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Obsessive Koch disorder: Art Brisbane responds

We posted the letter from Koch Industries spokesman Melissa Cohlmia to New York Times public editor (ombudsman) Art Brisbane regarding the Times’s ludicrous treatment of the Koch brothers in “Obsessive Koch disorder.” Brisbane has now responded with what I take to be almost endearing candor. Key quote:

This brings forward another ingredient in this situation: The Times’s audience. That audience consists of New Yorkers, by and large a liberal population, and national readers, many of whom select The Times because it mirrors their views.

I remain steadfastly opposed to the paper proffering only liberal perspectives in news coverage. But in the opinion-based features of the paper, The Times is within its right to do this. In my view, it makes for predictable and sometimes very dull reading. But others apparently don’t agree.

What oft was thought…

Brisbane’s response is posted in its entirety at KochFacts.com, where it is accompanied by Cohlmia’s original letter and her response to Brisbane. Here is Brisbane’s response:

From: Art Brisbane
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 2:09 PM
To: Cohlmia, Missy
Subject: Re: Koch Industries

Ms. Colhmia: thanks for your message. You should not be surprised that the Koch brothers are mentioned frequently in The Times, as they have chosen to play an active role in the political sphere in a presidential election year. I am prepared to address specific instances that you believe are problematic but I don’t think the sheer volume is anything that is per se inappropriate. You state that all 50 mentions were negative but what I have to work with are the specific examples you provided. All but one emanate from writers who produce critical reviews, op-ed pieces, magazine commentaries as opposed to news coverage. One is from ClimateGate, a contracted content provider that appears on NYTimes.com.

I will agree in the broad sense that, taken together, it is clear that this community of opinion-based writers — as distinct from news reporters producing material for the main news sections — clearly share a worldview that is liberal and antithetical to the Koch brothers’ political perspective. That they find ways to lace their writing with these views is perhaps unfortunate. I would be happier if The Times had a more diverse mix of such writers, leading to perspectives that are not universally of one political persuasion.

But we are talking here about The Times, and as you note others have deemed it a liberal newspaper. I have not yet written a piece pronouncing on this issue broadly (a couple of my predecessors did so, and perhaps I will do so before I am done). With that caveat, I have no problem stating here that in the domain where opinion writers ply their trade for The Times, the liberal view is overwhelmingly dominant. The Times is within its rights to contract for such material, as the opinion sphere is distinct from the news sphere, and there can be little doubt that the Times ownership and editorial page ascribe to a liberal perspective.

So when you cite a comment by Paul Krugman that most oligarchs don’t live where their wealth originated, it should be no surprise that he is hostile to the Kochs. The same might be said for Mark Bittman, whose liberal perspective is clearly on display in the piece you referenced. I don’t see why you mentioned the ClimateWire piece, as it simply identified the Kochs as co-founders of Americans for Prosperity, a basic factual statement that as far as I know is correct. The Kochs should be long past hoping for anonymity.

The Tommasini piece, I thought, was not so hostile as you suggested. Yes, you were mentioned in context with Mad King Ludwig, with whom few philanthropists would care to be associated, but also with the Medicis and Andrew Carnegie, who as far as I know are highly esteemed in the world of philanthropy (indeed are viewed as paragons of it). The writer was simply noting that it is the 1 percent who typically support the arts, a point that seems to be beyond dispute.

With respect to the Ariel Kaminer piece, she quotes one person who says fundraising campaigns attract donors of diverse perspectives, a point that seems friendly to your side of the issue. She does make the crack about Tchaikovsky’s strange bedfellows but her piece is really quite restrained. Remember, as well, that she is responding to a letter from a reader who has herself expressed opposition to the Koch brothers, so the context for the discussion is hostile in part because of the reader question, not Kaminer’s response. This brings forward another ingredient in this situation: The Times’s audience. That audience consists of New Yorkers, by and large a liberal population, and national readers, many of whom select The Times because it mirrors their views.

I remain steadfastly opposed to the paper proffering only liberal perspectives in news coverage. But in the opinion-based features of the paper, The Times is within its right to do this. In my view, it makes for predictable and sometimes very dull reading. But others apparently don’t agree.

Sincerely,
Art Brisbane
public editor

For the record, here is Ms. Cohlmia’s response:

From: Cohlmia, Missy
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2012 10:43 AM
To: Art Brisbane
Cc: Cohlmia, Missy
Subject: RE: Koch Industries

Dear Mr. Brisbane:

I appreciate your offer of continued dialogue and thank you for your time. Your candor, especially on the Times’ liberal leanings and how that lack of diversity of perspective can lead to “very predictable” and “dull” reading, deserves praise and we certainly share your view of it.

In answer to your question on specific examples of bias in the news coverage, here is a link to more than a dozen such instances which reveal the Times provides a frequent and high platform for the grievances of left-wing advocacy groups and the Democratic party about us.

We would still like to hear some justification from senior Times editors about why the articles involving us are so heavily weighted — in topic, frequency, and content — toward the left wing perspective. I would be grateful if you could endeavor to get an answer from them about that.

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

In law school we hear that when the facts are in your favor, pound the facts. When the law is in your favor, pound the law. And when neither the facts nor the law is in your favor, pound the table. Brisbane strains to mount a defense. Ms. Cohlmia clearly has the winning case. Let it be said for Brisbane, however, that although his client is guilty as hell, he is not pounding the table.

Via reader Richard Kensing.

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