This month being the anniversary of the odious Citizens United Supreme Court decision that unleashed unlimited money into our political system, it's worth going over author Jane Meyer's book Dark Money as a hard look at the billionaire right that has all but purchased our political system. The Koch Brothers did everything they could to stop the book coming out, and that included going after Meyer herself.
In the summer of 2010, she published a pathbreaking, in-depth piece, headlined "Covert Operations," which chronicled the rise of the Kochs' ideological network—dubbed the "Kochtopus"—and the efforts of the publicity-shy libertarian brothers to guide the burgeoning tea party toward policies that favor Koch Industries. The article depicted the Kochs as secretive bankrollers waging a war against President Barack Obama and opposing environmental safety measures. The Kochs were enraged by the story. A lawyer for their company complained; David Koch called the story "ludicrous." But the New Yorker saw no reason to correct anything. And the kerfuffle seemed to die down. Or so Mayer thought.
While reporting for her book, Mayer discovered that after her story was published, the Koch political machine assigned six or so operatives, who were working in borrowed space in the lobbying firm operated by J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman, to dig up dirt on her. She notes that a source told her, "If they couldn't find it, they'd create it." And Mayer maintains that a private investigative firm, Vigilant Resources International, was hired for this job as well. (This company was founded by Howard Safir, who had been a New York City police commissioner when Rudy Giuliani was mayor.)
Mayer writes that she was at the time unaware of this effort, but she began to spot clues. A blogger asked if she had heard the rumor that a private detective firm was on her trail. At a Christmas party, a former reporter told her that a private investigator had mentioned that some conservative billionaires were looking for dirt on a reporter who had written a story they disliked. Then, in January 2011, a New York Post reporter, Keith Kelly, contacted David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, to get a comment on "allegations" that would soon be published claiming that Mayer had borrowed heavily from other reporters. Shortly after that, as Mayer puts it in her book, Jonathan Strong, then a reporter at the conservative Daily Caller, emailed Mayer and Remnick and asked whether her work fell "within the realm of plagiarism." He sent several examples of her purported theft.
Mayer mobilized quickly. She contacted the writers whose works she had supposedly swiped—in some cases she had given credit to these writers—and they told her they did not consider these instances of plagiarism. Mayer says she sent these facts to the Daily Caller, and the story disappeared. Subsequently, in the New York Post, Kelly wondered, "Who is behind the apparently concerted campaign to smear The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer?" Kelly asked Tucker Carlson, the editor of the Daily Caller, about the origins of these allegations against Mayer, and Carlson replied, "I have no clue where we got it. I never ask the reporters where they get stuff, only whether it's true. In this case, we didn't have enough." Strong declined to talk to Kelly about the story.
The Koch operatives, Mayer was later told by a source she doesn't name in her book, "thought they had you. They thought they were going to be knighted by the Kochs." And Mayer observes, "Their search for dirt had started with my personal life, I was told, but when that turned up nothing truly incriminating, they moved on to plagiarism." Later on, the general counsel of Koch Industries sent a letter to the American Society of Magazine Editors decrying the article in an attempt to prevent the New Yorker from winning a National Magazine Award for the piece.
When Mayer asked Safir if his firm had investigated her, he said, "I don't comment. I don't confirm or deny it." And a spokesman for the Koch brothers would not talk to Mayer about this. Indeed, another Koch brothers spokesman did not respond this week when Mother Jones asked if the Kochs had mounted a secret operation against Mayer.
The effort failed and Meyer's book came out this month, it's on my reading list. But it should serve as a major alarm to our sleeping media, because the only reason they are allowed to exist is that the corporate giants who own them see benefit in keeping them around.
When that changes, when a journalist goes after the Kochs, for instance, all bets are off.