Jane Mayer on the Koch brothers’ plan to ‘in effect, buy America’

David Koch

Journalist and author Jane Mayer used the term “Kochtopus” to describe the network of the shadowy, ultraconservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Kochtopus (Koch-octopus, if you didn’t get the gag the first time around) refers to the qualities of the Koch brothers’ network, which is very powerful and which operates as much as possible “beneath the radar” (as Mayer put it yesterday, in a talk at the University of Minnesota, although I’m not sure how much radar has to do with octopus-watching, but you get the idea).

Occasionally, Mayer said, she is able to catch a glimpse of the tentacles of the Kochtopus when it comes to the surface.

In her journalistic work for The New Yorker magazine, and in her most recent book, “Dark Money,” Mayer has assembled the various sightings of a tentacle here and there into a story about the Kochs’ plan to “in effect, buy America,” and to do it without attracting too much attention. She spoke about it yesterday at a forum hosted by the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The Koch Bros. are not so much Republicans as ultraconservative libertarians. (David Koch was actually the vice-presidential nominee on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 – the year Ronald Reagan was elected. The younger Koch ran on a platform that called for the abolition or at least privatization of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.) Mayer said the Kochs come from a far-right element that derives from the John Birch Society of the 1950s and ’60s.

That Libertarian ticket ran a distant fourth, with 1 percent of the popular vote. And, since then, the Kochs have worked, assiduously and pretty effectively, to develop and implement what Mayer called “a strategy for, in effect, buying America.”

By “buying America,” Mayer seems to mean buying elections and buying them on behalf of candidates representing the right wing of the Republican Party – much further right than Reagan, the defining conservative of his era, was and believing more radically than Reagan did in a very small government and a very large role for the wants and needs and power of the wealthy.

The politically astute portion of the population has heard and read a bit about the Koch brothers, but the Kochs generally stay out of the spotlight and they have developed ways and means of operating in the dark, which is why Mayer’s book is called “Dark Money.”

‘An invitation to corruption’

One of their favorite methods, she said, is what she calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” This is a method, which I’m sure you’ve heard about, of exploiting loopholes in the campaign finance laws to set up organizations with names that sound like philanthropies but which have ways of injecting huge sums of money into political advertising. These methods, aided by Supreme Court rulings, have “exploded” just since 2013, to the point where Mayer estimates that for about two-thirds of all the money spent on political messaging, “you can’t tell who’s behind the spending.”

“Secret money in politics,” she added, is “an invitation to corruption.”

Over recent years, Mayer said, you can see the influence that these “weaponized philanthropies” are having in, for example, a growing number of Americans who say that human-caused global warming is not happening.

The Kochs are big-time players in the oil industry (they own a big refinery in Rosemount). Mayer stipulated that the Kochs may be very sincere in their policy goal, but the effect of many of their policy crusades definitely helps them financially as well.

One of the big money-in-politics stories in the mainstream press this year was that the Koch brothers were not active in the presidential race. Donald Trump disagrees with their view on many issues, and Trump found ways to win with a much lower level of actual campaign spending than Hillary Clinton spent or than Republican nominee Mitt Romney spent in 2008. Mayer said the fact that Trump won while spending substantially less than his opponent has caused some to wonder whether money is really as big a deal in politics as we’ve been told. It’s a good, but complicated question. Part of the answer is that tweets are free and TV commercials are expensive. But, anyway, we were talking about the Koch Bros.

When they decided not to play in the presidential race, the Kochs focused on down-ballot races and, Mayer believes, Koch-influenced spending is a big part of the reason that so many houses of so many legislatures flipped from Democratic to Republican control over recent cycles, including this year.

She summarized her core beliefs about the money-politics continuum thus:

I’ve lived in Washington since I covered Reagan’s second term for the Wall Street Journal. While I’ve been living there, I’ve been watching money just get more and more and more influential. Why can’t they get anything done in Congress? Congress is tied in knots. Everything’s tied in knots because of the money. There are so many private interests overwhelming the public interest that it [Washington] is completely constipated.  Although, because of that, I think the money situation is very problematical and the idea that the people with the most money should have the influence is worrisome.

