Koch Brothers: Out Now!

Koch Brothers Buying TimesThursday, a hundred or so veteran agitators gathered in Will Rogers Park on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills to protest the conjectured sale of the Los Angeles Times to Charles and David Koch, plutocrat owners of the $115-billion-annual-revenue Koch Industries, who have expressed interest in using the paper to spread their drown-government-in-the-bathtub invective.

Organized principally by environmental advocate Lauren Steiner, the motley crew of long-time activists, union organizers, and regular Janes and Joes nodded along to speeches by Steiner, Common Cause executive director Kathay Feng, Code Pink’s Jodie Evans, and Rabbi Jonathan Klein, before parading along Benedict Canyon Road toward the home of Bruce Karsh.

Koch Brothers Buying Times

Lauren Steiner

Owner of a significant chunk of the Tribune Company, Karsh’s Oaktree Capital Management investment firm reportedly is entertaining offers from the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and a consortium of Los Angeles investors for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other Tribune Co. media outlets—eight altogether—around the country.

On a corner down the street from Karsh’s home, surrounded by walled and gated mansions that each could have hosted the entire protest, the upbeat crowd waved signs, displayed banners, chanted slogans, exchanged pleasantries, and generally had a splendid time on a glorious Southern California evening.

Koch Brothers Buying Times“Bruce Karsh, this is no joke! The Times won’t go better with Koch!” the demonstrators chanted as Somebody Famous passed by in a convertible Bentley, smiling and deigning to nod.

Other well-heeled drivers honked and waved as they passed the well-mannered crowd, gently tended by a polite cadre of Beverly Hills mountain bike-mounted police officers.

Pervasive in the speeches and private conversations was the concern that a sale to these libertarian brothers would debase a cornerstone of democracy in Los Angeles, slanting LA Times news coverage to advance the Koch Brothers’ right-wing agenda, as they have indicated is their intent in considering media purchases.

Koch Brothers Buying Times

Code Pink’s Jodie Evans

Without doubt, the threat the Koch brothers pose is real, as Matt Tiabbi has pointed out:

They were primary financial backers of Scott Walker’s anti-union movement in Wisconsin, where the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity group engaged in massive ad buys and signature-collecting campaigns to back Walker’s play to crush collective bargaining rights for public workers. Through direct donations and support of groups like the conservative state policy group ALEC, the Kochs have taken aim at public unions, public union lobbying and public pensions in multiple states across the country, among other things spending $4 million in California to support Prop 32, a state ballot measure restricting union political activity.

Yet, as salubrious as it was to enjoy the sunshine and the exercise, you might wonder how much effect this heartening effort could have and if it had even picked the right target.

What Difference Will It Make?

Koch Brothers Buying TimesAs a practical matter, one hundred well-practiced protesters parading up the manicured streets of Beverly Hills in orderly columns may not have much effect on any proposed sale of the Los Angeles Times, nor certainly on the two Koch brothers, whose wealth reportedly doubled to a combined $68 billion since 2010, at a time when so many Americans were getting tossed out of their jobs and losing their homes to the Great Recession.

Imagine you’re Charles or David Koch, climbing out of bed in the morning—the plushest bed imaginable in absolutely any corner of the globe that you choose to spend the night—and you’re confronted with the problem of how to spend your day.

Sitting on that mountain of lucre, you know you could do anything your health and sanity would allow.

Koch Brothers Buying Times

Common Cause’s Kathay Feng

Absolutely anything.

  • How about this? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently estimated that it would cost $20 billion to end homelessness in America—not nurse it along year after year as we’ve learned to do so well here in Los Angeles, but end it for good. Not that the Koch brothers are likely to move in that direction, but if they did, they would still have $44 billion left over, plenty enough for greens fees and mink coats for their lady friends.
  • Or, if you have a martial turn of mind, you could stretch your budget a bit to build three 1,100-foot-long Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers, retailing for an estimated $22 billion each. (Buying three, you’ll likely get a knockoff to squeeze the trio into that $64 billion budget.)
  • Like sports more? Even though most National Football League teams are now worth over $1 billion each, you could easily fit all 28 teams into that $64 billion, with plenty left over to buy all 30 Major League Baseball teams and restore California’s public higher education to the world-class levels it once enjoyed.
  • Koch Brothers Buying TimesNot your cup of tea? It’s alleged that the most expensive call girl in the world runs $50,000 a night—well, probably not “runs.” By a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, that means you could sleep with her 1,280,000 times, poor girl.

So, you’re sitting there on the edge of that plush bed, sipping a cold glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice as the breeze from some ocean or sea or mountain vale washes over you, and you hear that a bunch of long-in-the-tooth hippies out in the land of fruits and nuts wants to stop you from buying a newspaper you never read anyway.

