Fact-Checking the New Yorker

What is it about the Koch brothers that causes liberal news outlets to lose their minds? Scott has been following the New York Times’s vendetta against the Kochs, which the paper’s Public Editor has helpfully explained: hey, man, we’re a liberal newspaper and we write for a liberal audience. But the Times is hardly alone. The New Yorker has similarly gone around the bend with regard to the Kochs, led by liberal activist “reporter” Jane Mayer.

Once upon a time, the New Yorker was famous for its fact-checking. Now, it won’t a check a fact that conflicts with its liberal biases even when the truth is thrust upon it. Mayer is obsessed with the Kochs, so when she wrote a post about a new conservative group called the Center for American Freedom, she couldn’t resist dragging the brothers into it:

At the helm of this project, according to Politico, will be Michael Goldfarb, a thirty-one-year-old former Weekly Standard writer. Goldfarb is now a partner in the lobbying firm Orion Strategies, where his clients include Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers whose political activities I’ve written about for The New Yorker, and whose private fortune has funded numerous other right-wing libertarian policy shops, from the Cato Institute to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Goldfarb declined to tell Smith whether or not the Koch brothers are involved in funding this latest political gambit. A corporate spokesman for the Kochs, however, issued a preëmptive denial, asserting that “contrary to unfounded speculation by Politico and others, neither Charles Koch nor David Koch, nor any Koch company has provided funding to or has any involvement with the Center for American Freedom.”

Evidently Ms. Mayer does not know what the word “preemptive” means, since if the Kochs’ denial followed “unfounded speculation by Politico and others,” it couldn’t possibly be preemptive. Such ignorance is common nowadays among members of our chattering classes. Nevertheless, Koch Industries requested a correction. The rest of the story can be told as an epistolary novel. What follows is the unedited email exchange between Missy Cohlmia, Director of Corporate Communication for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, and the New Yorker’s Deputy Editor, Pam McCarthy:

David Remnick, Editor
The New Yorker

Dear Mr. Remnick:

Once again, a story about Koch by Jane Mayer in your publication contains a factual error. In an item on January 6 about a new advocacy group being organized by Michael Goldfarb, Mayer writes, “Goldfarb declined to tell [Politico reporter Ben] Smith whether or not the Koch brothers are involved in funding this latest political gambit. A corporate spokesman for the Kochs, however, issued a preemptive denial.” But that is inaccurate. Our statement to Politico came after the fact — that is, after the Politico story was first published. Politico itself detailed this sequence in print, as is easily checked, so it is incomprehensible how Ms. Mayer arrived at the conclusion that our statement was “preemptive.”

This is far from the first time that Ms. Mayer’s reporting on us has failed to adhere to even the most basic journalism standards, never mind the magazine’s often-trumpeted fact-checking process. Just a few weeks ago, we pointed out to you Ms. Mayer’s reporting on October 20 that “[Koch is] vowing that Americans for Prosperity will spend some $200 million in the 2012 Presidential campaign” was also false. Your colleague Pamela Maffei McCarthy disavowed responsibility and that correction request also remains outstanding. And even as our explicit debunking of Ms. Mayer’s reporting went disregarded, editors clarified that same piece by adding that the Associated Press reporting that Ms. Mayer relied on was itself preceded by (similarly wrong) assertions from the left-wing blog, ThinkProgress. Her reporting, in other words, was stale, false, and three-times removed from the initial public airing.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and if you would kindly correct the errors we have cited, I would appreciate it.

Sincerely,
Melissa Cohlmia
Director, Corporate Communication
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

Ms. Cohlmia’s email included links which I have omitted. Ms. McCarthy replied:

Dear Missy,

We regret that you are dissatisfied with our coverage. However, Jane Mayer is correct: Phillip Ellender’s statement denying the Kochs’ involvement in the Center for American Freedom preceded any reporting asserting otherwise, so, in this respect, his statement was preemptive.

Re your earlier request, it would be helpful to know more specifically which part of the statement “vowing that Americans for Prosperity will spend some $200 million in the 2012 Presidential campaign” you are contesting. We would like any note we run to be as clear as possible about what the actual fundraising/spending goals and recipients were. The story in Politico that Jane Mayer was reporting on stated that an attendee at the Kochs’ donor summit in Vail last June named $200 million as the sum they hoped to direct at the 2012 campaign. If that sum is incorrect, please let us know what the correct amount would be. If our mention of Americans for Prosperity is incorrect, please let us know what political organization(s) would be appropriate to name.

