As the journalism industry limps along and public broadcasting comes under attack, the Koch brothers– multimillionaire conservative-politics string-pullers– have taken aim at the Center for Public Integrity, a twenty-year-old nonprofit investigative organization dedicated to making institutional power more transparent. The Center this month posted an influential piece on Koch lobbying activities to which Koch has responded with a targeted campaign of online ads that seek to discredit the Center’s work. It’s just the latest phase in the digital-era media war that has dealt repeated blows to unprepared pillars of professional journalism.
“Public relations has grown so tremendously while journalism has… shrunk,” Mike Hoyt, executive editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Combine that with the ability of powerful entities to buy their own gateways to the public and you have a civic conversation that can be skewed. A main job of the press is to examine the powerful and that becomes harder given the PR muscle of the powerful.”
The Koch ads play into a dominant media narrative about the untrustworthy mainstream or “lamestream” media pushed almost constantly on the right, for example, by public figures like Sarah Palin.
“Slanted Reporting on Koch: Bias, Hidden Agenda at the Center for Public Integrity” read the Koch Google ads, which reportedly direct readers to the company website where they can find the real “Koch facts.”
According to Raw Story, Koch representatives took another typical tack in today’s media-politics skirmishing by refusing to respond to the Center’s requests for comments on its story. Koch instead squabbled over the objectivity and fairness of the reporting. It claimed there were inaccuracies in the reporting but wouldn’t address them directly, at least according to the Center’s Executive Director Bill Buzenberg.
There’s little reason to doubt Buzenberg. None of what the Center reported the Koch brothers were up to in Washington was all that surprising, except perhaps for the vast amounts of cash they were doling out, and none of it is illegal. Yet the Kochs didn’t want to talk about it or, more to the point, they didn’t want to turn their story over to anyone else to tell, so they didn’t talk to the Center, and instead ran ads on the topic that they paid Koch people to write just the way wanted.
Sarah Palin this year managed to land a cover story at Time magazine without ever talking to the “lamestream” media reporter who wrote it. The interviews were conducted by email. There was nothing spontaneous about the material. Worse, the reporter had no way to confirm that he was actually interviewing Palin. In fact, there’s plenty of cause to believe he may have been interviewing Palin’s ghostwriter, Rebecca Mansour.
More recently, Palin railed against the conservative Daily Caller for running a story about how her reality TV show received tax breaks from Alaska. She was livid that the Caller reporter had not posted in its entirety at the top of the story her rambling statement in defense of the deal. That the Caller did publish the statement in full on the second page of its web article and quoted three paragraphs of the statement at the top of the first page made no difference to Palin. She took to Facebook to complain.
This is a person who is angling to become president and yet is at constant war with the press in the United States for writing freely about her as a public figure with influence on government policy.
In November of 2009, Paul Kane at the Washington Post told the guests at an online forum that the Post was protecting its sagging bottom line by not calling the Bush Administration’s prisoner torture by its real name.
“The reason we say [‘harsh interrogation’] …and things like that is for our own legal protection,” he said. “So we can’t be sued for libel. Take a look at financial reports on the newspaper business. We’re not going to do anything that leads to us losing any more money these days.”
If the Koch brothers’ top-flight attorneys go after the Center for Integrity and run up a billion dollars in fees and drag the Center through arguments and appeals, they will have won even if they lose by sending a message to journalist employers everywhere.
Business leaders and politicians have no use for journalism. Marketing works for them so much better.