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Friday, 26 April 2013 09:03

Koch Brothers Weigh Game-Changing Media Purchase

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NewsroomFINALStill smarting over November's bitter electoral defeats, the Koch Brothers may be on the verge of taking their libertarian/free enterprise/deregulation game plan to another level; the purchase of the Tribune Company, and a string of other daily newspapers.

Such a purchase would immediately give Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and generous funder of right-wing institutions, causes and candidates, direct media access to the editorial and news pages of The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant. Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the country, could also be Included in the deal.

According to the New York Times, "The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion."

The New York Times also reported Sunday, that Three years ago the Koch Brothers "held a seminar of like-minded, wealthy political donors at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colo., [where] [t]hey laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." The first two prongs of the strategy consisted of "educating grass-roots activists and influencing politics"; the third prong was media.

The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, The Chicago Tribune is ranked #9, "and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale."

While the deal would give the Koch Brothers full-blown access to several large markets for their political views - with the editorial pages in all these papers undoubtedly turning sharply right - there effect on the news pages will be a bit more subtly felt.

Imagine news stories on the environment (Keystone Pipeline), education (school vouchers), and other such issues littered with quotes and citations from such Koch Brothers supported groups like the libertarian Cato Institute and the Tea Party-oriented Americans for Prosperity.

Koch Companies spokeswoman Missy Cohlmia "declined as a matter of policy to confirm or deny a bid," the Columbia Journalism Review's Sasha Chavkin pointed out. "We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in today's news stories," Cohlmia said in a brief statement to CJR.

CJR, opening a window onto Koch's media "priorities," looked at an outfit founded in 2009 called the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. According to the Center, it aims "to help fill the void created as the nation's newspapers cut back on their statehouse news coverage and investigative reporting in the wake of falling circulation and revenues. We look at the bigger picture, provide analysis that's often missing from modern news stories, and do more than provide 'he-said, she-said' reports from the state Capitol."

According to CJR, "In 2011, fully 95 percent of the Franklin Center's revenues came from a charity called Donors Trust whose top contributors were the Koch brothers."

Further CJR reporting found that the Franklin Center created a website of state-based reporting, called Watchdog.org-fed by "a network of journalists reporting on state and local governments." The Watchdog.org site serves as a hub for stories from Watchdog outlets in 23 states." Headlines at Watchdog.org pretty much reflect the Koch Brothers political and economic agenda.

In addition to the reports of the Koch Brothers' interest in acquiring the Tribune Company, they and their surrogates are involved in all sorts of other political activities:

In late-March, indystar.com's Dan Carpenter, and several other Indiana reporters pointed out that Koch's Americans for Prosperity Indiana was supporting bills "that will reduce corporate taxes and taxes on financial institutions, while speeding up the inheritance tax phase-out that was enacted last year."

On April 3, minnpost.com reported that Americans for Prosperity Minnesota, a Koch-backed group, "has targeted legislators who have proposed tax increases that the group claims exceed the tax hikes proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton."

On April 8, The California Majority Report reported that Representative Doc Hastings (R-Washington State) and Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) are leading the opposition to a decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "to halt the oyster operations and allow Drakes Estero to become the first marine wilderness on the West Coast as long-intended." Apparently the opposition "is being provided free legal services by Washington, D.C.-based conservative group, Cause for Action funded by the ultra-conservative oil billionaires David and Charles Koch. Cause of Action is active in fighting for the privatization of public lands throughout the United States."

Despite all the statewide activity, the big Koch Brothers story revolves around its interest in buying media. Many news reports are indicating that the Brothers Koch are front-runners to buy the Tribune papers. Anti-Koch brother petitions have been circulating about the Internet; staffs at both the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune have expressed deep concerns, with many threatening to leave the papers should the Koch Brother succeed.

Controlling the news directly from the news-floor would give the Koch Brothers a leg up politically. David Sirota recently wrote of two other big-money conservatives' ownership of daily newspapers: "political activist Douglas Manchester openly admits his recent purchase of San Diego's largest paper is less about making money off the paper itself than using the paper to push what it calls a 'pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military' political agenda.... [and] Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton is accurately described by Campaigns and Elections magazine as a Republican political activist and why 5280 magazine notes that politicians now must 'regularly run their ideas by him and try to avoid unflattering Denver Post coverage.'"

(Photo: Marjory Collins)