Moderator Larry Jacobs, director of the U of M’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, asked Mayer about the sharp increase in recent years in the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent, and how and why it came about and whether a more even distribution of wealth could return? She replied:

Wealth concentration is partly the result of policies, and policies can be reversed. We’ve had policies that have increased wealth concentration. All you need to do is look at Donald Trump. For 20 years, he paid no taxes. But he is a billionaire. There aren’t too many schoolteachers and waitresses and people pumping gas who pay no taxes. So the money’s being redistributed from the bottom to the top. That’s a policy choice made by Congress, and those laws could be changed, but it’s hard when money rules Congress.

Correction: The original version of this post said that Mayer had coined the term “Kochtopus” (although she did not claim to have originated it). The term dates back to an earlier reference by Samuel Edward Konkin III. Your humble ink-stained wretch regrets the error.

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Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/23/2016 - 09:47 am.

    More than “hard”

    “…but it’s hard when money rules Congress.”

    Just to beat the obvious into the ground, when “money rules Congress,” it’s not just “hard” to change the laws that make it possible, it’s very nearly impossible unless there’s something approaching a public revolution against the current Washington culture. That, in a nutshell, is why the totally ironic choice of Donald Trump appealed to so many voters, mostly uninformed, but sincere in their desire to change that culture, nonetheless. It’s also what made Mrs. Clinton unattractive to enough voters in a few key states that they either stayed home, voted for the ironic candidate instead, or perhaps left that bubble empty on the ballot.

    I’ve read that “the White House” is uncomfortable with Keith Ellison’s run for Chair of the DNC because they fear he’s too far left, but that argument strikes me as part and parcel of why Mrs. Clinton was so uninspiring to so many Democrats. She – whether deservedly or not – struck many people as representative of an “establishment” that’s gotten nothing of import done for several years, to the detriment of all of us. The fact that much of the reason for that inaction is Republican obstruction is, at least in the minds of many, secondary to the lack of meaningful activity in Congress. Hence, the abysmal recent ratings of Congress by the public.

    The Koch brothers may not be especially happy with Donald Trump, but he’s a lot closer to their line of thinking and philosophy than Mrs. Clinton would be, and they’ve been working at this takeover of the society for decades. They’re patient.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/23/2016 - 02:12 pm.

    citation needed:

    “Mayer said the Kochs come from a far-right element that derives from the John Birch Society of the 1950s and ’60s.” I know about the Kochs, but not this tidbit.

    Did Mayer offer any reasonable reference for this pronouncement, or did she simply assume her audience required none and would not challenge? How many audience members knew anything of the “Birchers”?

    By the way, wealth becomes an exponential function of economic engines. Wealth increases in both inflationary and deflationary eras, as well as in up markets and down markets. It’s now mostly about applying derivative strategies, not simply about buying and selling stock.

    The more you’ve got, the more that yields, the more you’ve then got, the more that yields…und so weiter.

    [“weaponizing philanthropy” means targeting causes?]

    • Submitted by Hal Davis on 11/23/2016 - 06:10 pm.

      Koch and JBS

      Fred C. Koch, founder of Koch Industries, was among the founding members of the John Birch Society in 1958. Koch held John Birch Society chapter meetings in the basement of his family’s home in Wichita, Kansas. [Source is Schulman, Daniel (2014). Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. Hachette Book Group.]

      His antipathy to socialism was so intense that when an acquaintance visited the family home in the 1960s, Charles Koch asked him to leave on the doorstep a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” that he was carrying. Hemingway “was a communist,” Charles explained to the guest. [Source is Washington Post, “17 things you didn’t know about the Koch brothers,” By Matea Gold, May 20, 2014 [https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/05/20/17-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-koch-brothers/

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 11/23/2016 - 07:35 pm.

        Thank you, sir

        I know about JBS from my youth, when two members living on the Eastern shore of Lake Pepin periodically submitted letters to the editor of our local newspaper, known then as the “Daily Republican Eagle.” The newspaper was quite straight. These guys were definitely bent well to the Right, perhaps beyond, to whatever dwells in those dark places. But, it was the 1960s, when just about anything shocked very little.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/23/2016 - 08:33 pm.

