Watchdog newsletter

Published — July 10, 2020

Who got PPP loans now? Churches, Trump associates and lettuce farmers

(Illustration by Christina Animashaun/Vox)

Introduction

Hi Watchdogs, and welcome back to your favorite newsletter. Did you miss us? We’re thinking about historic rulings from the Supreme Court, including the ones allowing employers to deny birth control coverage and allowing Congress and investigators to obtain President Trump’s tax records. (But we likely won’t see them before the election.) What do you think about these SCOTUS rulings? Reply to let us know. 

This week, we have a brand spankin’ new series, an update in our FOIA lawsuit against the Small Business Association and a Q&A with Sarah Glover, former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, who pushed to capitalize the “B” in Black. 

System Failure: ICYMI, we launched a series with Vox investigating the Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts ahead of November’s election. Deregulation might sound like an insider term, but federal rules affect everyone –– from truck drivers and health insurance recipients to people who don’t have access to clean drinking water — and changes made could stay on, regardless of who takes power in November.

Case in point: Federal rules were designed to keep trucking companies from pushing drivers to dangerous levels of fatigue. Trump waived fatigue rules for trucks carrying items essential to addressing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Just six days later, a tractor-trailer accident left a 39-year-old mother of two dead. The driver was on the road for more than 16 hours straight without rest. 

Not the first, not the last: Trump has a long list of deregulation efforts –– some of which Americans see as vital to keeping the country safe and healthy. Since Trump declared a national emergency in March, the White House signed off on or is reviewing 247 temporary or permanent regulatory actions, only 33 of which were classified as pandemic-related, according to our analysis. The move signals a larger push for deregulation as Trump closes in on his first term as president. Our reporter Liz Essley Whyte has the full investigation. 

That’s not all…

First up, health care: In 2018, the Trump administration issued a regulation that would make short-term plans more accessible and appealing. Obamacare had sidelined these plans for some time. Now, these plans are gaining popularity again as millions of Americans lose their jobs and employer-based health insurance. 

One problem: These plans don’t have to cover preexisting conditions or provide comprehensive protection from major medical bills. Check out the full investigation here.  

Next up, consent decrees: In previous administrations, consent decrees were used to fight police misconduct. They’re a kind of court order negotiated between officials that the Justice Department uses to put pressure on police departments with a history of systemic civil rights abuses. Under President Obama, the DOJ entered into consent decrees with 14 law enforcement agencies, including in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio, where police killed people. Since Trump took office, the Justice Department has entered into zero consent decrees. You can find that story here and bookmark this page to keep up with our #SystemFailure series. We have much more coming your way soon. 

A couple of weeks ago, we joined other newsrooms in suing the Small Business Administration to release information on the recipients of more than $700 billion intended for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Turns out Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House count as a small business since they got millions from the program.) 🤔

The SBA released some data on Monday in response to Congressional pressure. Our analysis on the partial data given shows more than 83% were to organizations identified as white-owned businesses. Black-owned businesses received less than 2% of the loans, and 6.6% of the loans went to Hispanic-owned businesses. (About 86% of the loans made for $150,000 or more don’t provide any information about race or ethnicity of the business owner.)

You know who else got a loan? A firm run by the family of U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao received between $350,000 and $1 million. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s husband, claims he had no knowledge of the loan. (via The Courier Journal) 

The Archdiocese of New York received 15 loans worth at least $28 million just for its top executive offices. In West Virginia, a loan of at least $2 million went to the diocese covering Wheeling-Charleston, where a church investigation revealed last year that then-Bishop Michael Bransfield embezzled funds and made sexual advances toward young priests. (via The Associated Press) 

Businesses tied to Trump’s family and associates could receive as much as $21 million. Some businesses that applied for the loan include a hydroponic lettuce farm backed by Donald Trump Jr., Albert Hazzouri, a dentist who is also frequently spotted at Mar-a-Lago and a hospital run by Maria Ryan, one of Rudy Giuliani’s close associates. On top of that, several companies connected to Jared Kushner could get up to $6 million. (via ProPublica)

(Public Integrity received a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program.)

But we don’t have all the info. We still don’t know names for recipients who received under $150,000 –– which is why we’re still suing. We expect to hear something soon, and we’ll keep you posted. 👀

We fight to get the facts. Chip in if you want to know where your taxpayer dollars went.



