The Center for American Freedom is a rightist advocacy group founded by neoconservative pundit Michael Goldfarb to serve as a counterweight to the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. Its sole activity appears to be publishing the Washington Free Beacon, a news and commentary site fashioned as a conservative answer to progressive blogs like Think Progress and Talking Points Memo.
CAF's website states: "The Center For American Freedom is a conservative not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through education, ideas, and action. We are creating a long-term, conservative vision for America—a vision that policy makers, thought-leaders, and activists can use to shape the national debate and pass laws that make a difference. Our mission is to transform conservative ideas into policy through rapid response communications, legislative action, organizing and advocacy, and partnerships with other conservative leaders throughout the country and the world."
Hinting at its neoconservative bent, the website claims that "a conservative is someone who understands America has been the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that in order to remain as such, we must guard against threats to liberty and freedom both at home and abroad."
The Washington Free Beacon
Reflecting on the purported novelty of a conservative news site, editor in chief Matthew Continetti describes the Washington Free Beacon as an attempt to present "the other half of the story, the half that the elite media have taken such pains to ignore: the inside deals, cronyism cloaked in the public interest, and far-out nostrums of contemporary progressivism and the Democratic Party. At the Beacon, all friends of freedom will find an alternative to the hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole, and insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags on MSNBC and talk radio. At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them." Continetti summed up the journal's work as "combat journalism."
The Beacon's reporting has lived up to its combative mission. In late 2012 and early 2013, for example, the outlet ran a series of stories dedicated to bolstering the neoconservative-driven claim that then-Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel held anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic views, a campaign that was widely panned outside right-wing media. The Beacon's coverage of the Hagel nomination prompted Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo to lambast the publication as "a tabloid-style 'news' site specializing in smear jobs against neocon hate-objects." Raimondo added, "Half Breitbart.com, half college humor magazine, the Free Beacon is a down-market version of the Weekly Standard."
The Beacon also contributed to the conservative mythmaking over the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Cairo, Egypt, and Benghazi, Libya. The publication was the source of a rumor that the State Department had banned U.S. Marines at the Cairo embassy from carrying live ammunition. Although the Marine Corps immediately discredited the claim, it nonetheless circulated widely in conservative media.
The publication has stoked controversy by passing off sensationalistic "jokes" as journalism. In February 2013, the site ran a story under the headline "Hughes Drops Jews" that suggested that the president of the New Republic magazine was "signal[ing] the publication's continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint" by dropping "at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead." Critics pointed out that the publication's editor was Jewish and that half of the writers dropped were not. Goldfarb told the New York Times that story was meant to be a joke. "We're true believers, but we're also troublemakers," he said, "We get up every day and say, how do we cause trouble?"
A Daily Beast blogger called Goldfarb's remark "a stunning admission." Recalling the Beacon's repeated insinuations that Chuck Hagel held anti-Semitic views, the blogger mused: "Goldfarb concedes here that his group's accusations of anti-Semitism are just for laughs." Quipping that Goldfarb "represents Bill Kristol's worst instincts," the Daily Beast writer concluded, "This is what neoconservatism has become; even a critic can lament."
Commenting on the Beacon's sensationalistic and often lowbrow journalism, Think Progress editor Judd Legum rejected any comparison between his own publication and the Washington Free Beacon. "They are not an imitation of ThinkProgress," he told the New York Times. "They are a parody."
Leadership and Funding
CAF's founding chairman is Michael Goldfarb, a lobbyist and activist associated with several neoconservative groups, including the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Liz Cheney-led Keep America Safe, and the now-defunct Project for the New American Century. The editor of the Washington Free Beacon is Matthew Continetti, a contributor to the neocon Weekly Standard. Aaron Harison, the former executive director of Keep America Safe, is the group's president.
Board members include the ubiquitous William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a supporter of a passel of neoconservative pressure groups, as well as Weekly Standard contributors Jaime Sneider and Mary Katharine Ham, who is also conservative radio host and Fox News commentator.
Although he has declined to reveal the group's donors, Goldfarb told reporter Ben Smith in early 2012 that CAF would have an annual budget of "several million dollars." Reported Smith: "The group is currently structured as a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, Goldfarb said, mimicking CAP's more combative media and research arm, the Center for American Progress Action Fund; it may add a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit, like CAP, for less overtly partisan work, he said. Goldfarb said he's borrowing another position from the liberal think tank, which was founded in 2003 to buttress the Democratic opposition to a Republican president. Like CAP, his group won't disclose its donors. CAP has justified that stance by saying that, unlike the anonymously financed campaign groups it criticizes for secrecy, it doesn't run TV ads."
CAF's Form 990 from 2011, when the organization was still being set up, reported total revenues of $700,000. It also indicated that CAF had paid $40,000 to Orion Strategies, a consulting firm where Goldfarb has served as vice president.