Thank you for reading our coverage so closely.

Sincerely,

Pam McCarthy
Deputy Editor

Note that Ms. McCarthy offered no support whatever for her claim that “Phillip Ellender’s statement denying the Kochs’ involvement in the Center for American Freedom preceded any reporting asserting otherwise,” a claim that was implicitly refuted by the very Politico article that Ms. Mayer quoted. The exchange continues, as Ms. Cohlmia explains the facts:

Dear Ms. McCarthy:

I appreciate your reply but you are mistaken in saying our statement “preceded any reporting stating otherwise.” I’ve attached below the relevant articles and as you’ll see:

1. Ben Smith’s article (absent our quote) was first posted on Politico at 4:29 a.m. EST on January 5, intimating that we might have some involvement with the CAF project.

2. The blog ThinkProgress seized on that reporting and, at 9:27 a.m. EST that same day, published an article explicitly asserting that Koch was bankrolling the project. Other blog posts occurred around that same time concerning this issue, including Americablog which stated “[t]he project is being bankrolled by the Koch Brothers.”

3. At 12:45 p.m. EST on January 5, we released our statement, which was sent to Politico and then added to Smith’s article after 5 p.m. EST on January 5. Politico’s Dylan Byers detailed this sequence of events on his media blog and reported our statement as an update midafternoon on January 5.

Thus, it is beyond dispute that our statement came after published reports that both inferred and stated explicitly that we were involved — not preemptively. The statement began with the words, “Contrary to unfounded speculation by Politico and others” – Ms. Mayer quoted this language verbatim in her blog posting which makes it all the more puzzling why you won’t admit she erred in claiming our statement was “preemptive.” It’s worth noting, too, that ThinkProgress has faulted Ms. Mayer in the past, requiring clarification that her reporting relied on their information, so it certainly seems fair to expect she is aware of their coverage of us.

On the other error, the plain fact is that no one from Koch has ever made any representation, let alone a “vow,” that Americans for Prosperity will spend $200 million in the 2012 Presidential campaign. It is possible, although doubtful, that the Politico reporter spoke to some third party who claimed such a thing. But we are telling you, as the first party in question, that it did not happen. I should add that it is not incumbent on us to detail our plans for campaign contributions in order to establish that Ms. Mayer is wrong in her reporting on this point. Is it asking too much that readers be informed that we never said what Ms. Mayer erroneously indicates we did?

Thank you again for your attention to the matter.

Melissa Cohlmia
Director, Corporate Communication
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

Is it a small point? Sure. But Jane Mayer obviously got it wrong. It speaks volumes about the New Yorker that the magazine cannot admit error on even the smallest point when its irrational hatred of conservatives is at stake:

Dear Missy,

Thanks for supplying the timeline. “Preemptive” still seems a reasonable description, given that you sent a statement to Politico, apparently without being asked for one, denying “unfounded speculation” that Politico hadn’t actually engaged in.

Re the $200 million question: We can certainly add an update to the blog post that summarized the Politico story, saying that you dispute the phrase “vowing that Americans for Prosperity will spend some $200 million in the 2012 Presidential campaign.” However, we’re sorry that you won’t clarify which part of the statement is inaccurate. If the goal is to set the record straight, simply stating that you dispute a phrase containing several different facts isn’t nearly as effective as giving the readers the correct facts. We’ll post the update next week, so please let me know if you change your mind and are willing to offer readers more information on the Kochs’ intended campaign contributions.

Sincerely,

Pam McCarthy
Deputy Editor

Finally, Ms. Cohlmia points out that the New Yorker’s editors, like Jane Mayer, apparently do not know the meaning of the word “preemptive.”

Pamela McCarthy, Deputy Editor
The New Yorker

Pamela – thank you for your note. We are surprised that your apparent understanding of the word “preemptive” does not match the dictionary definition, which is this:

pre·emp·tive : taken as a measure against something possible, anticipated, or feared; preventive; deterrent.

All the best,

Melissa Cohlmia
Director, Corporate Communication
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

The moral of the story is that left-wing publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker have become so crazed by partisanship that they have lost any vestige of respect for truth or, frankly, common decency.

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