Slate’s David Weigel is one of the few libertarian media figures who at least has had the courtesy to disclose, on occasion, his past relationships with Koch-funded outfits (Institute for Humane Studies, Reason Magazine…). But half-disclosures can be deceiving. The record shows that every time the Koch-machine finds itself under media scrutiny, and its unnerving influence on our political and economic culture is exposed, you can count on David Weigel to rush to the scene and declare, “Nothing to see here folks. Boring. Seen it all before. Don’t have a cow.” He did it again yesterday, in reaction to the Mother Jones exclusives on the Koch Brothers’ secretive oligarch-gathering in Vail. Weigel’s response? “No surprise.”
As you’ll see, this “no surprise” yawn is the same response just about every time.
Which would be fine, except that as far as the public is concerned, David Weigel is a columnist for Slate, the Washington Post Group’s respectable online magazine. Readers are barely aware of Weigel’s long relationship with the libertarian nomenklatura and Koch-funded outfits. So unless Weigel drops one of his occasional disclosures, the public reads Weigel ho-humming the latest Koch scandal, and assumes he means it without having a personal stake in it. So that when Weigel says there’s no story there, most readers will assume that maybe Weigel gets it, as a Slate insider, in a way that they, John Q. Reading Public, can’t get.
And that is why David Weigel is such a valuable asset to the Koch PR Machine.
Here are some highlights of the David Weigel playbook of “Pretending The Koch Expose Isn’t A Big Deal”:
On yesterday’s breaking story from Mother Jones exposing the Kochs’ secretive meeting and the names on the list of their “Million-Dollar Donor’s Club,” Weigel laughed knowingly and dismissed the hullaballoo with the all-knowing sneer of a graying, grizzled veteran reporter:
Mother Jones uncovers the Hope Diamond of liberal anger circa 2011: Audio from a private Koch brothers et al retreat, in which the names of people who donated at least $1 million to the Kochs’ causes are identified.
No surprise: Most of the money on this list is coming from people who stand to make even more money in the energy industry if more leases are given out and more regulations are deep-sixed.
No surprise indeed. This is a classic example of the David Weigel Koch-Defense Strategy: Declare it’s “no surprise,” roll contemptuous all-knowing eyes at all the rest of us excitable novice reporters who clearly don’t “get it.” We should feel lame, we who are given to hysteria when we read about the Kochs and their billionaire friends’ anti-democracy arrogance and power, and their smarmy bigotry towards Obama (not to mention the appalling provincialism of their hate, right down to the Birther/Teabagger Muslim-baiting).
That’s “no surprise” to Weigel. And he wants us to think it’s no surprise too. So rather than focus attention on what every reporter and his dog knows is the real story–the rare glimpse of the oligarchy unplugged and unmediated, provided by the Mother Jones scoop–Weigel flaps his arms to distract his Slate readers: First, by claiming there’s no story in the Mother Jones scoop; and then, once that’s established, by pretending that a real ace investigative reporter (such as Weigel) looks at that material and spots the real buried lede here–the Anna Nicole Smith-Koch connection, overlooked by all the do-gooder mediocrities and liberal elitists.
Did you hear that, budding cub reporters? The real story according to David Weigel is the Celebrity Idiot angle. If we’re to believe Weigel, the way to really fight the power of the the Kochs is to stop prying into the rich and powerful figures gathered together in Vail; and instead, focus on the celebrity/RealityTV part of the story: Anna Nicole Smith, the dead Playmate who OD’d on elephant tranquilizers or whatever! It’s so whacky! Because focusing on celebritards worked out so well for American journalism during the Bush years, why not keep it rolling into this decade too?
Weigel’s “nothing to see here folks” reaction to the Mother Jones expose is almost identical to his quasi-jaded reaction a year ago, when details emerged about last year’s secret billionaires’ Koch Cartel meeting in Aspen. Most Americans who read about that secret Koch oligarchy-gathering were shocked; not Old Man Weigel, who’s seen it all, ‘n’ done it all:
…Indeed, the Kochs’ “secret meeting” in June with investors and high-profile journalists was written about at the time by Tim Carney, who has another take on it today. The details of who shows up at such things are sort of interesting. The fact that these things happen is completely banal — elevating it is really just the left’s revenge for a decade or so of the right attempting to scandalize and criminalize the influence that George Soros and other billionaires have on Democrats.
It’s like reading a fashion blogger commenting on a hipster’s open-toed ankle-boots, only applied to the world of power and corruption. “Gawd, you’re so banal! You’re so two seasons ago, omigawd!”
Every time someone shines a light on the Kochs’ democracy-killing power and influence, the jaded 29-year-old-going-on-92-year-old David Weigel grows wearier and wearier. For example, a couple of months ago, The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy published a powerful and in-depth investigation into another Koch-backed outfit, ALEC, revealing how they coordinate legislation at the state level. While most Americans were shocked to discover how deeply their state legislatures were in the pockets of corporate interests, David Weigel shrugged and rolled his eyes:
Behold AlecExposed, a new project from the Center for Media and Democracy which makes available all of the American Legislative Exchange Council bills that had been locked behind an incredibly pricey paywall. The revelation that ALEC writes model legislation for conservative/libertarian legislators is surely among the least surprising news ever, but the project is worthy — you can see where those mysterious bills introduced by GOP freshmen actually came from.
Yes, it’s the least surprising news ever. In the history of unsurprising news. Now, Anna Nicole Smith, a celebrity on drugs, mixing with a billionaire whose son did business with Charles Koch...now thatsastory! [Note: This ALEC Exposed story just won the Sidney Hillman Award for Investigative Journalism.]
