Who funds and runs the Politico?

A longtime Reaganite is the president and CEO of the Politico. Are we supposed to believe that to be irrelevant to its political coverage?

Published May 4, 2007 5:08PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

In the middle of an article by The Politico's Mike Allen regarding last night's GOP presidential debate, one finds this paragraph:

She [Nancy Reagan] was escorted out of the hall by Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, and president and CEO of The Politico.

So the President and CEO of The Politico, Frederick Ryan, is also the Board Chairman for the Reagan Library. And that makes sense, because Ryan is a long-time, hard-core Reaganite. From a November 1987 Press Release:

Appointment of Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., as Assistant to the President

November 4, 1987

The President today announced the appointment of Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., to be Assistant to the President.

Since February 1985 Mr. Ryan has been responsible for the White House Office of Private Sector Initiatives as well as serving as Director of Presidential Appointments and Scheduling. Mr. Ryan began serving at the White House in February 1982 as Deputy Director of Presidential Appointments and Scheduling. In February 1983 he was appointed Special Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Appointments and Scheduling. Mr. Ryan was previously an attorney with the Los Angeles law firm of Hill, Farrer and Burrill. While engaged in his practice, he published several articles on various aspects of the law.

Mr. Ryan graduated from the University of Southern California (B.A., 1977) and the University of Southern California Law Center (J.D., 1980). He was born April 12, 1955, in Tampa, FL. Mr. Ryan is married and resides in Washington, DC.

So the President and CEO of The Politico worked in multiple positions in the Reagan White House, and was continuously promoted until he rose to the level of Assistant to the President. And his close connection to the Reagan family and the Reagan presidency continues through today.

Are we supposed to treat this fact as irrelevant or something when assessing what The Politico is and what type of political coverage it churns out? There is nothing wrong per se with hard-core political operatives running a news organization. Long-time Republican strategist Roger Ailes oversees Fox News, of course. But it seems rather self-evident that a news organization run by someone with such clear-cut political biases ought to have a hard time holding itself out as some sort of politically unbiased source of news.

The Politico's biggest boosters are Matt Drudge and George W. Bush, and it is run by a Reagan loyalist. At the very least, those facts are worth considering. Given that Editor-in-Chief John Harris has repeatedly vowed to be more "transparent" in how they conduct themselves, shouldn't we have some understanding of the role played by Ryan, and what his connection is to "Allbritton Communications," whose "deep pockets" are (partially? fully?)
financing The Politico?

This is the first I've heard about what seems rather clearly to be the obviously significant relationship between Ryan and The Politico. Anyone with more information on these matters, please email me or leave such information in comments. The Politico is rapidly becoming one of the most prominent and influential national media organizations, and its odiousness has seemed for some time to be generated by more than just the standard dysfunction in our national press corps.

UPDATE: The Politico's primary (perhaps sole) funding source is the Allbritton Company, of which Frederick Ryan is an employee. The Allbritton family's leader, Joe, was CEO of Riggs Bank when Riggs pleaded guilty to a series of illegal financial transactions with right-wing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his brutal military that took place throughout the 1990s and into 2001.

Although Allbritton himself was never charged with knowledge of those illegal transactions, he maintained what appears to be a close personal and business relationship with the right-wing dictator (h/t Jonathan Schwarz):

When Joe L. Allbritton was chief executive of Riggs Bank, he received personal gifts from Augusto Pinochet and wanted the former Chilean dictator to visit the Allbritton horse farm in Virginia, according to drafts of letters from 1996 and 1997.

The drafts were found in the bank's investigation of the relationship between Allbritton and Pinochet, whose government murdered or tortured an estimated 3,000 political opponents over 17 years. . . .

The two draft letters and memos do not show that Allbritton was aware of any illegal actions by the bank or its officers, but they indicate that Allbritton had a personal relationship with Pinochet and knew details of his business dealings at Riggs, according to sources who have read the documents. . . .

Since July, Riggs's internal investigators have discovered that Pinochet's relationship to Riggs was both deeper and longer than previously known, according to sources familiar with their findings. Since the July Senate hearing, Riggs has found photographs of Allbritton and Pinochet together and internal correspondence and letters to Pinochet and senior Chilean military officials that indicate Allbritton was personally involved in courting the former dictator as a Riggs client. . . .

"I am also grateful for our thriving personal friendship which you have demonstrated through your gracious hospitality and stalwart support of the Riggs," Allbritton wrote in a draft dated November 1997, a year when Riggs was expanding its relationship with both Pinochet and the Chilean military. "I thank you for the marvelous gifts to both Barbie and myself, including the history books which I found fascinating."

