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Smart v. Stupid

The Koch brothers are getting nervous

Charles and David Koch seem less confident these days. The brothers – who inherited money from their dad and grew it into America’s largest collection of dirty industries – have decided they need to fight back. That’s not surprising. Since Koch-sponsored secret meetings were revealed, secret planning with Supreme Court Justices was exposed, and secret funding of right wing groups became apparent, Americans have begun to wonder just how much influence these guys have purchased.

America has now heard of the Koch brothers.

But that’s not all. A Google search of “Boycott Koch” reveals “about 907,000” pages. Many of these sites include a list of brands owned by the Kochs. Just type the word “boycott” into a Facebook search and Koch Industries pops up first. There appears to be a growing interest shunning Koch brands.

This week, Koch Industries opened a counteroffensive. But you may not have noticed. In a style harking back to the early 1900s, these puppet masters of public opinion began their counter-offensive indirectly. They placed an ad in a media-insider newsletter, FishbowlDC, published by Mediabistro. FishbowlDC is a daily in-boxer advertised as “Where the DC media masses go for dish about their coworkers and competitors.” It’s an entertaining gossip rag aimed at journalists, bloggers and pundits. (Yes, it’s my guilty pleasure.) Until now, the typical sponsor was a writer’s workshop, a search engine optimizer or a writer’s services provider.

The ad teases “WASHINGTON POST STORY ON KOCH MISLEADS READERS” and the tagline is “Open discussion. Competing ideas. A stronger nation.” Koch Industries is trying to gain media traction without anyone noticing they pitched their own patriotism story. Clever. The ad links to KochFacts.com.

So what sort of information is at KochFacts? It’s a word-heavy site consisting of flamboyant headlines and red text rebuttals of whatever Koch finds unflattering. It’s also deftly search-optimized. Here’s an example of a rebuttal to a Washington Post story about Congressman Mike Pompeo hiring a Koch-affiliated staffer:

[Washington Post Quote] “Now liberal groups have begun turning their ire toward Pompeo, who hired a former Koch Industries lawyer as his chief of staff and proposed legislation in his first weeks in office that could benefit many of Koch's business interests.”

[KochFacts Response] “Translation: Rather than engage in a constructive debate and allow the American public to decide what positions to support, liberal groups have targeted an individual and launched a character assassination campaign.”

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That tone is fairly typical for the site. News reports and calls for disclosure are reframed as attempts to stifle free speech:

“Koch encourages and honest and open debate of these important values. Sadly, many opposed to these views have deployed partisan smear tactics for the purpose of silencing open and honest discourse.”

The company represents itself in a reverential tone almost as if it were a person of great patriotism, fighting for America – the Thomas Jefferson of privately-held polluters, if you will. The seminal assertion seems to be that secret funding is the same as “open and honest discourse.” Is this a critical misunderstanding of “open and honest?” Or is it simply an attempt to change the subject?

The public is now demanding to know more about Koch’s shadowy funding of advocacy groups. Consumers are showing an increasing willingness to boycott companies that don’t disclose their issue-advocacy spending. Is this is the beginning of a new wave of citizen-driven corporate oversight? Is there a voter-driven rush to fill the void left by a corrupted Supreme Court?

During the last two decades, almost every large company developed a “corporate responsibility” program to assure consumers that they were environmentally sensitive. Perhaps healthy government policies – including the full disclosure of advocacy and political contributions – are the next great wave of corporate responsibility.

I’m sure the Koch brothers hope not.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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KochFacts.com

The Koch Industries ad aimed at the media.

“Koch encourages and honest and open debate of these important values. Sadly, many opposed to these views have deployed partisan smear tactics for the purpose of silencing open and honest discourse.”

— KochFacts.com