    Dark $$$

    Mayer’s book “Dark Money” is excellent. She traces not only the Koch money which with Fred Koch came from significant business dealings during the 1930’s with Stalin and Hitler but also the Scaife-Mellon, Olin, Bradley funds and some others. A number of these foundations are based upon obscure provisions in the tax code that allow foundations as means for extremely wealthy individuals to transfer their wealth to heirs to escape estate taxes.

    From the past few Senate, Congressional and state elections, (not the Presidential), I get the impression that right wing TV and radio and news media have succeeded in drowning out progressive voices and causes to not only reverse the drift toward plutocracy (I think we’ve already arrived) but also to drown out any reasonable regulation of the destructive tendencies of capitalism, as with global warming, fracking, development of renewable energy, fairer labor laws, banking regulation, health insurance, safety net and so on. Radio, TV and the news media which have become completely concentrated with the 1% now fill the airwaves, the internet, and cable TV with right wing propaganda directly through their own organs, like Fox News and indirectly through newspapers like the Washington Post and even the New York Times which have tilted rightward by dealing with the issues ‘framed” by the right. It seems to me that any effort to counter the overinfluence of plutocracy requires taking back the public airwaves and cable TV to reimpose a “public trust” requirement on those who profit by them. Until right-wing propaganda is finally driven to the margins of public discourse, we’re not going to be able to have any discussion of the many problems which our country faces. If the Koch’s are going to “buy” American elections, they are only doing what their fellow plutocrats are also doing. Their control is now reflected across the country in reactionary state governments and Congress.

    Mr. Million, your description of the wealth engine sounds like a shorter Thomas Piketty in “Capitalism in the 21st Century” about the tendency of capital to be concentrated in dynastic families. But I think Piketty wrote that such growth is not inevitable but depends on government policies. Which is much of what many progressives believe about reversing government policies that have flowed the productivity increases of the last 40 years into the hands of the few.

  4. Submitted by Jon Lord on 11/24/2016 - 10:23 am.

    I think that

    the Koch bros. will be happy with a lot of what Trump does or tries to do. That said a lot of people who voted for Trump will again be disillusioned. The right now has the Executive, Legislative and soon the Judicial branches of our Government. They are salivating with the idea of change. Lies and damned lies will shine in the light of day as the Donald changes his mind because, as Jon K. alluded to, the massive right wing press will blame the left for any change the masses do not like. More and more we live by the lie simply because we seem to accept that it’s a part of free speech. Crazy opinions are as good as really good opinions and solid proofs because of…free speech. We avoid the really tough realities that affect the majority of US citizens because money is where it’s at…sadly. I gave up trying to talk to Trump supporters when one told me he makes his choice and doesn’t listen to politics from then on. He votes though as any patriot does, if being a patriot is that easy. I think he’s in for a huge shock. But the Koch brothers are salivating, and it’s going to be more expensive to be poor. Many tens of millions won’t be able to contribute as much as they once did, even with increased sales taxes. They will be paid less as prices rise and believe or not, that will hurt the economy. Not the economy of the rich because they are, or can be, citizens of the world but of the country which is in a manner of speaking, land locked.

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/25/2016 - 07:31 am.

    “…the massive right wing press…”

    First time I’ve read this reference. Wondering where one must stand to capture this view…

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/25/2016 - 10:15 pm.

      You did notice ….

      how much coverage Bernie Sanders got in the larger press ? Or a thousand other progressive policy leanings get anywhere in the press ? Or the letters chosen to appear in readers response section of papers ? Or the imbalance of commentary pieces from local or national sources. And I could go on !

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/26/2016 - 08:41 am.

        Thank Hillary & the DNC. That sounds like the name of a band, Hillary & the DNC, a band of colluders who schemed to exclude Bernie Sanders from a fair run at the endorsement.



        “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.”

        The media was a ready ally against Bernie; once they dispensed with him, they moved on to Donald, smug-sure that they had won.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/26/2016 - 05:59 pm.

