Documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) expose a national effort funded by the $835 million Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation to assess and expand right-wing “infrastructure” nationwide, including in the area of media. (For more on Bradley funding for Watchdog.org and the Franklin Center, see details of CMD’s in-depth report here.)
Bradley has long bemoaned the “corrosive effects of leftist ideology and the popular culture to which it gave rise.” Bradley is critical of what it says is the left’s “domination” of the American educational system, Hollywood, and the mainstream media.
So for decades, Bradley has invested heavily in book and magazine publication, film production, and $250,000 awards to individuals in media to advance its right-wing agenda. In more recent years, it has worked to beef up the “communications infrastructure” of think tanks and other grantees, including funding opposition research and attack-dog media operations.
Bradley Funds Print Media and the Culture Wars
As early as the 1990s, the Bradley Foundation decided to engage deeply in the culture wars with heavy investments in print media. The Bradley files document $19.47 million in grants to the media firm called “Encounter for Culture and Education” between 1992-2015 (Encounter for Culture and Education, Grant History Document, 2015). The firm publishes and houses Encounter Books, which Bradley helped found in 1998.
A report on Encounter Books in the Bradley documents from July 2015 by former Board Member and Bradley Prize recipient George Will details Bradley’s aim in investing millions in Encounter. The goal is “not only to provide an independent means to support books and authors whose work contributed to the educational mission of the Foundation,” but also “to foster an institution whose energies could help promote the values of democratic capitalism, ordered liberty, and individual responsibility” (Report on Encounter Books, July 2015).
“Bradley has been the central force in enabling Encounter to become America’s premier publisher of serious conservative non-fiction,” wrote Roger Kimball, current publisher of Encounter, in a letter to the Bradley Foundation in 2016.
Kimball publishes a host of right-wing authors in politics, history, religion, biography, education, public policy, and current affairs. Recently, Encounter published The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe, by the Manhattan Institute and Bradley Prize winner Heather MacDonald. “This book provides a vivid, meticulously researched account of how the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited racially-biased violence in cities across the country,” Kimball notes.
Kimball “long wanted to publish” an American history text that can be used in high schools as an alternative to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The right wing has long hated Zinn’s monumental text for its honest and frank description of U.S. history starting with the genocide of indigenous peoples in 1492.
University of Oklahoma Professor Bill McClay, author of Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America, has been contracted to write the counternarrative with support from the Charles Koch Foundation, the letter reads. According to Kimball, he is “in discussion with Koch people about strategies to get the book adopted by school districts in Texas and Oklahoma.”
Kimball is a strong partner in Bradley’s effort to advance a new, right-wing version of American history and culture. Between 1986 and 2015, Bradley has also given over $5.1 million to the Foundation for Cultural Review specifically to support The New Criterion edited and published by Kimball (FCR, Grant Proposal Record, 7/20/16). The New Criterion touts itself as a monthly review of arts and intellectual life “on the front lines of the battle for culture.”
Other spin published by Kimball includes: The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities (2017), Campus Speech in Crisis:
What the Yale Experience Can Teach America (2016), Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science (2008), and The Anti-Chomsky Reader (2004).
Bradley documents quote The Sunday Telegraph: “If they issued medals for the ‘culture wars,’ Roger Kimball’s chest would be covered with ribbons.”
Bradley Funds Film and Video Agitprop
The foundation has also invested heavily in film.
In the Bradley Foundation documents is a November 2015 document titled, “Overview: Selected Bradley Foundation film or film-related grantees or projects,” which indicates Bradley has invested some $37.5 million in film-related grants since as early as 1986.
Since 2006, Bradley has given annually to the Moving Picture Institute (MPI). In all, $550,000 was given to MPI because its films embrace themes “consonant with Bradley’s interests,” including “the failure of urban public school systems; public sector unions; eminent domain abuse; the heroism of American soldiers; the persecution of Christians abroad; and radical egalitarianism” (Moving Picture Institute, Grant Proposal Record, 11/10/15).
MPI is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a key network of think tanks and non-profit institutions across the country, also bankrolled by the Koch network and major U.S. corporations.
MPI produced The Cartel, which portrays the American public school system as a monopolistic failure that has been “pimping our children for a very long time,” in 2010. Public school bashing is a long-established Bradley theme, as the foundation has made school privatization and taxpayer vouchers for private and religious schools a priority.
Bradley has also bankrolled the filmmaker Michael Pack at Manifold Productions. Manifold films they have funded include Capitalism and Its Enemies, Modern Warfare: Technology, Culture and Tactics, and Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton. The Bradley Foundation has contributed a total of $560,000 to Manifold since 2006.
In addition to funding specific film projects, Bradley contributes to the training of future filmmakers. A 2015 $50,000 grant to Taliesin Nexus was designated to support the Odysseus Fellowship for young screenwriters, directors, and producers (Taliesin Nexus,, Grant Proposal Record, 8/18/15).
