New America, a Google-Funded Think Tank, Faces Backlash for Firing a Google Critic

Google officials — including its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt — had complained about Open Markets multiple times. Their grievances could not be easily ignored. The company, Mr. Schmidt and his family’s foundation had donated more than $21 million to New America since the think tank’s founding in 1999, according to voluntary disclosures and tax filings.

About two dozen journalists and scholars who have participated in the organization’s fellowship programs expressed interest in signing a letter that was circulating Friday warning that New America risks undermining itself if its work is influenced by donors’ concerns.

A draft of the letter reviewed by The Times faults New America’s leadership for handling the situation in a secretive manner. It asserts that a more transparent accounting of the decision-making is necessary “to assure us, and the outside world, that New America’s work is truly independent, now and going forward. Nothing less than the integrity of the institution is at stake.”

Ms. Slaughter on Thursday night emailed her staff to apologize “that you all have been caught in the crossfire.” She told them that there would be “deep internal discussions” about New America’s policies for dealing with work that criticizes donors, including “what kinds of commitments we can make to our donors about notice and even right of response.” She published another statement online Friday.

She also spoke by phone with the foundation’s directors to explain what happened with Mr. Lynn and his initiative. Most members of the board either declined to comment or could not be reached.

But some of New America’s donors were unsettled by the news, according to an official at one foundation that donates to the think tank. “We were concerned because you want to let the grantees do their work without worrying about how it impacts the funders,” said the foundation official.

Another liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, which has faced occasional scrutiny over its positions and its donors’ interests, highlighted the New America situation as a cautionary tale in an internal email.

CAP’s president, Neera Tanden, wrote to her staff on Wednesday afternoon that the episode serves as “a good reminder that every institution’s ability to impact the national debate is based on trust.” Describing CAP’s guidelines as dictating that “the financial…

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