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MSNBC: We Reserve the Right to Lie About You

We wrote in MSNBC, the Faux News Network about MSNBC’s latest attack on the Koch brothers, whom guest host Karen Finney outrageously blamed for the Trayvon Martin shooting. Finney’s slander was repeated on MSNBC by former Obama administration official Van Jones, who said, “You’ve got all of the passion around Trayvon and what a horrible injustice that was and you can draw a direct line to the Koch brothers.” The Koch organization naturally complained about these more or less insane smears. What was the result? MSNBC admitted that its host had acted wrongfully, but refused to apologize or to address the main thrust of Koch’s complaint: that the network should not recklessly promulgate lies.

In order to understand how irresponsible MSNBC is, you should read the email correspondence between Koch and the network in its entirety:

Marian Porges, Senior Producer
News Standards and Practices
NBC News

Dear Ms. Porges:

I want to bring to your attention once again an MSNBC host that has falsely and maliciously disparaged Koch. On March 23, while guest hosting the Martin Bashir program, Karen Finney accused Koch of a connection with the tragic circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin matter. “Who was the Typhoid Mary for this horrible outbreak,” Finney asked. She then stated, “It’s the usual suspects the Koch brothers…the same people who stymied gun regulation at every point who funded and ghost write these laws.”

Because we saw this dishonest story line developing and were concerned other extremists would pick it up, we put out a public statement the day before Ms. Finney’s rant explaining that this assertion was totally false and irresponsible. First, Koch has had no involvement in this legislation. We have had no discussions with anyone at ALEC, the legislative policy group at issue, about the matter either. In fact, the only lobbying on firearms issues we have ever undertaken in Florida was in opposition to the National Rifle Association’s support for a bill that mandated employers must allow employees to bring firearms onto company property.

It’s worth adding that ALEC also put out a statement that further refutes Ms. Finney’s assertions:

“It is a great shame that some are using this tragedy to further their political ends. Indeed, Paul Krugman describes advancing his political goals as the “silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing.” That is as callous as it is cruel, and it is also incorrect. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was the basis for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation, not the other way around. Moreover, it is unclear whether that law could apply to this case at all. “Stand Your Ground” or the “Castle Doctrine” is designed to protect people who defend themselves from imminent death and great bodily harm. It does not allow you to pursue another person. It does not allow you to seek confrontation. It does not allow you to attack someone who does not pose an imminent threat. What it does is allow you to defend yourself and your family from immediate and real danger.”

We were never notified that Ms. Finney intended to make an allegation of that kind and thus were given no opportunity for input or reaction. It seems elementary that when one of your hosts falsely accuses us of somehow abetting a person’s death, we would first be given the chance to respond to such an outrageous and offensive lie.

In recent months we have brought to your attention several instances where guests on MSNBC have made false and disparaging assertions about us and/or have been permitted to obscure their affiliation as paid political operatives. We came to agreement that the network would be more diligent about living up to its standards on disclosure and would also afford us the opportunity to know prior to broadcast and react to those sorts of assertions. You wrote, “I hope you understand that this incident(s) is not a reflection of normal procedure at MSNBC.”

You should also be aware that on March 26, Ms. Finney signed and sent a letter on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee soliciting political contributions. Yet, she is presented to viewers as a “political analyst” and not as a paid fundraising operative for the Democratic party, as would be more accurate.

If you could look into this matter and provide us some explanation, I would appreciate it. I would especially like to know why it has proven so difficult for MSNBC to extend us the most basic journalism standard of a right to reply to allegations about us that are made on the air — an assurance that you have made to us on several occasions when similar incidents have occurred.

Sincerely,

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

Two days later, Ms. Porges responded:

Dear Ms. Cohlmia-

Again, I thank you for raising your most recent concerns. I have looked into the issue and I have also read your statement dated 3/22/2012.

The producers of our program should have included at least part of your statement, “Setting the Record Straight on Firearm Coverage,” in their discussion. I have spoken to those involved with the segment.

Regards,
Marian Porges

Which brought this rejoinder from Ms. Cohlmia, making the fundamental point that NBC’s News Standards and Practices department ignored:

Dear Ms. Porges:

We agree with you that the producers were wrong not to include our statement. Therefore, I’d appreciate it if you would ask them to append our statement or a hyperlink on the web page where the Karen Finney segment containing the false statement about Koch still appears on MSNBC’s website. Here is the link to that page. And here is a link to our original statement.

