Jane Mayer: World’s Worst Hypocrite?

I wrote here about a new book by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, which continues her vendetta against Charles and David Koch. In her book, as reported and headlined by the New York Times, Mayer breathlessly claims that the brothers’ father, Fred Koch, through a company called Winkler-Koch, designed a portion of an oil refinery that was built in Hamburg, Germany, between 1933 and 1935. What’s the point? There is none, except to implicitly smear Charles and David Koch as Nazi sympathizers.

The actual facts surrounding the refinery in question are set forth below. But for the moment, let’s put the facts aside and play the ancestor game. If the Kochs can be tarred because their ancestor did business in Germany on a single occasion, let’s apply the same standard to others. Like to Jane Mayer, for example.

Jane Mayer is the great-great-granddaughter of Emanuel Lehman, who had two brothers. Yup: those Lehman Brothers. And guess what: Lehman Brothers (still owned by the Lehman family) not only did business with Nazi Germany, repeatedly, it actively encouraged others to do the same. Haaretz reports:

In addition to support for a boycott, there were those who expressed opposition to such a move, among them Judge Irving Lehman. He voiced concern that the campaign would escalate the situation, resulting in additional harm to German Jews. He cautioned that advocates of a boycott not let their anger at the Nazis lead to the death of German Jews. In his case, however, his opposition may have also been motivated by the interests of his family’s business – Lehman Brothers investment bank, which was one of a number of U.S. banks that did business with Hitler’s Germany (75 years before the bank collapsed in the global economic crisis of 2008).

So Jane Mayer must be a Nazi sympathizer. Is that a good argument? No, but it’s better than the one she made against Charles and David Koch. It is remarkable that Mayer threw the absurd Nazi stone from inside such a patently glass house. And we haven’t even mentioned slavery; Lehman Brothers began as a cotton trading firm in the 1850s.

For those who care about the German oil refinery, Dave Robertson, the president and chief operating officer of Koch Industries, set out the facts in an email to Koch’s employees:

Recent media reports have highlighted a series of false and inaccurate claims about Koch made by Jane Mayer in a book that will be released later this month. As we have told the media, we declined to participate in her book and have not read it. If its content is anything like Ms. Mayer’s previous comments about the Koch family, Koch Industries, or the Kochs’ political involvement, then we expect to have deep disagreements and strong objections with her interpretation of the facts and their sourcing.

Of the many false and inaccurate claims that have leaked out so far, the implication that Fred sympathized with one of the most tyrannical regimes in history is reprehensible and represents the lowest form of journalism. Ever since the New York Times reported on this allegation, we have conducted an extensive archival search to collect the facts and share them with you. We firmly believe that you deserve to know the truth about the history of the company you represent.

Between 1928 and 1934, Winkler-Koch Engineering handled more than 500 projects. Of these, 39 involved signed contracts to build cracking units. One of those units was included in a refinery in the port area of Hamburg, Germany, built for Foreign Oil Co. of Boston. During this period, Winkler-Koch worked on hundreds of other international projects, including work in England, Scotland, France, Canada, Romania, the Soviet Union, Persia and India. Winkler-Koch also worked on similar projects throughout the United States, including in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Wyoming, Illinois and Ohio.

Winkler-Koch’s contract with Foreign Oil was signed on Sept. 8, 1933, and the refinery became operational March 23, 1935. That signing was nearly six years before Germany invaded Poland. Meanwhile during that same period, many iconic U.S. companies were doing business in Germany, including Coca-Cola, General Motors, Ford and IBM. While this was Winkler-Koch’s one and only project in Germany, some of those companies continued to do business in Germany throughout World War II.

Simply put, this cracking unit was just one element in the composition of a single refinery. To state that Fred Koch was “hired to build the third-largest refinery in the Third Reich, a critical industrial cog in Hitler’s war machine” is an outrageous assertion. To cherry-pick one project among hundreds during this time frame and then use it out of context in order to further an agenda-driven storyline is grossly inaccurate.

It is a sad commentary on today’s political and media environment that we even have to address such a false and horrific charge. Many of the other claims made about the Koch family are even more preposterous. Suffice it to say, Fred Koch opposed all forms of tyranny. He was a great man who built a great company. Under the leadership of his son Charles, we are proud to continue his legacy.

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