Koch Brothers

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  • New Book Provides Illustrated Guide To Media-Fueled “Madhouse” Of Climate Change Denial

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.

    Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.

    There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.

    The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.

    First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.

    Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.

    Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.

    The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, Junkscience.com editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.

    Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:

    Of Lomborg’s particular style of misinformation, they write:

    Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.

    (Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)

    Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.

    And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”

    The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:

  • Senators Explain How Fossil Fuel Groups Use Media To Spread Denial And Thwart Climate Action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A group of U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor on July 11 and 12 to expose the “web of denial” that the fossil fuel industry has spun to block action on climate change. Essential to this effort is a media misinformation campaign that several senators described in detail.

    Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) remarked on the “unfortunate role” that the media has played in spreading misinformation by providing false balance on the science of climate change:

    Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) noted that “so-called experts” at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation “publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country, talk radio, helping to spread disinformation or misinformation or what we sometimes call lies”:

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) noted that some of the same groups that deny climate science are also using the media to push for a “land grab” that would transfer public lands from federal to state control, which could pave the way for more drilling and mining:

    And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose website Watchdog.org has been described as “delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism,” has extensive ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers:

  • Sen. Whitehouse Calls Out Media's Role In Fossil Fuel Industry's "Web Of Climate Denial"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From July 11 coverage of the U.S. Senate on C-SPAN2:

    SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): You have also America's national security, military and intelligence leaders warning us of the threat. You have the pope calling on us to take action, and most world leaders. So, if you are the fossil fuel industry, what do you do? You come to Congress, to the choke point for legislation, and you put a choke chain on the Republican party so you can snap it to heel. And in support of that they perpetrate this web of climate denial. This is actually a graphic of the web that was done by one of the academic researchers who specializes in this area. Why did they do this? Well, to do their best to fool the public about the risk of climate change, to provide talking points to right-wing talk radio, to take advantage of a lazy media's impulse to offer both sides of the story even when one is false, and of course to hide the hands of the fossil fuel protagonists who are behind the scenes.

    So it's long past time that we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America's political history because of their work. I'm grateful to my colleagues who are joining in this effort today, and in the days to come, to help spotlight the lengths to which the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel fronts go to advance their economic self-interest by sabotaging America's response to the climate crisis.

    [….]

    Constantine Boussalis of Trinity College and Dr. Travis Coan of the University of Exeter examined more than 16,000 documents published between 1998 and 2013 by these 19 conservative think tanks. Their study demonstrated that in spite of the broken global heat records over the last decade, rising sea levels, and the accelerated melting of our polar ice sheets, these 19 conservative think tanks actually increased their attacks on climate science in recent years. These 19 think tanks, the authors tell us -- and I quote them here -- "Provide a multitude of services -- services -- to the cause of climate change skepticism." End quote. These include offering material support and lending credibility to contrarian scientists; sponsoring pseudo-scientific climate change conferences; directly communicating contrarian viewpoints to politicians, which is how we get infected with that nonsense here; and disseminating skeptic viewpoints out through a lackadaisical media that can be tricked into believing them – all, of course, while keeping the industry’s hands hidden.

    […]

    Now there are also groups at work exposing the web of denial. One group is American Bridge 21st Century, founded by David Brock, which has launched realkochfacts.com to highlight the truth about the Koch agenda and what it means for working families and states around the country. American Bridge last month reported on the 48 groups that signed a letter attacking the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general for serving a subpoena on the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. According to Real Koch Facts, 43 of the groups that signed on the letter defending climate change denial are Koch-linked, and 28 of the organizations are either Koch front groups or the beneficiaries of regular Koch funding -- groups like the James Madison Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, who we will talk of tomorrow. The Kochs blow their dog whistle, and the hounds appear. American Bridge exposed it.

    Then there is ProPublica, a group founded by Paul Steiger, an independent nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Their nonpartisan reporting helped shed light on some of the ways that the dark money flows through the Koch brothers networks and into politics, providing the elections backstop to this web of denial.