However, the after-the-fact posting of our statement does not fully address our concerns about Ms. Finney’s false and wholly fabricated comments. Accepted journalism standards would require MSNBC’s producers to ensure that there were facts to support Ms. Finney’s allegations before they were broadcast by MSNBC. Since that did not happen, Ms. Finney and MSNBC should affirmatively state that there are no facts to support her assertion. However, since we are dealing with partisans like Ms. Finney and MSNBC, I am left to surmise that accepted journalism standards do not apply here. Accordingly, we ask that the producers take responsibility for allowing these false and irresponsible allegations to be broadcast by informing viewers about our statement.

Thank you again for your continued engagement on these matters.

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

A damning indictment, but what other conclusion can one draw? Six days later, Koch had not gotten any response from NBC, and Van Jones had repeated the slander first uttered by Karen Finney. So Ms. Cohlmia wrote again:


Marian Porges, Senior Producer
News Standards and Practices
NBC News

Ms. Porges:

We have yet to hear back from you on our request to have our statement about the false accusations made about Koch posted on MSNBC’s website. Since you agreed that we deserve the right to respond regarding these false and irresponsible accusations, it is troubling that MSNBC still has not posted or otherwise communicated the statement we provided two weeks ago.

In the meantime, MSNBC has allowed that false and malicious accusation to be repeated last Thursday night on Ed Schultz’s program. His guest, Democratic activist Van Jones, said, “You’ve got all of the passion around Trayvon and what a horrible injustice that was and you can draw a direct line to the Koch brothers.”

If we are not going to be afforded the opportunity — neither in advance nor after the fact — to respond to the false and irresponsible charge that we are involved a person’s death, then it’s hard to see why anyone should take seriously MSNBC’s claims that it adheres to fundamental journalism standards. Please advise whether or not you intend to take action so we can then weigh our other options.

Regards,

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

NBC replied:

Ms Cohlmia-

The executive producer of the program was away last week, we will have discussions on this today or tomorrow.

Thank you-

Marian Porges
Senior Producer
NBC News

Three days later, having heard nothing further, Ms. Cohlmia inquired once more:

Hi Marian – just circling back with you on this. Any updates? Thank you.

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

That prompted a reply from Ms. Porges:

I’m working on it…I was quite waylaid Tuesday and Wednesday with the Sanford, FL story so I fell behind. My apologies.

Five days later, Ms. Porges had not followed up, so Ms. Cohlmia wrote yet again:

Hi Marian – any update for us yet? Thank you.

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

At this point–we are now up to April 17–it is three weeks after an MSNBC host falsely and absurdly accused the Koch brothers of complicity in a murder. MSNBC had made no effort either to justify or to correct its host’s claim, which was subsequently repeated by an MSNBC guest. The claim was obviously false; yet, three weeks later, the network had done nothing to rectify its misconduct. This response followed on the same day, April 17:

Dear Ms. Cohlmia-

Thank you for your patience.

I’d like to address your continuing concerns that Ms. Finney made “false” and “fabricated” remarks regarding Koch. I have yet again reviewed the portion of the program you mentioned (in your first letter) where Ms. Finney spoke about the Florida law. Please let me stress that at no point did Ms. Finney or MSNBC “charge that we are involved in a person’s death…,” as you alleged in your recent email.

It is a fact that Koch is a financial supporter of ALEC as proven by 2009 tax forms 990 PF which we have reviewed. With that financial relationship established, it seems clear that Koch and ALEC share similar interests in some legislative matters.

We are not going to put any of your statement on our website at this point because that statement was issued prior to the March 23 broadcast so it was not actually in response TO our program.

In efforts to give Koch a full voice, I have a proposal for you. We would like to invite a Koch representative on our air to share a segment with Karen Finney and or/Lisa Graves at a time that works for both Koch and MSNBC. Ms. Finney would be a guest, not a host. Please let me know if you would like to take advantage of this opportunity. I feel this would be a tremendous chance for all of your concerns to be addressed.

