Today
Wed 3 March 2021

Nafeez Ahmed reports on some of the background to the new TV channel aiming to the challenge the ‘woke’ liberal consensus

A major funder backing the upcoming media channel GB News has links to the Koch climate science denial network, as well as to two neoconservative US publications with a history of troubling reporting on black communities, documents seen by Byline Times reveal.

The revelations provide new context to GB News chairman Andrew Neil’s announcement that the channel will aim to challenge the “woke” liberal consensus

GB News’ £60 million funders include hedge-fund manager Sir Paul Marshall and Dubai-based investment group Legatum, founded by Christopher Chandler. 

Marshall was a vocal Brexit supporter and donated £100,000 to the Vote Leave group during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign. During the storming of the US Capitol last month, he tweeted that the death of one pro-Donald Trump rioter amounted to “cold-blooded murder”. He subsequently deleted it.

Chandler funds and helped to establish the Legatum Institute (a separate charity to Legatum), which played a key role after the EU Referendum in lobbying for the Government’s hard-Brexit agenda through Shanker Singham – previously listed as an “expert” at the Koch-funded climate science denial group, the Heartland Institute. 

Corporate records seen by Byline Times confirm that the Legatum Institute has direct ties to the Koch network, as well as to a neoconservative financier who supports publications with a history of white supremacism and ideological opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The latest publicly available Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings reveal that the Legatum Institute received $77,000 in 2018 for ‘general operating support’ from the Charles Koch Foundation. 

The latter is owned by American right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, who has been among the biggest funders of climate science denial in the pursuit of deregulated, unfettered markets. From 1997 to 2018, the Koch network has invested $145,555,197 directly financing groups that have attacked climate change science and policy solutions.

In 2018, the Legatum Institute also received $10,000 from the Robert F. Agostinelli Foundation. Agostinelli is another right-wing billionaire who supports neoconservative causes and once described the left as “a cancer that needs to be eradicated”. He was previously a donor to the presidential campaign of Trump’s later lawyer Rudy Giuliani.


Neoconservative Affinities

A lawyer representing GB News, Legatum and the Legatum Institute said that none of the Institute’s donors – including the Koch Foundation and Agostinelli – “have a say in the conclusions that the Institute draws from its research”.

The filings show that, while funding the Legatum Institute, Agostinelli is simultaneously a major funder of two major neoconservative US publications with a history of troubling commentary on US race relations.

In 2018, he gave $120,498 to the National Review Institute, which owns National Review; and $12,500 to Commentary

The IRS filings confirm that the National Review Institute has also received funding from the Koch network, including $11,626 in 2015, and $16,626 in 2016. 

During the 1950s and 60s, National Review was a major proponent of white supremacism and segregation. Although its founder William Buckley would later renounce his views of whites being the “more advanced race”, National Review went on to incubate a range of alt-right pundits, while continuing to publish racist commentary and writers invested in scientific racism. More recently, National Review has continued to rail relentlessly against Black Lives Matter.

Commentary magazine has a similar, if slightly less egregious, history of stoking tension between American Jews and African Americans.

In an article titled ‘Commentary Magazine’s “Negro Problem”’ in The New Republic, Jeet Heer describes how the magazine published frequent articles about “black anti-Semitism” – a “tired and troubling” trend that continued with recent analysis of Black Lives Matter (including a front cover titled ‘African Americans vs American Jews’). The Jewish magazine Forward has similarly criticised Commentary’s “race baiting of blacks and Jews”. 

The spokesperson for GB News, Legatum and the Legatum Institute told Byline Times that National Review and Commentary have “nothing whatsoever to do with the Legatum Institute” and that their “reasoned criticism of the BLM movement cannot possibly be the basis of an allegation of racism”.

They added that the Legatum Institute “has always stood against racism in all its forms, and is committed to working to increase the prosperity of all”, referring to its research on poverty and race. 


Research that ‘Detoxifies’ the Far-Right

Late last year, the Legatum Institute launched its new Centre for UK Prosperity under the directorship of University of Kent political scientist Matthew Goodwin. 

Professor Martin Shaw, a top sociologist of genocide, concludes that Goodwin’s work detoxifies the far-right using a range of pseudoscientific sleights-of-hand. 

In 2018, for instance, Goodwin co-wrote a paper asking “does ethnic diversity increase or reduce white threat perceptions?” which concluded that “rising diversity – all else being equal – increases anti-immigration sentiment and support for the populist radical right among native-born whites in the West” (this general thesis was roundly debunked by a 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). 

More recently, Byline Times approached Goodwin regarding his advisory role at Toby Young’s Free Speech Union. Asked whether he agreed with Young’s advocacy of a biological basis for race and racial IQ differences, Goodwin did not answer the question but simply affirmed being “delighted to be associated with the Free Speech Union”.

The spokesperson for GB News, Legatum and the Legatum Institute cited Goodwin’s previous work for a variety of organisations, including giving evidence to Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee on prejudice against EU nationals, serving as an academic advisor to the Government working group on tackling anti-Muslim hatred from 2013-15, and being seconded to the then Department for Communities and Local Government to advise on integration, social cohesion, and anti-extremism measures in 2012-13.

They insisted that Goodwin is “a strong supporter of academic freedom” and added: “Any suggestion that Professor Goodwin is in anything less than committed to improving the lot of the disadvantaged, or in any way or to any degree racist would be utterly unfounded.”

The spokesperson added: “The Legatum Institute plays no part whatsoever in GB News. It does not fund GB News, the funder being (in part) the Legatum Group. The Legatum Group and the Legatum Institute are entirely separate bodies; the latter being an independent educational charity with its own management structure.”

The Legatum Group’s website identifies the Legatum Institute as part of a “diverse collection of ventures” created by Legatum since 2006, which though separate continues to “reflect the ideas and values that form the core of Legatum”.

However, the Legatum Institute’s apparent affiliations raise legitimate questions about its potential ideological biases and the extent to which its values run the risk, in terms of public perception, of being muddied.

It is also of vital public interest to question how the Institute’s values are shared across the Legatum portfolio of diverse ventures, alongside the overall implications for the ‘anti-woke’ agenda to be promoted by GB News.

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