A New York public television outlet, WNET, went to great lengths to placate conservative industrialist David Koch as PBS aired an Alex Gibney documentary on income inequality that focused on the conservative billionaire.
May 20, 2013

What does $23 million in donations to public television get you? A lot more than a tote bag, according to The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. A New York public television outlet, WNET, went to great lengths to placate conservative industrialist David Koch as PBS aired an Alex Gibney documentary on income inequality that focused on the conservative billionaire. The president of WNET called Koch and offered to let him film a roundtable discussion that would air after the documentary, among other conciliatory gestures. The controversy reportedly also prompted PBS to back off another Koch-focused documentary in the pipeline. All the placation didn’t work: Koch resigned from his position on WNET’s board and reportedly canceled a large donation. Also, according to Koch’s doorman, Koch’s philanthropy doesn’t extend to tips. “We would never get a smile from Mr. Koch,” he says in the Gibney film. “Fifty-dollar check for Christmas, too—yeah, I mean, a check! At least you could give us cash.”

Jane Mayer:

Shortly before “Park Avenue” aired, Melissa Cohlmia, the chief spokesperson for Koch Industries, sent WNET a two-paragraph statement criticizing the film as “disappointing and divisive.” Cohlmia acknowledges, however, that neither she nor Koch had watched it. WNET aired the statement, unedited, immediately after the film. Cohlmia said that she based the critique on the trailer.

The weekend before “Park Avenue” aired, Gibney said, it was clear that “something weird had happened.” Shapiro called him at home. “He was very upset,” Gibney said. “They were thinking of pulling the program.” Gibney was told that the most pressing problem was Charles Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York. Schumer’s staff had called WNET, arguing that “Park Avenue” falsely accused the Senator of supporting tax loopholes for hedge-fund managers. Gibney double-checked his research and stood by his interpretation. Nevertheless, Shapiro told him that he planned to allow Schumer to add a response after the broadcast. But, Gibney noted, “Shapiro told me nothing about the Kochs.”

Gibney gives credit to Shapiro and WNET for airing his film uncensored. He is disappointed, though, that the station gave Koch and Schumer the last word. “They tried to undercut the credibility of the film, and I had no opportunity to defend it,” he said. Moreover, WNET replaced the introduction to “Park Avenue,” which was delivered by the actor Stanley Tucci, with one calling the film “controversial” and “provocative.” Gibney noted that he had asked to interview the Kochs while making “Park Avenue,” but they had refused. Cohlmia initially denied this, but after Gibney’s office provided me with the relevant e-mails she acknowledged that she had been contacted.

Shapiro emphasized that, by showing the Gibney film, he had made “the right call.” Still, spokespeople at WNET and PBS conceded that the decision to run the rebuttals was unprecedented. Indeed, it was like appending Letters to the Editor to a front-page article. Gibney asked me, “Why is WNET offering Mr. Koch special favors? And why did the station allow Koch to offer a critique of a film he hadn’t even seen? Money. Money talks.” He added that the Kochs’ willingness to issue a disclaimer without seeing the film “does not give me much confidence about how they might run the Tribune’s newspapers.”

Hilariously, the Koch brothers were apparently so distressed over Mayer's impending article that they prebutted the piece on the Koch industries' website:

Jane Mayer’s Agenda

As campaigns and attacks against Koch Industries and its shareholders go, the one led by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has been consistent, if nothing else – consistent in its left-leaning bias, baseless accusations, and numerous inaccuracies.

Since lobbing her opening salvo against us in an August 2010 article that was riddled with biases and inaccuracies and based on research by a ThinkProgress blogger, Mayer has authored nearly a dozen screeds attacking Koch Industries, Charles Koch and David Koch. Her latest submission, soon to be published, will be another attempt to smear us while advancing her partisan agenda. We don’t precisely know the content of her story. However, based on her questions to us, we believe it will be an attempt to promote a fleeting PBS show that aired six months ago – one on which she collaborated and in which she appeared. The show attacked David Koch and Charles Koch, with Mayer making an appearance as an interviewee.

We also believe Mayer will work hard to make the case that should Koch purchase the Tribune newspapers, as is rumored, we would use those papers to advance a particular agenda. This assertion, of course, is made with no basis in fact or history to support such a claim.

Mayer’s tale about us will likely be promoted in all the usual places – MSNBC, ThinkProgress, The New York Times, NPR, The Nation, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and more.

Once we see it, we will fact check it and set the record straight here on

Reading the prebuttal on "Koch Facts" does not give me much confidence about how the Koch's might run the Tribune’s newspapers. The "facts" to back up their claims of bias and inaccuracies link back to previous "Koch Facts" screeds.

And yes, David Koch took his planned donation for PBS and went home with it.

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