Regards-
Marian Porges

MSNBC’s chutzpah is breathtaking. Its host, Karen Finney, said: “Who was the Typhoid Mary for this horrible outbreak? It’s the usual suspects the Koch brothers…the same people who stymied gun regulation at every point who funded and ghost write these laws.” Van Jones said, “You’ve got all of the passion around Trayvon and what a horrible injustice that was and you can draw a direct line to the Koch brothers.” And yet Ms. Porges has the temerity to claim that no one at MSNBC “charge[d] that [Koch] [was] involved in a person’s death!” If being a “Typhoid Mary” isn’t being involved, what is? And if being in a “direct line” doesn’t denote not just involvement but responsibility, then what on Earth does it mean?

Not to mention the specific lies perpetrated by Ms. Finney, including the claim that the Koch brothers have “stymied gun regulation at every point,” when in fact the company has never done anything with regard to gun regulation, other than lobbying against liberalization of gun laws in Florida! In effect, Ms. Porges is saying that MSNBC is in business to lie for political gain. And the “remedy” MSNBC offers is the opportunity to come on the network to debate whether or not Koch is responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death–an insane claim which is supported by not a shred of fact or logic.

Koch responded with a final communication that summed up the controversy and assessed MSNBC’s dismal journalistic standards:

Dear Ms. Porges:

Thank you for your response. With all due respect, I find your response troubling and insufficient to address our concerns regarding Ms. Finney’s false and malicious statements about us. Contrary to your claim, we correctly stated in our March 27 email that Ms. Finney “accused Koch of a connection with the tragic circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin matter. ‘Who was the Typhoid Mary for this horrible outbreak,’ Finney asked. She then stated, ‘It’s the usual suspects the Koch brothers…the same people who stymied gun regulation at every point who funded and ghost write these laws.’” Your email brushes this aside by playing semantics and ignoring the fact that Ms. Finney’s statements were dishonest and baseless. In addition, you fail to even mention our concerns about activist Van Jones’ false and malicious statements on the April 8th Ed Show that, “You’ve got all of the passion around Trayvon and what a horrible injustice that was and you can draw a direct line to the Koch brothers.”

In light of this information we struggle to understand how your approval of MSNBC’s refusal to post our statement concerning this matter is consistent with either journalistic ethics or accountability. Your claim that our statement was not in response to Ms. Finney’s false statements misses the point. We issued that statement the day before Ms. Finney’s comments because of our concerns that extremists like Ms. Finney and MSNBC would repeat the malicious lies that The Nation and Mother Jones had first published. Our experience the past few years has been that MSNBC often repeats the outrageous and distorted allegations about us that are first set forth in the far left blogosphere. Unfortunately, this has happened once again in this situation and you chose not to address it.

Your offer for us to appear on an MSNBC broadcast with either Ms. Finney or Lisa Graves, another activist who has dishonestly attacked us in the past, does not cure the harm that Koch has suffered through Ms. Finney’s and Mr. Jones’ false statements. Further, given our past experiences with MSNBC, Ms. Finney, and Ms. Graves, we are concerned that MSNBC will allow them to concoct other lies on the broadcast that we will have to correct, at the same time you and MSNBC have not permitted us to post a statement responding to the past lies by Ms. Finney and Mr. Jones. Because of MSNBC’s track record on ignoring even modest efforts at accurate and balanced coverage, we have no faith that appearing on a live broadcast would be anything other than a forum for Ms. Finney or Ms. Graves to unfairly attack us and make up new false story lines.

Given your failure to address this situation in any meaningful or appropriate manner, we are now forced to weigh other options in addressing the harm done to us by MSNBC’s reckless and willful broadcast of Ms. Finney’s and Mr. Jones’ false statements.

Sincerely,
Melissa Cohlmia

There you have it. At MSNBC, lies are all in a day’s work, as long as they serve a political agenda. The network has no interest in defending the truth of the smears it publishes, or in correcting its lies, or even in posting a rebuttal to them. MSNBC is all politics, no journalism. And note that the inadequate responses to Koch’s complaints came from MSNBC’s parent, NBC. It appears that NBC is satisfied with the complete lack of journalistic integrity shown by MSNBC and its rabid hosts and guests. One wonders: have they no shame, at all?

You can read the exchange between Koch and NBC at KochFacts, along with much more.

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