    Climate Nexus is an organization dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy in the United States. They recently released an opinion -- an analysis, I should say -- of 20 years of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial opinion on climate change. They found , quote, "A consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat."

    Related:

    DeSmogBlog: Senators Launch Resolution, Speech Blitz Calling Out #WebOfDenial Blocking Climate Action

    Previously:

    Sen. Whitehouse: WSJ's "Exxon Knew" Falsehoods Are Part Of Its "Long Tradition" Of Protecting Polluters

    Wall Street Journal Continues To Falsely Attack Sen. Whitehouse's Call For "Exxon Knew" Investigation

    Media Disclosure Guide: Here Are The Industry-Funded Groups Attacking The EPA's Climate Plan
     

  • Top 10 Garbage Climate Change Stories From The Koch Brothers’ Favorite Right-Wing Website

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared on Buzzfeed.

    The Daily Caller is a right-wing “news” website that founder Tucker Carlson claimed could be the conservative answer to The New York Times. To say that it’s failed to meet The Times’ standards is an understatement; since its launch in 2010, the Daily Caller has published baseless conspiracy theories, creepy slideshows, tabloid-style click-bait, uncorrected errors, false smears -- and many, many misrepresentations of climate science.

    The Daily Caller’s atrocious coverage of climate change shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider it got its start with an influx of cash from climate science denier Foster Friess, a key ally of the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and has since received steady funding from the Kochs’ political network. Even so, the foul stench of the Daily Caller’s climate change “reporting” demands a quick whiff before we take it out to the trash bin.

    So without further ado, here are worst climate change stories the Daily Caller has published so far this year, put in their rightful place:

    The One That Tried To Link The Orlando Shooter To Clean Energy Advocates

    After CBS discovered footage from a 2012 documentary of Orlando, FL shooter Omar Mateen criticizing workers who were cleaning up the BP oil spill, the Daily Caller ran an article with the headline, “Was The Orlando Shooter An Anti-Fossil Fuel Zealot?” The Daily Caller is just asking, people.

    The One That Compared Respected Climate Experts To An X-Files Villain Who Planned To “Kill All Of Humanity”

    The Daily Caller thought it was newsworthy to point out that in the season finale of The X-Files reboot, “the villain’s master plan was to kill all of humanity to prevent global warming.” The article then compared Pope Francis’s climate adviser and President Obama’s science adviser to the X-Files villain, writing, “Reality does contain many powerful people who think humanity is the root cause of most environmental problems.”

    The One Where A Fossil Fuel Shill Says Mean Things About Al Gore

    It’s probably true that Alex Epstein, founder of a for-profit “think tank” that celebrates dirty energy and “man’s impact on nature,” is “popular” among oil industry executives. But that doesn’t excuse the Daily Caller promoting Epstein’s smear of Al Gore as the “leader of the climate fascists,” or Epstein’s canard that Gore is leading an “unconstitutional crusade against the freedom of scientific speech.” As if that weren’t enough rubbish for one article, the Daily Caller also described Gore’s efforts to fight climate change in China as “propaganda missions” to “properly indoctrinate Chinese citizens” about global warming.

    The One Where The Same Fossil Fuel Shill Drops The F-Bomb On Massachusetts’ Attorney General

    The same week that Epstein smeared Gore, the Daily Caller also managed to base an entire article on Epstein swearing at Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Healey recently announced an investigation into whether ExxonMobil worked with climate denial organizations -- including Epstein’s Center for Industrial Progress -- to fraudulently deceive shareholders and the public about climate change. The Daily Caller eagerly promoted Epstein’s “terse response” to Healey:

     

    The One That Turned American Refugees’ Suffering Into Clickbait

    After The New York Times reported that a Louisiana indigenous community receiving government funding to relocate due to sea level rise would comprise the “first American ‘climate refugees,’” the Daily Caller complained that “it’s not the first time the media claimed to have identified America’s first climate refugees.” It’s true that multiple media outlets have used that designation when discussing Alaskan communities. But even the Daily Caller noted that the Louisiana community’s relocation will be “the first time a government has used global warming to justify moving people,” which means, in the words of Daily Kos’ Climate Denier Roundup, that the Daily Caller “has spun an entire story out of a pedantic nitpick.” The Climate Denier Roundup concluded that "turning the suffering of these peoples into clickbait is pretty despicable."

