- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2010


The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer breathlessly profiles Charles and David Koch in an article headlined “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama.”

The idea that the campaign is “covert” is echoed in the text of the article, which says, “In Washington, Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.”

Ms. Mayer also uses an anonymous quote to try to prove her point: “The Republican campaign consultant said of the family’s political activities, ‘To call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground!’”

But there’s nothing covert or stealthy or underground about it, as evidenced by the fact that Ms. Mayer is able to write about it in her article. The details are readily available on websites, federal election records available on the Internet, and in tax returns that are posted on websites.

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’ Open Society Institute and Barbra Streisand’s Streisand Foundation.

The New Yorker also quotes “Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and historian, who once worked at the National Center For Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund.” Yet since the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Bartlett 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.

More tendentiousness:

“Some critics have suggested that the Kochs’ approach has subverted the purpose of tax-exempt giving. By law, charitable foundations must conduct exclusively nonpartisan activities that promote the public welfare. A 2004 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, described the Kochs’ foundations as being self-serving, concluding, “These foundations give money to nonprofit organizations that do research and advocacy on issues that impact the profit margin of Koch Industries.”

Ms. Mayer describes the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy as a “watchdog group.” In fact, a quick look at its board and mission/vision statement make clear it’s a left-wing group.

Ms. Mayer describes what she calls “the Kochs’ subsidization of a pro-corporate movement.” But a lot of Koch-backed institutions would be more accurately characterized as pro-individual or pro-small-government than as “pro-corporate.” These think thanks and professors and groups were criticizing Obamacare when the drug companies were backing it, criticizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program when the investment banks were backing it, criticizing the auto bailout when GM and Chrysler were begging for it, criticizing “clean energy” subsidies when General Electric and Ford were begging for them.

Ms. Mayer tries to suggest something is wrong with the Koch family backing George Mason University:

“It is an unusual arrangement. George Mason is a public university, and receives public funds,” [Rob] Stein [a Democratic political strategist] noted. “Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control.”

But there’s nothing the slightest bit unusual about a publicly funded university also accepting private funds with some strings attached. Stephen Ross gave $100 million to the University of Michigan and had the business school named after him. The Walton family gave the University of Arkansas $300 million.

Ms. Mayer uses an anonymous source to accuse the Kochs:

“An environmental lawyer who has clashed with the Mercatus Center [at George Mason] called it “a means of laundering economic aims.” The lawyer explained the strategy: “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” which “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.”

How is that any different from what Ms. Mayer is doing with the neutral sounding “Center for Public Integrity” and “National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy”?

She does the same thing with the neutral sounding “Constitutional Accountability Center,” which she describes only as “a think tank”:

“As the Constitutional Accountability Center, a think tank, revealed, the judges in the majority had previously attended legal junkets, on a Montana ranch, that were arranged by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment - a group funded by Koch family foundations.”

The Constitutional Accountability Center is run by a bunch of Clinton and Carter appointees. In Ms. Mayer’s world, the left-wing think tanks are nonpartisan watchdogs, but the free-market ones are part of some nefarious covert stealth plot to create “slippery organizations with generic-sounding names” by two brothers who are big corporate polluters. It’s an amazing double standard.

Even Robert Strauss, hired by the Koch brothers, is described by the New Yorker as “a premier Washington lobbyist.” The article doesn’t mention he was a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. It’s almost as if they don’t want to confuse readers by suggesting that these bad guys, the Koch brothers, might have anything to do with any Democrats.

Grover Norquist is characterized as “The conservative operative Grover Norquist, who is known for praising ‘throat slitters’ in politics.” Is known by whom? I’ve probably been in a room with Mr. Norquist a dozen times and have not once heard him speak of slitting anyone’s throat. It’s amazing how a journalist can shape a reader’s perception of someone with a phrase like that. She just as easily could have said, “the conservative operative Grover Norquist, who was an editor of the Harvard Crimson,” which would be just as accurate, but would leave a different impression.

The giveaway paragraph comes at the end of the long New Yorker piece:

“The Kochs’ sense of imperilment is somewhat puzzling. Income inequality in America is greater than it has been since the nineteen-twenties, and since the seventies the tax rates of the wealthiest have fallen more than those of the middle class. Yet the brothers’ message has evidently resonated with voters: a recent poll found that fifty-five percent of Americans agreed that Obama is a socialist.”

The New Yorker and Jane Mayer find the Koch brothers’ beliefs “puzzling,” but 55 percent of Americans don’t. Somehow, a majority of Americans can understand what Ms. Mayer, with her Fieldston, Yale and Oxford education, finds so puzzling.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureofCapitalism. com, where this article first appeared.

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