      Where one must stand

      There are plenty of books and articles that document how the likes of the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch, and many others have planned and schemed to take over radio and TV to destroy what hey claimed was a “liberal bias” in the media. There are some very good books and articles on the history of ths. David Brock, a former writer for the Scaife-Mellon funded “Arkansas Project” to dream up stuff to discredit the Clintons, wrote a book called “Blinded by the Right.” He also wrote a very good book in 2004 called “The Republican Noise Machine” which chronicles the rise of the right-wing media using the words of those who were involved in the takeover using their own words to describe how they even feel they’ve largely succeeded in te takeover. There are also scholarly books by independent scholars, like Ben Bagdikian and Robert McChesney to name two of many more critics of media concentration who have documented the suppression of nonconforming views in the so-called mainstream media. Case in point: the suppression of dissent during the run-up and aftermath of the Iraq War which succeeded in driving almost all dissent and opposition to the war. It really hasn’t stopped since.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/27/2016 - 05:02 pm.

        The Citation Directly Above

        As was reported on cbsnews.com just after the election, “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer”. Bias confirmed.

        Regarding the Clintons, it seems reports of “a vast right wing conspiracy” were greatly overstated. It turns out the the Clintons didn’t need any help looking bad. The only surprise is that the DNC couldn’t see it. They had no shortage of candidates more likeable and more viable. How was it her turn this time? It was her turn last time, and that didn’t happen. This time, they put it to the voters in November and got the same answer.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/26/2016 - 07:02 am.

    No Mention of George Soros by Mayer?

    I think he may have funded a candidate supported by Mayer.

    “The liberal New York financier George Soros, whose effort to unseat President George W. Bush in 2004 shattered political spending records, is returning to big-ticket giving after an 11-year hiatus.
    Soros has spent or committed more than $13 million to support Hillary Clinton and other Democrats this election cycle, already more than his total disclosed spending in the last two presidential elections combined. Soros has expressed alarm over the past few months at the candidacies of Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”


  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/27/2016 - 03:18 pm.

    As always:

    Instead of he said, she said, perhaps the opinion’s, discussion should focus on how does the expenditures, politics etc. support the goal/mission: This readers understanding is that the goal/mission is clear: The preamble of the constitution, everything else is personal opinion or view point, which means there is zero basis on which the country can move forward because we cannot agree on the objective, i.e. the argument is on who spent what money on what candidate or cause, with a zero relationship to was it aligned or not aligned to the goal. If not the preamble, what then?

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/27/2016 - 04:31 pm.


    I am just wondering if Ms. Mayer talked about Soros and his money (and of course, hundreds of others like Soros). It sure seems there are more liberal billionaires than conservative ones… And I hope we all know who bankrolled the Russian revolution…

    Another question, of course, what is the country the Koch brothers are trying to buy with their money. Not fascism and not Communism since libertarian ideology is the opposite of those two. So what should we fear?

  9. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/28/2016 - 12:37 am.

    As was “reported”

    The CBS News link cited by Mr. Rose is really an opinion piece by a CBS staffer. The piece fits into the “forgotten man” or “silent majority” narrative that some in the press seem to be adopting to explain the Trump triumph. It should not be surprising that some members of the media, like this CBS opinion writer, would accept this “forgotten man” narrative to berate themselves for not seeing what may now appear to be clear in hindsight. Undoubtedly, Trump’s support represents something of a cry of pain from a deeply disaffected portion of the electorate. But this writer’s opinion will hardly comfort those Pennsylvania voters who believed their support of Trump will prevent their employer from shutting down its factory and laying them all off. Nor does it explain those who voted for Trump expecting him to build a wall, deport all Muslims, or somehow get revenge on Hillary Clinton. In truth, it is highly premature to be drawing any conclusions from this election which, after all, will be decided by a process which Constitutional experts have difficulty understanding or explaining. The most that can be said is Trump did not carry a majority of the voters, which in our system, seems to be irrelevant anyway.

