Salon Fails To Disclose Education Writer’s NEA/Labor Ties*

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A few folks were upset with me last week when, in Three Thoughts About Rishawn Biddle’s AFT Takedown, I suggested that Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle share his tax returns with us as part of his regular (and very helpful) practice of highlighting others’ financial interests (usually in the form of nonprofits taking money from the AFT or NEA).

What’s good for the goose… you get the idea. In case it isn’t obvious already, I’m a bit of a freak about transparency.

This week it’s time to take a look at another prolific education commentator and writer, Jeff Bryant, who usually takes a pro-union view in his pieces published in Salon and elsewhere. In this case, the issue seems to be not so much Bryant’s disclosure of financial interests but rather Salon’s disclosure to readers accompanying his writing.

Bryant’s most recent piece is a takedown of Lyndsey Layton’s Washington Post profile of Arne Duncan, excoriating the reporter for failing to expose the negative impact of Duncan’s tenure.

Who is Bryant, where does he come from, and are the outlets who publish his work disclosing to readers any possible conflicts or issues so that they can gauge it for themselves?

According to his About page on Salon, Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website… He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. 

Asked for a translation, Bryant says that the Education Opportunity Network he edits is funded by Campaign for America’s Future & the Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Campaign.

So who funds Bryant’s writing? The OTL Campaign is funded by the left-leaning Schott Foundation. CAF is funded by “various lefty foundations, individuals, and labor unions,” according to Bryant. There’s also a long list of clients for Bryant’s marketing consultancy (and the claim to have helped generate a dramatic increase in ASCD’s revenues). One of those clients is… the National Education Association.

The link between Bryant and the NEA is not disclosed to Salon readers, however.  And Bryant claims that the organization is listed on LinkedIn because of a one-off project he did for them in 2011. Most likely he’s referring to a report called “Starving America’s Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates are Hurting our Nation’s Students” which was, according to a NEA press release, researched by Bryant and sponsored by the National Education Association.

Asked about ongoing NEA (or AFT) support for CAF, Bryant did not respond.  Because it’s a 501c(4), CAF doesn’t have to reveal its donors.

I’ve emailed several folks at Salon about its disclosure policies and whether it considered giving readers more information about Bryant and will let you know if and when I hear back from them. 

I’m not sure anyone takes Salon very seriously anymore, or what it’s readership currently is. However, Salon’s disclosure statement about Bryant seems inadequate for a journalistic outlet no matter the size.

*Correction: Bryant’s review of the Washington Post profile of Duncan does not criticize him for sending his children to a private school, as I originally wrote.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.