Koch Industries has posted a response to Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece alleging that billionaires Charles and David Koch are waging a clandestine "war against Obama" based on fake science, bullshit public policy work, and other "covert operations" (the actual title of The New Yorker piece). As others have noted, the story is a masterpiece not of the tightly researched and argued journalism for which The New Yorker is revered, but of sly innuendo and revelations as lame as they are breathless. To give a taste of the piece, check this out:
[A] Republican campaign consultant said of the family's political activities, "To call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground!" Another former Koch adviser said, "They're smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves." Rob Stein, a Democratic political strategist who has studied the conservative movement's finances, said that the Kochs are "at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it's not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism."
Exactly how are the Koch brothers under the radar or underground? They show up every year in the Forbes super-rich lists. Charles Koch wrote a best-selling business book a year or two ago and makes no secret of his belief in free markets and limited government. David Koch ran for vice president of these United States on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 (where he helped Ed Clark pull over 900,000 votes, by far the highest total gained by the LP). Both are known for a wide range of philanthropic giving, whether to arts and medical outfits or think tanks or political action groups.
Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week. While I have never had more than brief interaction with either brother, I am perhaps overdue in thanking them on this blog for supporting my career at Reason, where I have argued in favor of gay marriage, drug legalization, non-interventionist foreign policy, open borders, sales in human organs, an end to corporate welfare, and a wide variety of other shamelessly libertarian policies.
While the Kochs are not publicity hounds, they certainly don't hide their giving or their political agenda under a bushel basket. They are consistently in favor of smaller government (even if Koch Industries gave 15 percent of its political donations to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle). They may in fact be "out to destroy progessivism" but they are hardly using secret means to combat the growth and reach of government. You can argue whether The New Yorker story is "shameful," but there's no question that it is a great example of the demonization of opposing points of view (this happens on the right, too, where way too many liberals are labeled socialists or communists or whatever). It's not enough that opponents believe different things, they must be cast as underhanded and duplicitous, acting out of only the most vulgar or awful of motives. Mayer could have easily written a story that left out the psycho-biographic innuendo (the Kochs' father was a Bircher!), unnamed sources, and half-truths such as this:
The Mercatus Center [a think tank affiliated with George Mason University founded by the Kochs] released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama's program "a slush fund," and Fox News and other conservative outlets had echoed the sentiment.
The author of that study was Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy, whose research found that congressional districts represented by Democrats received significantly more stimulus money than those controlled by Republicans (she relied on government data from the Treasury Department). Her original study was critiqued by stats maven Nate Silver (now at The New York Times), who thought that controlling for state capitals would explain the seeming differential. De Rugy in fact did another analysis and found that "Democratic districts…received 2.65 times the amount of stimulus dollars that Republican districts received ($122 billion vs. $46 billion)." That's some correction.
A New Yorker story short on conspiracist boilerplate and long on actual reporting (how, one wonders, does Koch Industries' supposedly horrible regulatory record stack up against other relevant firms'?) might have been interesting and illuminating. But that'll have to wait for a different time.