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  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Four ways the NY Times has undermined its own climate coverage

    The paper gave ammunition to the Trump administration to deny climate science and defend dropping out of the Paris agreement

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    The New York Times has done some stellar reporting on climate change, and it’s poised to do more thanks to its recent creation of a dedicated climate team. See, for instance, its impressive ongoing series on how climate change is affecting major cities, and another recent multimedia series on the melting of Antarctica.

    But the paper has made serious missteps in recent days and weeks, some of which have bolstered the White House’s case for climate denial and for dropping out of the Paris climate agreement. Here are four problems that deserve to be called out:

    1. Letting Bret Stephens spread climate denial, which was seized on by Scott Pruitt

    The New York Times hired conservative climate denier Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist in April, and his first column was a factually compromised and misleading attack on climate science. Its publication provoked widespread condemnation of the Times and Stephens in late April.

    Then the column got a new round of attention late last week, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. On June 2, the day after Trump’s announcement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the move from the podium in the White House briefing room, and cited Stephens' column to make the case that climate science is unsettled:

    I don’t know if you saw this article or not, but the “Climate of Complete Certainty” by Bret Stephens that was in The New York Times talked about -- and I’ll just read a quote, because I thought it was a very important quote from this article. “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the modest 0.85 degrees Celsius warming of the earth that has occurred since 1880, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. Isn’t (sic) to acknowledge it honestly.”

    Pruitt actually misquoted the column, omitting Stephens’ acknowledgement that there has been “indisputable ... human influence” on the warming of the earth since 1880. But nonetheless, Pruitt left the impression that The New York Times supported his fringe views.

    As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz put it, “It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.”

    2. Ignoring the fact that Pruitt seized on Stephens’ climate denial

    In an article about Trump’s views on climate change, New York Times reporter Peter Baker noted that Pruitt had questioned climate science during his remarks at the White House, but Baker neglected to mention that the EPA chief had used a New York Times column as a main piece of supporting evidence for his claims.

    3. Publishing a misleading story on small-business owners’ views on Paris, which was seized on by Pruitt

    On June 2, The New York Times published an article by Landon Thomas Jr. titled “Small Businesses Cheer ‘New Sheriff in Town’ After Climate Pact Exit.” Thomas claimed, “While multinational corporations such as Disney, Goldman Sachs and IBM have opposed the president’s decision to walk away from the international climate agreement, many small companies around the country were cheering him on, embracing the choice as a tough-minded business move that made good on Mr. Trump’s commitment to put America’s commercial interests first.”

    The article ignored the fact that hundreds of small businesses had publicly called for remaining in the Paris agreement, and it quoted no small-business owners who supported the deal. Small-business supporters weren’t that hard to find, even in red states. NPR's Morning Edition featured one, Fhebe Lane, who runs a store in a conservative Texas coal town. A Trump voter, Lane said she was concerned about the climate getting hotter and thought limiting emissions was a good idea.

    Thomas’ article also drew criticism for quoting some of the same pro-Trump voices he had cited in a previous piece, as Media Matters has noted. Boston Globe writer Michael Cohen pointed out that the article was “remarkably similar” to a piece Thomas wrote three months earlier; Cohen and others noted that the same two people “are quoted in both articles extolling Mr. Trump’s virtues” and “their positive words about Trump are used as evidence that small business owners are behind the president.”

    But Pruitt, for one, liked the article. He quoted it during an appearance on ABC’s This Week on June 4:

    Even The New York Times had an article, I think, within the last couple of days that talked about small business celebrating, euphoria, with respect to the president’s decision.

    4. Blaming the Democrats alongside the Koch brothers for GOP climate denial

    New York Times reporters Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton published a mostly well-reported article on widespread Republican refusal to accept climate science. But the story contained a ridiculous claim that “Democratic hubris” was partly to blame:

    The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.

    While the article laid out plenty of evidence that the Koch brothers had affected elected Republicans’ views, it did not make any kind of convincing case that Democrats had.

    Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall characterized the “Democratic hubris” line as “half of what is imbecilic in contemporary political journalism”:

    As New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who wrote a book on the Koch brothers, noted in a post on June 5, Republican climate denial and the rejection of the Paris agreement are clear and direct consequences of the Kochs and other rich fossil fuel barons pouring money into the political scene. “It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history,” she wrote.

    Democrats, hubristic or not, can’t claim credit for that.

    Whither the Times?

    “The paper has lost its way,” Think Progress’ Joe Romm wrote in a post criticizing the Davenport/Lipton article and other pieces published by the Times. “A shocking number of recent articles reveal a paper that’s begun to embrace false balance, giving equal time to both climate misinformers and actual climate experts, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.”

    Still, many journalists at The New York Times are pulling in the right direction. Columnist David Leonhardt gently disputed the “Democratic hubris” argument in a piece on June 5. A number of Times journalists expressed their displeasure with Stephens’ first column. And the climate team keeps doing great work. Let’s hope their side wins the tug-of-war.

  • 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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  • The "Pugilistic" Way The Koch Brothers Handle The Media

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Kochs

    The author of Sons of Wichita, the new biography of the Koch brothers, never got the interviews he wanted with the archconservative billionaires. But he says the family nonetheless kept a close eye on his research, deploying the "very aggressive P.R. operation" they have used for years to silence media criticism.

    "I had a senior person at [Koch Industries] basically tell me, 'Yeah, that is our strategy, we hit back and over time because of doing this the mainstream press has sort of learned a lesson to be careful about what they say about us,'" said Daniel Schulman, the book's author and a senior editor at the progressive Mother Jones magazine. "I would describe it as pugilistic, [which] is often their style in general." 

    Despite the lack of support from its subjects, Schulman's book is a fascinating portrait of the often bitter relationships between the four brothers -- Charles, David, Bill, and Frederick -- whose sprawling political empire has become a dominant force in the right-wing movement.  

    Schulman said the company's efforts to find out about his research and stop some from cooperating is not unusual, noting the Koch brothers and Koch Industries, the company at the root of their vast wealth, have a history of both intimidating reporters and seeking to counter negative coverage.

    "People in the media certainly have what they would call their war stories dealing with Koch Industries," Schulman said in a lengthy interview with Media Matters. "There is a range of experiences. They have a very aggressive P.R. operation." He added, "I should also say that I like a lot of people I was in communication over there, they were nice people. But they were aggressive."

    Schulman, whose book was published last week, said he began his research by writing a formal inquiry letter to each of the four brothers. He said only Frederick, the least involved in the company, would meet with him -- and then said he would only discuss his family if he received veto power over any third-party source material. Schulman declined.

    At Koch Industries, which is headed by David and Charles, initial reaction was curious and somewhat cooperative, Schulman said. But it never amounted to any access to the two top executives.

    "At one point they flew out to even talk to the publisher," Schulman recalled about a Koch executive. "They wanted to make sure this was going to be a fair book, they saw Mother Jones and immediately thought the worst. I was speaking to people there throughout the process, but they would never give me access to David or Charles, which I think was unfortunate because I do think that they had not much to lose and a lot to gain. I think these guy are all very interesting and should have their stories told."

    But Koch Industries' interest did not end there, Schulman said

    "I certainly got the sense that there were ... certain people [to whom] they were probably saying, 'don't talk to him.' I definitely got that impression," Schulman said. "I definitely talked to people who said, 'yeah, I spoke to Charles and he said he would prefer that I don't speak to you.'"

    The Koch concerns about the book went even further, Schulman said.