Time Isn’t the Koch Brothers’ First Foray Into Journalism Business

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David Koch in New York City in October, 2015. Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images.

By Naomi LaChance

The conservative mega-donor Koch brothers backed Meredith Corporation’s bid to purchase Time Inc. for $2.8 billion. This is not the Koch brothers’ first time becoming involved in journalism, though.

Koch Equity Development (KED), Koch Industries’ investment arm, has promised $650 million in the Time purchase, which includes Time magazine, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated.

David Koch, who is also a philanthropist, became a board trustee of WGBH, Boston’s PBS member station, in 1997. In 2006, he became a board trustee at WNET, New York’s public-television station. He resigned from his position at WNET in 2013.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in 2013 that Park Avenue, a film scheduled to appear on PBS that discusses the Koch brothers, was subject to their editorial scrutiny. Neal Shapiro, the president of WNET, discussed the video with David Koch before it aired.

“They tried to undercut the credibility of the film, and I had no opportunity to defend it,” the filmmaker, Alex Gibney, said.

Noting that Koch had given about $23 million to public television, PBS’s ombudsman Michael Getler wrote: “Self-censorship is frequently impossible to prove because it suggests you know what is going on inside a person’s head. But the unspoken influence of money—especially big money—can be thought-provoking inside organizations, especially public ones that are always scrounging and live within a unique and uncertain fund-raising environment.”

In 2014, activists called on Koch to resign from WGBH. “PBS and WGBH are beloved and trusted institutions, representing the best of American media,” Daniel Kessler of Forecast the Facts, a California organization focusing on accuracy on climate change, told Current. “Someone who actively funds misinformation is an odd choice for the station’s board of trustees.”

Koch Industries is also a sponsor of Marketplace, American Public Media’s economics program. They provide funding for NPR, as well. In response to their funding of NOVA, PBS’ science program, viewers have expressed concern that this would lead the program to “whitewash” coverage of climate change.

Reason Foundation, the libertarian organization that publishes Reason magazine, received major funding from David Koch’s charitable foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. The Charles Koch Institute supports the organizations that own conservative news sites The Blaze, the Daily Caller, and the American Spectator, as well as news site RealClearPolitics. The Charles Koch Foundation has given to the Daily Caller News Foundation as well.

In 2013, Koch Industries explored purchasing the eight newspapers at the Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times.

“KED will not have a seat on the Meredith Board and will have no influence on Meredith’s editorial or managerial operations,” the Meredith Corporation said in a press release. Some find reason to worry, particularly as Meredith looks at reducing costs at Time.

“It’s a very proper business decision—a cheap way to wield even more political influence,” Bill McKibben, an environmental activist, told the Guardian. “The return on investment on their political work is off the charts, I fear.”

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