Exclusive: The ‘Independent’ News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety
The Trace is mostly funded by Everytown, but you wouldn’t know it from their website.

If you’ve been following gun-related news for any length of time, you’ve probably come across a website called The Trace.

The Trace bills itself as “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom” that covers gun-related topics in the United States. The outlet has in recent years sought to raise its credibility by partnering with major news sources like The New Yorker, Slate, and The Atlantic to report on topics like gun-related crime, universal background checks, and the National Rifle Association.

In fact, it was The Trace’s Mike Spies who, in partnership with The New Yorker, launched against the NRA the first public attacks that eventually resulted in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit seeking to dissolve the gun-rights organization.

That story put The Trace in the national spotlight, and its editors and authors have worked hard to convince readers that they’re a source of objective, unbiased gun-related news.

Especially if those readers are unfamiliar with issues relating to firearms and the Second Amendment, it’s easy to believe. The Trace publishes think pieces considering the efficacy of “assault weapon” buybacks and universal background checks that are written in measured, even language. They’ve published profiles of NRA shooting instructors, op-eds on the benefits of stockpiling ammunition, and a woman’s touching tribute to her father after she inherited his guns.

But new analysis by GunsAmerica has revealed that The Trace is anything but “independent” and “nonpartisan.” According to publicly available tax documents, nearly 70 percent of The Trace’s expenses are paid for by the anti-gun group Everytown for Gun Safety, and the outlet counts Everytown’s president, John Feinblatt, as its principal officer.

Though it claims editorial independence and seeks to be counted alongside the New York Times as a trusted source of news, one can argue that The Trace is still nothing more than a mouthpiece for Everytown.

“Seed Funding” and Website Scrubbing

When it first launched in 2015, The Trace was more honest about its bias and funding. They still claimed to be “independent,” but they also admitted “bias to our beat.”

“We believe that this country’s rates of firearm-related deaths and injuries — an average of 91 lives lost per day, and more than 200 people suffering nonfatal bullet wounds — are far too high,” the organization said on its website, according to the Internet Archive.

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety
This screenshot is from The Trace’s website in 2016. They used to admit their bias. Now? Not so much.

They also admitted to securing “seed funding” from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a turn of phrase copied on a variety of nonprofit watchdog websites.

Even at the time, this “seed funding” language was designed to obfuscate their true source of revenue. Everytown for Gun Safety may have provided the start-up dollars to get The Trace off the ground, the website implied, but that’s in the past. Now, The Trace is supposedly untethered from Everytown’s anti-gun bias.

SEE ALSO: Everytown To Award Pelosi with ‘Gun Sense Lawmaker of the Year’ Award

The outlet has only leaned into that misleading implication. Today, The Trace has scrubbed nearly all mention of Everytown from its website. The Trace claims that editors have “editorial independence” by maintaining “a firewall between our news coverage decisions and all sources of revenue.” Their reporters supposedly operate “independently of that support and retain full control of all editorial decisions,” but it’s unclear how this process works.

They still offer readers a list of their donors in an apparent bid for transparency. But while they do include Everytown on that list, not even the “seed funding” language has survived. Everytown now sits as just one of many organizations that give money to The Trace, many of which don’t appear to have a bias for or against gun rights.

Who’s Really in Charge at The Trace?

But Everytown isn’t just one donor among many. According to its tax filing, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund gave The Trace a whopping $2,029,495 in 2018, the most recent year available.

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety

Everytown, in fact, gave more money to a supposedly independent news outlet than they did to any other anti-gun organization—including their own. The gun-control group gave more than twice as much money to The Trace as they gave to their own lobbying organization, the Everytown for Guns Safety Action Fund.

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety

Two million cold ones is a nice chunk of change, but how much of The Trace’s budget did Everytown account for in 2018?

According to The Trace’s tax filings, a huge percentage. Their total expenses in 2018 amounted to $2,977,050, and the total amount of money they spent on “program services” – or, the work they reported as related to their core mission – was $2,273,847.

In other words, Everytown accounted for nearly 70 percent of The Trace’s total expenses and nearly 90 percent of its program services budget. The next highest donation we found was from an outfit called the Joyce Foundation, which gave The Trace $150,000, or 5 percent of its budget.

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety
Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety
Everytown’s donation to The Trace represents a huge percentage of its expenses and program services.

The Trace is connected to Everytown through more than just money. On its tax filing, the outlet lists John Feinblatt as its president and principle officer. If that names sounds familiar, there’s a reason: Feinblatt is also president of Everytown.

Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety
Exclusive: The 'Independent' News Outlet Secretly Funded by Everytown for Gun Safety

SEE ALSO: Everytown’s Linguistic Gymnastics: 2A Doesn’t Really Mean ‘Bear’ Arms

According to the IRS, a “principle officer” is “a person who has ultimate responsibility for implementing the decisions of the organization’s governing body, or for supervising the management, administration, or operation of the organization.”