    The One Where Cutting Your Carbon Footprint Means Acting Like An “Eco-Nut Job”

    “Eco-nut jobs” is not exactly the wording used in the study, which found that Americans are “more willing to take advice” about how to act on climate change “from climate researchers who reduce their own carbon footprint.” The study author noted, “To communicate effectively, advocates of energy conservation need to be the change they wish to see."

    The One That Found Four Random Twitter Users To “Bash” President Obama On Climate Change After The Brussels Terror Attacks

    On the day of the Brussels terror attacks, the Daily Caller cited four random Twitter users (including one who has 49 followers) who “bash[ed]” President Obama and other Democrats on Twitter for having said that climate change is America’s biggest long-term threat. “Now, conservatives with Twitter accounts are throwing these remarks back in their faces,” the Daily Caller gloated.

    The One That Cried Crocodile Tears About EPA Agents Carrying Guns

    This was the lede of a February article at the Daily Caller: “An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agent mistakenly left a gun in a restroom stall in the agency’s headquarters, according to a Freedom of Information Act request from Environment & Energy Publishing’s Greenwire published Monday.” The article went on to tout efforts by a GOP Senator to “strip EPA of its firearms.” But while the Daily Caller is apparently concerned with EPA agents carrying guns when pursuing violators of environmental laws, that concern doesn’t extend to anyone who entered to win “free guns” by signing up for Daily Caller email updates. Maybe if a few EPA officials signed up, the Daily Caller would finally get off the agency’s back.

    The One Where Any Compliment About China Is An Endorsement Of Communism

    When Christiana Figueres announced she would step down as executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Daily Caller objected to the fact that she once criticized the United States Congress’ “deep partisan divide” and praised China’s efforts to advance renewable energy. According to the Daily Caller, Figueres “will long be remembered for her remarks castigating democracy and praising communist China’s progress on global warming.”

    The One That Tries To Do Math And Fails Miserably

    The Daily Caller tried to debunk a recent analysis by Carbon Brief showing that solar energy generated more electricity than coal in the United Kingdom for an entire month. The Daily Caller declared that Carbon Brief “claim[ed] that solar out-produced coal in May by almost 50%, but The Daily Caller News Foundation has found that number to actually be only 36%.” Unfortunately, the Daily Caller’s math was completely wrong, as a reader pointed out in the comments. Or as the Climate Denier Roundup put it, the Daily Caller “claims that solar out-produced coal by only 36%, when in fact it’s 49.6%, which is what Carbon Brief said in the first place.” And even if the Daily Caller’s math had been right, the fact that British solar outpaced coal for the first month ever would still be a historic milestone.

  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Highlights “Sinister” Effect Of Super PAC Ads On Voter Turnout

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board stressed the negative impact super PAC ads have on voter turnout as outside money targeting the presidential and Senate races begins coming into play across the country. Research highlighted by the Post-Gazette showed that the negative ads run by super PACs can discourage voter turnout, a result the board called “sinister and profoundly anti-democratic.”

    The May 30 editorial cited research from the Ohio Media Project -- “a consortium of radio and television stations and the largest newspapers in the state” --  which found that negative campaign ads like the ones often funded by super PACs “are designed to suppress voter turnout as much as they are to persuade voters to support one candidate over another.”

    The Post-Gazette underscored that while super PAC spending occurs in support of both Democratic and Republican candidates, the 2012 presidential election saw “$424.4 million [spent] supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and $145 million supporting Democratic President Barack Obama.” The editorial named the billionaire Koch brothers -- who have committed at least $30 million for ads aimed at influencing Senate races in the 2016 --  as a major supporters of super PACs behind negative ads. From the Post-Gazette:

    Researchers found that only about 1 percent of voters, primarily independents, are moved from one camp to another because of negative ads, but in swing states, like Ohio, sometimes elections are decided by 1 percent or less. But the researchers also found that, “especially with moderate voters, you get a demobilization effect, where they just kind of turn off, ‘This is a nasty campaign, I just want to stay home.’ ”

    That is truly sinister and profoundly anti-democratic.

