The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Why the Koch Brothers' Move Into Newspapers is Good for America

800px-Chicago-ChicagoTribuneBuilding01

In an age of declining revenue and readership for newspapers it is interesting that a battle is shaping up between the left- and right-leaning zillionaires for control of the Tribune Media group of eight newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel, and others.

The New York Times quotes the usual media enthusiasts crying in horror about the profanation of the Holy Temple of Journalism by filthy barbarian hands—”It’s a frightening scenario when a free press is actually a bought and paid-for press,” the director of one watchdog group said—but for more than 200 years American journalism has largely survived as a for-profit institution. The desire of wealthy people to ensure that the news media are shaped in what they see as a socially and politically positive direction is not in our view a wicked thing, and that would be true on the left and the right.

According to the Times, two groups are jostling for the Tribune company’s newspapers: the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires and longtime supporters of libertarian causes; and a varied group of wealthy, mostly liberal Los Angeles residents. From our point of view it’s an excellent thing that two groups of differing political persuasions are eying major newspaper acquisitions. We need diversity in journalism; the left and the right see society from different positions and both sides can offer useful and helpful insights.

From where we sit, the biggest danger to journalism today is the gentry liberal groupthink one can call the “Acela cocoon.” It’s particularly problematic for journalism right now because it mutes press criticism of the current Administration. On a handful of issues—civil liberties, drones, the environment, Iran—the Acela cocoon is significantly to the left of the Obama administration and so has been criticizing the Administration a little harder now that the election is out of the way. But on so many big issues of the day the Administration and much of the press are so closely allied that the press genuinely has a hard time criticizing power.

That would change under a GOP president, of course; the press would turn from lapdogs to pit bulls almost overnight. From the standpoint of the public interest, we need a strong right wing press corps to go after Democratic and liberal presidents and a strong liberal press corps to keep Republican and conservative politicians on their toes. That way, no matter who controls Washington the public’s interest in press oversight will be served, and we can also count on the left and right wingers in the press to check each other’s work. All this would be significantly better than the overrepresentation of the Acela consensus in the contemporary press; competition and rivalry is what the press needs.

Published on April 21, 2013 11:15 am
  • Guest

    ”It’s a frightening scenario when a free press is actually a bought and paid-for press,”

    Carlos Slim to the white courtesy telephone….Carlos Slim.

  • http://twitter.com/ExactlyBackward Nick Bidler

    And therein lies the problem, Mr. Mead; the ‘leftish’ press, confronted with no worldview but their own, believe their built-in biases to be ‘objectivity,’ and any deviation therefrom to be vicious advocacy, possibly bankrolled by Nefarious Interest Groups.

    It’s simple confirmation bias at its most oblivious.

    • lhfry

      Yes, and they believe they own the moral high ground and alternative view points are not different, but wrong.

      • Jim Luebke

        It wasn’t so very long ago that Leftists tried to wedge themselves into the debate by insisting “I just think we should respect all differing points of view.”

        I think it was Buckley that pointed out how surprised they always seemed to be that there were points of view that different from their own.

  • disqus_eyabTBhsMK

    A very small part of your post leads to a very interesting question, Professor Meade. Why did it take until after the election for the media to begin criticizing the Obama administration on issues such as civil rights?

    This, even more than the Acela Consensus, is what I find truly abhorrent among so much of the media: they put party (and, at this point, I have taken to calling it Team because they treat it far more like a sports rivalry than a political discussion) above principle. It would be one thing to have a left leaning media- as long as it was consistent in being left wing, and went after politicians regardless of party. But instead, we get a media that only feels safe in criticizing the president after ensuring that “their” guy has won.

    • http://twitter.com/newclasstraitor New Class Traitor

      on the money about “Team”, but there is also a big class snobbery element involved. they are members of the New Class first, second, and last – and they would rationalize just about any policy save the most egregious ones as long as “their kind of people” were in power.

      • Jim Luebke

        This is turning into a traditional type of class system — one where vested interests work to perpetuate the power and perks of their own class (in this case, a Credentialed Elite) while treating everyone else with, at best, a pandering and condescending attitude.