A background document shows that Taliesin Nexus “also partners with the Atlas Network to run the Lights, Camera, Liberty! Program, which has introduced proven Hollywood techniques of persuasion to think tanks in 18 states, three Canadian provinces and 10 other countries around the world” (Taliesin Nexus, Grant Proposal Record, 8/18/15). The Atlas Network is a group of right-wing “think tanks” across the globe. It is comparable to the State Policy Network, of which it is also an associate member.
Bradley Beefs Up Communications Infrastructure for SPN “Think Tanks”
Bradley has long been interested in dragging right-wing “think tanks” and other Bradley grantees into the modern communications era.
For example, Bradley provided $1.5 million over three years (2015-2017) to the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation (JFL) in North Carolina. Both are affiliated with the State Policy Network and both are almost entirely underwritten by Art Pope, Bradley’s new board chairman and a long-time Koch ally.
Bradley wants the groups to “create a comprehensive communications infrastructure around four primary elements: radio, online content aggregation, mobile applications, and an AP-style news service for local newspapers” (The Barder Fund, 8/18/15).
Bradley also encourages its “think tanks” to engage in opposition research. It is funding a “Mapping the Left” website at Civitas to track the connections between progressive organizations in North Carolina. There is also a Mapping the Left app:
“The Mapping the Left (MTL) project combines data, research and news articles to show the magnitude of the radical Left’s infrastructure in North Carolina. For decades, the liberal/progressive movement has mostly been invisible to the general public. Hiding from the ‘liberal’ label, the well-organized progressive movement has built a network of groups that work together to push an extreme, liberal/progressive agenda that the media has failed to report upon.”
Bradley has given support to major figures in the right-wing media through its $250,000 “Bradley Prizes” that it awards annually.
For instance, Bradley awarded Roger Ailes a prize for creating and founding the FOX News Network. Ailes resigned as chairman and CEO of FOX in July 2016 following a sexual harassment suit brought by former news anchor Gretchen Carlson. By taking a stand, Carlson’s lawsuit helped unleashed a flood of new complaints against Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Ailes died on May 18, 2017.
Bradley also gave prizes to key players on the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board–Paul Gigot and Kim Strassel–and the editorial board focused on “breaking” news on scandals related to Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Time after time, the editorial board wrote long articles on the Wisconsin “John Doe” investigation into allegations that the Walker campaign illegally coordinated his recall activities with “independent” big money groups, parroting the spin of the individuals under investigation and accusing prosecutors of wrongdoing. The editorial page repeatedly blasted the investigation as a partisan witch hunt and an infringement of the “free speech” rights of secret dark money groups. Notably, the news side of the operation apparently did not think these stories were worth reporting on.
The Bradley Foundation has also given $250,000 between 2011 and 2015 “to support the Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellowship at the National Review” (National Review Institute, Grant Proposal Record, 8/16/16). Thomas “Dusty” Rhodes was a previous chairman of the Board of Directors at the Bradley Foundation. William F. Buckley’s National Review has been a flagship publication for the right since its founding in 1955.
The first Bradley fellow was Andrew Stiles, who works for the Washington Free Beacon after writing for the National Review Online. The next fellow was Jill Melchior. After writing for the National Review, she became a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, which pitches right-wing policies under the guise of moderate, pro-women reforms, and she is also the Tony Blankley Fellow for the Steamboat Institute. The current fellow is Ian Tuttle. Tuttle writes for the National Review and the National Review Online.
The Independent Women’s Forum, Steamboat Institute, and the National Review Institute (NRI) are all members of the State Policy Network.
Bradley Funds Disinformation, “Crisis Communications,” Candidate Trackers
Bradley has given $8,968,000 to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which counters “the corrosive effects of leftist ideology” from its offices near Hollywood, California (David Horowitz Freedom Center, Grant Proposal Record, 11/10/15).
Horowitz has been described as a “Trotskyist radical turned far-right entrepreneur.” He maintains a number of propagandistic websites including Jihadwatch.org, an anti-Muslim site. He touts himself as a mentor to many on the Trump team and hails Trump aide Steve Bannon, author of Trump’s failed Muslim ban, as a “civil rights hero.”
Horowitz dedicates time and resources to tracking and tearing down prominent intellectuals, for instance publishing the book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. “On campus, [the Freedom Center] helps student organize educational events to combat indoctrination, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism,” writes Bradley.
Bradley lauds Horowitz for his TruthRevolt.org site, which “names untruths disseminated by the left” and “uniquely exposes the politics of personal destruction, the signature practice of the left.”
Bradley has also been a major funder of public relations spin doctor Richard Berman. Berman, dubbed “Dr. Evil” by 60 minutes, has mastered the dark art of disseminating disinformation though front groups, websites, TV and print ads, and paid social media campaigns. While most of Berman’s front groups are no more than a website, a few of them have been incorporated as non-profit “charitable” organizations.