    Equally disturbing as the attack ads and their intent is the answer to this question. Who is paying for this garbage? In the 2012 presidential election, independent spending — by groups not connected with either political party — came to $424.4 million supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and $145 million supporting Democratic President Barack Obama.

    The sources of that money, often called “dark money,” are being kept secret, and that is wrong.

    [...]

    The super PAC Americans for Prosperity is a good example. Look up its 2012 expenditures in opensecrets.org and the only line that comes up is: $33,542,051 spent against President Obama’s re-election.

    The Center for Responsive Politics identified AFP’s biggest contributor as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which is controlled by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch. But the FEC did not require this disclosure.

  • Dayton Daily News Exposes Hypocritical Koch Ad

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Dayton Daily News demonstrated the vital role of the media during campaign ad season as the paper debunked a new ad produced by Freedom Partners Action fund, a super PAC funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. The ad in question attacked former Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is currently seeking to replace Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

    With billions of dollars expected to fund a torrent of political ads in 2016, media outlets play a crucial role in fact-checking claims made by candidates and the super PACs running ads on their behalf. In states with highly contested Senate races such as Ohio, outside funders like the Koch brothers have begun spending millions to reserve ad space through groups like Freedom Partners.

    The Daily News’ May 20 article took a closer look at Freedom Partners’ latest ad, which featured a local businessman claiming the former governor “had to be doing something wrong” as “Ohio lost over 350,000 jobs under Ted Strickland.”

    However, the Daily News found that the same businessman had praised the economic shape of the state in the newspaper in 2011 when Strickland was governor. From the Daily News:

    A Tipp City businessman is featured in a new political action committee ad criticizing former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democrat running to unseat U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

    Keith Kingrey, vice president of  SK Mold & Tool Co., a  Tipp City company owned by his family, says that Ohio lost 350,000 jobs during Strickland’s time as Ohio governor.

    “Ted Strickland had to be doing something wrong for all these jobs to leave Ohio,” Kingrey said in the ad.

    Strickland was governor from 2007-2010 and oversaw the state during the U.S. Great Recession. He was unseated after one term by John Kasich in a 2010 campaign that focused on laying the blame for Ohio’s lost jobs on Strickland. Kasich took office in January 2011.

    In a June 2011 Dayton Daily News article Kingrey said positive things about his company’s economic outlook, saying that business had been picking up. The company had expanded in 2008 with the purchase of Sun Machine and Tool Corp. in Troy, according to a Dayton Daily News article.

    “It started picking up in 2010 pretty good. Last year was a pretty decent year,” Kingrey said. “This year every quarter, it continues to get better and better.”

    Freedom Partners Action Fund is a conservative PAC. Federal Elections Commission documents show one of its chief contributors is conservative Charles G. Koch, a businessmen who, with his brother, David H. Koch, is major contributor to conservative causes.

    “Even the person used by the Koch Brothers in this ad previously praised the economy under Ted Strickland and said what newspapers and fact checkers have confirmed: Ohio’s economic recovery began under Ted,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Daniel van Hoogstraten. “It’s no surprise that wealthy, shadowy special interests like the Kochs are propping up their puppet Rob Portman — because at every turn, Portman is pushing their agenda at the expense of Ohio’s working families.”

    h/t Daily Kos

     

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Inside The Fossil Fuel Industry's Media Strategy To Drill And Mine On Public Lands

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A handful of fossil fuel industry front groups are engineering media campaigns aimed at persuading the public that the federal government should relinquish control of public lands to western states, claiming it would benefit the states economically. But evidence actually suggests that these land transfers would harm state economies, and the industry front groups are hiding their true motivation: opening up more public lands to oil drilling and coal mining while sidestepping federal environmental laws.