Each week, we feature journalists who have affected powerful change. This week it’s Sarah Glover, immediate past president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) who wrote an open letter to the news media and the Associated Press to capitalize “B” when reporting about the Black community. Soon after her letter, AP made the momentous change and many newsrooms who use it as their style bible did, too. (Note: Public Integrity made the switch earlier.)

Glover, along with other prominent Black journalists have long argued that capitalizing the “B” in Black is in line with capitalizing Asian, Hispanic and African American. “It’s to bring humanity to a group of people who have experienced forms of oppression and discrimination since they first came to the United States as enslaved people,” she wrote.

*Q&A lightly edited for brevity. 

After our newsroom made this change, we had feedback from readers who argue that with all that’s going on — a pandemic, economic downturn –– does this change in style really matter? 

Journalism is a public service. Presenting news and information is the foundation of the free press. A good story shines a light, elevates new perspectives and tells untold stories. Sometimes the news is complex and there isn’t a more complex topic deserving of coverage than race relations in 2020. George Floyd’s tragic and untimely death by a Minneapolis police officer brought to the surface of the American psyche the horrors of institutionalized racism. The case made to capitalize the “B” in Black is about dismantling assigned identity in language by those in power in the media (often white people) and affirming a particular community and how it defines itself. Use of the capital “B” in news reporting style in some ways mirrors the systemic inequality so many everyday citizens are working to eradicate. 

Ironically, journalists will find themselves covering these protests. Yet the media industry must do more than simply cover the protest, it must reckon with and change itself, too. The media industry must dismantle its own biases. The complex history of race in society shows up in how journalism publications assign meaning with words and coverage. Unpacking this is as relevant as the coverage of the pandemic. 

For centuries, Black people have borne the brunt of institutionalized racism. Words matter. 

One of the hold-ups on the decision to capitalize B was indecision whether to capitalize ‘W’ in describing the white community.  Unlike the decision to capitalize ‘B,’ there’s been less newsroom consensus on this. Some use “W,” some use “w.” What are your thoughts on this?

The case for capitalizing the “B” in Black is a separate discussion from capitalizing the “w” in white. The mistake some news organizations or arbiters of this issue made was connecting the two and suggesting that the decisions for the “B” and “w” was binary, meaning they were directly related to each other. There are two separate discussions to be had. 

The case for the capital “B” is focused on affirming a group of citizens of the world. African descendants living in America often have no defined ethnic lineage to a specific country or countries. Like the many African Americans who may have no known genetic link to a particular country due to the history of slavery, the capital “B” serves as an inclusive identity that notes a shared experience, race and ethnicity. Conversely, a known heritage is a more common reality for many white people, Asians, Hispanics and Latinos. As they may be more likely to know their country of origin, if relevant to a story, the media would likely publish that cultural or ethnic background. It is for those reasons, albeit not limited to, that the case for capitalizing the “B” in Black was made. 

Capitalizing the “w” in white is often associated with and/or promoted by the white supremacy movement. In addition, if there are extensive published case(s) made for capitalizing the “w,” or a movement to do so by journalists and a particular community, then more debate on that issue is warranted. As journalists, we are trained to think critically and now more than ever we must. Language is reflective of the sign of the times. We should be open to amend newsgathering based on cultural norms and descriptors as society changes and evolves. For now, capitalizing the “B” in Black was not only fitting but long overdue.  

What’s next in terms of burning issues on style and journalistic coverage that should be tackled? 

Newsroom diversity and staffing should be addressed by news operations with working plans to start immediately during the summer of 2020. Every newsroom should create objectives to review staffing makeup and subsequently coverage. Style, sources and content are a part of the equation for further review, but managers should first review staffing and consider who is doing the reporting, editing and decision-making, and discuss how inclusive the newsroom may grow across ethnic, generational, sex-orientation and gender perspectives, to name some. Consideration of existing diversity data and local demographics is key. There are lessons to be learned from McKinsey’s diversity research.  

For a deeper dive: McKinsey’s “Shattering the Glass Screen” is inspired by The Press Forward’s efforts to study women and minorities’ progress in the media and entertainment industry. 


Well, that’s all we have for you this week folks. If you’re interested in race and journalism, our CEO Susan Smith Richardson will be speaking on a panel hosted by the Aspen Institute. Be sure to check it out. We’ll see you next week.

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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