As NewsBusters has reported for years, the conservative-leaning Koch brothers are a routine target of the liberal media for their contributions to causes that don’t fit the left’s agenda.
On Monday, Koch Industries accused MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow of misrepresenting its donations to falsely assert the billionaire brothers are supporting laws in Florida to drug test welfare recipients.
In researching this accusation, NewsBusters has discovered that neither Maddow nor anyone at MSNBC bothered to contact the organization the Kochs are alleged to be connected to.
Maybe even worse, Maddow didn't bother informing viewers that Comcast, the media conglomerate that owns NBC Universal which includes MSNBC, is actually a contributor to the same alleged conduit the Kochs are.
Our story begins on January 2 of this year when Amy Shuster, the producer of the Rachel Maddow Show, sent an email message to representatives of Koch Industries informing them of a segment airing that evening:
Mark and Rob,
I’m sorry for the late request.
We’re covering the story of the Florida law that was just struck down on the 31st – the law that mandated drug testing for welfare applicants. The Florida Foundation for Government Accountability (FFGA) has supported drug testing for welfare recipients. The Koch Brothers have donated to the State Policy Network of which the FFGA is a member. Do the Kochs wish to comment on mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients?
Please let me know and sorry for the late notice.
As the email message was sent at 8:14 PM EST, Koch representatives were given a total of 46 minutes to respond to the request before air time. Even worse, 7:14 PM CDT is after business hours at Koch.
As such, it seems this producer wasn’t interested in a comment at all, does it?
Clearly, this isn’t what one would expect from a reputable news organization.
At 9:09 PM, Rob Tappan, Director of External Relations for Koch Companies Public Sector, responded, “Not sure what the point of your question is and not sure i see how we would have anything to say on this, since we aren't involved in this issue in any way.”
Shuster responded at 9:14 PM writing, “Appreciate your speedy response. We’ll be sure to share on the show tonight.”
A few minutes earlier, Mark Holden, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Koch Industries, sent this to Shuster:
I am puzzled both by the timing and substance of the request. In general, receiving such a late request right before a segment is to run makes it difficult, if not impossible, to respond in a meaningful manner. In addition, the substance of your question was odd since we have no involvement in the Florida issue you raised.
The timing and substance of tonight's request, coupled with our experience with the segment on the December 23rd Rachel Maddow show, makes it seem like you are trying every way possible to insert Koch into a story line whether there is any real factual basis or not. This is disappointing and a disservice to your viewers.
Also, we have not received a response from you or anyone at MSNBC about the issues we raised with the December 23rd show. Do you plan to respond to our concerns?
Readers are advised that on her December 23 show, Maddow alleged that Charles Koch “pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University`s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off any hires for a new department program.”
Apparently, Shuster never responded to Kochs’ concerns about these allegations.
With that as pretext, Maddow on January 2 said the following without clarifying its veracity with Koch or allowing the organization sufficient time to respond:
RACHEL MADDOW: The Florida Foundation for Government Accountability, this Koch brothers affiliated group that ran the Alaska don`t enroll came, and then sent its experts traveling around not just to Florida but to Oklahoma and Idaho and Mississippi and New Hampshire and Virginia, telling all those state governments to make it as hard as possible for people to get health insurance in their states, that group is also now just turned up as a loser in another big political fight in Florida.
Now, if you want to know what these Koch brothers affiliated state groups are working on, other than telling people not to get health insurance, in Florida they, at least, have been promoting forced drug tests for people who are on welfare.
Florida Republican governor Rick Scott loved this idea when he first ran for Florida governor in 2010. After he signed it into law in 2011, the Koch brothers connected Florida group helped champion and defend this policy as well worth the money.
Maddow then brought on the director of the ACLU in Florida to further condemn the Kochs as well as Republican Governor Rick Scott without ever offering any proof that the Kochs had contributed a single dime to what she referred to as "FFGA."
Beyond this, according to LexisNexis, nowhere in this segment did Maddow refer to alleged contributions by the Kochs to the State Policy Network which was what Shuster asked their representatives to comment on in her email earlier that evening.
This led Holden to send the following email message to Shuster on January 3 at 3:06 PM. This is long, but readers are encouraged to review the whole thing to truly understand the entirety of this issue:
While I did not see the segment on the Rachel Maddow show last night, I have now had a chance to review it. I wanted to email you to raise our serious concerns about the manner in which you and MSNBC handled last night’s segment, which is inconsistent with what Phil Griffin and I agreed to in May 2012. It also would appear to be contrary to ordinary and accepted journalistic standards. Given this most recent incident, coupled with the December 23rd incident on the Rachel Maddow show (I have reattached the December 26th email concerning that show, along with the email chain between Phil and me from May 2012 that set forth our agreement), we are extremely disappointed in the dishonest and unprofessional treatment of Koch by you and Ms.Maddow. We are hopeful it will cease immediately and that you will deal with us in an honest manner going forward.
