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On Koch vs. journalists: he said-she said

July 16, 2013

By Dean Starkman

It’s good to know, as Paul Farhi reports, that the Koch Brothers “use Web to take on media reports they dispute.”

That corporate interests are employing aggressive public relations strategies to rebut press reports, or to try to intimidate reporters, is certainly important, though it’s not the newest development in the world. Direct, online corporate-to-public rebuttals have been around for a while, reaching, for instance, fairly heated levels a couple of years ago when General Electric Co. went to the Web, and to the mat, to dispute David Kocieniewski’s blockbuster in The New York Times that GE’s U.S. tax bill in 2010 was “none.” GE even took to fencing about it on Twitter with Henry Blodget. In the end, the aggressive strategy didn’t go well for GE, and Kocieniewski, correct in his reporting, won a Pulitzer the next year.

The Post piece describes how Koch Industries, using its Kochfacts.org site, has engaged in public and pointed disputes with high-profile journalists and outlets, including David Sassoon at InsideClimate News, the Post itself, and the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

Koch Industries, we learn, besides denouncing journalists and their work, took a complaint about Sassoon’s reporting on how the closely held company stood to benefit from the proposed the Keystone XL Pipeline to Sassoon’s customer, Reuters, the giant wire-service that distributed the news organization’s work. Reuters defended Sassoon and his organization as a legitimate news shop, and it later won a Pulitzer in 2010 for reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines.

The trouble with The Washington Post treatment of this topic, though is that the Kochs repeatedly, indeed, routinely allege that journalists mislead readers, distort facts, and commit “outright falsehoods,” which is supposed to mean actual errors of fact (“Activist/owner of InsideClimate News misleads readers and asserts outright falsehoods about Koch,” says an ad quoted by the Post. “New Yorker’s Jane Mayer Distorts the Facts and Misleads Readers Again,” says a Kochfacts blog post). But the Post piece treats the matter as though it were a tennis match, a he said/she said affair, without getting into the key question: did the outlets actually make fact errors?

None are cited. Read the rest of the story in the Columbia Journalism Review.

See Also: Billionaire Koch brothers use Web to take on media reports they dispute

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