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Behind the Scenes at MSNBC

We wrote here about MSNBC’s disgraceful attacks on Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries in connection with the Trayvon Martin shooting. Guest 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.

A few days later, Van Jones, a guest on MSNBC, 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.

In fact, Koch has never had anything to do with gun laws, in Florida or anywhere else, except for a single occasion when the company lobbied against a proposal in Florida to legalize bringing guns to work. The claim that the brothers or their company had something to do with the Trayvon Martin case was simply insane.

So a colloquy between Koch and MSNBC followed. It culminated in MSNBC’s invitation to have a representative come on the Martin Bashir show to discuss the incident. Koch’s general counsel, Mark Holden, accepted the invitation and was on Bashir’s program yesterday. There were some real fireworks, as Mark began by talking about MSNBC’s false allegations, and later pointed out that such scurrilous attacks have led to numerous death threats against the Koch brothers:

Mark is a friend, so I called him to get his impressions of his foray into the lion’s den. Here, paraphrased and sometimes quoted, is some of what he told me:

MSNBC’s studios are at 30 Rockefeller Center, near the NBC News headquarters. We started out meeting with Phil Griffin, the President of MSNBC. He was very friendly; about the Trayvon Martin/Karen Finney controversy, he said “you’re right, we were wrong.” He stated that he wants to “move beyond bomb-throwing,” and held up Rachel Maddow as his ideal of what he wants the network to be. [Ed.: His definition of "bomb-throwing" may be a bit different from ours.]

Everyone at MSNBC was friendly [Ed.: With the possible exception of Martin Bashir]. NBC’s Director of Standards, to whom we have addressed our complaints about MSNBC’s coverage, is Marian Porges. She is “great, a total pro.”

The agreement we had with MSNBC was that I would be on for five to seven minutes and the interview would be about the network’s linking of Koch to the Trayvon Martin shooting. That isn’t what happened. I spoke briefly with Martin Bashir before we went on the air, and gave him a copy of Charles Koch’s book. He asked whether I had testified in Congress about Iran. I was puzzled by that and told him that I hadn’t. The interview lasted 15 minutes, and Bashir went on to a variety of topics, including some strange questions about Scott Walker.

Bashir denied that Karen Finney had linked us to the Martin shooting, which I think is clearly belied by her words. He then seemed to suggest that there was merit to the claim, since Koch participates in the American Legislative Exchange Council, some members of which have advocated “stand your ground” self-defense laws. I explained, as we have many times, that Koch has had nothing to do with this effort, and pointed out that the parent companies of MSNBC, Comcast and GE, are members of ALEC too, a fact which seemed to take him by surprise.

As you can see in the video, I tried to explain what Charles and David Koch do–they run a great company that employs 50,000 Americans in good, high-paying jobs. Their belief in free enterprise and limited government has been constant for 50 years, but has become controversial only recently.

After the interview was finished, we met briefly with Mr. Griffin for a second time. He expressed hope that we could continue to have a dialogue; I replied that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Later on, I did a shorter interview on the Sean Hannity show. As you can imagine, that was more relaxed. Sean was great, a total gentleman. Before we did the interview, we chatted and Sean said that he wasn’t clear on what exactly Koch Industries does. I told him about the company, and as you can see from the video, he gave me an opportunity to talk about the company on-air.

Thanks to Mark for sharing his experience with our readers. I thought he acquitted himself well.

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