Campus Progress, an online magazine produced by liberal think tank the Center For American Progress, has been out front in its reporting on the for-profit schools issue, publishing a series of stories alleging conflicts of interest and disclosure problems among Democratic consultants working, or allegedly working, on the issue.
For instance, Campus Progress editor Kay Steiger recently published a piece denouncing Al From, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, for publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal without disclosing that a lobbying firm From consults for has for-profit colleges as clients.
The article didn’t provide any evidence From consulted on the for-profit schools issue for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a firm with over $27 million in revenues in 2010 and 171 clients.
Meanwhile, Campus Progress is also part of a coalition of liberal groups that include a wide array of unions and a dozen members of Congress lobbying the Obama administration for strict regulations of for-profit colleges.
The coalition includes the major teachers’ unions, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, several Hispanic groups including the National Council of La Raza and liberal lawmakers like independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Jan. 5, Campus Progress organized a conference call with the “Progressive Blog Community” to help liberal websites craft their message on the issue.
“We need your help to spread the word about the need for a strong regulation,” an e-mail announcing the conference call said.
On the call for Campus Progress was David Halperin, its director who has penned several pieces for Campus Progress questioning the ethics of for-profit college advocates like Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton.
The dual hats worn by Halperin – reporter and activist – are a revealing tale about the rise of blogs and other media hosted by ideological organizations whose ultimate purpose is to push legislative proposals, not to pursue truth independently from political strategy.
The issue is increasingly important because of the traction that certain articles published by the Center for American Progress, Campus Progress’s parent organization, have gained.
For instance, in the heat of the midterm campaigns, Think Progress, a blog hosted by the Center for American Progress, alleged the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was using foreign funds for its campaign activities, which is illegal.
The charge became a rallying party for the Democratic party, including President Obama. Think Progress’s reporting was treated with great deference by many outlets, like Politico, but the New York Times dismissed the allegation after reporting out the story.
For some of Campus Progress’s journalistic targets, the organization’s dual role, which is far less known than its high-profile reporting, can be angering.
“You can’t pretend to be unbiased when you’re actually an advocate,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens and Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) who found herself in Steiger’s crosshairs upon agreeing to take a job with Davis. “I find it outrageous and, in fact, unethical,” Sloan said.
“Our operation has both an advocacy arm and a magazine that we run on our website,” said Halperin. “Whenever we write about this issue we strive to disclose that we are also doing advocacy work on it. I think it’s in most of the pieces that we’ve done.”