools they did not inform their readers of an important fact: one of their major donors, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, had not only created one of the most widely used risk assessment tools but was also funding the effort to get jurisdictions to adopt that tool!
While I did not publicly comment on this episode and gave the Marshall Project the benefit of the doubt on journalistic integrity, subsequent events have caused me to change that view.
After the ADDA wrote a series of blogs on George Soros’ attempt to buy District Attorney races, on May 23, 2018, the Los Angeles Times followed with a story about the Soros funding which was written in conjunction with the Marshall Project. The article noted that the Marshall Project “receives funding from the California Endowment and other organizations that support efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system,” and linked to the list of organizations which includes the “Open Society Foundations.” The editors failed to mention who funds that foundation. The Open Society Foundation is George Soros’ personal foundation, to which he has given $32 billion. To be clear, the authors of the story, Abby VanSickle from the Marshall Project and Paige St. John from the Times did an excellent job showing how secret money is financing DA campaigns. While the story was balanced, a more honest disclaimer from the Times editors to the LA Times/Marshall Project story would have read, “the Marshall Project receives funding from a George Soros’ foundation and other organizations.”
On May 22, 2018, the Marshall Project published a story about Henry Nicholas III. The article attacked Nicholas for his funding of legislation that would strengthen the rights and protections of crime victims. The story was crafted to make Nicholas sound like an evil billionaire. For example, their story led off with unproven and unsourced claims that employees bought drugs for Nicholas and that he committed sexual assault, and criminally threatened his ex-wife. Maybe the Marshall Project believed readers needed “color” about Nicholas’ character for the story; yet when they write about issues/candidates funded by George Soros and John Arnold, such stories aren’t mentioned. Could it be the key difference is that unlike Soros and Arnold, Nicholas is not one of their funders?
After reading this expose on Nicholas, the benefit of the doubt turned into a view that the Marshall Project’s real “news story” mission is advocacy, not journalism.
Click here to read my full unedited email exchanges with the Marshall Project. Only the email addresses were redacted.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.