To recap last night’s events, you sent an initial email to Rob Tappan and me around 8:15 p.m. Eastern time, 45 minutes before the Maddow show was to begin. In your email you stated: “I’m sorry for the late request. We’re covering the story of the Florida law that was just struck down on the 31st – the law that mandated drug testing for welfare applicants. The Florida Foundation for Government Accountability (FFGA) has supported drug testing for welfare recipients. The Koch Brothers have donated to the State Policy Network of which the FFGA is a member. Do the Kochs wish to comment on mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients?”
Given it was after business hours, we did not immediately see your email. In fact, we suspect you intentionally sent the email at that time so Ms. Maddow could claim on the air that we did not respond to your request for a comment. However, we did respond at 9:09 p.m. Eastern, noting the extremely late nature of your request, and stating that we were “not sure what the point of your question is and not sure . . . we would have anything to say on this, since we aren't involved in this issue in any way.”
Instead of dealing with the Florida law as you stated it would, Ms. Maddow’s segment entitled, “The Right Presses on for Welfare Drug Tests,” began with a detailed discussion about the Massachusetts health care law (signed into law by then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney) and Obamacare. She then segued into a critical rant about Koch, various groups she described as “Koch affiliated,” and ads run by these groups concerning Obamacare.Ms. Maddow was critical of these groups and their exercise of their First Amendment rights concerning the important public policy issue of health care, because she apparently does not agree with the message of the ads. You never mentioned to us that any of this would be discussed nor did you seek comment from us about these issues, contrary to what Phil and I agreed to in May 2012.
After that discussion concluded, Ms. Maddow moved on to a discussion of a 2011
Florida welfare law and a Florida federal court ruling concerning that law, falsely stating that the “Koch brothers . . . have been promoting forced drug tests for people on welfare.” Ms. Maddow based this false statement on her claim that the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability’s (“FFGA”) was involved in the legislation. This was a knowingly false and malicious statement by Ms. Maddow – Koch is not involved in promoting any such issue and we are not working with the FFGA on any such issue, as we explained to you last night. Indeed, your email from last night shows that you knew Koch had no link to the FFGA or this issue since you stated that Koch “donated to the State Policy Network of which FGGA is a member.” Nevertheless, Ms. Maddow repeatedly and falsely referred to FFGA as a “Koch brothers affiliated group,” a “Koch brothers connected Florida group,” a “Koch brothers related group,” and “this group (FFGA) affiliated with them (Koch) in Florida.” At the very end of the segment, Ms. Maddow read a portion of the statement we sent you last night, but not the entire statement as is our agreement with Phil.
Given the serious nature of this matter, we ask that on the air tonight Ms. Maddow correct her false, misleading, and malicious statements by reading the statement below unedited and in its entirety, and that this statement be posted on your website unedited and in its entirety:
“During last night’s show, I was wrong when I stated that Koch Industries, Charles Koch, and David Koch were involved in the Florida law concerning drug testing for welfare recipients. That was not a true statement. Contrary to what I said last night, Koch was not involved with these issues and did not work with the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability on these issues. I apologize for this misstatement of fact and regret it.”
Please respond to this email as soon as possible. If you refuse to correct this false, misleading, and malicious information, we need to know immediately so we can consider other options.
At 3:29 PM, Shuster responded:
Thank you for your response. We are reviewing what we reported last night. We are planning a new segment tonight where we will give your concerns thorough attention as well as the point of view of our program.
That evening, Maddow "reported":
MADDOW: Well, in the case of this Florida law that we looked up last night, it`s the group called the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability. They went to public hearings in Georgia to share the good news about Florida`s terrible policy and why Georgia should adopt it. They went to a national meeting of the group ALEC in Arizona, to market Florida`s terrible policy to state legislators from all over the country.
Quote, "ALEC members should look to Florida for free market Medicaid and welfare reforms. Who is this group telling state legislators from all over the country that they ought to adopt Florida`s terrible law?"
It turns out they`re part of a huge network of state-based conservative think-tanks that is frankly kind of designed to not look like a network. They all look vaguely indigenous. They all have what look to be locally specific names.But their funding if you follow it comes in part from a central source of big money corporate donors. Including groups affiliated with the Koch brothers.