Like every other connection to Everytown, The Trace has scrubbed all mention of Feinblatt from its website. Even though Everytown pays the bills and Feinblatt calls the shots, unsuspecting readers would never guess that The Trace is entirely beholden to Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun organization.

That doesn’t sound very independent to us.

Subtle Bias

To their credit, The Trace agreed to speak with us for this piece.

“No one tells us how to report or not report,” James Burnett, the website’s editorial director, told us over the phone. “That is something that all of our funders understand.”

Burnett and his colleagues may not receive direction from their donors directly, but the bias in their reporting is clear to anyone familiar with Second Amendment issues and basic journalistic principles about balance.

One example currently on the homepage of their website covers state policies that allow guns to be carried on capitol grounds. There’s nothing wrong with this topic, of course, but The Trace gives no space for the pro-gun argument. The piece exclusively quotes legislators who are working to ban guns on capitol grounds, and leads with the quote, “This isn’t normal. This is crazy.”

Another article featured on the home page discusses the judicial philosophies of Amy Coney Barrett. Again, it makes sense for The Trace to cover this topic, but they make the same assertions you might read on Everytown’s website: the Second Amendment only pertains to militias, Barrett’s philosophy is a threat to gun control, and Barrett will “remake Second Amendment jurisprudence.”

SEE ALSO: Everytown is Terrified that Amy Coney Barrett Will be a Great 2A Judge

Virtually every article includes the same kind of subtle bias. We asked Burnett about this, and he said, “We do include on the website our editorial independence policy. We list our donors. If we have to report on one of the donors, we include that in the story. Beyond that, we go where the facts lead.”

Not everything The Trace publishes is wrong, misleading, or even anti-gun. We at GunsAmerica have found their research and reporting helpful, and we occasionally use their sources for our articles.

But they should be more transparent about where their allegiances lie. If they explained clearly that they receive most of their funding from Everytown, they wouldn’t risk confusing or misleading readers. Instead, they obfuscate their revenue streams, claim independence, and legitimize their reporting by partnering with mainstream outlets.

They owe it to the general public to be more explicit about their bias. Gun control and the Second Amendment are vitally important topics in our nation today, and any outlet reporting on these issues should strive not to mislead readers or push a hidden agenda.

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  • DELCO November 17, 2020, 3:14 pm

    They politicized the Covid virus to allow them to mail out 125 million ballots to everyone and their dead mothers. Along with sending ballots to the addresses of people who no longer lived in those residences. The Dems succeeded in completely changing the way our country votes. In a legit real election Trump would have won . Not being a left wing anti American means I won’t destroy my community or cry about it, but that doesn’t mean I am forever looking at anyone who voted for these clowns in a different way.

  • Janet Tomkins November 13, 2020, 3:12 pm

    Little Mikey Bloomberg seems to have a god complex. Now that he’s fabulously wealthy he wants to spend his money taking everyone else’s constitutional freedoms away.

    • Alan Gross November 15, 2020, 12:54 pm

      In my opinion Michael Bloomberg is Public Enemy Number ONE! He has spent millions and millions turning Red states to Blue and millions upon millions to wipe out our gun rights! Why? Surely he has something to gain.

  • Justin November 13, 2020, 9:27 am

    This is yet another great example of how following the money, to see who is paying who, exposes everything about the “partnerships” between people and organizations who are on the take.
    Who they take money from is all that really matters. The same for the WHO, CDC, etc…
    Thanks for discovering and exposing that! This is real investigative journalism.

  • Kalashnikov Dude November 13, 2020, 8:19 am

    This article speaks as if the NRA actually gives one whiff about our right to keep and bear arms. Thinking men and women can put the NRA just about three steps behind Everytown.

    • perlcat November 13, 2020, 12:31 pm

      Exactly. The NRA is a fundraising organization that occasionally advocates for legislation in between blowing donation money on family travel. The main benefit to NRA membership is having your name on a list of gun owners that is public information and will be used in any roundup.

      • DELCO November 17, 2020, 3:09 pm

        What? Round up ? Stop. You heard a left wing story about the NRA president and then you run with it like the entire organization is a sham. Talk about simple . And it’s the left who is making it possible for Gun manufacturers to be vulnerable to BS lawsuits that will take down the second A. Colt already stopped making ARs. Try not to be so over the top .

  • Tony November 13, 2020, 7:45 am

    Nothing is non-partisan, Sleepy Joe is not going to be president.

    Keep the faith, watch Michigan this weekend!

    • You triggered? November 16, 2020, 9:37 am

      Lol! Keep what faith? If you are expecting a change in the election results you are dilusional

  • Jack Brazzon November 13, 2020, 6:34 am

    Hang on all you Biden voters that own guns, you are about to see what you have done.

  • Gerald November 13, 2020, 5:05 am

    This is old news. It’s been known for years.

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