David Brooks has resigned from his position at the Aspen Institute following reporting by BuzzFeed News about conflicts of interest between the star New York Times columnist and funders of a program he led for the think tank.
Eileen Murphy, a spokesperson for the Times, said in a statement that Brooks’ current editors were not aware he was taking a salary from Aspen and that it “presents a conflict of interest for David in writing about the work of the project, its donors or the broader issues it focuses on.”
She said Brooks resigned his position at Aspen and will remain a volunteer for the project, called Weave.
“Going forward The Times will disclose this unpaid relationship,” Murphy said. “We are also in the process of adding disclosures to any earlier columns in which David refers to the work of Weave or its donors.”
Brooks’ resignation comes after BuzzFeed News discovered further evidence of conflicts of interest and entanglements with corporate and billionaire donors to Weave, a project Brooks launched at the Aspen Institute in 2018.
Brooks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BuzzFeed News first revealed Brooks never disclosed to Times readers that he takes a full-time salary for his work on Weave, or that its funders include Facebook, the father of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and other wealthy individuals and corporations. Brooks recently wrote a blog post for Facebook’s corporate website in praise of Facebook Groups, a product that has often been a fount of misinformation and hate speech.
Brooks’s behavior raises thorny ethical issues for the Times. By appearing in videos for Weave funders, he’s lending the paper’s credence to entities in which he has a stake. The revelations of these entanglements has angered the Times’ newsroom, where reporters, who are typically not allowed to maintain outside jobs that would be perceived as jeopardizing their news judgment, have reported critically on Facebook. Murphy told BuzzFeed News that Brooks did not inform the paper that he was blogging for Facebook, or that Weave received funding from the company. His Weave salary was revealed by BuzzFeed News earlier this week.
Over the past 24 hours, BuzzFeed News discovered new evidence of potential conflicts. On March 15 of last year, as Americans faced a deadly pandemic, Brooks appeared on “Meet The Press” and offered some advice.
“We need to take moral steps to make ourselves decent neighbors to each other as we go through this thing. I think people should get on Nextdoor, this sort of ‘Facebook for neighbors,’” he said.
Left unsaid by Brooks was that Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, had donated $25,000 to Weave. A day before his appearance on the nationally televised NBC program, Brooks also tweeted to his nearly 250,000 followers, “If you know someone who lives alone, ask them to join NextDoor.”
Another new revelation: Last month, Brooks appeared in a Walton Family Foundation video and did not disclose that the organization, run by the billionaire family that founded Walmart, also funds his project.
Brooks’ failure to disclose these conflicts of interest added to the string of ethically questionable actions by the columnist and author related to his work on Weave.
The Aspen Institute initially told BuzzFeed News that Facebook’s funding of Weave ended in 2019. However, Facebook is listed as a financial supporter of a project Weave helped launch and run in 2020, “#WeavingCommunity During Crisis.” This suggests Facebook had a financial connection to Weave and Brooks when he blogged for the social media giant’s website and appeared in a video it produced.
The Aspen Institute did not comment about the funding for #WeavingCommunity. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Nextdoor spokesperson confirmed the company’s partnership with Weave, but declined to give further details.
After declining to say if it would release information about all Weave donors, the Aspen Institute provided BuzzFeed News with a list of Weave funders on Friday night.
Brooks has not responded to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News. He made his first public comments about the growing scandal during his weekly Friday segment on the PBS NewsHour on March 5. While defending his work on Weave, Brooks made two false statements.
Asked about his failure to disclose that Facebook helped fund Weave, Brooks said that “we totally did disclose it because everything is public.” The Aspen Institute has only publicly posted a list of Weave donations from 2018. Facebook is not on the list, and Brooks did not acknowledge taking a donation from the company to Times readers, or to his current bosses at the paper.
Brooks also falsely stated that “the Aspen Institute is completely transparent about who the donors are, and so we released the donors.” Ultimately, the Aspen Institute didn’t release its 2018 figures until asked by BuzzFeed News.
Nick Massella, a PBS NewsHour spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News the program was “aware David was working with the Aspen Institute on this project but not of its funding nature.” Massella did not respond to a request for comment about Brook’s false statements on the program.
Brooks did not respond to a request for comment about his appearances on the PBS NewsHour and “Meet The Press.”
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