Q&A: Craig Newmark aims to defend democracy through philanthropy | News, Sports, Jobs
NEW YORK (AP) — Craig Newmark twists a “Batman” quote to jokingly refer to oneself as “Not the nerd you want, but maybe once in a while I’m the nerd you need.”
Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has since retired from the pioneering website that made him ultra-rich by expanding the world of internet classifieds. But the 69-year-old self-proclaimed nerd says he’s now busier than ever as a philanthropist, with what he calls his special skills – nurturing talent, directing people to a goal, synthesizing expert knowledge – in high demand.
Through Craig Newmark Philanthropies, he started the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York and has donated to numerous charities that support trustworthy journalism, voter protection, veterans and their families and encourage girls to pursue careers in technology.
And in April, he committed $50 million in donations to the Cyber Civil Defense initiative. It is intended to help protect Americans against escalating cybersecurity threats.
Newmark sees much of his philanthropic work as a way to help protect democracy, a cause to which he has already donated more than $250 million. This includes his latest donation – funding for the Newmark Civic Life Series of Recanati-Kaplan Talks and an initiative of the 92NY Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, which runs through the end of the year in New York City.
Topics include “The Big Truth: Maintaining Democracy in the Age of the ‘Big Lie'” hosted by CBS News anchor John Dickerson on September 18, and future events including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New York Times journalist and author Maggie Haberman, and the founders of Axios.
The Associated Press recently spoke with Newmark about the lecture series and why he thinks democracy is in danger. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Why did you want to sponsor this series?
A: Basically, our country and our democracy are under threat. And a guy like me, who doesn’t know much about it, thinks, “I can work with other people to stand up and defend the country.” I do this in several ways. One way is to work with 92NY. They have people who really know their stuff and who speak for the country. I’m not the good guy. It takes a kind of common sense that I, as a nerd, lack.
Q: How does bringing together people with different viewpoints help build democracy?
A: Well, democracy is about getting people with different viewpoints to work together and get along. The trick is that some people will have strengths where others will have weaknesses and vice versa. There is always a lot to learn. I’m trying to learn how to counter misinformation, and that’s a theme of these discussions. But the more I learned, the more I realized that my confrontation with a disinformation professional made me the person bringing a knife to a shooting.
Q: How do you cut through disinformation, especially as the midterm elections approach?
A: I don’t know how to get out of this, but I can tell simple truths. Like the argument that things are completely corrupt. You could show people that it’s wrong. And generally speaking, the corruption argument comes from people pushing the message that says, “Give up all hope.” If you give up hope, you’ve lost. There is still plenty of time to support democracy. It won’t be easy. My contribution will be to support people who do it well. As if I heard that pre-bunking, vaccinating people against misinformation could be really helpful, while flooding the area with facts. There are a lot more good actors than bad actors. 92NY programs are all about telling people who are potentially good actors that it’s time to get up.
Q: And what to do? “good actors” need to make?
A: You need to find people willing to take an honest look at what’s going on and challenge their own assumptions. And then act accordingly. It’s hard, because we all have confirmation bias. I have confirmation bias. I have learned over the decades that I have sometimes been wrong. This is why I act in a rather restrained way. There are a lot of good people doing a lot of this work. They need to talk to each other. They have to work with each other. Then the efficiency is amplified. When people work together like that, people are also safer. If they’re working together en masse, creating such a target-rich environment, it’s much harder for really bad actors to target them.
Q: Does this idea of collaboration extend to your philanthropy?
A: I have the disadvantage of being an amateur in philanthropy. But my greatest advantage is that I am an amateur in philanthropy. I’m not limited by annual budget cycles etc., although I have to deal with things like adjusting my burnout rate because the biggest expense item is democracy support. I try to lead by example. And all I know is how to lead from the bottom up and from the bottom up. I have no skill in leading from the top down. I’m a black hole of charisma, you know; I absorb it without emitting it. So all I know is stand up for things and push people to do it relentlessly.