The New York Times published a fawning front-page profile of the Koch brothers last Friday. The article never mentions their efforts to secure unfettered fossil fuel consumption, which would destroy humanity’s livable climate. It was quickly criticized by leading experts as “poor journalism” and “gullible.”
The Times wants you to believe that the Kochs are “very private” but “brave,” that they are “sensitive to criticism,” and that “Charles [Koch] obviously is a classical liberal, who believes in the Bill of Rights.” What’s next for the Times — rehabbing the misunderstand Bernie Madoff?
This 1300-word piece never once mentions the Koch’s insidious efforts to fund climate science denial, block all climate action, and roll back clean energy standards at a state level. The Koch’s belief in the First Amendment extends to being the leading funder in the world of efforts to spread disinformation, smear and harass climate scientists, and generally destroy any honest national discussion of how to spare Americans and billions of people worldwide needless misery for centuries to come. Any classical liberal would do the same.
On Sunday, one of the Koch Brothers’ political groups, Freedom Partners, hosted a political forum for wealthy conservative donors. Charles Koch compared his network’s influence over U.S. elections to past “freedom movements.”
Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the Times has called “an expert on environmental communications,” told Climate Progress that “the NYT seems to be acting as if it was a PR agency for the Kochs. It is dismaying to see such poor journalism.”
Peter Dykstra — a 17-year CNN veteran and one of the country’s most award-winning environmental journalists — tweeted:
NY Times foregoes reporting on Kochs' media makeover. They're participating in it. Textbook Bad Journalism. @sulliview
— Peter Dykstra (@pdykstra) July 31, 2015
Dykstra, an editor at Environmental Health News, who won an Emmy, a Dupont-Columbia Award, and a Peabody Award during his time at CNN, told ClimateProgress, “It’s a mashup of pull-quotes that a Koch publicist would give an eye tooth to have, and thanks to the Times, now they have them. The piece has great potential as a Journalism 101 lesson of how not to report.”
In its effort to win “worst headline of the year,” this New York Times weighs in with “Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Try to Alter Their Image.” The Times has the same dreadful print headline, web headline, and URL — so all the editors apparently agreed from the start that this nonsense headline somehow reflects reality.
The ridiculous thesis of this piece is that the Kochs are somehow shy and retiring but those mean liberals made them brave the public spotlight to set the record straight: “After two elections in which Democrats and liberals sought to cast them as the secretive, benighted face of the Republican Party, the Kochs are seeking to remake public perceptions of their family, their business and their politics, unsettling a corporate culture deeply allergic to the spotlight.”
What’s laughable about that sentence is that the Kochs have instilled a corporate culture “deeply allergic to the spotlight” because they don’t want the public to know they are reckless polluters who fund politicians and political activity to allow them to keep polluting. As Think Progress detailed back in 2011 with 10 specific examples, “Much of the entire Koch political machine is geared towards ensuring that Koch Industries never has to compensate the people and ecosystems damaged by Koch Industries pollution.”
The New Yorker, which did a spot-on profile of the Kochs in 2010 headlined “Covert Operations,” nailed this point exactly. The article states that “the Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them.”
Memo to Times: There is a difference between being “private” people who “brave [the] spotlight” to somehow set the record straight — which the Kochs most certainly are not — and being secretive people like the Kochs who have always chosen to avoid the spotlight because of what they and their company are doing behind the scenes.
The fact is there’s nothing whatsoever private about the behavior of the Kochs — nor is there any news whatsoever in the fact that the Kochs have always spent millions of dollars to try to improve their image.
“Private” people don’t donate $100 million to M.I.T. in 2007 to get their name on a research institute. Private people don’t donate $15 million to fund and put their name on a dubious evolution and climate change exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History — and then join the Smithsonian board.
If the Kochs (and their company) wanted to stay far away from the spotlight, then they would not have overtaken ExxonMobil years ago as the top funder of politicians and organizations pushing climate inaction and anti-scientific disinformation. Koch Industries and the Kochs have spent more than $48.5 million from 1997 to 2010 to fund disinformation. From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs outspent Exxon-Mobil well over 2-to-1 in funding the climate denial machine.
The New York Times itself, in January, had a front-page story the began “The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign.” That story, written by the same reporter who wrote Sunday’s piece, details the Kochs’ huge network of organizations and has a photo of David Koch with this blunt caption:
The brothers’ financial goal, announced on Monday at the annual Koch winter donor retreat in Palm Springs, Calif., effectively transforms the Koch organization into a third major political party.
So it is embarrassing that the paper would now run an article implying that the creators of what is effectively the country’s “third major political party” must “brave [the] spotlight.” Dykstra — a former Board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a judge of the Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism — says:
Only the Times knows the reason it would publish such a gullible piece on the Kochs’ image remake. By doing so, they helped the remake considerably. The reporter glossed over the Brothers’ history and didn’t mention their lavish efforts to support climate denial and oppose clean energy. The story included only one direct quote from a Koch critic while relying on quotes from the recipient of an eight-figure donation and others who hailed Charles Koch as “amazing” and, bizarrely, “a classical liberal.” It’s hagiographic, maybe even a bit hallucinatory, and a prime exhibit of how political reporting often fails its readership.
Long after this puff piece is forgotten, future generations and historians are very unlikely to view the Kochs as anything other than modern-day robber barons who used their wealth to try to skirt or rewrite environmental laws, with a livable climate in the balance.
In his June encyclical urging immediate climate action, the Pope ends by calling on God to “Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out.”
If indifference to the dangers of climate inaction by the rich and powerful is a sin, what would the Pope say about a company and it’s multi-billionaire owners who are fostering lies in order to spread indifference among the public, the media, and policy-makers?
He wouldn’t use the words “brave” or “amazing” or “liberal.”
This piece has been updated to correct that Peter Dykstra is a current, not former, judge of the Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and also to note that both New York Times pieces profiling the Kochs were written by the same reporter.