    Ironically, the CBS opinion piece demonstrates the impact of the “vast right-wing noise machine”. It was the media that gave Trump his free platform along with the other Republican candidates. Together, the “right wing message” received far more free coverage on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and PBS, not to mention Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and so on than either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. The press coverage framed the debates for many people and drowned out the counter-narrative which Sanders and Clinton hoped to deliver. If the actual reporters who were abused by Trump, being caged off in a separate section to be taunted and abused by him and his supporters, still managed to honestly report the brutish conduct of his supporters at the Trump rallies, conduct which the candidate at times exhorted and encouraged (e.g. mocking a disabled reporter with a crude and demeaning pantomime), what is there about such reporting that Trump and his supporters can now complain?

    Notwithstanding Trump’s triumph, the Republican takeover of the government after the 8 disastrous years of Bush can only be called a “triumph of the vast right-wing conspiracy.” Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” which casts light on some of the darker corners of this conspiracy might be called an additional development of the work of other media scholars and critics, by showing that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” is not limited to TV, radio and the press. Mayer has shown that it also encompasses academia and so-called “think tanks” and foundations which fund phony right-wing agenda driven “scholarship” posing as independent, scholarly research. Not to be forgotten is the network of Christian evangelical churches and their own TV presence, not limited to a whole Christian TV network (Dobson, Franklin Graham, et al).

    That there are a few like George Soros who back “liberals” or progressive causes is really beside the point. I forget if Mayer discusses Soros in her book. But “DarkMoney”can be anyone’s money. Who knows if Soros’s public expenditures are not equalled or exceeded by other “dark money” expenditure for right wing causes or candidates? Anyway, for every George Soros, there are perhaps a dozen or more right-wing billionaires to outspend him. Even Soros cannot outmatch the groundwork that has been laid for the past 40 years building up the right wing propaganda machine which saturates the public airwaves and the print media every day in this country.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/28/2016 - 07:28 pm.

      Let’s talk

      Mr. Kingstad, let’s talk (even though I am not a Trump’s supporter). Will you please name a few “right wing TV … and news media?” I also wonder how you want to take “back the public airwaves and cable TV?”. And referring to “plenty of books and articles that document how the likes of the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch, and many others have planned and schemed to take over radio and TV,” because there are plenty of books about the UFO’s, yeti, and advantages of Communism… And of course, you know that liberals outnumber conservatives in colleges 10 to 1 so it is hard to consider academia a part of right-wing conspiracy…

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/30/2016 - 09:56 am.

        Take back the airwaves

        First off, to take back the airwaves, the President and the FCC need to restore the Fairness Doctrine and enforce it. That will restore true balance and force the owners of licensed stations to provide honest public affairs broadcasting and also allow anyone who’s attacked to have equal time to respond. Rush Limbo has declared that if the Fairness Doctrine were restored and enforced as it was from 1949 to 1983 when it was repealed by the Reagan administration, he would be off the air.

        Second, name a few “right-wing TV and news media”. Brietbart News is a self proclaimed “platform” for the “alt-right” (i.e. white supremicist-neo-nazi movement) Fox News and Clear Channel Communications are mouthpieces for the RNC. CNN and MSNBC. CBS, NBC and ABC tilt right. Their “news shows” are infotainment and their “experts” are drawn almost exclusively from the right wing “think tanks” like the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. I could go on but instead may I suggest you read David Brock’s “The Republican Noise Machine” for a view of where things stood in 2004? Things have only shifted further right since then, if such a thing were possible.

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/30/2016 - 10:09 pm.

          If you can say that MSNBC and CNN are tilting right, you need to define your “neutral” line. Of course, everything is relative but obviously, it is way left of the median line for America… As for Fairness Doctrine, are you planning to give air time to everyone who is accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc? There will not be enough time to let all of them speak…

          • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/02/2016 - 11:04 pm.

            Neutral line

            I define my neutral line from 1980 when things in the USA changed. Yes, it is relative but is 1980 America really “way left” of 2016 USA? Maybe that answers your question, because the USA is “way right” of where it was in 1980 when I was younger. Not coincidentally, that’s when the Fairness Doctrine was repealed by Reagan and his cabal.

            But most Americans are no so right wing when you talk to them. It’s the fanatics who are the problem. And there’s a reason for that.

