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Media and CFR: holding hands

By Laurie Bennett

January 11, 2013 at 7:54am

Today is the fourth day in our series examining relationships of the Council on Foreign Relations.

We’ve sought comment from the council before each post, but have yet to receive a response or an acknowledgement of our email messages.

This is disappointing, because CFR is itself a publisher, of Foreign Affairs, and its media connections are many.

The above Muckety map shows well-known media figures who are members of the council. (You might want to view the map in the larger version, for more elbow room.)

Around the periphery of the map, you’ll see the media outlets employing these journalists. They are some of the biggest news companies in America, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, the New Yorker, public broadcasting and commercial broadcast companies.

News Corp., owner of Fox and the Wall Street Journal, is a corporate member. So is Time Warner, owner of Time, Fortune and CNN. Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters are also corporate members.

Individual membership in the Council on Foreign Relations is an honor bestowed on the few. Applicants must be sponsored by sitting members. Acceptance is so highly regarded that it is often listed on CVs.

The Think Tanks And Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania has ranked CFR fourth among the top 30 think tanks, behind the Brookings Institution, the UK’s Chatham House, and the Carnegie Endowment.

And yet you’ll find little written about the council itself.

Although we’re not suggesting that media membership buys silence, we do wonder why the public doesn’t see more (any?) hard-hitting coverage of one of the world’s most powerful organizations.

We suspect that one reason is the constant chatter of those who regard the CFR as a cabal of world government types. Consciously or not, respectable journalists want to avoid the conspiracy taint.

A better reason, of course, is that the council does some extraordinary work.

It fosters discussion and boosts awareness on increasingly complex issues, such as terrorism, human rights, economics and the environment. It brings together decision makers and thought leaders who might never otherwise meet.

Its scholars and fellows provide reporters with expert insights on topics ranging from nuclear security to nation building. They help fill editorial pages and appear as analysts on cable news programs. Council President Richard Haass, a former special assistant to George H.W. Bush and director of policy planning at the State Department, is a steady presence on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Yet the council functions not only as a research organization but as a sort of mega-lobby/extragovernmental agency.

CFR’s 2012 annual report points out that its scholars testified 26 times before committees of the 112th Congress.

As we noted yesterday, the current Treasury secretary, the likely future Treasury secretary and seven former secretaries are members.

CFR membership also includes officials with the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the departments of State, Commerce, Education, Energy and Homeland Security.

We count more than 30 admirals and generals.

And a least 88 media execs and journalists. Some, such as New Yorker Editor David Remnick, are former fellows, recipients of the CFR’s Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship.

Participation in the council no doubt gives reporters, anchors and news organizations valuable access to business and government leaders. Those exchanges certainly inform their journalism.

Maybe some of them have also aggressively covered the CFR as an institution. Maybe we just happened to miss those stories.

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