OPB asks WNET for “assurance” that funder didn’t influence Pension Peril

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Oregon Public Broadcasting has asked New York’s WNET to demonstrate that no “improper influence” was exerted by the primary funder of its special news series covering public pensions.

OPB said in a Feb. 13 statement that it is “seeking assurance from WNET” that its Pension Peril series was not subject to improper editorial influence. In a PandoDaily article published earlier this week, reporter and columnist David Sirota called attention to a major funder of the series, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to Sirota, co-founder John Arnold has supported political efforts to reduce retirement benefits for public employees. Sirota argued that Arnold’s support for the WNET production calls its impartiality into question.

In a statement posted Wednesday, the Arnold Foundation said that it “has respected and encouraged WNET’s full editorial autonomy. LJAF has never sought to influence in any way the content of the series, its programming schedule or any other editorial matter.”

And in a statement of its own, WNET said that the Arnold Foundation’s support was clearly disclosed on the PBS Weekend NewsHour broadcasts that have featured Pension Peril segments. The station posted a video compiling opening credits to the broadcasts, which did disclose the foundation’s funding but did not specify that it supported the coverage of pensions.

OPB is pressing for full disclosure. “Our view is that while the Arnold Foundation was listed as a funder of PBS NewsHour Weekend, WNET should also have clearly disclosed the foundation’s specific funding of the Pension Peril series,” OPB wrote.

The station added, “OPB has also requested that the PBS Ombudsman review the stories broadcast and the underlying funding relationships.”

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