The ‘Texas Observer’ v. the Koch Brothers

The magazine's investigative piece about Koch Industries' Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi prompted the company to fire back a response to the article. 
Wed October 31, 2012 9:31 pm
Texas Observer | Jen Reel

Update: Texas Observer  editor Dave Mann has published a response to Koch’s criticisms.

“Strangely, though Koch’s response employs the words “dishonest,” “distorted,” “misleading” and “flawed,” I couldn’t find a single challenge to any of the reported facts in our story,” he wrote. 

Mann also disputes Koch’s characterization of the  Observer as “partisan or ideological,” and notes that contrary to Koch’s claim that “the Observer’s staff is populated with” former fellows from the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundation, there aren’t any at the paper.  

Original post:

You might think KochFacts.com is a Chuck Norris-style tribute website to Charles and David Koch, a.k.a. the Koch Brothers, the industrialists, philanthropists and now-prominent political donors who are heroes of the right and villains to the left. (Most recently, they were among the businessmen whose companies sent a letter to employees implying that there might be layoffs or cutbacks if Mitt Romney is not elected president.)

But KochFacts.com is actually a publicity arm of Koch Industries, the family’s multi-national, multi-industry, 60,000-employee private company. Part of the site’s mission is to publish responses to media coverage of Koch Industries (they  wrote one such response  about the coverage of that Romney letter), and this week a  long story  by the Texas Observer ’s Melissa del Bosque about Koch’s Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi has their full attention. As del Bosque’s  Observer colleague Forrest Wilder tweeted:

“Poynter” is the Poynter Institute in Florida, a journalism school devoted mostly to the continuing education of working journalists. Its website—and therefore KochFacts.com’s ad—is geared towards members of the media. 

The Observer story, which is somewhat reductively headlined “Kochworld,” is a 5,000-word piece, reported over a three-month period, that is primarily about the Corpus Christi residents who live near the Flint Hills refinery, including an asthmatic toddler, a 71-year-old woman with cancer who won’t let her grandchildren visit, and an elderly couple who can’t sell their home for a manageable price because the neighborhood is perceived to be contaminated (some homes that were actually found to contaminated were purchased by Flint Hills in the nineties). 

“To see how the Koch brothers’ free-market utopia operates, look no further than Corpus Christi,” reads the story’s sub-headline.

Del Bosque also discusses the Koch Brothers as political figures, while analyzing the economic and political context, both locally and nationally, that earned them several county tax breaks, and saw a President Clinton-era 97-count federal indictment (for lying about emissions-control practices) reduced to nine counts after George W. Bush became president (the company took a plea bargain at that point).

KochFacts.com’s response  addresses certain aspects of the story that it claims del Bosque left out by including the full text of several email exchanges she had with Koch spokesperson Katie Stavinoha, who is quoted in the piece three times, including their version of what happened in the federal case.  

Stavinoha also accuses del Bosque of lying when she told them she was “working on a story on the impact of refining on fenceline communities on the Gulf Coast,” charging that instead, it’s “a dishonest hit piece against our company.” 

Ironically, KochFacts.com’s fact-check gets the story’s headline wrong, calling it “Kochland.” And KochFacts’s own headline is no less reductive and sensational: “Confronting Dishonest and Distorted Advocacy Journalism by a Soros-funded Publication.”

“Soros” would be George Soros, who depending on your point of view, is either a civic-minded, highly succesful capitalist exercising his freedom of speech and freedom to spend money on foundations, political donations and non-profit newspapers, or an overbearing extremist billionaire blowhard who’s trying to destroy America. 

In other words, the left-wing equivalent of the Koch Brothers. 

So, far, del Bosque has chosen to let her story continue to speak for itself, along with one comment on Twitter: 

That’s a reference to, respectively,  Jane Mayer’s August 2010 New Yorker  story about the Koch brothers’ political activities (which prompted Koch to send a letter of protest to the American Society of Magazine Editors when it was nominated for a National Magazine Award) and a Bloomberg Markets article about Koch Industries’ business dealings in Iran  (KochFacts’ response to that is here).

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