While Charles and David Koch try to keep a low profile, their influence on conservative and libertarian organizations around the country is far from a secret. But you wouldn’t get that impression from reading this sensationalist profile by Jane Mayer in this week’s New Yorker, “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama.”
In the interest of disclosure, I should note that for the past few summers I have mentored young journalists as part of a program funded by the Koch family. I have been paid a largely inconsequential honorarium for my significant investment of time. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t believe in the program, and as for the Koch brothers’ supposedly covert war, I will note that if I had any doubt about who I was working for, the program is called the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program.
Alas, Mayer’s piece is laden with bias an distasteful innuendo. Ira Stoll at The Future of Capitalism does an excellent job of chronicling the article’s crimes against journalism:
Ms. Mayer lets “Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group,” sum up the Koch brothers: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
Charles Lewis is a left-winger and the Center for Public Integrity gets its funding from left-wing foundations including George Soros’s Open Society Institute and Barbra Streisand’s Streisand Foundation.
The New Yorker also quotes “Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund.” Yet Mr. Bartlett since the Bush administration has been a harsh public critic of conservatives.
Here’s Ms. Mayer’s take on F.A. Hayek:
Charles and David Koch were particularly influenced by the work of Friedrich von Hayek, the author of “The Road to Serfdom” (1944), which argued that centralized government planning led, inexorably, to totalitarianism. Hayek’s belief in unfettered capitalism has proved inspirational to many conservatives, and to anti-Soviet dissidents; lately, Tea Party supporters have championed his work. In June, the talk-radio host Glenn Beck, who has supported the Tea Party rebellion, promoted “The Road to Serfdom” on his show; the paperback soon became a No. 1 best-seller on Amazon.
No mention of Hayek’s Nobel prize, or of the fact that his work has been highly praised by none other than President Obama’s economic policy aide Lawrence Summers.
And so on and so forth. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But this passage from Mayer’s piece is also worth noting, as a measure of the article’s bias:
Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.”.
The idea that Soros’ giving is transparent is laughable — he’s given millions to the Tides Foundation, a byzantine organization notorious for obscuring finding sources on the left. Just recently there was a minor controversy over whether liberal Christian activist Jim Wallis and president of the magazine Sojourners was hiding and/or lying about receiving funding from from the atheist billionaire. Further, Soros was very influential in setting up the Center for American Progress think tank and many other liberal organizations in the last decade. If any billionaire has waged war against a president recently, it’s Soros’ campaign against Bush. To dismiss any concerns about Soros’ political spending while saying that the Koch brothers are at the center of a dark conspiracy is absurd.
I rarely agree with the political bent of the New Yorker, but the magazine’s legendary fact-checking department usually weeds out this type of baseless nonsense. I don’t know what’s happened editorially at the New Yorker, but Mayer’s piece is biased hackery, pure and simple.