The Center for American Progress has laid off the unionized staff members of its news site, ThinkProgress. In a statement posted on the ThinkProgress site Tuesday, the center announced it was “transitioning ThinkProgress back to its roots by offering analysis of the news, policy and politics.” Former staffers are concerned the site would turn into a communications arm for the think tank’s scholars and staff, which would be against the union contract that guaranteed editorial independence.
The Center for American Progress is one of the most prominent liberal think tanks in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit took in from $40 million to $50 million from 2013-16. It said editorially independent ThinkProgress, which, as the Daily Beast writes, “helped define progressivism during the Obama years,” was running a deficit for years, and it was looking to sell the site.
A statement from the ThinkProgress union countered that “ThinkProgress was not founded to be profitable.” When the center announced its plans for the site, the union’s statement continued, “We now know this was never about money. This was always about power and control.”
Jason Gordon, the director of communications for the Writers Guild of America, which represents the union, told the Daily Beast, “in light of new developments on the future of ThinkProgress, we are continuing conversations with CAP and exploring our legal options.”
During the Obama presidency, ThinkProgress helped start the careers of multiple prominent journalists and political operatives. Per the Daily Beast:
A testament to its success is found in the list of prominent alumni currently working in politics and journalism. That list includes Faiz Shakir, who now serves as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager; Amanda Terkel, the D.C. bureau chief of the Huffington Post; Nico Pitney, the political director at NowThis; Alex Seitz-Wald, a top campaign reporter for NBC News; Ali Gharib, a senior news editor at The Intercept; and Matt Yglesias, one of the founding members of Vox.
Former ThinkProgress staffers, including The Intercept’s Lee Fang, also suggested the shuttering was about tensions between center-leaning higher-up staff and donors and more leftist writers:
ThinkProgress used to dig into money in politics, influence of lobby power in DC. Then CAP leadership gutted it back in 2012. Later they got a “union” but that didn’t change any of the fundamental power dynamics at CAP. Recent develops prove it.
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) September 9, 2019
They were also accused of seemingly supporting unions while also engaging in union busting. As Jack Crosbie writes in Splinter, “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.”
The center’s initial statement on ThinkProgress’s closure said it would not be canceling recurring donations to ThinkProgress automatically; donors would have to contact the center to opt out. However, a center spokesperson later said it was reversing its initial decision and would end the recurring donations.
The Daily Beast reported the spokesperson also said the center was “shelving plans to keep the site running and would instead have it archived,” a small victory for the laid-off writers after the union said they were considering legal action.