Now, we are not the first news outlet to report on the Koch brothers funding distribution networks and groups small and large all over the country who have received funding through mechanisms that the Koch brothers have set up to support conservative candidates and conservative activism and conservative research and conservative advocacy.
And the Koch brothers lawyers are not denying that they fund these networks or that the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability is one of the groups that has been funded through these networks. But they really do not want anyone reporting any connection between what those groups do and who gives them the money that they do it with.
The Koch brother letter, includes a script they want me to read to you on the air denouncing my own reporting on the Florida drug test the poor story and telling you that they are not involved in promoting any such issue.
I am not going to read their script. I`m not going to renounce my own reporting on the story, because the reporting on the story stands. It is true.
Notice that Maddow once again offered absolutely no evidence that the Kochs contributed to "FFGA," and didn’t mention the State Policy Network that Shuster asked Koch representatives to comment on the previous day.
Shouldn’t it be incumbent upon a so-called news organization to offer evidence of contributions it deems somehow nefarious?
Or is this just another example of an MSNBC host making any allegations she wants without having to substantiate it with actual facts?
After all, documents obtained by NewsBusters find that the Charles Koch Foundation has not given one penny to "FFGA."
It has contributed a grand total of $40,000 to the State Policy Network in recent years which in turn works with the Foundation for Government Accountability.
According to SPN’s website:
State Policy Network is made up of free market think tanks - at least one in every state - fighting to limit government and advance market-friendly public policy at the state and local levels. SPN and our members make the Founders' vision for the American Republic a reality as the nation's only 50-state distribution network for market-oriented public policy ideas. Our programs advance and defend American liberty and free enterprise by assisting new start-up organizations, growing existing state think tanks, recruiting talent to the think tank industry, developing strategic partnerships, and promoting the free-market state movement.
SPN was actually started in 1992 with the encouragement of former President Ronald Reagan.
You know who else donates to SPN?
Salon reported in November (emphasis added to REALLY drive home the point):
Based on a 2010 document, SPN lists a number of major corporations as past SPN funders including Microsoft, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Philip Morris, Verizon Communications, Comcast and Time Warner Cable Share Service Center. Several of the same groups sponsored SPN’s 2013 annual meeting, as did Facebook.
So the owners of Maddow’s farce of a "news network" are contributing to the same organization the Kochs are.
If MSNBC is going to castigate the Kochs for their contribution to a group connected to "FFGA," isn’t it incumbent upon Maddow to report Comcast’s donations to the same group?
And shouldn’t MSNBC also rail against the other corporate funders of SPN such as Microsoft, AT&T, Kraft Foods, Philip Morris, Verizon, Time Warner and Facebook?
Why isn’t Maddow going after all of these organizations for their supposed ties to "FFGA" and therefore support of drug testing welfare benefits? Why just single out the Kochs?
Might it be their political leaning?
Please also consider that the $40,000 Koch has given to SPN over the years is chump change compared to SPN’s budget.
That same Salon report quoted the far-left Center for Media and Democracy as claiming “SPN along with its affiliates amount to $83 million just flooding into the states to push and promote this agenda.”
As such, the $40,000 the Kochs have given it in recent years represents a pittance of its total funding.
In addition, a source familiar with SPN told NewsBusters that SPN does not provide funding to FGA making it quite possible that not one dime of Koch money has ever gone to it.
NewsBusters contacted FGA CEO Tarren Bragdon to confirm this, but unfortunately, it's FGA policy to not publicly discuss its donors or donations.
However, Bragdon did say that as far as he was aware, the Kochs had absolutely no involvement in any efforts in Florida to get the state to drug test welfare recipients. He's also not been informed by any state legislators or Governor Scott that the Kochs had been involved in such activities.
Also of note, the bill at the heart of this issue was signed into law in May 2011. Bragdon didn't start FGA until June 2011. He actually moved to Florida after the law was signed.
Taking this further, Bragdon said FGA's last efforts concerning drug testing welfare recipients was in February 2012 when he testified in Georgia on the subject.
That means FGA hasn't been actively involved in this issue for almost two years.
Maddow and her crackerjack crew at MSNBC might have been aware of this, but according to Bragdon, no one from her show or within that so-called "news network" ever contacted him or anyone within his organization to confirm or discuss what they do.
This isn't the first time this has happened. According to Bragdon, Maddow did a negative report on "FFGA" last November, and never called him or his organization for comment.
In fact, Maddow and her crew know so little about this entity that she repeatedly refers to them as "Florida Foundation for Government Accountability" or "FFGA." Though based in Florida, the real name of this national organization is simply the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Maddow and Company would have known this if they bothered to contact the entity they were smearing.
