Okay, this post is not about ABC news reporter Jonathan Karl or Benghazi. So if you want to talk about that, you should probably go elsewhere. What concerns me a lot more than the lapses of individual reporters are systemic changes in the news business that may have lasting and damaging repercussions on journalism for years, if not decades, to come.
I’m talking about you, Koch Brothers. As has been widely reported, Koch Industries, is considering a $660 million purchase of the Tribune Company’s TV stations and eight newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times. It appears that Koch may be the only bidder interested in all the media properties, a state of affairs that has alarmed progressive reform groups throughout the country.
The worry is that the Kochs have a very distinct, vocal and aggressive agenda – big on free markets, naysayers on climate change, and definitely against government intrusion into capitalism.
Certainly, these are sentiments that have been shared by many newspaper publishers over the years. But the Kochs are unique in the way they’ve advanced their views, not just the old-fashioned way through big political donations, but also through lots of financial support to think tanks that create the academic underpinnings to make the Koch ideology more respectable. Koch-infused messages challenging the validity of climate change or equating regulation with massive job loss, neither validated by evidence, seep out of these think tanks, or through so-called academic “experts” dependent on millions of dollars in Koch funding, and make it into the public sphere where they influence public policy.
The New York Times recently reported that the Kochs have a discussed their ten-year plan for moving their agenda forward, a plan that not only includes rallying grassroots support and supporting think tanks, but also influencing the media.
There are two ways a Koch purchase could be pernicious. They could actively involve themselves in news reporting side of the business, something so blatant that it likely would stir up lots of opposition and reader and even advertiser resistance. Indeed, some media commentators believe that the Kochs would gain little, and may lose money, on a deal to buy newspapers in two liberal bastions of Chicago and LA
Or it could be a lot subtler. The Kochs could buy the Tribune’s papers and broadcast stations, and assume what appears to be a hands-off approach. However, over time the Kochs could make changes in the newspaper’s upper management in ways that downgraded importance of certain reportorial functions.