Obsessive Koch disorder at the Times

The State Politics site takes note of a letter from Koch Companies representative Melissa Cohlmia to New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane on the paper’s obsession with Koch Industries and the Koch brothers:

For those who pay attention, it is astonishing to witness the non-stop, over-the-top efforts of liberal mainstream media like the New York Times to discredit Wichita-based Koch Industries and its principals Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch. The Koch brothers have been non-stop advocates for limited government, free markets, and economic freedom for many years, and this is something the political left just can’t stand. Following is a letter from Melissa Cohlmia of Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC to Arthur S. Brisbane, the Times’ public editor, or readers’ representative. The letter was originally published at KochFacts.com.

Here is the letter:

Mr. Arthur Brisbane
Public Editor
New York Times

Dear Mr. Brisbane:

We have been observing coverage about us in the Times over the last year that appears in many cases driven by a political agenda and in others so gratuitous that it stretches the bounds of newsworthiness to absurd lengths. You will recall that we brought a number of these specifics to your attention last April and May. Since that time, there have been more than 50 articles in the paper critical of Koch (zero that are positive) written by some 41 different Times authors. You were gracious to offer a continued dialogue on the matter and two such pieces that appeared over the weekend prompt us to reach out again.

The first, by art critic Anthony Tommasini, complained about our support for the arts, compared us to the deposed King Ludwig of 19th-Century Bavaria and the Renaissance Medicis and therefore urged that the situation “would seem to make the performing arts a natural focus for the Occupy activists.”
The second piece, appearing in the “Ethicist” column by Ariel Kaminer, applauded a reader for keeping her granddaughter away from a performance of “The Nutcracker” because we donated to the production. “Tolerance has its limits,” Ms. Kaminer explained, and “Tchaikovsky makes strange bedfellows.”

In other words, Times writers apparently must perform contortions so bent-over-backward that it involves medieval references and politicizing children’s Christmas ballets, all to squeeze a disparagement about Koch into their copy. My question to you is: if the paper is going to be indulging a hostile approach that is this far-fetched, then don’t we deserve some explanation from editors for the sheer frequency and the underlying purpose?

Readers themselves might wonder if they’ll soon read moral circumspection about the many performing arts or left-leaning institutions supported by the Sulzberger family, which owns the paper. Doubtful, it would seem. (And never mind at all the Sulzberger family’s role in building the New York Stock Exchange, stifling the Times’ unions, giving golden parachutes to underperforming executives, and other such activity the paper lately characterizes as “the one percent”).

When we last interacted, you explained that we could “expect the Times to continue to cover Kochs’ activities rather closely, as your organizations’ activities have acquired quite a high profile.” I’m troubled that this is a kind of circular logic — the Times is covering Koch because Koch is being covered — and tells readers little about the thinking and motives of the Times’ apparent fixation with us.

Let me reiterate that these are far from the only such examples. In October, a Times dining critic commenting about what protestors prefer to eat wrote, “Unlike the Tea Party, funded as it is by wealthy reactionaries like the Koch Brothers, ‘Occupy’ is sustained by energy, frustration…pizza and apples paid for by supporters or donated by farmers.” In November, one of your columnists denounced where we choose to live, saying, “even when oligarchs clearly get their income from heartland, red-state sources, where do they live? OK, one of the Koch brothers still lives in Wichita; but the other lives in New York.” And though the group Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members, supporters, and co-founders, it is routinely described specifically as a project of ours.

As one of your predecessors once pointed out, the Times is a liberal newspaper. We understand that and have been documenting the often irrational and cynical ways in which left-wing groups have targeted us. But if the Times is going to take part in that bandwagon and go to lengths so far afield from legitimate news coverage, then it ought to have the integrity to acknowledge it.

We would be grateful if you could look into the examples we’ve cited and the larger point. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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

The letter as posted at the KochFacts site is full of links to the original Times material on which the letter comments. Taking a look at it all, I think it is fair to conclude that it would be a mistake to rely the Times for the news. It would be a mistake to rely on the Times for a sense of proportion. It would be a mistake to rely on the Times for fairness or judgment. But we knew that. Did we also know that it would also be a mistake to think these folks (among whom, you will be shocked to learn, is Paul Krugman) are entirely sane?