Sunday, January 8th, 2012

UPDATE Confronting Bias and Fixation at the New York Times

From: Cohlmia, Missy
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012 10:43 AM
To: Art Brisbane
Cc: Cohlmia, Missy
Subject: RE: Koch Industries

Dear Mr. Brisbane:

I appreciate your offer of continued dialogue and thank you for your time. Your candor, especially on the Times’ liberal leanings and how that lack of diversity of perspective can lead to “very predictable” and “dull” reading, deserves praise and we certainly share your view of it.

In answer to your question on specific examples of bias in the news coverage, here is a link to more than a dozen such instances which reveal the Times provides a frequent and high platform for the grievances of left-wing advocacy groups and the Democratic party about us.

We would still like to hear some justification from senior Times editors about why the articles involving us are so heavily weighted — in topic, frequency, and content — toward the left wing perspective.  I would be grateful if you could endeavor to get an answer from them about that.

Kind thanks,
Melissa Cohlmia
Director, Corporate Communication
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC


From: Art Brisbane
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 2:09 PM
To: Cohlmia, Missy
Subject: Re: Koch Industries

Ms. Colhmia: thanks for your message. You should not be surprised that the Koch brothers are mentioned frequently in The Times, as they have chosen to play an active role in the political sphere in a presidential election year. I am prepared to address specific instances that you believe are problematic but I don’t think the sheer volume is anything that is per se inappropriate. You state that all 50 mentions were negative but what I have to work with are the specific examples you provided. All but one emanate from writers who produce critical reviews, op-ed pieces, magazine commentaries as opposed to news coverage. One is from ClimateGate, a contracted content provider that appears on NYTimes.com.

I will agree in the broad sense that, taken together, it is clear that this community of opinion-based writers — as distinct from news reporters producing material for the main news sections — clearly share a worldview that is liberal and antithetical to the Koch brothers’ political perspective. That they find ways to lace their writing with these views is perhaps unfortunate. I would be happier if The Times had a more diverse mix of such writers, leading to perspectives that are not universally of one political persuasion. But we are talking here about The Times, and as you note others have deemed it a liberal newspaper. I have not yet written a piece pronouncing on this issue broadly (a couple of my predecessors did so, and perhaps I will do so before I am done). With that caveat, I have no problem stating here that in the domain where opinion writers ply their trade for The Times, the liberal view is overwhelmingly dominant. The Times is within its rights to contract for such material, as the opinion sphere is distinct from the news sphere, and there can be little doubt that the Times ownership and editorial page ascribe to a liberal perspective.

So when you cite a comment by Paul Krugman that most oligarchs don’t live where their wealth originated, it should be no surprise that he is hostile to the Kochs. The same might be said for Mark Bittman, whose liberal perspective is clearly on display in the piece you referenced. I don’t see why you mentioned the ClimateWire piece, as it simply identified the Kochs as co-founders of Americans for Prosperity, a basic factual statement that as far as I know is correct. The Kochs should be long past hoping for anonymity.

The Tommasini piece, I thought, was not so hostile as you suggested. Yes, you were mentioned in context with Mad King Ludwig, with whom few philanthropists would care to be associated, but also with the Medicis and Andrew Carnegie, who as far as I know are highly esteemed in the world of philanthropy (indeed are viewed as paragons of it). The writer was simply noting that it is the 1 percent who typically support the arts, a point that seems to be beyond dispute.

With respect to the Ariel Kaminer piece, she quotes one person who says fundraising campaigns attract donors of diverse perspectives, a point that seems friendly to your side of the issue. She does make the crack about Tchaikovsky’s strange bedfellows but her piece is really quite restrained. Remember, as well, that she is responding to a letter from a reader who has herself expressed opposition to the Koch brothers, so the context for the discussion is hostile in part because of the reader question, not Kaminer’s response. This brings forward another ingredient in this situation: The Times’s audience. That audience consists of New Yorkers, by and large a liberal population, and national readers, many of whom select The Times because it mirrors their views.

I remain steadfastly opposed to the paper proffering only liberal perspectives in news coverage. But in the opinion-based features of the paper, The Times is within its right to do this. In my view, it makes for predictable and sometimes very dull reading. But others apparently don’t agree.

Sincerely,
Art Brisbane
public editor


Mr. Arthur Brisbane
Public Editor
New York Times

Dear Mr. Brisbane:

We have been observing coverage about us in the Times over the last year that appears in many cases driven by a political agenda and in others so gratuitous that it stretches the bounds of newsworthiness to absurd lengths. You will recall that we brought a number of these specifics to your attention last April and May. Since that time, there have been more than 50 articles in the paper critical of Koch (zero that are positive) written by some 41 different Times authors. You were gracious to offer a continued dialogue on the matter and two such pieces that appeared over the weekend prompt us to reach out again.

The first, by art critic Anthony Tommasini, complained about our support for the arts, compared us to the deposed King Ludwig of 19th-Century Bavaria and the Renaissance Medicis and therefore urged that the situation “would seem to make the performing arts a natural focus for the Occupy activists.”

The second piece, appearing in the “Ethicist” column by Ariel Kaminer, applauded a reader for keeping her granddaughter away from a performance of “The Nutcracker” because we donated to the production. “Tolerance has its limits,” Ms. Kaminer explained, and “Tchaikovsky makes strange bedfellows.”

In other words, Times writers apparently must perform contortions so bent-over-backward that it involves medieval references and politicizing children’s Christmas ballets, all to squeeze a disparagement about Koch into their copy. My question to you is: if the paper is going to be indulging a hostile approach that is this far-fetched, then don’t we deserve some explanation from editors for the sheer frequency and the underlying purpose?

Readers themselves might wonder if they’ll soon read moral circumspection about the many performing arts or left-leaning institutions supported by the Sulzberger family, which owns the paper. Doubtful, it would seem. (And never mind at all the Sulzberger family’s role in building the New York Stock Exchange, stifling the Times’ unions, giving golden parachutes to underperforming executives, and other such activity the paper lately characterizes as “the one percent”).

When we last interacted, you explained that we could “expect the Times to continue to cover Kochs’ activities rather closely, as your organizations’ activities have acquired quite a high profile.” I’m troubled that this is a kind of circular logic — the Times is covering Koch because Koch is being covered — and tells readers little about the thinking and motives of the Times’ apparent fixation with us.

Let me reiterate that these are far from the only such examples. In October, a Times dining critic commenting about what protestors prefer to eat wrote, “Unlike the Tea Party, funded as it is by wealthy reactionaries like the Koch Brothers, ‘Occupy’ is sustained by energy, frustration…pizza and apples paid for by supporters or donated by farmers.” In November, one of your columnists denounced where we choose to live, saying, “even when oligarchs clearly get their income from heartland, red-state sources, where do they live? OK, one of the Koch brothers still lives in Wichita; but the other lives in New York.” And though the group Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members, supporters, and co-founders, it is routinely described specifically as a project of ours.

As one of your predecessors once pointed out, the Times is a liberal newspaper. We understand that and have been documenting the often irrational and cynical ways in which left-wing groups have targeted us. But if the Times is going to take part in that bandwagon and go to lengths so far afield from legitimate news coverage, then it ought to have the integrity to acknowledge it.

We would be grateful if you could look into the examples we’ve cited and the larger point. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Melissa Cohlmia
Director, Corporate Communication
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

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