Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The New Yorker’s Koch story is not credible journalism

Rather than researching and writing a well-reasoned piece that reflects a complete picture, Jane Mayer and her editors chose to print a blatantly one-sided and partial article based largely on information provided by left-leaning sources with underlying objectives. It is ironic that Mayer baselessly accuses the Kochs of using “slippery organizations with generic-sounding names” and of being “covert” when she herself employs such tactics in her article.

Throughout her article, Mayer intentionally obfuscates or otherwise fails to mention the blatant bias of many of her sources. She relies on numerous anonymous sources, and on individuals who have no first hand or current knowledge of the Kochs or the Koch companies. Many of her sources lack objectivity or credible knowledge of her sources.

Sources with Undisclosed Biases and Potential Conflicts of Interest

Mayer recently claimed in an interview on CNN that she was not given much material by Koch to assist her in writing her article. This is not true. Koch provided more than 300 pages of documents that addressed most, if not all, of her questions. These documents included detailed information concerning Koch Industries, its operations and history, as well as information about Charles Koch and David Koch, their philosophy, and information concerning the Koch foundations. Koch provided information concerning the 180 environmental, health, and safety awards it has been awarded since President Obama took office. All of this information was largely ignored and omitted from Mayer’s article.

Instead, Mayer based her article on sources and material that were blatantly and inherently biased. A look at her sources confirms that.

• Michael Vashon. Vashon is political director and spokesman for George Soros. Vashon claims that Soros’ political contributions are more transparent than the Kochs and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interest.” Vashon is wrong on both points. Soros’ lack of transparency is confirmed by the article itself, which fails to disclose the Soros connection to each of the sources listed above. Moreover, the unchallenged statement that none of Soros’ contributions are in the service of his own economic interest are directly contradicted by Soros himself in a 2004 New Yorker article written by Mayer. In that article, Soros proudly noted “there are occasionally symbiotic moments between political and business interests.” He added that his attempt to set up a public policy think tank in England led to an opportunity to break into the British Bond market, which Soros proudly exclaimed led to “one of the most rewarding weekends of my life. . . . I made millions.” Mayer did not criticize or object to such abject capitalist behavior by Soros. More importantly, Mayer either forgot what she wrote six years ago about Soros or intentionally failed to raise it because it was contrary to her preconceived thesis about the Kochs.

• ClimateProgress.org is a “project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund,” according to its website. The Center for American Progress is also the home of Lee Fang, who regularly criticizes the Kochs on ThinkProgress.org. ThinkProgress provided Mayer with much of the research for her article, which is something she never disclosed. In an August 26, 2010 posting on Democrats.com, ThinkProgress stated that “[u]sing a great deal of TP’s research, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer published a lengthy article this week that gives the “Kochtopus” ideological network the mainstream media attention it deserves.” In her article, Mayer presents this group as an uninvolved commenter on the Kochs; she does not disclose she relied heavily on the information that it provided her. Democrats.org continues by explaining that “[f]or the past two years, ThinkProgress researcher Lee Fang has been digging into the nefarious activities of the Koch family, reporting on their funding of the tea parties, the depth of their astroturfing, and their family’s record of right-wing radicalism.” Immediately after Mayer’s New Yorker article was published, Fang took to the airwaves to promote his upcoming book.

• Naomi Oreskes. Oreskes is a vocal critic of corporations that disagree with her point of view on the need for climate change legislation. The University of California San Diego professor is currently promoting her book, “Merchants of Doubt,” which her publisher calls the “troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists has clouded public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda.” She has made a career out of carrying the climate change message, having been quoted by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth.

• Charles Lewis. Lewis is the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, which Mayer claims is a “nonpartisan watchdog group.” The Center for Public Integrity is a well-known Soros-funded advocacy group with every reason to attack the Kochs and their message, just as it attacked the Bush administration at Soros’ encouragement before the 2004 presidential election. Notably, Vachon is on the board of this organization. For Mayer to suggest that Lewis and the Center are a nonpartisan group means either that Mayer did not research or check her sources, or that she intentionally misrepresented the bias of her sources to try to create the appearance of objectivity.

• Greenpeace/Political Economy Research Institute. Each of these sources ardently support climate change legislation and both are avowed enemies of the oil industry generally and Koch Industries in particular. In addition to Koch Industries, Greenpeace has been a vocal opponent of Georgia-Pacific for years, once scaling its office headquarters in Atlanta to protest its involvement in the forest industry. The Political Economy Research Institute connection to the Union for Radical Political Economics, and to Greenpeace, is explained elsewhere in this rebuttal.

• Thomas McGarity. Mayer fails to mention in her article that McGarity (whom she describes as a University of Texas law professor) is the immediate past president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a politically connected progressive organization that includes John Podesta and Henry Waxman on its advisory board. McGarity also is part of the U.T. Environmental Law Clinic that brings lawsuits against corporations, and he has written extensively on his belief that the law needs to be changed to allow individuals to more easily sue corporations.

• David Uhlmann. Uhlmann is a former prosecutor and currently a University of Michigan professor. Uhlmann has every motivation to attack Koch Industries given that he was the head of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section during the Corpus Christi case mentioned in Mayer’s article. He was heavily involved in the oversight of the investigation and ultimately failed prosecution of Koch Petroleum Group, Koch Industries, and four individuals. He was also part of the settlement discussions. The “significant” case, to use Uhlmann’s words, was resolved with Koch Petroleum Group pleading guilty to a single issue it had voluntarily disclosed to regulators six years earlier. He also has written extensively on the need for climate change legislation.

Not a single one of these sources can be characterized as nonpartisan. Each has a point of view consistent with Mayer’s, and each disagrees philosophically with the Kochs and the organizations and principles they support. Mayer conveniently failed to attribute the partisan nature of these sources, or the direct connection many of them have to George Soros, in her article.

Even alleged “personal” sources are unqualified

Many of Mayer’s sources that purport to provide insight into the Kochs on a personal level are blatantly unqualified to be credible sources on Charles Koch and David Koch. Putting aside the numerous anonymous sources relied upon by Mayer, personal sources include these:

• Gus DiZerega. DiZerega has not spoken with Charles Koch in about 30 years. He has no first-hand current knowledge of Charles Koch or David Koch, or of Koch Industries. It appears that Mayer may have located DiZerega by finding an April 3, 2010 entry on a website, beliefnet.com, which references DiZerega’s discussions with Charles Koch when he was in high school in Wichita, Kan. There is nothing in DiZerega’s history or experience that would suggest he has any basis or credentials for a credible journalist to rely upon his as such a significant source for an article on Charles Koch and David Koch, and their current beliefs and activities. Indeed, Mayer largely ignored anyone who has firsthand current knowledge of the Kochs or their company. For example, former Gov. George Pataki and Mort Zuckerman each receive a glancing reference. This despite the fact that Koch provided her with the names of several individuals to talk to, in addition to the voluminous written information Koch provided her about the company, Charles Koch, David Koch, and the Koch foundations.

• Robert LeFevre. While Charles and David Koch both have met LeFevre, they were never “devotees” of LeFevre, as Mayer asserts. In fact, they have had no contact with him since the 1960s. LeFevre died nearly 25 years ago, in 1986.

• Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett previously received funding from the Kochs. Neither he nor his organization has received funding from or had any relationship or contact with the Kochs or their foundations for many years.

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