Unveiling the Source

Who's behind the curtain?

Before you accept any information at face value, answer these three questions:

  • Who is the publisher (i.e. the source)?
  • Who is the sponsor (oftentimes the owner of the publisher)?
  • Who is paying for the dissemination of the information?

Identifying a sponsor takes some digging, but it can be worthwhile, and sometimes surprising. A useful tool for discovering who owns what media outlet is the Columbia Journalism Review. The Library's Mergent Online database is useful for investigating corporate affiliations and identifying company executives.

  • You may be surprised to learn that the NBC network is owned by General Electric, a company that makes both electric lamps and aircraft engines.  If NBC reports on the aircraft industry, should we question their bias?

Here are some examples ofsponsors of popular sources.

Source

Sponsor

Principal Concern

Responsible Party (Sponsor's Leader)

Location

NBC

80%-owned by GE, 20% controlled by Vivendi Universal

electrical appliances, aircraft engines and engine parts, television broadcasting

Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman of the Board & C.E.O., General Electric Corp.

USA

Lancet

subscribers, advertisers

medicine and health

Richard Horton, Editor, Lancet

UK

Fox

News Corp

newspaper, periodical, TV, cable, and motion picture publishing

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of the Board, C.E.O. & Subsidiary Officer, News Corp

Originally, Australia. As of 2004, USA.

GAO
(Government Accountability Office)

US taxpayers

oversight of public funds

David M. Walker, Comptroller General, USA

USA

CNN

Time Warner

motion picture and video production, cable networks

Richard Parsons, C.E.O., Time Warner

USA

PBS

Member stations that are funded by listeners, viewers, and corporate sponsors, and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB is funded by US taxpayers.

public television and radio programming

Cheryl Halpern, Chairman, CPB Board of Directors

USA

JAMA
(Journal of the American Medical Association)

American Medical Association, subscribers, advertisers

medicine and health

William G. Plested III, President, American Medical Association

USA

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