            I would encourage you to read up about the Fairness Doctrine because it’s not what you seem to think it is. It’s a little more complex but one facet that seems to really bug the right wing is the idea that people who are attacked personally, .. . and this is a very significant point, …are allowed to have equal time for a response. The personal attack part of the Fairness Doctrine is what vexes the right because it is a sort of antidefamation law. You can’t use your broadcast license to go around telling lies about people who are in no position to defend themselves or tell their story.

            This part of the Fairness Doctrine allows people who are FALSELY ACCUSED of something, like being a racist or bigot or homophobe and they think it’s defamatory. The Fairness Doctrine would give equal air time to that person to respond to those accusations if it’s defamatory. What you suggest is what would happen if the licensees were to behave as they have been in the last 30 years if the Fairness Doctrine was enforced. But the purpose of the rule/doctrine is not to open up the airwaves to aggrieved people. It’s to make the billionaire owners of these broadcast licenses act like decent human beings and not allow their paid shills act like asses and unload their personal hatreds and grievances on the public. Probably a lot of these right wing asses would get fired immediately. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

            Maybe Rush would get fired too. If the owners of the stations aired Rush Limbo had to allow free air time to allow the men and women who’ve been attacked by him to have free air time in response to his rants, do you think Rush would have been on the air as many years as he has? Is it a form of censorship? That’s what the right thinks. But not really, when you consider that only a few billionaires are allowed to have these licenses to use a part of the PUBLIC AIRWAVES, which are a public monopoly. In theory, it was always that licensees of the public airwaves had a duty to inform the public. I don’t know about you but I don’t think it’s been working out very well.

            The right doesn’t like the Fairness Doctrine because it prevents their controlled media from labeling their opponents as traitors or whatever evil the propaganda mill wants the public to think at the time. That’s really what right wing media is all about after all, isn’t it? “Real Americans” and the “traitors”?

            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/03/2016 - 08:28 am.

              PUBLIC AIRWAVES

              The old public airwaves myth:


              A couple of excerpts:

              “Or take the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He debunked the argument that the government can control broadcasters because their channels use airspace by comparing broadcasters to people who speak in public parks—like the airwaves, also in the “public domain.” He added, “Yet people who speak there do not come under government censorship.””

              “Even the Congressional Research Service, which conducted a study of the problems raised by proposals to assess fees from broadcasters for use of the spectrum, concluded that “the notion that the public or the government owns the airwaves is without precedent. We find no case that so holds. Furthermore, when enacting the Radio Act of 1927, the Congress specifically deleted a House-passed “declaration of ownership.”
              But if these arguments are not persuasive, think of the utter impossibility of anyone owning the airwaves. The radio frequency spectrum cannot be seen, touched or heard. Like sunlight and the wind, it has existed since the beginning of time—long before any person was around to claim it as their own. The spectrum—actually pulses of energy at different frequencies—cannot be contained, or divided, or held in any way. So how can anyone own or control it? The very idea is preposterous.”

              “The late Harvard Law School Professor Louis Jaffe hit the nail squarely when he said: “The popular cliché that the broadcaster is using the public’s airwaves is a vague, indeterminate concept. I think we would have heard little of it had not the existing technology required regulation of broadcasting to avoid interference. For, in one way or another, we all use air and space. To speak of owning such resources is a solecism.””

            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/03/2016 - 02:34 pm.

              The myth of public airwaves.



              “The late Harvard Law School Professor Louis Jaffe hit the nail squarely when he said: “The popular cliché that the broadcaster is using the public’s airwaves is a vague, indeterminate concept. I think we would have heard little of it had not the existing technology required regulation of broadcasting to avoid interference. For, in one way or another, we all use air and space. To speak of owning such resources is a solecism.””

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/01/2016 - 10:32 am.

          Perhaps a source for your “tilt” statement

          Business Insider has done an analysis of news outlet politically ideology, which bears significant differences from your analysis. For instance, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, & CBS, which you claim tilt right, all tilt left.

          Your analysis says more about where you are on the spectrum than it does about the news outlets’ political ideologies.


          • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/02/2016 - 10:18 pm.

            Flawed analysis

            It used to be that quoting a source like “Business Insider” as some authority would have you laughed out the room. But since we don’t speak to each other in rooms anymore, I’ll address it on its flawed merits. This “study” was some sort of survey of the LISTENERS to these media outlets and where they apparently thought they were on a political spectrum. What kind of analysis sets out to prove what they already want to believe?

            CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC and CBS re all owned by large right wing conglomerates. Each of them gave Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates for President ample air time during the entire race during the run-upto the primaries. Trump got all the free time he wanted to bash the rest of the Republican candidates which the networks you cite just ate up. What did they give an actual serious contender like Bernie Sanders? He got 20 seconds from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15, 2015 and no time on Super Tuesday. The networks gave more time to Donald trump’s empty podium than it gave to Bernie Sanders who was speaking to 20,00 people in Phoenix that day.

            What you call “my analysis” is not really mine. I cited my sources for the “tilt right” statement. Mostly, what you call “my analysis” are quotes from the “right wing media” itself, whose leaders seem to think they’ve won the “war” they think you need to wage. If you haven’t heard of this, maybe you ought to check it out and also check out what the “leaders” of right wing media really think of their LISTENERS’ intelligence. If you don’t want to read the books which I cited, all well documented and researched books, just say so.

            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/03/2016 - 08:15 pm.

              A link and a quote is all it takes to cite a reference. Until you have done that you haven’t cited your tilt right “analysis”.

              Since you didn’t like the source, here is the same analysis reported by the Washington Post, titled, “Ranking the media from liberal to conservative, based on their audiences”


    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/30/2016 - 10:58 am.

      In Trying to Take Him Down, They Got Him Elected.

      In this election cycle, the mainstream media and Trump had a symbiotic relationship; he enjoyed and benefited greatly from the attention, and they pounced on every outrageous comment he uttered. The media thought that they were exposing him, while they were merely spreading his message. As the CBS journalist (not just an opinion piece, a revealing opinion piece by from an insider), they took Trump literally and not seriously, while many Americans took him seriously but not literally.

      The media greatly overplayed their hand; they turned a call for carefully vetting all Syrian immigrants into a, as you eloquently stated above, “deport all Muslims” narrative; people didn’t buy it.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/28/2016 - 11:40 am.

    Books like this are important, but it’s a limited analysis

    I’ve been reading books like this for decades, the first one I remember reading was: “Thunder on the Right:The ‘New Right’ and the Politics of Resentment” by Alan Crawford, that was back in 1981.

    Many books like this have been written over the decades, they are important exopose’s of sorts but it’s important to remember that the analysis it limited. The problem isn’t wealthy and influential people we don’t agree with, the problem is that wealthy people are too influential and that our political parties service the wealthy elite, left and right.

    If you’re recall when the influence of ALEX broke out of the shadows a while back we discovered that their sponsor list contained the names of wealthy liberals AND conservatives ranging from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to the Koch brothers. What we’ve seen time and time again is that the interests of the wealthy tend to converge around neo-liberal/conservative agendas and priorities. The class war is over… the wealthy won.

    Neo Liberal democrats are just as responsible for the elitism that has captured our levers of government as conservatives so focusing on the Koch brothers, while they certainly are toxic, is a far too limited critique. We need to step back and look at the “there” behind the “there”, the larger systemic power structure. On a visceral level a lot of American’s are finally begin to recognize this. I think that’s why Sander’s campaign seemed to strike so many chords among millions of Americans.

    When you step back and look at the systemic influence of the elite, systemic solutions begin to emerge, and that’s a much more expansive and fertile ground for activism than simply apposing the odd billionaire here and there.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/28/2016 - 09:11 pm.


      Paul, thank you for a very good analysis. As always, your submissions are based on fact and well thought out

  11. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 11/28/2016 - 03:59 pm.


    Pause a minute, Jane (and Eric) and take a deep breath or two.