        Over time, short-term tactical methods accrue, to maintain the power base. Meanwhile, methods that were the long-term reason they came to power in the first place (meritocracy over aristocracy or patron / client politics, say) fall by the wayside. The system rots, and fails to be able to answer crises different from the ones their original expertise could actually answer.

        Fresh blood, or decline and fall, there don’t seem to be any other choices. The TEA Party was a hopeful sign that fresh blood might be on the way, but the MSM’s takedown of that movement put a spike in that. (Which might be the MSM’s last hurrah, destroying their own credibility with about half the country in the process of destroying the TEA Party’s with the other half). OWS was an interesting idea — the same creeping incompetence is infesting our banking hierarchy, that is afflicting our politics — but their 60′s-counterculture throwback attitudes sunk them as a possible mass movement.

        On the other hand, the issues the TEA Party arose to address are still very much with us, so there are forces pushing for the formation of a similar movement in the near future. OWS too, for that matter, once they drop the 60′s nonsense.

        A synthesis of those two movements might actually get off the ground, although it would have very, very powerful enemies.

    • MoreFreedom2

      Liberal journalists want access to the liberal politicians, and potentially an overpaid job as a PR/communications/speech writing person for a government agency or liberal politician.

      To get access or such jobs, requires that they never write a critical article about a liberal, never ask tough questions, and certainly don’t point out evasive answers for what they are.

      When it comes to attacking government employees involved in illegal or immoral acts, it only matters if it’s a conservative, and they’ll excuse liberal politicians when they can.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gabriel.ewing.1 Gabriel Ewing

    I have one qualm with this essay.

    “The desire of wealthy people to ensure that the news media are shaped in what they see as a socially and politically positive direction is not in our view a wicked thing”

    This is truth. But it is a truth followed by this line

    “and that would be true on the left and the right.”

    The left and the right are vested interests. Old media are vested interests. Old media changing hands in some war of left vs right just carries on the partisan divide wherein the partisans think victory means holding the other side’s feet to the fire. That must be how ‘real’ journalism gets done.

    “the biggest danger to journalism today is the gentry liberal groupthink one can call the ‘Acela cocoon.’”

    Really? The biggest danger to journalism today is the same as it ever was. Left or right, its too easy to get paid to be an assassin, and its too easy for institutions to offer nothing more than “exposure” to freelancers trying to do more than just be partisan hacks.

    Until there is some semblance of peace between left and right, we have gridlock. Someone is making money off of gridlock, and they are happy with it. Old media taking sides does nothing.

    • Thomas Muench

      Sort of like an arms dealer selling weapons to both sides

    • amoobrasil

      Gabriel, yours is the first posting that does not come across as an endorsement of the corporatocracy. Ethical journalists who report the abuses of corporations more powerful that the US government cannot expect
      to hold a job.

      Keep in mind that it Fox “News” first demanded the First Amendment right to “lie and distort” in reporting news. In won after shopping for a “conservative” federal appeals court, finding it in Florida.

      Two Fox reporters had evidence that Monsanto’s BGH posed a danger to the public. Monsanto demanded that Fox not air the story, that it air a story Monsanto had fabricated.

      The reporters refused and won before a jury. Fox won on appeal in 2003 by claiming that news outlets do not have to be honest, that they can “lie and distort” in reporting the news.

      Why trust Fox “News” or any news source owned by Corporate America?

      Serving the power of wealthy owners is the present and
      future of American for-profit media.

      Do any of these disingenuous folks really believe that the
      Koch brothers want to restore excellence to journalism–even if some of the
      stories reveal that their coal industries pollute, that they oppose recyclable
      energy, and that they sponsor lies denying anthropogenic global

  • Anthony

    Inclusive institutions beget rigorous media and pluralist interests help keep media balanced. Underlying that idea is reality that media help propagate the dominant myths and images (left or right). So, what we seek perhaps is balance by selectors disseminating media information (or disinformation). It can be said that the way we view issues and events, as well as what we define as issues, is generally determined by those who control communication network (left or right). Competition and rivalry for sure but let us be clear what’s being purveyed. He who pays the piper may also determine “which person, which facts, which version of facts and which ideas shall reach the public” – essentially the information the general public uses to define socio-political reality.

