WNET will return foundation grant for Pension Peril series

WNET will return a $3.5 million grant it received for a series of reports on public pensions after facing questions about the funder’s involvement with the issue. In a joint statement, PBS and WNET announced Friday that the grant to support the Pension Peril series would go back to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, whose co-founder John Arnold has supported efforts to reduce public pensions. “While PBS stands by WNET’s reporting in this series, in order to eliminate any perception on the part of the public, our viewers, and donors that the Foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity of the reporting for this program, WNET has decided to forego the Arnold Foundation support and will return the gift,” the statement said. The statement continued:
“We made a mistake, pure and simple,” said Stephen Segaller, Vice President of Programming at WNET. “The PBS NewsHour Weekend is a new production and while we thought we were following the guidelines and the correct vetting processes, we were incorrect.

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

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.

PandoDaily article questions funding of WNET pension series

Charges that a public TV reporting initiative about pensions is ethically compromised by its funding sources led to a fiery exchange today between the funder in question and reporter and columnist David Sirota, who leveled the claims in an article for the Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily. Sirota pointed out in his story that The Pension Peril, a two-year reporting initiative produced by New York’s WNET, receives most of its funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Co-founder John Arnold, a hedge-fund manager and former trader for Enron, has contributed to political campaigns urging state lawmakers to reduce pension benefits for public employees, according to Sirota. WNET largely neglects to disclose the relationship, Sirota wrote, though he did turn up a reference on a Pension Peril report’s web page. According to WNET, The Pension Peril has so far delivered reports for two shows that it produces: PBS NewsHour Weekend, which PBS distributes nationally, and Long Island Business Report, which airs on WNET’s Long Island outlet. The reporting project examines “the deficit in funding for public employees’ retirement benefits,” according to a news release from the station.