Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jane Mayer: PBS Affiliate Attempts To Placate David Koch

Jane Mayer has provided outstanding coverage in The New Yorker on Charles and David Koch, billionaire oil magnates and right-wing activists. Mayer recently reported on the extent to which WNET, the New York area affiliate of PBS, has tried not to offend David Koch. Since federal contributions to public television have diminished, it is increasingly dependent on wealthy donors like the Kochs. Before airing "Park Avenue," a documentary critical of the Kochs produced by the Independent Television Service (ITVS), WNET president Neil Shapiro called David Koch to tell him about the documentary and invite him to join an on-air discussion following the film or provide a written rebuttal. Following the airing of "Park Avenue," ITVS, under pressure from WNET, backed out of producing another critical documentary, "Citizen Koch." Despite these attempts to placate him, David Koch cancelled a large donation to WNET and resigned from its board of directors:

...spokespeople at WNET and PBS conceded that the decision to run the rebuttals was unprecedented. Indeed, it was like appending Letters to the Editor to a front-page article. ["Park Avenue" filmmaker Alex] Gibney asked me, “Why is WNET offering Mr. Koch special favors? And why did the station allow Koch to offer a critique of a film he hadn’t even seen? Money. Money talks.” He added that the Kochs’ willingness to issue a disclaimer without seeing the film “does not give me much confidence about how they might run the Tribune’s newspapers.”

...["Citizen Koch" filmmakers] Lessin and Deal began to suspect that ITVS was dragging out negotiations. But they kept editing the film, following notes that ITVS had given them. Deal said, “Although we made many changes, they never looked at the new cut. They just kind of stopped.” On April 15th, ITVS notified Lessin and Deal that it had “decided not to move forward with the project.” Lessin said, “We were in shock. We had a deal.”

Lessin and Deal a joint statement, “...ITVS backed out of the partnership because they came to fear the reaction our film would provoke. David Koch, whose political activities are featured in the film, happens to be a public-television funder and a trustee of both WNET and WGBH. This wasn’t a failed negotiation or a divergence of visions; it was censorship, pure and simple.” The filmmakers consider this an ironic turn: “It’s the very thing our film is about—public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors.”

Illustration: Daniel Hertzberg

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