There are many flaws, omissions, and inaccuracies in Jane Mayer’s article falsely claiming that David Koch manipulated programming decisions at WNET, New York City’s PBS affiliate. However, Ms. Mayer’s fundamental failure is that there is not a single fact in the piece showing any such conduct by Mr. Koch. That is because these facts don’t exist. No special treatment was ever requested or expected and Mr. Koch, on principle, has never interfered with WNET’s programming decisions.
In the absence of facts to support her imagined theory, Ms. Mayer once again misleads readers with a series of inaccuracies, omissions, and misstatements which are characteristic of her reporting on Koch. Here are some examples:
– Ms. Mayer writes that for decades Mr. Koch has attempted to make “an ideological inroad [at WNET], enabling him to exert influence over a network with a prominent news operation.” No factual basis is provided and her assertion is false because, again, no such influence ever occurred. On the contrary, Mr. Koch has been a generous benefactor of WNET and programming on other PBS affiliates WGBH and WETA. Further, Mr. Koch has donated more than $1 billion to cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and public policy organizations, with the vast majority of this going to medical and cancer research.
– Although Koch issued a statement containing its concerns about Alex Gibney’s slanted and biased film that ran on WNET based on our review of the trailer for the film, we never attempted to influence or interfere with WNET’s decision to air the piece. Nor did we suggest that the station air a discussion of the film following the broadcast. In fact, we declined to take part in the discussion and had no role in the selection of guests for that segment. Mr. Gibney’s objection to that discussion must make him the only filmmaker in America who prefers that people not discuss his work after it appears.
– Ms. Mayer reports that Mr. Gibney was “disappointed” that WNET “gave Koch…the last word,” and “tried to undercut the credibility of the film.” We had the right to respond to Mr. Gibney’s film, and if that response hurt its credibility, that is the result of the film’s weakness. Here is that statement in full:
“This film is disappointing and divisive. Rather than advance ideas to address the root causes of poverty, it simplistically blames the wealthy while ignoring the billions of dollars in charitable support given by those with financial means. To continue to attack job creators and businesses that work to raise the standard of living for all Americans will only serve to impoverish our nation. The success of Koch Industries with its 50,000 U.S. employees enables David Koch’s philanthropy. In spite of these attacks, he will continue to support causes that aim to eradicate cancer, advance a free society, and create a better quality of life for all.”
– When Ms. Mayer called Koch for comment, a few days prior to publication, she made no mention by name of the film called “Citizen Koch,” which she discusses at length in her piece, relying in part on comments from far-left wing propagandist Michael Moore. Instead she simply referred to “a documentary” that had been under consideration at WNET. We did not know what film she referred to and, had she been forthright and direct and asked us about it, we would have told her that Koch made no effort to dissuade WNET or anyone else from airing it.
– During that conversation, Koch’s spokeswoman requested that Ms. Mayer include some mention of Koch’s track record of growing tens of thousands of manufacturing and other jobs, and our commitment to providing value to American consumers. Ms. Mayer dismissed that by saying, “That’s not what reporters like me do.”
– Ms. Mayer devotes ample space, however, to pejorative characterizations and quotes about Koch. “Strongly conservative industrialists whose goal is to move the country to the right,” is just one of many slanted descriptions littered throughout the piece. Our actual views, as we have stated many times to her and others, are about advancing principles that enable a more prosperous and free society, such as limited government, individual liberty, and rule of law. But instead of simply citing that accurately or even quoting us, Ms. Mayer uses loaded terms such as “billionaire extremists” with a “self-justifying mindset.”
–No mention is made of Ms. Mayer’s own partisan political leanings. It is deceitful for her to claim that her reporting on Koch is objective and neutral. Rather, her perspective mirrors a sharply left-wing viewpoint of Koch shared by partisan media such as ThinkProgress, The Nation Magazine, Al Jazeera, or Democracy Now, where she has contributed and who typically cheer her writing. We understand she will be publicizing the piece herself on the usual outlets that share her worldview, including MSNBC and NPR. One New York Times political writer, for example, praised Ms. Mayer’s piece as a “blockbuster” the morning it appeared and then amplified one of the false inferences, that “WNET made sure Koch brothers had unprecedented last word on show they didn’t even see.” If she is truly concerned with transparency about political ideas, then Ms. Mayer should provide her readers with a candid explanation of her own views.
– Ms. Mayer writes that a Koch spokeswoman “initially denied” receiving an interview request from Gibney, “but after Gibney’s office provided me with the relevant emails, she acknowledged that she had been contacted.” This also is misleading. Koch’s spokeswoman told Ms. Mayer only that we could locate no record of any request from Gibney and would not dispute that it might have occurred among the thousands of emails received, particularly since the emails from Gibney’s associate apparently were sent months before the show aired.
– Ms. Mayer is similarly wrong when she writes that Mr. Koch “rarely speaks in public,” which is an inaccurate assertion she has made in the past to imply that Koch is “secretive.” In fact, Mr. Koch is a frequent speaker at a variety of venues.
– Ms. Mayer indicates that “Koch Industries was among [Gov. Scott] Walker’s primary financial backers in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.” As can be easily confirmed through public filings, Koch’s employee political action committee contributed $43,000 to Walker’s campaign, which was less than one-half of one percent of his overall fundraising.
– Ms. Mayer writes that the “Citizen Koch” movie “was respectfully reviewed.” The positive review she cites from Variety in fact panned the film for “never quite find[ing] a unified focus,” that it “feels repetitive and unnecessary,” and is “unsatisfying as a whole.” There are numerous other negative reviews to be found, including one that pointed out there was “remarkably little fact-checking on display.”
The slanted and dishonest technique in Ms. Mayer’s writing is so habitual that we posted a preemptive notice on Saturday alerting readers that her forthcoming piece was likely to be another misleading, agenda-driven attempt to smear Koch. Unfortunately, we were correct.