Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
Fears that David and Charles Koch will buy Tribune Company's major regional newspapers sparked a lively discussion at the National Press Club today among those who worry the conservative billionaires would misuse the influential properties.
The event, titled, "Should the Koch Brothers Own the Tribune Newspapers?" was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and drew an audience of about 60 reporters, union leaders and concerned media observers.
"In just 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 U.S. newspaper workers were laid off or accepted buyouts," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said in a statement at the event. "This not only affects workers; it dramatically affects communities and their access to information via qualified, experienced journalists. With the appearance on the scene of the Koch brothers, many people and organizations are raising new concerns."
As Tribune Company emerges from bankruptcy, it has indicated plans to sell its eight regional daily newspapers. Charles Koch has indicated an interest in the brothers' company, Koch Industries, acquiring media outlets, and the company reportedly may bid on the Tribune papers, which include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Charles Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government.
As The New York Times detailed earlier this year, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the strategy called for investing in the media.
Charles Koch recently told the Wall Street Journal that their company would seek to purchase newspapers to provide a "focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." But current and former staffers at the Tribune papers told Media Matters in April that a purchase by the Kochs "scares people" and puts the credibility of those outlets at risk.
Those concerns were on display at the National Press Club event.
Christopher Assaf, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun who is also the paper's guild leader, said the Kochs' past history of political influence through PACs and other outlets is a concern as it could affect the newspapers' standing in the community.
"We have goodwill and we have credibility and if people start leaving in droves and they see changes...they will know and the goodwill will help to kill it," said Assaf. "The Sun will become something else, it may become a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece, but it will lose that credibility. Credibility plays a large part in what a newspaper does and we have to protect that credibility."
"The Kochs very explicitly have a mission to influence public policy, that's what they do," offered Tia Lessen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer of Citizen Koch, a documentary that had been slated for PBS broadcast but was dropped. "If the question is will David and Charles Koch influence how news is covered? I think the answer is yes."