For NYT, Obscure Left-wing Attacks on the Koch Brothers Are News

Most of the conspiracy theories about libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch have originated in the left-wing blogosphere. But a few media outlets, most notably MSNBC and the New York Times, have served to filter the anti-Koch campaigns into the mainstream political conversation.

The Times, which has printed numerous factual inaccuracies relating to the Koch brothers of late, recently published a piece on its website that focused on a relatively obscure left-wing non-profit's attack campaign against them.

The article spurred Koch Indutries, the massive conglomerate owned by the billionaire brothers, to hit back at the paper. In a letter to its public editor, the company's general council asked whether the Times was "reporting on events or participating in them?" See the text of that letter below the break.

The video "campaign" the Times highlighted, undertaken by a left-wing group called Brave New Foundation, seemed to have no newsworthiness beyond the simple fact that it attacked the Koch brothers. It wasn't the content of the video that was the subject of the post, but the video itself.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the Times to make news out of the next YouTube video from an obscure conservative think tank. Usually there has to be news for a paper to report one something. The Times is apparently considers anti-Koch attacks newsworthy in themselves.

Here's the letter Koch Industries sent to the Times's public editor Arthur Brisbane:

Dear Mr. Brisbane:

I regret that I have to write you yet again. I am writing this time because the New York Times appears to have once again taken a gratuitous shot at Koch Industries and the Kochs, and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

A piece published on May 4, 2011, by Jim
 Rutenberg, “Liberal Group’s Video Assails Koch Brothers,” raises the question again of whether the Times is observing and reporting on events or is it taking part in a concerted campaign? What follows are some specific concerns:

The story is about the launch of a “video campaign” – yet at the time of its publication yesterday, the video had not even been made public, except by the Times itself.

The “video” has no formal distribution platform other than its own obscure online site. In other words, it seems to be no different than countless other partisan advocacy clips that are posted on sites like YouTube every day. This leads me to ask how is this particular video newsworthy and why is the Times giving it a such a public forum?

Mr. Rutenberg writes up top that “the campaign marks another step toward conspicuousness for a family whose political activity was largely in the shadows until last year.” That is a puzzling claim. David Koch ran for Vice President on a national ticket more than 30 years ago, and both he and his brother have made public contributions to candidates and public affairs groups for years, all of which has been widely reported. In addition, the Kochs and the business they have built have been the subject of many media stories and profiles over the past decades.

I would be grateful if you could query editors on this and give some consideration to why the Times has been focusing this extreme level of attention to the Kochs and with such disregard for the paper’s own standards of accuracy and objectivity.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Mark V. Holden
Koch Industries, Inc.
Senior Vice President and General Counsel

Holden's lament that he had to write Bisbane "yet again" was a reference to a string of letters the company penned to the Times first demanding a correction to blatant factual inaccuracies - which was not printed until after the company's third letter - and one additional letter claiming the correction was inadequate. The correction, Holden wrote, "only misleads readers further."

We will see if Brisbane responds to the latest letter. Of course if would be nice if such letters weren't necessary in the first place.

Disclosure: I have attended two seminars held by the Institute for Humane Studies, funded in part by the Koch Family Foundations, and received a total of $3,350 from the organization in an honorarium and an internship stipend. I would highly recommend IHS to any liberty-minded individual looking to pursue scholarly activities.