In the end, perhaps the most insulting thing was that the Center for American Progress thought it could get away with it relatively quietly.
For months, CAP subjected the staffers of its progressive journalism vertical ThinkProgress to a shameful degree of uncertainty and demoralization. CAP is the preeminent liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., a non-profit which brought in between $40 and $50 million annually between 2013 and 2016, but all of its liberal values didn’t seem to count for much when it came to the fate of its workers.
On Friday, CAP laid off the remaining 12 staffers who worked at ThinkProgress, a little more than two months after CAP announced that the website was up for sale. It marked the official end of ThinkProgress, which had begun in 2005 as an independent arm of the CAP Action Fund, or so we thought. Then, on Monday, CAP Action Fund executive director Navin Nayak announced in a post on ThinkProgress that the site would be repurposed “as a site that offers analysis on policy, politics, and the news.” Nayak also confirmed that CAP would not automatically kill recurring donations to ThinkProgress. Rather, those donors would have to email CAP and opt out of the recurring payments so their hard-earned money wouldn’t go towards great CAP projects like its partnership with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute to “defend democracy.”
Nayak didn’t say what the new site would look like, but it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever would have appeared on the site from then on would have been written by CAP workers, who wouldn’t have had the editorial independence guaranteed under ThinkProgress’ contract to be “crazy leftists,” as CAP president Neera Tanden once described them in a leaked 2015 email. (The G/O Media union, like ThinkProgress’ union, is an affiliate of the Writers’ Guild of America-East.)
I say “would have,” of course, because CAP made the mistake of making this announcement on Twitter, as well, and promptly received a shitstorm in return.
Following the announcement, ThinkProgress’ union released a statement of its own blasting CAP’s plan to keep reaping the benefits of the ThinkProgress name for as long as possible.
“CAP has repeatedly said that the decision to shut down ThinkProgress was a financial one made in light of larger industry struggles. But ThinkProgress was not founded to be profitable,” the union said in its statement. “We now know this was never about money. This was always about power and control.” The union also said it would explore its legal options against CAP.
Within hours, CAP had caved, according to a Daily Beast report from early this morning:
Within hours of Gordon issuing his statement, a spokesperson for CAP said it was shelving plans to keep the site running and would instead have it archived. The spokesperson also said that CAP would end the recurring donations feature for ThinkProgress supporters, which had also been a point of contention with union members, who believed that those donors should not have been required to opt out of giving their recurring donations.
In the end, CAP’s arrogant certainty that it could essentially borrow a line out of the Bustle playbook after stressing its support for unions for years and years resulted in public humiliation and less revenue. That’s little solace, of course, to the people who lost their jobs and those who spent years building ThinkProgress into one of the better sources of smart policy journalism in America.
If there’s any lesson to be gleaned from this, it’s that liberal think tanks like the Center for American Progress are not a friend to media workers, or workers in general. These places, and the people who run them, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to “unify” all of the various wings of the progressive and liberal movements (with a desire for less input from some wings than others, I imagine) under the banner of being on the same “team” against the Republican Party. But it ultimately didn’t matter that these bosses were liberal and nice, rather than being some obvious shitbag like Joe Ricketts. The workers at this site still got jerked around for quite a long time before being unceremoniously dumped under the reasoning that the media industry just isn’t profitable enough. (This coming from an organization that gave the totally cash-poor Georgetown University law school over half a million dollars in 2017.)
The fact is that these people, as they have proven time and again, will never really be on the same “team” as workers. If CAP is the best that liberals can do when it comes to creating moral and principled institutions to further the progressive movement, it’s worth asking: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Update, 11:09 a.m. ET: Tanden reportedly emailed staff this morning to share CAP’s statement about archiving the site with them, lamenting the “long process” and stressing that CAP had been “transparent” with ThinkProgress staff.