But that's not what folks at MSNBC do anymore.
This so-called "news network" is all about taking down its political adversaries without regard to facts or accuracy in reporting; nothing close to journalistic standards exists anymore.
Something else the geniuses at the Rachel Maddow Show missed is that people such as the Kochs donate to all kinds of organizations that in turn donate to a variety of entities. Does that mean such people ideologically support everything such entities advocate?
Of course it doesn't, but this is the game shills such as Maddow play to attack those whose political views they oppose.
In fact, this isn't the first time MSNBC has done this to the Kochs.
In May 2012, then substitute host Karen Finney claimed, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, that the Kochs were responsible for advocating Stand Your Ground laws throughout the country due to their contributions to The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
As NewsBusters reported at the time, Koch's Holden went on the Martin Bashir show to set the record straight whilst also informing his clueless host that both Comcast and General Electric contribute to ALEC.
As such, it appears MSNBC hosts have a habit of castigating the Kochs for contributing to the same organizations their owners do.
As a result of this incident, Holden met with MSNBC CEO Phil Griffin, and followed up their conversation with an email message:
As I said to you after Mr. Bashir’s show, every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. We are contemplating how, if at all, we can build a relationship with MSNBC, particularly given the treatment we have endured from your network over the past few years. Below are some thoughts I had on some potential ground rules that we might agree to going forward, to see if we can continue to build a relationship. I would think that these proposed ground rules should be noncontroversial and standard operating procedure for you and MSNBC. Even if we cannot agree to these ground rules, I expect that Koch will be treated fairly and honestly in the future, and I hope that Koch will not have to resort to other means and more formal processes to protect ourselves against attacks from MSNBC.
Before MSNBC reports or allows a commentator or guest to comment on issues specific to Koch on any of your network’s broadcasts, MSNBC will employ ordinarily accepted journalistic standards and contact us to fact check the allegation and ask for a statement from us concerning the issue. In those instances when a guest or source makes an assertion about Koch that is unexpected to the anchor, we would ask to be notified and have any statement in reply put on the air as soon as possible.
If Koch submits a statement in response to a report or allegation made by MSNBC, MSNBC will broadcast that statement unedited and in its entirety during the segment on which the report or allegation is made. Koch will make every effort to ensure that any statement is specific to the issue at-hand and to the point.
If Koch submits a statement in response to a report or allegation made by MSNBC, MSNBC will post that statement unedited and in its entirety on its website where it has posted the segment on which the report or allegation is made.
Koch’s full, unedited statement shall remain on MSNBC’s website for as long as the segment on which the report or allegation is made is on your website.
Please let me know your thoughts concerning the above proposals.
As you know our programming, though often planned, is frequently unscripted. With that, it is impossible to always know exactly what will be said. However, we have instructed MSNBC management and executive producers that in the future, if planning to do segments on Koch Industries or either of the Koch brothers, they should contact your office to invite you or a representative to appear on our air. In lieu of an appearance, we would invite you to send a statement that we could share with our audience.
This was the agreement Holden referred to in his recent correspondence with Shuster. Maybe it's high time Griffin made his employees including Maddow aware of this.
But this episode - especially in the wake of the recent high-profile miscues of Alec Baldwin, Martin Bashir, and Melissa Harris-Perry (the former two resulting in terminations) - raises a far more serious issue for MSNBC.
Quite clearly, this is a "news network" in almost total freefall appearing to have no one at the helm guiding its course.
National Review's Eliana Johnson claimed Monday that it is Maddow not Griffin currently in charge of MSNBC's editorial content. Maddow subsequently denied Johnson's report, but it doesn't diminish the fact that she is thought to be the most important person at the network.
Maybe more importantly, Maddow is considered one of the most powerful liberal voices in the nation.
Her Friday segment rebuking Koch's request that its statement be read by her on the air was prominently featured at leading liberal websites such as the Huffington Post likely getting it far more exposure on the internet than on television.
As you might imagine, such entities don't provide any skepticism concerning her reports thereby dramatically expanding the reach of her misrepresentations.
With this in mind, it seems critical for Griffin to quickly grab the reins of the organization he heads up by demanding an investigation into not just this incident, but also how stories are researched and confirmed before they are aired.
This goes beyond the basic reviewing of scripts Johnson reported has begun at MSNBC in the wake of Harris-Perry's mocking of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's adopted black grandson.
The "Hamlet" character Marcellus once famously said, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
This is clearly the case at MSNBC, and if Griffin isn't going to do anything about it, it's high time that someone from either Comcast or NBC does.