    1) The Koch’s have nothing like enough money to buy America.
    2) The fact is…there is a LOT more liberal/Dem money goes into elections here than conservative/Repub. Here in MN the Dem/Rep ratio is something like three or four to one.
    3) If money talked as much as you say, Hillary would be president.
    4) In a nation of 330M people where politics is an expensive media-driven undertaking, money = free speech. You still believe in free speech, right? Well, so have the courts.

    The problem, I think, is that you DON’T really believe in free speech, and CAN’T STAND the thought that there might be someone out there actually making a reasoned argument with which you disagree–and maybe even have no good way of refuting.

    Let the Koch’s have their ideas–make their arguments. Let the people decide. Don’t LIKE them??? Then come up with a better argument!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/29/2016 - 10:12 am.

      Reasoned arguments?

      I’m all for sharing ideas but intellectual dishonesty, racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and false claims, do not constitute “reasoned” arguments. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to make racist, intolerant, and dishonest claims, but people like Mayer get to expose your racist, intolerant, and dishonest claims.

      As for free speech, this is the part where the wealthy white guys who have or buy access to tens of millions of eyes and ears on a daily bases complain about being “muzzled” by the liberal media. This is never more than faux outrage produce by delusions of oppression, it’s really just a complaint that someone else is speaking.

      Let the Koch’s speak! Sure, but Mayer get’s to speak as well, and so do we.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/29/2016 - 09:27 pm.

        About speaking

        Sure Mayer can speak… and she does. But when she “exposes” “racist, sexist, and dishonest claims,” she needs to prove her exposure, not just claim that they are racist, sexist, and dishonest. On the other hand, who are those “wealthy white guys who have or buy access to tens of millions of eyes and ears on a daily bases” and what do they have? NYT? NBC? HBO?

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/30/2016 - 08:52 am.

          What do they have?

          Clear Channel, FOX, CNN, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and the Star Tribune. They have columnists in almost every major newspaper in the country and they have dozens of web-based outlets. Not to mention Costco and Amazon where their multitude of books are sold by the millions.

          This idea that white conservatives can’t get a word out past the liberal media wall has always been a bizarre delusion.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/30/2016 - 10:20 am.

    Just to follow up on the limits of this discourse

    Several observers have explored the limited discourse that expose’s can promote over the years. Herman and Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent:The Political Economy of Mass Media” (1988) does a good job of examining how discourse and analysis can be limited by focusing on trees like individual billionaires or politicians rather than the forest of the over-all power structure and elite domination.

    I think it’s an important to consider especially now because we’re in danger of focusing on trees (the biggest one being Donald Trump) instead of the forest. Again, Mayer’s book is valuable, but the real problem isn’t a few wealthy conservatives, or even Trump. These people don’t come out of “nowhere” they’ve been here for decades and their ability to influence if not control policy isn’t simply a matter of wealthy republicans buying disproportionate influence. The problem is systemic, it’s about a policy machine that promotes the best interests of a few at the expense of the majority.

    My point is that it’s important to remember that one way the establishment supports the status quo is by promoting the proverbial “bad apple” narrative, i.e. the problem isn’t the wealthy per se, it’s just a few bad actors like the Koch’s or Trump. I’m not saying that this is Mayer’s agenda, I’m just saying that we miss the point and the opportunity to recognize and pursue critical agendas when we focus on trees instead of forests. Opposing actors like Trump and the Koch’s is important, but it’s more important to move towards a system that truly empowers the majority rather than simply limiting elite excess.

    For decades complacent liberals have sat in their comfort zones pretending that the status quo is sufficient and that a little “tweak” here and there is all we need. The progressive narrative has been about exposing an emerging crises on a systemic level. The complacent liberal narrative lets us pretend that we have a few bad apples but the apple cart itself is solid and reliable. The progressive narrative warns us that rot is spreading inexorably through the entire system. Progressives have warned for decades that the more time complacent liberals spend sitting in their comfort zones celebrating “incremental” change, the more likely it is that spooky and toxic figures like Donald Trump will emerge in power, it’s not just about stopping Trump.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/30/2016 - 07:05 pm.


      The system is well rotted: so well even Billionaires like Buffet agree. Ironically the recent election seems to suggest folks want more rot not less!

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