Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Blockbuster Journalism

Posted at 5:45 pm, March 9th, 2011
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

Jane Mayer’s piece in the Aug. 30 New Yorker, “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama,” has continued to generate an unusual amount of buzz. It turned the under-the radar bothers, Charles and David Koch, and their privately held conglomerate, Koch Industries, into familiar names synonymous with how super-rich ideologues can make their presence felt even as they shun the limelight.

Most recently there is the fake conversation between one of the brothers and the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

Mayer points out the irony of how the right wing family’s fortune was created in part with the assistance of Joseph Stalin, who used the Kochs’ father to build oil refineries and train Soviet engineers. An additional irony, though unremarked by Mayer, is the way the Koch brothers borrowed from the U.S. Communist Party playbook to utilize front groups to influence public opinion.

Mayer cites a host of innocuous-sounding organizations — the Institute for Justice, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Bill of Rights Institute, the Independent Women’s Forum, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Citizens for the Environment, the Economic Education Trust, Americans for Prosperity, Patients United Now — all of which receive support from the Kochs and churn out position papers quoted by politicians and otherwise toe the Koch family line. Mayer said David Koch acknowledged the family’s “tight ideological control”: “If we’re going to give a lot of money we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”

Covering secretive bigwigs like the Kochs is no journalistic picnic. Freedom of information laws apply to government agencies, not to corporate America. There is no right of access to private corporate meetings or documents. That pretty much leaves the least desirable way to acquire information, from unidentified sources, but Mayer referred to only a half-dozen of such sources in putting a prodigious amount of information on the record about the Koch brothers into her lengthy New Yorker takeout.

For her efforts, she became the apparent victim of a smear campaign. But Mayer and her New Yorker editors and fact-checkers who worked on “Covert Operations” will deserve all the accolades they receive for exemplary journalism.

One Response to “Blockbuster Journalism”

  1. I Report Facts says:

    Wow!!!! A billionaire liberal using his money to trash a grassroots movement. NiemanWatchDog thinks this kind of stuff is used only by those rapscallion and corporate-greedy Republicans.

    “Liberal Globalist George Soros Launches Frontal Assault Against Tea Party”

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