  • New Book Exposes Koch Brothers' Guide To Infiltrating The Media

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    kochguide

    A new book by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer lays out how the oil billionaire Koch brothers rose to the powerful position they are in today, where they wield unquestionable political influence and have shaped public opinion in drastic ways. Titled Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the book brings to light many tactics that the Koch brothers and others in their network of like-minded millionaires and billionaires have used over the years to push their agenda while hiding the true motivations behind it.

    The book examines the influence of several of the country's wealthiest conservative donors, but it pays particular attention to the activities of Charles and David Koch, who have organized their network and spearheaded the group's political efforts. "Few had waged a more relentless or more effective assault on Americans' belief in government," Mayer wrote of the Kochs.

    A key element of the Koch brothers' strategy is influencing the media. Through media, they have advanced their political and ideological goals and attacked those who stand in their way. The Koch brothers and their network have paid conservative media figures to promote their message, bankrolled front groups that run aggressive anti-environmental media campaigns, and even created their own right-wing "news" outlets. Meanwhile, they've garnered some favorable mainstream media coverage by tightly controlling reporter access to their summits and other events, while attacking and otherwise intimidating journalists who dare to shine a light on their activities.

    Here is how the Koch brothers and their network have infiltrated the media:

    Buying A Conservative Media Echo Chamber

    Creating Their Own Media Outlets

    Funding Front Groups That Run Deceptive Media Campaigns

    Tightly Controlling Reporter Access To Their Events And Activities

    Intimidating Journalists Who Seek To Uncover Their True Agenda

    step1

    "Instead of earning the media, they were paying for it."

    This is how former Republican Rep. Dick Armey of Texas described the activities of the Koch front group he once chaired. Indeed, Mayer lays out several ways that Koch-backed front groups have spent money to create a "national echo chamber" in the conservative media. Most notably, she highlights two Koch-backed organizations that directly paid conservative pundits to promote the Koch agenda on air.

    The first group is FreedomWorks, which originated from the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy. Mayer reported that FreedomWorks "quietly cemented a deal" in 2011 with Glenn Beck, who was a Fox News host at the time. Beck read "embedded content" written by FreedomWorks staff in exchange for an annual payment "that eventually topped $1 million." Mayer further explained: "They told him what to say on the air, and he blended the promotional material seamlessly into his monologue, making it sound as if it were his own opinion." Because of this deal, Politico reported, FreedomWorks saw "50,000 new email sign-ups."

    Americans for Prosperity (AFP) -- the other Koch front group that formed out of Citizens for a Sound Economy and has received significant funding from Koch foundations -- forged a contract with conservative radio host Mark Levin to promote AFP's attacks on climate scientist Michael Mann, thereby "copying the deal that FreedomWorks had struck with Glenn Beck." Levin attacked Mann and other climate scientists, Mayer wrote, accusing "enviro-statists" of "inventing global warming in order to justify a tyrannical government takeover."

    In addition to the deals between Koch front groups and conservative pundits that are identified in Mayer's book, the Heritage Foundation, which has received millions from Koch foundations, has spent millions to sponsor the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, according to Politico.

    Additionally, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the central group in the Kochs' financial network, paid Republican strategist Frank Luntz's firm $1.5 million for messaging work in 2014. Luntz then used his media platform as an analyst at CBS News to praise the Kochs and defend their spending without disclosing his own financial ties to them.

    And in 2011, Koch Industries hired Republican political operative Michael Goldfarb to improve the company's image while Goldfarb was working as opinion editor for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. Shortly thereafter, The Weekly Standard published a long piece defending the Kochs, which was described by investigative reporter Lee Fang in a Think Progress piece as "8,000 words of hagiography." Goldfarb is still listed as one of The Weekly Standard's contributing editors, and the conservative magazine has published several articles in recent weeks criticizing Jane Mayer and her book.

    step2

    The Koch brothers and their network have had a hand in creating several "news" outlets that echo the Kochs' conservative, anti-government message: The Daily Caller, The Washington Free Beacon, and the Franklin Center.

