Let’s hope the Koch brothers don’t buy media

Updated: 2013-05-11T23:01:00Z


Special to The Star

Not since William Randolph Hearst, who ultimately controlled 30 daily newspapers throughout America, have we been faced with the possibility of a monolithic newspaper ownership that could heavily influence the nation’s politics.

It is a core conservative value to be wary of concentrated power that can lead to tyranny.

The wealthy Koch brothers of Wichita could become their own reincarnation of Hearst, perhaps even more so.

Hearst confined his influence to his newspapers. The Koch brothers are already political machines, including domination of multimedia and direct mail, and now may wish to add newspapers of considerable circulation and influence to their arsenal. Who knows how far they could extend their political influence with those tools at their disposal?

Consider what they have already accomplished without newspaper ownership, through their organization, Americans for Prosperity.

In Kansas, the Kochs heavily influence or control the governor, the Legislature, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and now possibly the Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court may be next.

In nearby Arkansas, Americans for Prosperity in the most recent election funneled an estimated $1 million in mailers to attempt to convert the legislature from Democratic to Republican, for the first time since Reconstruction. They were successful. The legislature is now Republican after nearly 150 years. That ultimately may be a good thing, but it further illustrates how powerful the Kochs can be.

In the last election, it is estimated the Kochs spent $100 million on local races and issues in 35 states.

What could the Kochs accomplish if they also controlled the news and editorial voices of newspapers throughout America?

The Kochs already fund the libertarian Cato Institute, a think tank. And they have been big supporters behind the scenes of the tea party movement. Their fingerprints are everywhere.

But, alas, the Kochs did not win every campaign in the last election where they were involved. Even with all their money, they lost important seats, as well as the presidency. Part of their problem is the clutter of political advertising that overwhelms voters.

Newspapers, in contrast, offer a unique way to reach voters’ hearts and minds, separate from the barrage of advertisements. By the acquisition of major newspapers, the Koch brothers could purchase the forum for opinion that influences millions of voters.

The New York Times recently has speculated that the Koch brothers are very likely to make a bid for the Tribune Co., which just came out of bankruptcy. The Tribune Co. owns eight newspapers, including such influential vehicles as The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

The eight papers are valued at approximately $623 million, which is a drop in the bucket for the Koch brothers. The combined net worth of David and Charles Koch is estimated to be $68 billion.

As The New York Times reported, three years ago the libertarian Koch brothers held a seminar in Aspen, Colo.

“They laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes,” reported The Times. “The first two pieces of the strategy — educating the grassroots activists and influencing politics were not surprising. But the third one was, and that was… media.”

What this would mean to America is that a personal ownership with a passionate libertarian agenda would be able to dominate political outcomes with an avalanche of money and, simultaneously, a coordinated viewpoint expressed through the pages of major daily newspapers. It would be just as dangerous as George Soros, a devout liberal, buying those same newspapers and running multimedia campaigns at the same time.

Libertarians believe in almost no government, whatsoever, far to the right of most conservative Republicans.

However, conservatives might rejoice at such a prospect, particularly those who believe newspapers and other media are controlled by liberals, which many are. But even they should be wary about two phenomenally wealthy brothers with total control over many of the major newspapers in this country, plus all the other media available. The principle of checks and balances is a bedrock conservative value, isn’t it?

Socially conservative Republicans who are rooting for the Kochs should also note that libertarians are socially liberal, in favor of abortion and gay marriage rights, in keeping with their defense of individual liberties. David Koch ran as the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1980. So, conservatives may want to think twice before signing up with the Koch brothers.

But the Kochs — whose spokesperson will neither confirm nor deny their interest in buying newspapers — may seek to surround voters by continuing to financially support grassroots efforts, purchase radio and television spots, send out saturation mailers, and add to that the big prize — the acquisition of newspaper ownership.

Whether you are conservative or liberal, the prospect of having that much power concentrated in so few hands should be plenty scary.

To reach Steve Rose, send email to

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