That's Rich, Frank


The New York Times' former theater critic gives a hi-five to Jane Mayer's flawed New Yorker hit piece on ObamaNation's enemy numero uno: The libertarian brothers Koch. Excerpt:

The New Yorker article stirred up the right, too. Some of Mayer's blogging detractors unwittingly upheld the premise of her article (titled "Covert Operations") by conceding that they have been Koch grantees. […]

As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries' vast fossil fuel business.

If there's any unwittinglyness here, it's how this little Rich snippet illustrates the flaws in Mayer's premise and execution.

First, note that Rich's link there is to this Nick Gillespie blog post. Which did not "concede" Reason's Koch association, it did what we do every time Koch is mentioned in a Reason-branded publication: Disclose it. Like you do, in journalism. Why, here we are conceding the nefarious connection to David Koch on our not-hard-to-find online list of Reason Foundation trustees!

Second, now that Frank Rich has dragged us into this, and brought up the word "premise," let me ask a question. Why d'ya suppose Reason emerged untainted from Mayer's 10,000-word exercise in guilt by association? While I can't possibly know, I can certainly possibly guess, so here goes: That whole self-interested "climate-science denial" premise, buttressed by anonymous quotes about how the intellectual product of Koch-recpient outlets "all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders," well, it has a certain Ron Bailey problem. Which is, when a small magazine's science correspondent announces that "we're all global warmers now," it kinda takes takes the fun out of pretending that an evil polluter is using a whip made of million-dollar bills to produce climate-science orthodoxy.

Most dreamy ideas have a tendency to break down at the level of lived experience. The first I ever heard of the Kochs was a good while after I'd started contributing to Reason, and the person who clued me in worked for The American Prospect; my unsound political ideas were pretty well cooked by then. The notion that a single family's narrow self-interests would even be attractive to that many people, let alone strong enough to bend the will of ostensibly independent-minded academics and journalists, strikes me as more than a bit bizarre.

Here is the basic and apparently horrifying fact: There are millions of people, including me, including the Kochs, including people who have never heard of the Koch family, who feel some basic bedrock affinity for the notion that that government is best which governs least. There are a thousand disagreements about the details, but that American tradition is real, and sporadically potent. As it gathers strength in advance of November (and hopefully long beyond), it will be interesting–and so, so pleasurable–to watch people continue criticizing what they can't understand.