    The Daily Caller was founded by financial investor Foster Friess, a major Koch donor who has attended many of the Kochs' annual summits and donated at least $1 million to conservative causes that the Kochs support. Friess provided $3 million in seed funding to The Daily Caller, a conservative website which, according to Mayer, has "functioned more as an outlet for opposition research paid for by the donor class." Charles Koch's foundation would later back the website, and the Daily Caller News Foundation is currently listed as a "partner organization" of the Charles Koch Institute. Tucker Carlson, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, also has other ties to the Kochs: He joined the Cato Institute in 2009, which the Koch brothers co-founded, and he is currently listed as a senior fellow there. The Cato Institute has received millions of dollars from the Koch family, and David Koch currently sits on Cato's board of directors. Mayer notes that The Daily Caller was "the chosen receptacle" for the Kochs' retaliatory attacks on her after The New Yorker published an exposé she wrote on the Kochs in 2010.

    After the Kochs started receiving some bad publicity, Koch Industries hired Michael Goldfarb to improve the company's image. Later, in 2012, Goldfarb founded The Washington Free Beacon, and he remains its chairman. The website has published articles defending the Kochs, attacking their opponents, advancing the Kochs' criticisms of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, and promoting their agenda. Plus whatever this is.

    The Franklin Center, which runs Watchdog.org, is the "investigative news" service for the State Policy Network, a network of conservative think tanks that are largely funded by Koch-backed dark money groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The Franklin Center itself received 95 percent of its revenue from Donors Trust in 2011, and it was receiving millions from Donors Capital Fund as of 2013. Mayer writes that the Franklin Center frequently "attacked government programs, particularly those initiated by Obama," adding that it "claimed to be a neutral public watchdog, but much of its coverage reflected the conservative bent of those behind it." As Mayer pointed out, a couple of journalists have "t[aken] issue with the Franklin Center's labeling of its content as 'news.'" Yet the Franklin Center continues to reach far and wide, with 40 state news websites and writers in 34 states as of 2013, and its reporting appearing in state and local newspapers at times.

    step3

    Key to the Kochs' success has been the "growing fleet of nonprofit groups" that "mobilized public opinion" behind their agenda, writes Mayer, particularly against action on climate change. The Koch brothers "had built and financed a private political machine," backing "[e]ducational institutions and think tanks all over the country" that "promoted [their] worldview." Mayer cited Harvard scholar Theda Skocpol, who noted: "Climate denial got disseminated deliberately and rapidly from think tank tomes to the daily media fare of about thirty to forty percent of the U.S. populace."

    Mayer focused on two organizations in particular: Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Cato Institute. In addition to "spearhead[ing] a national drive to block action on climate change," AFP "took a lead role in organizing the Tea Party rebellion." But the Kochs insisted that they were not involved in the tea party movement, and as Mayer noted, "such denials helped shape the early narrative" in the media "of the Tea Party movement as an amateur uprising by ordinary citizens." 

    The Cato Institute, which was co-founded by the Koch brothers, took a lead role in attacking the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Cato published "a steady stream" of misleading reports, which were frequently criticized by experts yet "echoed throughout the network of Koch-funded groups." Cato also "energetic[ally]" promoted the faux Climategate scandal -- falsely claiming that climate scientists deceitfully manipulated data -- in the mainstream media, where Cato officials were often "respectfully quoted as nonpartisan experts." One Cato scholar gave more than 20 interviews pushing the contrived scandal, spreading the story "from obviously slanted venues to the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, adding mainstream credence."

    AFP and Cato have continued to promote their anti-environment agenda in the media without disclosing their oil industry ties. And those groups are just the tip of the iceberg; Media Matters has identified dozens of groups backed by fossil fuel interests that are working to attack the Environmental Protection Agency's climate change plan. One tactic commonly employed by these groups is to run op-ed campaigns promoting false and misleading attacks on environmental policies in state and local newspapers, as Media Matters and others have detailed.

    step4

    The Kochs' political activities have largely been "shrouded in secrecy," writes Mayer, and such secrecy is a key to their success. When they do make media appearances, it is to "portray themselves as disinterested do-gooders and misunderstood social liberals."

