The Scrapbook takes no official position on whether the Koch brothers should buy the newspapers owned by the Tribune Company. It’s an open question whether the Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and a half-dozen other papers are national treasures which must be saved from mismanagement and bankruptcy. And of course, the Koch brothers are free to spend their money as they wish.
We must confess, however, that we are pushed a few meters in their direction when we see stories such as the front-page hit piece in the Washington Post’s Style section the other day: Written by Paul Farhi, and entitled “Full-Court Press,” its subhed summarized the message reasonably well: “The billionaire Koch brothers air their feuds with the media in public—even as their conglomerate weighs whether to buy newspapers.”
It turns out that whenever the Koch brothers are attacked in print—as they were in the Post story, and as they have been routinely reviled since they first emerged as conservative/libertarian philanthropists—they take the trouble to respond. They have a website where they refute distortions and misrepresentations and outright lies. They have a PR counselor in Washington who advises them when they “have been the target of attempts to misrepresent the Koch name, as well as to demonize us and what we do.” And they are not afraid to criticize polemicists who seem especially obsessed with the subject—Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, for example.
The substance of the Post story is, in effect, that because the Koch brothers are who they are, they should accept the incessantly hostile drumbeat in the press, and keep their mouths shut. Which suggests to The Scrapbook that the prospect of the Koch brothers buying those Tribune newspapers might be a salutary thing. Journalists, print and otherwise, tend to be adept at criticism of everything around them, but a little less enthusiastic about criticism of themselves. In this case, the indignation of the Post writer about the Kochs is palpable—how dare they!—and reminds The Scrapbook of the old French aphorism, ascribed to various sources: Cet animal est très méchant / quand on l’attaque il se défend (this animal is vicious; if you attack him, he will defend himself).
It also reminds us of the period, not too many years ago, when The Weekly Standard’s then-proprietor Rupert Murdoch was contemplating acquiring the Wall Street Journal. The corridors of the mainstream press erupted in unison: It would be dangerous, unlawful, suicidal, unfair, catastrophic to sell the Journal to the likes of Murdoch. Meetings were held, picketers marched, and the op-ed pages of America’s newspapers were briefly smothered in attempts to kill the sale, our favorite being the reminiscence of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about the golden age of the Wall Street Journal—which seems to have coincided with the precise decade (1976-86) during which the Journal employed David Ignatius.
Now the Koch brothers are getting the treatment—and, let us hope, with the same results.