Playing the Koch Brothers’ Game

June 6th, 2014 · No Comments · energy policy, journalism, regulation, role of government, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

Egads, I haven’t posted here for a month. It wasn’t a vacation. I was learning lines for a role in “Jerome Bixby’s Man from Earth” (at the Adobe through Sunday, June 8) when a terrible upper respiratory bug knocked me down. I’ve muddled through but couldn’t find the energy to write.

Now I can and what happened in the Business Outlook of Monday, June 2 demands attention. As you know, the Journal recently picked up Tom Philpott’s Military Update, a syndicated column of news and analysis on what affects Americans in the military or retired from it.

Philpott said he was writing an editorial, just his third in 20 years. But he’d discovered “a well-funded group called Concerned Veterans for America” that, he said, “is confusing veterans and darkening attacks on the Department of Veterans Affairs during the current health-appointments scandal.”

The facts of the scandal will emerge, Philpott wrote, “But in my 37 years of covering veterans’ issues, I have never seen veterans issues used more cynically or politicized more thoroughly than during the past several years. At times the intent seems to be to shake trust in government generally rather than to address veterans’ needs.”

Ah, the naiveté! I like Mr. Philpott. He’s innocent the way real reporters often are but hate to admit.

Of course, shaking trust in government is the goal of oligarchs (and their news mediums), the better to rule the nation.


Philpott says Concerned Veterans for America poses as a vet advocacy group, but its press releases “are partisan attacks.” He writes, “The goal seems to be to attack, relentlessly, while a Democrat holds the White House.”

Oh, and he associates CVA with Republicans and the Koch brothers. (According to the Washington Post’s Matea Gold, a Koch sub-group called TC4 supplied all of CVA’s funds in 2012.)

Here Philpott takes an interesting tack. The Kochs create “public interest groups to oppose big government. That’s fine. That’s protected speech.”

Fine? Well, yes and no. It’s true the First Amendment to the Constitution protects free speech for front groups, too. But no, it is not fine for the Kochs or anybody else to try to sway public opinion from the shadows.

It’s dishonest and (like lots of legal, constitutional practices) it corrupts democracy.

Happily, we have journalists like Tom Philpott pulling back the curtain to reveal the plutocrat behind. And happily an Albuquerque Journal editor didn’t spike this Philpott column. Kudos!

But how can the Journal allow Philpott to out the Kochs in this instance while habitually publishing Op Eds by Koch-financed fronts without warning readers of the puppeteers pulling the strings!

Let’s pursue that apparent contradiction. I don’t know if the oligarchy’s essays pop unbidden into the editors’ email boxes or the editors solicit them, but in either case, why publish them at all?

Yes, it would be progress if the Journal followed Philpott and told us who’s behind the organization, as we have requested here many times. But why should the Op Ed page plump for plutocratic positions in the first place? Isn’t it enough that columns on the editorial page predominantly favor the wealthiest?

Meanwhile, even as the Journal devotes most of both opinion pages to the suffering upper class, its editors find nothing worth printing about the Kochs (and fellow oligarchs) in the daily’s so-called news pages.

Thus, the Journal ignored the news that Koch-funded ALEC has a new strategy to fight EPA efforts to tame global warming, one involving friendly states attorneys-general. Emily Atkin filed a story though at May 2.

Daniel Schuman’s new book, “Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty” is just out and reporter Matea Gold culled “17 things you didn’t know about the Koch brothers” from Schuman’s volume for a Washington Post story published May 20, including the note that Fred Koch, the family patriarch, was “present at the birth” of the John Birch Society.

Of course, the Journal didn’t care. Nor that an updated version of Robert Greenwald’s documentary entitled, “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition” currently is in the theaters

Nobody expects the Journal to agree with the N.Y. Times editorial board, but why doesn’t our local newspaper find the subject of a Times editorial Jan. 25 newsworthy? It was slimy electoral tactics of the “The Koch Party”.

And why isn’t the subject of the Times editorial April 26 – “The Koch Attack on Solar Energy”, about how the petrochemical siblings who hate taxes have found one they can abide – newsworthy?

You get the point. That the Journal published Tom Philpott’s column outing the Koch-financed pseudo-veterans group deserves our applause.

But it’s hardly Journal policy. Day in and day out, the Journal plays the Kochs’ game, printing essays from their front groups without telling readers who is paying for them while exempting the Kochs (and other oligarchs) from critical reporting. Oh, and cherry on the cake, it published conservative Kathleen Parker’s spirited defense of those gentlemen April 7.

It’s political pamphleteering, not journalism.


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