Koch Brothers Buying TimesNot on your watch, right?

So, just for spite, you have one of your minions get the estimated $623 million it would cost to buy The Times out of the petty cash drawer—with all the depth of financial concern most of us might put into purchasing a new pitching wedge—and waltz it over to the people who took the bankrupted Tribune Company off Sam Zell’s hands this past winter.

So there! Take that, you hippie pond scum!

Are Newspapers Dead Men Walking Anyway?

koch brothers protest

Rabbi Jonathan Klein

The greater concern might be that legacy print newspapers may be on their last legs, no matter who owns them, and their steady evisceration and ultimate demise will put a huge hole in our democracy.

  • Big-money efforts to replace newspapers such as AOL’s The Patch are losing money hand over fist—$150 million a year in The Patch’s case.
  • The Los Angeles Times itself has shed more than a third of its editorial staff since 2007, along with all its freelance reviewers and columnists.

koch brothers protestAt a time when a Los Angeles mayoral contest motivates only 20 percent of the Angeleno voting public to get off its duff and vote, democracy may be wobbling, no matter whether the Koch Brothers own the city’s one big daily newspaper, or Rupert Murdoch, or Eli Broad, or anyone else with so much money they can do anything they want.

Sure, we’re all hoping that online media will rush in to fill the void. But even as venerable local online efforts—veteran LA Times reporters Zuade Kaufmann and Robert Sheer’s Truthdig, LAANE’s The Frying Pan, LA CityWatch, and even LA Progressive—put out a certain kind of worthy coverage, you have to wonder what kind of media enterprise, if not the city’s paper of record, will be able to afford to put a reporter into City Hall day in and day out, several more on the beat to monitor the police department, a couple others watching the schools, dozens and dozens—a battalion in all—of trained, professional day-job journalists keeping us on the straight and narrow.

Maybe that’s where our energy needs to go, not in worrying about what a couple of Kansas oil and manufacturing tycoons want to do with their plentitude, but figuring out how to create a media that serves everyday citizens, not just the well-clovered elite.

dick priceWhich ultimately was the value of the little gathering in the park, the march up the tree-lined street, the banner waving, the high-fiving, the chest bumps, the slogan chanting. If, in this time of transition on so many fronts, we’re going to need to get good at organizing for ourselves, we’re going to have to work at it. Getting good takes practice, and that’s what Thursday was—good practice.

Dick Price, Editor
LA Progressive

Saturday, 26 May 2013

Photographs: Mike Chickey


  1. blacktygrrrr says

    The Koch Brothers earned their money legally, unlike George Soros, who is a convicted felon.

    Soros bought and owns the Democratic Party, and funds many leftist groups in America. The notion that the Koch Brothers are being attacked for being wealthy is liberal hypocrisy.

    Liberals should just be honest. You hate conservatives for existing and breathing air. You do not want us participating in the political process. Your IRS harasses us and the President treats Fox News reporters as enemy combatants.

    Simply put, you live in a black and white world where you are noble and virtuous, conservatives are evil, and shades of gray do not exist. You are like Palestinian suicide bombers, only less tolerant of opposing views. You cannot accept the right of conservatives to exist.

    I cannot imagine what it must be like waking up every day and despising people just for disagreeing with me. Then again, I am not a liberal so that will never make sense to me.

    eric aka the Tygrrrr Express

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    As Dick suggests, the real challenge is how to create – and sufficiently support – the local and regional on-line media needed by everyday citizens. We’re nowhere near there but there’s hope. Here in Long Beach for over 12 amazing years we’ve had LBReport;com – thanks to the dedication of a veteran journalist Bill Pearl. Truly independent journalism. It doesn’t have the bucks or staff to monitor everything, but it gives by far the best and most dogged coverage of our moribund and well-beyond-merely-corrupt city council and city hall. LBReport.com relies on public-spirited locals – small biz and individuals – for ad revenue and voluntary subscription revenue (not yet anywhere near adequate) and on alert readers for hot news tips and on-the-scene experiential photos and reports.

  3. brasch says

    Good article, with some excellent facts about the Koch Bros.’ wealth. I had seen the LAT go from weak (and overwhelmingly white male newsroom) to great and then into decline. Most of the time historically, it was conservative, and we put up with it because we knew it had good reporters and columnists. But, compared to the Koch Bros., the Times; family dynasty are ranting liberals. It’s good L.A. Progressive exists. It’d be better if the L.A. Times would return to the days when reporters were valued–and the workload allowed each reporter time to develop a story.

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