"Barbie" is Allbritton's wife, Barbara, who was a director of Riggs Bank until early 2004,when she and her husband resigned as directors.

In the 1996 draft, Allbritton expressed his "profound thanks" for a reception Pinochet threw for Allbritton at a Chilean military academy where the men watched an equestrian demonstration by cadets. In his draft, Allbritton invited Pinochet and his wife, Lucia, to the Allbritton horse farm in Middleburg, Va. Allbritton also thanked Pinochet for "the superb cuff links you presented to me."

According to this account, it is Joseph Allbritton's 37-year-old son, Robert, who is financing The Politico. And the presence of his father obviously looms large:

[Robert] Allbritton has been studying the Washington media market from his perch as head of Allbritton Communications, a family-owned string of TV stations that includes Washington's ABC affiliate, WJLA. The initials stand for Joseph L. Allbritton, the current CEO's dad. . . .

I suppose some people would say that none of these facts -- such as the fact that The Politico is run by a former and current Reagan official and financed by a family with close ties to one of the world's most notorious right-wing dictators -- is relevant to The Politico's claim of nonpartisan and objective news reporting. It may be the case that none of these facts, standing alone, is fatal to The Politico's credibility in that regard.

But taken together, they certainly seem worth noting, to put it mildly -- and that is particularly so in light of The Politico's very inauspicious start as a constructive and unbiased source of journalism.

UPDATE II: When Joe Allbritton was CEO of Riggs Bank, Riggs, in 1997, purchased the company owned by President George W. Bush's uncle, Jonathan Bush, and Jonathan Bush then became a top Riggs official serving alongside Joe Allbritton (h/t sysprog). That was discovered when, in 2004, Riggs agreed to "pay a record $25 million in civil fines for violations of law intended to thwart money laundering," apparently allowing Saudi money, among others, to be laundered through its bank while both Allbritton and Jonathan Bush were its top executives.

This Washington Post article -- entitled "The Bank of Dad" -- details how Robert Allbritton's entire career was shaped and molded by his father, who handed him everything (including the money he is now using to fund The Politico). Joe Allbritton -- who is Texan -- has all sorts of close ties to key Republican power centers, including the Bush family:

He donated the portrait of Reagan that hangs in the White House. Former president George H.W. Bush has attended Allbritton's post-Alfalfa brunch. When George W. Bush's inaugural parade passed the Riggs branch on Pennsylvania Avenue, he spotted Allbritton and said, "Hey Joe, how are you doing?"

But I'm sure the fact that The Politico is (a) funded by a family with multiple, intense right-wing allegiances, (b) run by a career-long Reaganite, and (c) dependent upon Matt Drudge for most of their traffic, has no effect whatsoever on their reporting.

UPDATE III: In addition to his long-time Reagan connections, Politico CEO Frederick Ryan was also (along with Jonathan Bush and Joseph Allbritton) himself a Board Member of Riggs Bank (h/t EJ). And Ryan, in addition to serving as Politico CEO, is also President of Allbritton Communications (a subsidiary of Allbritton Group, Inc., which in turn is a subsidiary of "Perpetual Corporation").

To take a step back, the picture that emerges from all of this is both clear and familiar. As became evident when Augusto Pinochet died, support for Pinochet was one of those true clarifying issues dividing left from right throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Supporting Pinochet was a major plank in the Reagan foreign policy, and opposition to Pinochet was a major left-wing cause (which is why Fred Hiatt's praise of Pinochet's dictatorship was so revealing).

Like most billionaires with diverse business interests, Joe Allbritton had political relationships of all sorts. But the coterie around him -- and those who created the Politico, including the Politico's current CEO -- are plainly firmly entrenched in the right-wing political movement, with overlapping business and other ties to the Bushes, all kinds of international financial interactions with the Saudis and various right-wing governments, and long-standing ties of many kinds to the Reagan circle.

We hear incessantly about how this group or that group is funded by George Soros, as though that fact, by itself, proves the group's political affiliations. But those groups do not purport to be nonpartisan newspapers or sources of news. The Politico claims exactly that. Surely it is notable that those who created The Politico, who are funding it, and who are in charge of its operations, are long-time Republican operatives and those firmly implanted in right-wing circles.

UPDATE IV: Politico CEO and President (and former Reagan official) Frederick Ryan donated $1,000 to George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 1999 (earlier this year, as linked above, Bush interrupted his press conference to flamboyantly plug Ryan's Politico). When making that donation to Bush, Ryan listed his occupation as "Allbritton Communications Co." (h/t Casual Observer). Both Joe Allbritton and his wife donated $1,000 each in 1994 to the Republican National Committee.

By Glenn Greenwald

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