Wealthy donors have long been involved in funding think tanks that produce research aligned with their interests, shaping the national discourse. The weapons industry is a significant contributor to these think tanks, exerting considerable influence over the media’s coverage. A recent report from the Quincy Institute highlights the extent of war profiteers’ influence on the public narrative surrounding the Ukraine War.
Understanding the Influence of War Industry Funding:
The Quincy Institute conducted an analysis of 11 months of Ukraine War coverage in prominent media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. The study focused on mentions of 33 leading think tanks to evaluate their influence. Surprisingly, among the 15 most frequently mentioned think tanks, only one—Human Rights Watch—does not receive funding from Pentagon contractors. This finding sheds light on the media’s tendency to cite think tanks with war industry ties at a rate seven times higher than those without such connections.
Prominent Think Tanks and their War Industry Ties:
The report identifies the Atlantic Council and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as the top two most frequently mentioned think tanks in Ukraine War coverage. Both these think tanks receive substantial funding from the war industry. The Atlantic Council, known as the brain trust of NATO, has received millions from defense contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, both of which have secured lucrative Pentagon contracts as a result of the war in Ukraine. CSIS, as revealed in a New York Times expose, has been found to produce content reflecting the priorities of its weapons industry funders.
Challenges in Assessing Funding and Interests:
Tracing the exact amount of war industry funding that think tanks receive and understanding whose interests they represent proves challenging. The report highlights that think tanks are not obligated to disclose their funders fully. Some think tanks list donors without specifying the donation amounts, while others provide ranges. This lack of transparency complicates efforts to determine the extent of war industry influence on these institutions.
The Role of Funding in Shaping Think Tank Positions:
Although the report does not establish a direct causal connection between weapons industry funding and think tanks’ positions, it acknowledges that funding significantly influences these institutions. Funders can exert influence through mechanisms like censorship, self-censorship, and perspective filtering. Consequently, think tanks often align with the interests of their funders, leading to a correlation between war industry funding and hawkish policy positions.
Media Coverage and Manufacturing Consent:
The study reveals that media organizations rarely disclose when their sources receive funding from the war industry, obscuring potential biases in coverage and policy recommendations. The careful selection of sources and narrowing of debate within corporate news media play a crucial role in manufacturing consent for US foreign policy. By presenting limited perspectives, media outlets subtly push a corporate/state agenda while appearing to engage in independent journalism.
Diverse Perspectives from Alternative Think Tanks:
The Quincy Institute’s research finds that think tanks with minimal or no Pentagon contractor funding present significantly different positions on the war. These organizations tend to focus on expository analysis, support diplomatic solutions, and emphasize the impact of the conflict on various sectors of society and the region. Human Rights Watch, for example, remains agnostic on the issue of providing military assistance to Ukraine, focusing instead on human rights abuses. The Carnegie Endowment, with less than 1% of its funding from the war industry, never advocates for increased military spending or weapons sales during the Ukraine War.
The Quincy Institute’s report sheds light on the influence of war industry funding on think tanks and media coverage. It highlights the prevalence of think tanks with ties to defense contractors and their impact on shaping public discourse.
The study emphasizes the need for transparency in disclosing funding sources to promote an informed and unbiased understanding of policy debates.
By recognizing the correlation between funding and positions, readers can better evaluate the perspectives presented by different think tanks and media outlets, fostering a more nuanced understanding of the Ukraine War and its implications.