1,000-member secretive progressive journalist group uncovered

August 6, 2014

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UPDATE: Names, activities of secretive progressive journalist group revealed

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A prominent CNN commentator, the top two political reporters for The Huffington Post, a Reuters reporter, the editor of The Nation magazine, a producer for Al Jazeera America television, a U.S. News & World Report columnist, and approximately two dozen Huffington Post contributors are among the more than 1,000 members of Gamechanger Salon.

top secretFounded by leftwing activist Billy Wimsatt, the group is a secretive digital gathering of writers, opinion leaders, activists and political hands who share information, ideas and strategy via a closed Google group.

The group’s existence was discovered by Media Trackers through an open records request filed with a University of Wisconsin professor who happened to be a member of the network.

Sally Kohn, formerly a Fox News contributor, now works for CNN reliably echoing pro-Obama Administration talking points and championing leftwing ideas as a network commentator. Kohn is also a member of Gamechanger Salon, and e-mails show that she occasionally approached the group’s membership and asked them to promote her television appearances.

“I’m guest co-hosting CNN’s Crossfire tonight at 6:30pm EST, with fellow co-host Newt Gingrich. I would be grateful for folks (a) helping spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc to encourage people to tune in; and (b) tuning in and live tweeting during the show,” Kohn wrote to the group on January 14 of this year.

In another e-mail, Kohn pitched her TED talk about working as a liberal at Fox News. “I would be grateful for any shares and reactions. Here is a straightforward, sample tweet[:] Watch @sallykohn’s amazing TED talk on emotional correctness: on.ted.com/Kohn” she wrote. “Thanks for everything all of you do every day to make the world a better place!” she signed off.

Amanda Terkel, the “Senior Political Reporter and Politics Managing Editor at The Huffington Post,” is a member of Gamechanger Salon along with The Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim.

In mid-July, Terkel and Grim jointly wrote a piece about a leftwing effort to push Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) to run for president. The pair of reporters heavily quoted Erica Sagrans, a fellow member of Gamechanger Salon and leading organizer of the “Ready For Warren” effort, and cited Billy Wimsatt’s support for the project. Wimsatt’s work as founder of Gamechanger Salon and the reporters’ own membership in the group, along with Sagrans’ membership, went unreported.

In a subsequent piece Terkel again reported on the effort to recruit Warren for a presidential bid, and a previous piece by Grim contrasted Warren with presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

A former New York Times freelance columnist who now works as an energy and commodities reporter for Thomson Reuters is also a member of Gamechanger Salon. Anna Louie Sussman is listed as an “investigative reporter and journalist” on the Gamechanger Salon membership list, and while her beat focuses on energy issues, she has also writes about “local and international human rights and social justice issues” according to her website.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, a prominent and well-known periodical of leftwing political and social thought. She is also a member of Gamechanger Salon and a regular opinion writer for the online edition of The Washington Post.

A late-July column for the Post by vanden Heuvel entitled Building a progressive alternative to ALEC” hit on a theme regularly mentioned on Gamechanger Salon: liberals must build an alternative to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Lisa Graves, who leads the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, is also a member of Gamechanger Salon, and – according to e-mails reviewed by Media Trackers – regularly promotes material developed by CMD to attack ALEC and the right-of-center lawmakers who tend to make up the majority of ALEC’s active legislative membership.

Vanden Heuvel suggested in her column that liberals support the efforts of the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange – ALICE (a leftwing counterpart to ALEC) – and the Progressive States Network. Gamechanger Salon member Prof. Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin Madison founded ALICE. Vanden Heuvel in a 2012 column for the Post wrote about Rogers founding ALICE.

Not once does she appear to disclose her membership in Gamechanger Salon along with some of the very people she writes about.

Jordan Flaherty was, as of last year, a producer for Al Jazeera America television. He is also listed as a member of Gamechanger Salon and for a while he occasionally blogged for The Huffington Post.

In addition to working at the left-leaning American Sustainable Business Council, David Brodwin writes an online column for U.S. News & World Report. Brodwin is a member of Gamechanger Salon, and on July 14 he published a column arguing that small business owners support a minimum wage increase. Fascinatingly, the Obama Administration’s U.S. Department of Labor relies on Brodwin’s American Sustainable Business Council to argue that very point in a recent “fact-sheet” advocating for a minimum wage hike.

Dozens of members of the leftwing network have contributed columns to The Huffington Post, and others have written opinion pieces for several other publications. The full extent of the network’s activity and effectiveness at amplifying and coordinating left-leaning messaging campaigns has yet to be fully explored.

Authored by Brian Sikma

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