Billionaire Koch brothers use Web to take on media reports they dispute
By Paul FarhiWhen environmental journalist David Sassoon began reporting about the billionaire Koch brothers’ interests in the Canadian oil industry last year, he sought information from their privately held conglomerate, Koch Industries. The brothers, who have gained prominence in recent years as supporters of and donors to conservative causes and candidates, weren’t playing. Despite Sassoon’s repeated requests, Koch Industries declined to respond to him or his news site, InsideClimate News.
But Sassoon, who also serves as publisher of the Pulitzer Prize-winning site, heard from the Kochs after his story was posted.
In a rebuttal posted on its Web site, KochFacts.com, the company asserted that Sassoon’s story “deceives readers” by suggesting that Koch Industries stood to benefit from construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — a denial Sassoon included in his story. KochFacts went on to dismiss Sassoon as a “professional eco-activist” and an “agenda-driven activist.”
It didn’t stop there. The company took out ads on Facebook and via Google featuring a photo of Sassoon with the headline, “David Sassoon’s Deceptions.” The ad’s copy read, “Activist/owner of InsideClimate News misleads readers and asserts outright falsehoods about Koch. Get the full facts on KochFacts.com.”
Such aggressive tactics have become part of the playbook for Koch Industries and its owners, Charles and David Koch. Faced with news articles they consider flawed or biased, the brothers and their lieutenants don’t just send strongly worded letters to the editor in protest. Instead, the company takes the offensive, with detailed responses that oscillate between correcting, shaming and slamming journalists who’ve written unflattering stories about the company or the Kochs’ myriad political and philanthropic activities.“We have been the target of attempts to misrepresent the Koch name, as well as to demonize us and what we do,” says Robert Tappan, Koch Industries’ spokesman in Washington.
Unlike most companies, which tend to work out their differences with reporters behind the scenes, Koch (pronounced “coke”) often takes its feuds public, using KochFacts as its spearhead.Journalists who’ve run afoul of the Kochs will often see their personal e-mail exchanges with company executives posted, on the Koch Web site — sometimes to the reporters’ shock. KochFacts also posts lengthy, point-by-point critiques of news stories and calls out reporters for alleged factual errors and biases. A typical KochFacts headline from May: “New Yorker’s Jane Mayer Distorts the Facts and Misleads Readers Again.”
The rapid-response effort is relatively new for the Kochs, who control one of the largest privately held companies in the world. The brothers kept a relatively low profile before 2009, appearing mostly in news articles about the world’s richest people. But as stories began to emerge about the Kochs’ political activities, including their funding of libertarian groups and conservative candidates opposed to President Obama, the company decided to take the initiative. It started a forerunner of the KochFacts Web site in 2010, expanding it to its present form the next year. Read the rest of the story in the Washington Post.