  • j Ray

    I hope a purchase by the Koch Brothers changes not just the editors, but sweeps out the left wing biased journalists as well.

    All of them.

    Without mercy.

    If the Koch Brothers take over, then if the reporters, columnists, editors are not fair and balanced in their work product – out they go.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harsh-Times/100003948270337 Harsh Times

      I think the liberals will either leave on their own or get “religion” and become more moderate. It’s amazing how much that horrible thing called money means to even the libs.

      • andrewp111

        Won’t happen. The Obama Admin’s DOJ and FCC will never allow the sale.

  • Goldenah

    The Koch brothers had better start a string of K through 12 schools in order to begin “righting” or “liberating” mindsets and viewpoints. Waiting for adults to read newspapers would be too late.

    • http://www.tempeteaparty.org Lee Reynolds

      It’s called home schooling.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harsh-Times/100003948270337 Harsh Times

      Good point…the liberalization of our children is well underway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Gebert/1122931181 Michael Gebert

    Nothing is funnier than the idea that Colonel McCormack’s Tribune would be profaned by rightwing ideas.

  • Kavanna

    The Koch brothers also are not libertarian any more. They might once have been, but their recent attempted takeover of the Cato Institute and attempt to remake it into a clone of the Heritage Foundation shows where they are today.

    The American “news” media is a disgrace. It’s been heading in this direction for several decades. But it’s reached a state today of continuous stupidity, ignorance, and fecklessness. not to mention the grotesque political herd mentality. Outside of some specialized areas like finance and sports, there’s less and less journalism and reporting every year, more and more propaganda and junk food.

  • vonbear1

    The Koch’s are libertarians not conservatives. They sometimes agree with the conservative point of view but they are not conservatives. The NYT has it all wrong what a supprise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    So which side takes a critical look at our current trade and immigration policies?

    On the really big issues shaping our future as a nation and the standard of living of our people the two parties are in total agreement. The public be damned.

  • 61north

    I think your point is reinforced by the fact that 90% of Americans would not know what the “Acela cocoon” refers to. I don’t. I think it’s a train on the east coast somewhere, but I have no idea where. I assume that 100% of the big city media would understand the reference.

  • thesafesurfer

    Someone is claiming that the Sulzbergers are the champions of an objective and free press?

    Thanks for the chuckle.

  • Rico777

    After the Koch purchase, first order of business should be announcing the firing of all Obamabot staffers. Once the entire staff is up in arms over their impending visit to their local unemployment office, announce a last day party where everyone will get party favors, a free set of pens, a gas card, and 2 free lines of Koch.

    • andrewp111

      Do you really think the Obama Administration will allow such a sale? The powers of office are vast, and Eric Holder’s DOJ can drag his feet and hold up the sale for 4 years if he wants to. The Tribune Co will be forced to sell it to a lower bidder who is tight with Obama if they want the sale to consummate before Obama leaves office.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harsh-Times/100003948270337 Harsh Times

    Chicago is a huge market – having a conservative newspaper in the Heartland would be huge.

  • andrewp111

    The Libs need not worry – the Tribune properties will NOT be sold to the Koch Bros. The libs in the Media will make sure the properties are sold to liberals for a lower bid than the Koch’s would pay. That’s right – these 8 papers will not go to the highest bidder. Politics will decide the outcome.

  • http://twitter.com/theoprinse Theo Prinse

    With regard to the financial problems or the islamization by the CIA and their puppet Obama regime the billionaire Koch brothers are part of this degenrated elite. The CIA – that had nazi MKULTRA convict Ricard Helms as Persian ambassador – and Zbigniew Brzezinski had Jimmy Carter betray western oriented and secular Persians to the Iranian Ayatollahs. This method to betray western oriented and secular people to Islamic fundamentalists was copied on Afghanistan by Richard Perle and Pat Buchanan under Reagan and by Madeleine Albright under Bill Clinton and his agent Osama bin Laden in Yugoslavia and Paul Wolfowitz under Bush 43 in Iraq.
    What will the Koch brothers do against the murderous and reactionary CIA ?