As CMD has documented, Berman is notorious for his shady attacks on unions, environmental groups, and progressives. Caught on tape, his own words about his tactics are damning.
According to the Bradley Files, Bradley has given the Berman groups at least $6.5 million, including grants for “crisis communication” and opposition research. This crisis communication work as described by Bradley relates directly to the successful, grassroots campaigning against ALEC that was sparked in 2011 after CMD published more than 800 ALEC “model bills” secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists and legislators when it launched ALECexposed.org in 2011.
Bradley also funds groups that perform functions most often performed by political parties.
Bradley has directed $1.8 million to a group called American Majority mostly for its “Media Trackers” project, which has now been spun off. As the 2014 election cycle approached, Bradley gave Media Trackers funds for Wisconsin “to hire two camera crews whose daily work will be to follow candidates in their travels around the state” (Greenhouse Solutions, Grant Proposal Record, 2/25/2014). The goal was to catch candidates in embarrassing moments that would, hopefully, go viral and impact the election. Predictably, Media Trackers produced a series of “hits” exclusively on Democratic candidates.
Hark! Millennials: Bradley Bankrolls Podcasts, Social Media, and Mobile Apps
In an attempt to attract younger people to its message, Bradley also invests in new media including podcasts, short videos, and mobile apps.
Bradley is funding Think Freely Media at the Illinois Policy Institute “think tank,” an affiliate member of the State Policy Network. Bradley recommended $250,000 in 2016 to support Hark! Podcasts (Think Freely Media GPR, August 16, 2016). The backgrounder states, “TFM is asking for support of its podcasting because its usage is increasing, especially among millennials.” With the Bradley funds, TFM wants to not only produce “much more cultural and issue-oriented ‘storytelling’ content,” but also “teach others how to do so, too” (Think Freely Media, Grant Proposal Record, 8/16/16).
The Bradley Foundation has turned to funding projects utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Bradley gave $100,000 to Prager University Foundation (PUF) to support the production of mini five minute videos to be shared on YouTube, and other social media. The file says, “PUF distills (conservative/Judeo-Christian) principles into content-rich, entertaining five-minute video ‘courses’ taught by public intellectuals, many of whom are Bradley Prize winners.” The document praises PUF for its reach, claiming that it reached 45 million viewers in 2015 and close to 80 million views in 2016. Bradley staff recommended an additional $175,000 to PUF in 2016.
Bradley explains its motivation for funding PUF again as an attempt to reach a millennial audience:
PUF is poised to penetrate new markets of younger conservatives and grassroots activists. These are audiences that comprise what is referred to as the conservative ‘base,’ yet they have not been effective in expressing compelling arguments on behalf of conservative ideas. Nor have they been effective in stemming the left’s domination of the American educational system, Hollywood and the media. This is particularly true of high school and college students who hold conservative values but are hard pressed to respond to the ideology of the left within which their schools are steeped. For them, PUF videos provide a source of intellectual support” (Prager University Foundation, Grant Proposal Record, 11/10/15).
In another attempt at spreading their right-wing views to millennials, Bradley has funded a number of efforts to create new mobile applications. The Bradley Foundation gave $100,000 for a “mobile app project” at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP).
According to a MCPP backgrounder, the app VoteSpotter “provides a concise, neutral, ‘plain-English’ descriptions [sic] of specific legislative actions, in real-time. The app allows a user to provide immediate feedback to these policymakers, holding them accountable to those interested citizens about whom they should care… Furthermore, it allows Mackinac itself to gather user data for use in further helpful and timely public education in the future” (Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, Grant Proposal Record, 2/24/15). Part of the money asked for in 2015 will be used to expand the use of the app in other states. As of February 2017, the app is available in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In another project in Wisconsin, Bradley gave $60,000 to True the Vote (TTV) in June 2015 and recommended $60,000 in 2016 to support the development of the mobile app VoteStand and in the training of “volunteers” to use it on election nights. A background report on True the Vote describes how it will be utilized: “volunteers will be equipped with TTV’s new online reporting app, VoteStand, accessible via smartphone. In conjunction with WILL (Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty), TTV will man an election night reporting center, able to address legal question as they arise – should they arise” (True the Vote, Grant Proposal Record, August 16, 2016).
The Bradley Foundation works to develop “friendly media” in the states as part of a larger project to develop right-wing “infrastructure” in the states. Read more about Bradley’s efforts to fund and build these institutions in CMD’s report Weaponized Philanthropy: Document Trove Details Bradley Foundation’s Efforts to Build Right-Wing “Infrastructure” Nationwide.
Mary Bottari, Evan James, Nick Surgey, and Lisa Graves contributed research to this series.
Read more articles about the Independent Women’s Forum here.