Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Private Editor: The World According to the NYT No. 2: The Secretive Koch Brothers

The New York Times employs a public editor to police its articles. I have found this self policing (usually on Sundays) by two different public editors lacking to say the least. I have therefore appointed myself to the post of “private editor,” to comment on pieces that I find slanted or biased. This is my second report.

In today’s NYT, page-one readers are directed to the page A17 article: “Billionaire Backers” about the brothers, Charles and David Koch, who are described as “leading the fight against unions,” who, according to a Democrat representative, are “proof of the expanding role played by nonprofit groups with murky ties to wealthy corporate executives as they push a decidedly conservative agenda.”

The article points out that the Koch brothers and their employees contributed $2 million in the last election cycle and that their Americans for Prosperity, with 70,000 donors, has a budget of $40 million.

The account quotes the “well-funded” Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, that the cuts “represent the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits,” but goes on to add that he did not mention that his non-profit group “was created and financed in part by the secretive Koch brothers.”

The article quotes the president of Common Cause: “It is not that these folks don’t have a right to participate in politics. But they are moving democracy into the control of more wealthy corporate hands.” Phillips rejoinder is found near the end: “For the last two decades, government unions have used their power to drive pensions and benefits and salaries well beyond anything that can be sustained. We are just trying to change that.”

My objections to the article:

First, the Americans for Prosperity speak quite openly about their goals and activities in Wisconsin, contrary to the article’s subliminal message imparted by the adjectives “secretive” and “murky.” There is a clear statement that the Koch brothers have no direct financial interest in the outcome.

Second, the political contributions of the Koch brothers and employees ($2 million) and of the Americans for Prosperity (a $40 million budget) are thrown out as exceptionally large numbers without a frame of reference (The AFSCME made political contributions of $20 million, and organized labor combined contributed $400 million).

Third, only in the last lines are readers told begrudgingly by the authors: “Just as unions organize to fight for their priorities, conservatives are entitled to a voice of their own.”

The media slant in this article is quite subtle. It imparts the message that sinister billionaires are calling the shots behind the scenes with political contributions that overwhelm good people who stand on the side of what is right.

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