How the Koch Brothers Infiltrated Wisconsin's Media

Jul 11 2012 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

Wondering what happened in the Wisconsin recall? I was too. But I never guessed that the Koch brothers and their corporate allies had infiltrated the local papers with “news” stories that came from a source funded by the usual suspects. Turns out, Wisconsin really is bought and paid for, but they’re far from alone. The conservative Franklin Center claims to represent 10% of the news coverage in America.

Allegedly due to layoffs in print and TV coverage of state capitals, Media Matters reports that a conservative-funded, Tea Party-leaning affiliate staffed with Koch brother affiliates known as the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has been supplying local papers and TV news with their free coverage of the state houses.

Established in 2009, the Franklin Center says it exists because “Cash-strapped and under-staffed, local and regional newspapers often can’t provide the real information that voters need to make good decisions.”

Media Matters cites disclosure forms showing that, for example, “the Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, one of the largest and most influential conservative foundations, awarded the Franklin Center two grants in 2010 worth $190,500, both earmarked for ‘state-based reporting efforts in Wisconsin'”.

The Wall Street Journal and local papers used the Franklin Center in the lead up to the Walker recall, including an article demonizing unions, describing them as “insulated from voter concerns” and “increasingly militant” while another Franklin piece stirred up the utterly false accusation of Democrats getting dead people to vote.

Media Matters reports:

But Greenhut has shown his own partisanship, most recently during the bitter and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, which was heavily covered by the Franklin-linked WisconsinReporter.com.

In a column at Reason Magazine published June 1, and promoted in a Franklin Center E-Newsletter on the day of the June 5 recall vote, Greenhut openly supported Walker. In the column, he wrote: “Democrats will surely resurrect dead voters in Milwaukee, so I’m hoping that Walker’s margin of victory–polls show his lead at 5 to 7 points – is strong enough to exceed the expected margin of voter fraud.”

A June 15, 2012, Greenhut column about union efforts posted at WSJ.com also slammed unions, describing them as “insulated from voter concerns” and “increasingly militant.”

These positions are not anomalous. Greenhut is listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank which has received significant funding from foundations headed by David and Charles Koch.

Wisconsin is just one of the many states using the multi-million dollar funded Franklin Center.

An ideological slant should have no bearing on the actual facts presented. In fact, if you’re really interested in getting to the truth of the matter, you need to look at facts from a variety of sources. To this end, I often cite conservative sources like the National Journal or the Wall Street Journal or the Wisconsin State Journal. There has been, until today, the notion that while you might be getting a conservative slant, the articles are factual and not driven by an ideological cause or funded by the Koch brothers (even the Wall Street Journal, owned by Murdoch, has mostly maintained its reputation, until now).

It’s one thing to have an ideological bent; it’s another to be a cause in disguise or even worse, to be funded by a powerful alliance of corporations while presenting one self as unbiased news. In effect, what the Franklin Center is, is one giant ad for corporations’ talking points, but presented as news. This is known as propaganda in the worse sense.

If you thought Fox News was troubling, the Franklin Center’s hidden infiltration of our daily news with their ideological agenda is much worse.

We can’t say with any certainty how such reporting impacted the recall election in Wisconsin, but with many union households voting for Walker, the Franklin Center’s demonizing of unions may have been a factor. Voters dislike extremes, and with unions painted as “militant”, it’s fair to ask the question – why did the Journal run with a known Koch funded organization’s “news” stories?

However, we can no longer presume that what we read in previously esteemed papers or watch on the nightly local news is untainted by the corporate agenda of the Franklin Center’s backers. This has tremendously troubling implications for the integrity of the fourth estate, and therefor for our freedom and liberty.

There is no excuse for running a corporate funded article as news, and no excuse for not disclosing it as such if the editor chooses to run it. Some of the editors who run Franklin Center’s “news” articles say they are forced to scrutinize them closely. Others appear to be so eager for the free content that they don’t care. It simply doesn’t pay to be ethical and qualified these days.

But no matter how carefully they scrutinize the articles for bias, these articles are funded by corporations and have an activist agenda to sell corporate friendly ideas like the notions that unions in Wisconsin were being “militant” when in point of fact, the public sector unions made concessions of their own volition prior to Walker demonizing them and killing collective bargaining. It is, quite simply, untrue and inaccurate to claim that the Wisconsin unions were being militant. During the year of protests, consisting of many more people than just union members, it was Walker’s orders to the Fitzgerald family controlled state patrol who behaved militantly, attempting to arrest Democrats, locking Democrats out of the Capital during a vote, and more.

The Franklin Center’s phony news organization would be akin to having a far left liberal organization funded by (well, this is the problem, corporations don’t benefit from the liberal agenda, hence, the lack of funding by corporations for liberal news) a huge organization that benefited from the liberal position, writing free “news” stories for esteemed and reputable local papers around the country without disclosure. Liberals can’t do this (shouldn’t do it anyway), because corporations in general don’t stand to gain anything by jumping on the liberal bandwagon. Why would they want to fund “news” stories whose bent do not benefit them policy wise?

The fact that this “news” is paid for by an organization with a clear political bent and funded by folks who are spending millions precisely to impact the Wisconsin news (aka, to destroy the value of a vote) should be enough to discredit it. But the failure to disclose the origins of these articles is even worse.

The Franklin Center claims its ability to push a narrative in a fundraising email, “When you give to the Franklin Center, you have an immediate impact on the power of our reporting. Legacy news outlets regularly pick up our stories, driving them far beyond the typical audience for online news.”

Sure, those corporations are entitled to their “free speech” according to the Supreme Court, but the American public is entitled to know where that “news” is coming from and who is paying for it. This is yet another example of how corporations want their version of free speech, without paying the consequences of having their positions attached to them. They want dark speech. Hidden speech. And now they are actively engaging in propaganda that impacts one of our sacred freedoms — the fourth estate, the freedom of our press.

It used to be a problem when corporations would impact news reporting through their ad buys. If they didn’t like a story, they’d threaten to drop their ad campaign. Then news entered into the profit arena with 24/7 infotainment, put on by a corporate entity looking to make a profit. Gone were the days of news being a loss leader. Not only does news not sell and facts bore, but large corporate entities have policy agendas, so that was never the best plan for a fourth estate. But now, corporations fund conservative activists to write their own corporate agenda “news” coverage of state legislatures and get it published in reputable papers, under the cloak of darkness.

So much for the “liberal media”. That mask of projection has been officially removed today.

Read the full report at Media Matters, but you’ve been warned – it’s deeply disturbing.

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