    The Kochs' biannual donor summits, where they have "succeeded in persuading hundreds of the other richest conservatives in the country to give them control over their millions of dollars in contributions," have historically been closed-door affairs. Only in recent years have the Kochs invited a handful of mainstream media reporters to attend the summits, but just in "snippets," and under tightly controlled conditions. Reporters had to agree to refrain from identifying conference attendees without their consent or approaching donors for interviews, and they were allowed in to only a select number of sessions, according to a copy of the conditions for the August 2015 summit obtained by ThinkProgress. That summit thereafter received positive coverage in publications including Politico, USA TodayThe Washington Post, and The New York Times.

    But these conditions also drew some criticism from media ethicists. Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, told ThinkProgress that the terms were "outrageous," and suggested that news organizations should "refuse to attend under these circumstances." Robert Drechsel, a professor and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found it "remarkable" that news organizations "would agree to in effect become complicit in facilitating such secrecy and anonymity." Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone questioned whether the rules "still allow for reporting in the public's interest" or are "so rigid that the resulting coverage will primarily benefit the Kochs." Calderone noted in a separate article that the rules "could restrict journalists from reporting what's right in front of their eyes," and that "it's possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want ... but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election."

    Mother Jones' Daniel Schulman told Calderone that the rules allow the Kochs to "closely control their images." And indeed, at the most recent conference, Undercurrent's Lauren Windsor overheard that a USA Today reporter was "prepped" by the Koch's communication staff hours before an article was published that Windsor said "dutifully relayed Koch talking points" about the new Koch group that is purportedly aiming to address poverty and education. Bloomberg News was recently prompted by a Koch spokesperson to remove a line from an article in which the reporter stated that Charles Koch "warned that climate change's worst effects would fall on people in poorer parts of the world." The article was changed to say that according to a Koch spokesman, Koch was "referring to the impact of bad climate policies or programs, not the negative effects of climate change itself."

    step5

    Ever since her first long-form article on the Koch brothers in The New Yorker in 2010, Mayer has faced intimidation tactics and efforts to discredit her by the Koch network.

    Koch operatives formed a "boiler room operation," seeking to discredit the New Yorker story by "undermining" Mayer. They hired a private investigation firm looking for "dirt" on Mayer, who was told by a well-informed source: "If they couldn't find it, they'd create it." After their search for dirt turned up nothing, Mayer learned that The Daily Caller intended to publish a "hit piece" accusing her of plagiarism. But Mayer reached out to the reporters she was supposedly plagiarizing, and they "offered to make public statements" supporting her, so The Daily Caller dropped the story.

    Mayer is not the only journalist to experience intimidation from the Kochs (though hers may be the most extreme example). At the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual meeting, Greenpeace researcher Connor Gibson was confronted by Koch Industries government affairs director Mike Morgan. Gibson captured a partial video of the interaction, but Morgan then took Gibson's phone away from him, until Morgan was forced to return it by police. Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson called Koch Industries "the most hostile and paranoid organization I've ever engaged with." Mayer also wrote that Koch security threatened to arrest Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel after catching him in a cafe at one of their summits, "[u]nless he left the premises immediately."

    Koch Industries also utilizes its website KochFacts.com to combat negative reports. Mayer notes that KochFacts.com "wage[s] ad hominem attacks, questioning the professionalism and integrity of reporters whose work the company found unflattering, ranging from The New York Times to Politico." The website has blasted David Sassoon of the Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News as a "professional eco-activist" and "agenda-driven activist." It also frequently posts personal email exchanges with journalists, "sometimes to the reporter's shock," according to The Washington Post. This includes email exchanges with reporters and editors at The New York Times, MSNBC, Politico, and more.

    Hopefully, Jane Mayer herself is a testament to the fact that reporters will not back down from exposing the true extent of the Kochs' influence and how it is shaping our country for the worse. There is surely more to the story not yet uncovered.

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