The Kochs Fail PR 101

The Kochs Fail PR 101

The Kochs Fail PR 101

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 3 2011 5:09 PM

The Kochs Fail PR 101

Only now do I see this April 29 New York Post item about Koch Industries complaining to the American Society of Magazine Editors about Jane Mayer's profile of the billionaire industrialists.

Koch Industries Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mark Holden said in a letter to ASME board members that it is "inappropriate" for Mayer's piece to be considered for the award because her article is biased.

"Her article is ideologically slanted and a prime example of a disturbing trend in journalism, where agenda-driven advocacy masquerades as objective reporting," Holden said in a letter sent to ASME CEO Sid Holt and several ASME board members. "Given these facts, it would be inappropriate for ASME to give Ms. Mayer's article an award in reporting."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post. 

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And here's how the Kochs blew it:

Mayer told Media Ink that the Koch brothers had turned down repeated attempts to be interviewed. "I called and/or e-mailed every week or so, asking for a chance to talk with the brothers for about five months," said Mayer. "The press person at Koch made it sound almost until the end like they might grant an interview with David. Instead, David gave an interview to New York magazine just as we were fact-checking the piece.

I spent/wasted a little time in 2010 writing a piece about the Kochs and the Tea Party movement (I didn't finish it before leaving the publication I was writing it for) Mayer and I had a similar experience -- though I didn't push as hard as Mayer. The Koch apparatus asked me for details of the questions I wanted to ask, and pre-interviewed me, but respond to me after that. The result in my case: No story. The result in Mayer's case: A tough story that read tougher because the Kochs didn't open themselves up. Consider how David Koch spoke in that New York magazine article he did cooperate with.

Koch denies being directly involved with the tea party—"I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No one representing the tea party has ever even approached me"—but he and his brother Charles were being accused of supporting the group through an affiliated conservative organization. Rachel Maddow had effectively called Koch the tea party’s puppet master. "The radical press is coming after me and Charles," he said. "They’re using us as whipping boys." Burnishing his reputation was no longer his concern; now, it seemed, he needed to save it.

This is obviously false, and the magazine proves it with a photo and description of Koch at an AFP conference, and factual assertions like "Americans for Prosperity, AFPF’s political arm, has certainly not shied away from joining arms with the tea party." And there was quotable gold like this:

Koch says he’s not sure if global warming is caused by human activities, and at any rate, he sees the heating up of the planet as good news. Lengthened growing seasons in the northern hemisphere, he says, will make up for any trauma caused by the slow migration of people away from disappearing coastlines. "The Earth will be able to support enormously more people because a far greater land area will be available to produce food," he says.

But the New York profile got nowhere near the attention that Mayer's did. Why? One reason was that in absence of primary source interviews, she told more stories about how the brothers make their money. Another reason was that the Kochs went after it after refusing to cooperate. Lesson: Don't do that!

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.