The Kochs vs. Zach Galifianakis and Aaron Sorkin

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 7 2012 1:24 PM

The Kochs vs. Zach Galifianakis and Aaron Sorkin

For two years now, ever since Jane Mayer profiled them in the New Yorker, Charles and David Koch have transformed into the Left's all-purpose villains. Because pop culture's generally produced by liberals, the Specter of Koch is more fearsome and more omnipresent than the old Specter of Soros ever was.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

If you watch The Newsroom -- and if so, why? -- you're aware of this. Starting in episode three, "This Congress," the liberal Republican host Will McAvoy started criticizing Tea Partiers, earning the enmity of his media conglomerate's president, played by Jane Fonda. "I didn't get here by being fearless," she says. "I got here by knowing who to fear." And she feared the Kochs, because "they drop trucks on people" who oppose them. Everyone in the eponymous newsroom is intimately aware with the Kochs and their influence, which, in the Sorkinverse, is limitless.

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The Koch's PR wing, Koch Facts, has been directing citizens to mockery and debunking of Newsroom scenes -- some by organizations affiliated in part with Koch causes. (One of them is the Reason Foundation, whose magazine employed me for two and a half years.)

But this is a fight about an HBO series. The upcoming movie The Campaign is a big-budget, all-star, mass-release comedy starring Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell. Its villains are the Motch brothers, played by John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd, who physically sort of resemble the Kochs (minus 10 or so years).

Neither Ferrell nor Galifianakis has ever covered up their liberalism. Ferrell played a dopey George W. Bush on Saturday Night Live, and resurrected the caricature up through the staging a sarcastic 2009 one-man-show. Galifianakis is the nephew of a former congressman who lost a 1972 U.S. Senate race to Jesse Helms, an era-defining election, where Richard Nixon's CREEP and Helms's own in-state conservative fund spent big. On Monday, Galifianakis gave an interview to the N.Y. Daily News about the movie, and used it to deride the Kochs. "They are creepy and there is no way around that. It's not freedom what they are doing."

The Koch organizations have responded to CNN, via a quote from spokesman Phil Ellender.

Last we checked, the movie is a comedy. Maybe more to the point is that it's laughable to take political guidance or moral instruction from a guy who makes obscene gestures with a monkey on a bus in Bangkok. We disagree with his uninformed characterization of Koch and our beliefs. His comments, which appear to be based on false attacks made by our political opponents, demonstrate a lack of understanding of our longstanding support of individual freedom, freedom of expression, and constitutional rights.

Why would the Kochs even engage at this level? Because they didn't start it. They've been pinatas for two years. They don't like it. They won't respond to it by scaling back their political spending. And so they get into the schoolyard, fists swinging, and see how the media handles it.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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