When it comes to big money in politics, there’s only one name the broadcast networks dwell on – the Koch brothers.
Billionaires David and Charles Koch are major contributors to both conservative and Republican causes. Democrats are “placing them at the center of their midterm election strategy,” according to Daniel Schulman, a senior editor at the George-Soros funded Mother Jones.
ABC, CBS and NBC went along for the fun – taking pot shots at the Koch brothers and reporting on their funding 9 times more often than liberal billionaires Soros, Tom Steyer and liberal mega donors the Democracy Alliance since 2012 (18 stories to 2 stories).
Broadcasts consistently treated the Koch brothers as ominous characters. Reporters warned their contributions fund “very, very conservative causes,” they operate in “secrecy” and are called “elite.” Professional left-wingers including “Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert and rabid liberal Chris Matthews, of MSNBC, were brought in by the networks to complain about the Kochs. One ABC story featured representatives from three, separate Soros-funded organizations to criticize the Kochs. Not one of them was identified as such.
Even when Politico reported on a secretive April Democracy Alliance meeting, there was no coverage. Even though the story revealed that the top 21 groups that DA funds were putting $200 million into groups for the mid-term election and left-wing causes.
By contrast, the networks only explained about Soros’ funding in one story and alluded to it in another. In both cases, the mentions were in the context of Koch stories. When ABC’s investigative reporter Brian Ross introduced Steyer, he called him a “California billionaire and environmental activist.” The word liberal was never used in that April 3, 2014, “World News” report.
Ross then interviewed Soros’ son Jonathan and lionized him. “Soros was the only one of the big-money players to agree to appear in our report tonight. Of course, he's the one who is trying to end a system that many, including Republicans and Democrats, believe have made American politics a private playground for the rich.”
This wasn’t a surprise. Liberals targeted the Koch brothers for the past few years and the political strategy was absorbed into the network broadcasts. CBS built one piece around the left’s strategy. “On Capitol Hill, there is one name on every Democrat’s lips,” said Nancy Cordes on the April 1, 2014, CBS “This Morning.” She followed with Hill Democrats repeating the term, “the Koch brothers.”
Soros and Steyer vs. the Kochs
There are billionaires on both sides of nearly every political battle. The big donors all have influence –Soros, his son Jonathan, Steyer and David and Charles Koch. But the Kochs’ donation history was the only one that tended to make news.
Their money funds “very, very conservative causes,” according to CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Oct. 11, 2013.
When rumors had the Koch brothers possibly buying the Tribune Co. newspaper chain, network reporters criticized the duo and attacked them from the left. The May 10, 2013, CBS “This Morning” focused on newspaper staffers fearing “the Koch brothers could impose their conservative slant on the news.” The story dwelled on how they gave to “conservative causes – including spending hundreds of millions of dollars for Republican candidates.”
NBC went out of its way to attack the Kochs with its coverage.
On July 9, 2012, “Today” reported on Romney’s trip to the Hamptons and once more, the Kochs. “Among the elite venues a $75,000-a-couple dinner at the oceanfront home of conservative power broker David Koch,” explained NBC correspondent Peter Alexander..
NBC showed part of a David Gregory interview with liberal “Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert, on May 4, 2012. In it, he noted Colbert had said the Kochs had given money to his PAC. Gregory even read the words for him. “You said one of the big Republican financiers, David Koch, gave you $5 million for your PAC and you said, ‘Because of our campaign finance laws, you’ll never know if that’s a joke.’”
NBC even allowed MSNBC’s openly pro-Democratic host Chris Matthews to come on the June 4, 2012, “Today” to complain about “the billion dollars that are going into super PACs from the right wing, people like the Koch brothers.”
The two times the networks mentioned Soros and Steyer, they did so in passing. CBS congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes interviewed Republican pollster Ed Goeas, April 1 2014. He said “Republicans employed a similar strategy 10 years ago against George Soros.”
ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer,” provided the only instance where liberal donations were explained. “But the Democrats have their own big money figures,” Ross said. “California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer has put out the word he, too, will put up about $100 million for the coming elections cycle.”
Beware Their Ominous ‘Secrecy’
The networks treated Koch money as somehow nefarious.
As the 2012 presidential election neared, ABC sent Ross to Florida for a wildly one-sided report that included comments from three Soros-funded groups, but kept that left-wing affiliation and funding a secret. Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, told ABC on Aug. 31, 2012, “we have levels of secrecy never seen in the contemporary historic era.”
The Center for Public Integrity received $2,716,328 from Soros’s Open Society Foundations since 2000. Ross also interviewed Sheila Krumholtz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics. That center received $725,000 from Soros’ foundations since 2000.
But their remarks naturally led into Ross talking more about the Kochs, “who reportedly pledged to spend millions of dollars to defeat Barack Obama.” Ellen Miller, executive director of the Soros-funded Sunlight Foundation, added some advice the networks never embraced. “It’s important for the American public to know who’s financing their conventions and who the candidates could be beholden to.” Sunlight has received $1,377,066 from Soros’s foundations since 2008.
Ross then played gotcha with Charles Koch and tried to link him to an ominous-sounding “secret effort” to fund Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
In fact, all three broadcast networks hyped the secrecy of the donor meetings, even though such meetings are almost always private – no matter the political party. On June 23, 2012, correspondent Terrell Brown told CBS “Evening News” viewers of “another closed door meeting in San Diego held by two conservative super donors, billionaires Charles and David Koch.”
NBC “Nightly News” tried the same tactic July 8, 2012. Reporter Mike Viqueira did his best to make the meeting look ominous. “Mitt Romney spent the day fundraising, appearing behind closed doors at the South Hampton home of David Koch, the conservative billionaire who is spending millions to support GOP candidates,” he explained to viewers.
The Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute analyzed all ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news broadcasts from Jan. 1, 2012, (roughly the beginning of the presidential election) to June 23, 2014. Stories that mentioned “Soros,” “Steyer,” “Democracy Alliance” and “Koch” were included for further analysis. Non-financial mentions, such as the lawsuit against George Soros by his former girlfriend, were not counted.