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Koch Brothers Linked to Censorship of PBS Documentary About Post-Citizens United America


A recent expose in the New Yorker by writer Jane Mayer reveals that two major PBS stations attempted to edit and censor an upcoming documentary titled “Citizen Koch” for fear of the billionaire brothers halting their financial support of PBS.  

The collapse of the film follows the fallout of a November 2012 PBS documentary, “Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream.”  The documentary focused on those who reside at 740 Park Avenue and looked into the growing problem of income inequality.  Among the richest residents of this urban one-percent paradise is David Koch. Both David and his brother Charles Koch are major supporters of public television.  After the Park Avenue documentary aired there was a firestorm of criticism that came from the far right.  

“Citizen Koch,” which looks into American politics after the infamous Citizens United decision allowed billionaires like the Kochs to influence elections, is the latest work to be heavily scrutinized and discouraged by the über-wealthy right-wing.

David Dayden explains the situation for FireDogLake:

One film by Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney, Park Aveneue: Money, Power & The American Dream, received unprecedented scrutiny and was almost pulled while another, Citizen Koch, was subject to such extensive editing by public television representatives that the film ultimately collapsed.

The drama over the documentaries was caused by efforts by WNET a major public television station and program provider in the New York Area.

Neal Shapiro, the president of WNET, said that he grew concerned about the [Park Avenue] film, which he had not yet watched, after Ira Stoll, a conservative writer, lambasted it in the Post…

Shapiro initially said, he called Koch at his office and told him that the Gibney film “was going to be controversial,” noting, “You’re going to be a big part of this thing.” Shapiro offered to show him the trailer, and added that he hoped to arrange “some sort of on-air roundtable discussion of it, to provide other points of view.” It could air immediately after the documentary.

Why the special treatment of a subject by the documentary film, especially after Koch had refused to cooperate with the film? There’s this thing, maybe you have heard of it, called money.

David Koch is a major philanthropist, contributing to cultural and medical institutions that include Lincoln Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. In the nineteen-eighties, he began expanding his charitable contributions to the media, donating twenty-three million dollars to public television over the years. In 1997, he began serving as a trustee of Boston’s public-broadcasting operation, WGBH, and in 2006 he joined the board of New York’s public-television outlet, WNET.

The documentary was screened twice in Wisconsin and received positive reviews.  The day after the screening, however, funding for the film was pulled according to the Madison Capital Times:

The documentary “Citizen Koch” had two high-profile screenings at the Wisconsin Film Festival in April. But it likely won’t be coming to a public television station near you.

On the day after those screenings, the filmmakers found out that their public television backers were pulling the funding, possibly to placate billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

“This report highlights the absolute need for broader public funding for the arts and public media, free of the influence of private donors,” “Citizen Koch” co-director Carl Deal told the Capital Times on Monday.

ITVS announced that they pulled funding because the film did not accurately reflect the original proposal.  The documentary’s creators, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, called the decision censorship.

“ITVS backed out of the partnership because they came to fear the reaction that our film would provoke,” the filmmakers said in a prepared statement. “David Koch, whose political activities are featured in the film, happens to be a public-television funder and a trustee of both WNET and (Boston PBS station) WGBH.

“This wasn’t a failed negotiation or a divergence of visions; it was censorship, pure and simple.”

The relationship between David Koch and WNET has gone from fruitful to over. The billionaire was dropped from the station’s board of trustees after Hurricane Sandy.  The mission of the Koch brothers and the mission of PBS simply cannot exist in the same realm.  PBS cannot provide actual journalism without noting the Koch Brothers’ negative impact on American livelihood.  The Koch Brothers refuse to support anything or anyone who points out their flaws.

This story of censorship is as important as ever with unions, activists, and concerned citizens protest a possible takeover of the Tribune Company newspapers by the Koch Brothers. They are looking to buy the media at the same time as they aim to censor it. They aim to ensure their business empire cannot be blamed for its harmful effects just as they are buying Congress in an attempt to end unions and the EPA.  Censorship is not new and neither is the idea of the elite creating their own set of rules by which to play.  These new revelations should act as a warning sign to the public: if the brothers Koch are allowed to buy a newspaper as important as the Los Angeles Times, what’s left of the mainstream media’s ability to act as a watchdog on the overreach of the elite will perish. Censorship will be placed upon a pedestal and the not-so-invisible hand of the Koch Brothers and their ilk will drag us down, one quest for profits at a time.


2 Comments on “Koch Brothers Linked to Censorship of PBS Documentary About Post-Citizens United America”

  1. PBS is a public owned entity that should not be directed by power politics.

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