Dontcha feel stupid now, you who fell for the whole “ALEC is a terrible thing for a country that wants to be a democracy” angle? You poor naive fools! Like, how lame are you, you know? David Weigel already went through his ALEC phase like 2 years ago, you’re so outta date, omigawd!
Earlier this year, when the Wisconsin protestors zeroed in on the Kochs’ influence (thanks in part to the great Ian Murphy prank call to Gov. Scott Walker), Weigel quickly arrived on the scene in Wisconsin to declare, again, how this was all old hat, calling out liberal hysteria, telling everyone to keep moving along, nothing to see here folks, just a bunch of paranoid liberals who don’t understand things the way Old School 29-year-old David Weigel of Slate does:
When it comes to the Kochs, progressives in Wisconsin are ready to believe the absolute worst. Inside the capitol there are dozens of agitprop signs accusing the brothers of buying the election for Walker. There are detailed lists of Koch companies and which products to boycott in order to starve them. There are articles taped to the walls from Forbes magazine (“Texas Koch Brothers Behind Wisconsin Effort To Kill Public Unions”) and the New York Times (“Koch Brothers’ Money Fuels Wisconsin Fight“). On Wednesday, a new sign started appearing around the halls, informing protesters of a picket outside the stately office building, not far from the capitol, where Koch Companies have hired seven lobbyists.
In sum: They have found the enemy, and it is Koch.
The Kochs’ media monkeys have three basic rhetorical tricks that they keep trying to play to counter all the bad light shined on their Masters’ vast oligarchical influence: 1). It’s lame, it’s yesterday, it’s not a big deal, you don’t really get it; 2). Unions do it too, only worse (ignore the fact that union power has completely collapsed over the same time period that the Kochs’ wealth has soared exponentially to over $45 billion, and that he’s comparing two completely unrelated numbers); 3). It’s lame, you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’re lame. Lame, lame, lame.
How can we judge how deep the Kochs’ influence runs? That New York Times story points out that all Koch-affiliated companies and employees gave about $1.84 million to Republicans, nationwide, in the 2010 election cycle. Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit Tea Party-organizing group co-founded by David Koch—he’s still on the board—had a $40 million budget in 2010. (On Tuesday AFP announced a $342,000 ad buy supporting Walker.) Nationally, the labor movement spent far, far more than this. To take one example, AFSCME, whose green-shirted members have made their presence known in Madison, spent $87.5 million on the election.
There, the false-equivalency between moribund-union power and Koch oligarchy power: That’s “Koch-Defense Rhetorical Trick #2.”
And at end of the same sly Koch-apology article, Weigel plays Koch-Defense Rhetorical Trick #3, deployed to ensure that any of you respectable types who worry about being socially-cool will feel all lame and uncool and stuff if you continue to pursue the Koch Brothers’ story:
How did the Kochs become the villains of Madison? They have, for decades, bankrolled libertarian think tanks and programs, and they help put on conferences where conservative ideas are spread. Among the ideas they end up spreading are drug legalization and opposition to the Patriot Act. The Tea Party was the first movement funded in part by the Kochs that really took off.
So why credit everything that Republicans are trying to do now to Kochs’ influence? Partly because they do have some influence, and partly, as the Assembly Democrats kept goading Republicans, because they are shadowy “New York billionaires.” A complicated fight over public-sector unions can be broadened into a stand against secretive malefactors of wealth, who can be connected somehow to every conservative victory or idea. And the fear and paranoia grows, because, theoretically, they could be spending more than anyone knows.
Weigel is a smart guy, yet even he can’t stop himself from deploying these crude tactics to protect the Kochs from the scrutiny and anger that they, as the most influential and powerful oligarchs in the country, with decades of political and ideological activity on a scale we’re still getting a handle on, deserve. No matter what the controversy his former funders fall into, Weigel can be counted on to show up and announce to the world how underwhelmed he is.
For example, earlier this year, controversy erupted when the Kochs essentially bought Florida State University’s economics department. Most Americans were appalled, including university students and professors. Weigel, however, rolled his jaded been-there-seen-it-all, 29-year-old eyes and delivered another ho-hum verdict, with some added snark designed to make you feel lame if you actually were lame enough to care ‘n’ stuff:
The deal was in place two years ago. (My headline is a bit over the top, so, sorry about that.) How’d it get attention all of a sudden?
Endowed academic positions are so prevalent that they’re unextraordinary.
…The Koch pushback continues, as non-controversial donation after non-controversial donation is blown up into a controversy — a byproduct of the brothers’ new fame.
No, don’t apologize for the headline David, it actually helped a lot of reporters and others worried about the Kochs’ influence realize how lame they were being–being lame, that’s worse than death, you know?
Weigel also added a new rhetorical defense strategy to help the Kochs: paint critics of Koch corruption as McCarthyites. Characterize those who worry about the corruption of academia as the real problem, the real oppressors, the real corruptors. Anyone who objects to the billionaire Kochs’ vast investments into the vulnerable field of academia is nothing but an anti-intellectual Stalinist out to oppress those who disagree with them (roughly the same argument used by Koch-funded climate-change-deniers). Here is Weigel in the same Florida State ho-hummer:
But one point of scandalizing this when it’s relatively new is to start raising questions about what comes out of FSU’s economics department. It’s very easy for Republicans to come out with a letter from X number of economists saying Y Obama policy will destroy freedom and drain your precious bodily fluids. But what if you can challenge the authority of those economists by saying this one or that one is just a shill for Charles G. Koch? Oh, sure, he’ll be matched by lots of other economists who don’t have any particular lucre convincing them that Murray Rothbard was right. But raise a couple of questions and you discredit the source.
It’s an old attorney’s tactic played whenever they have to defend their filthy rich corrupt clients from public wrath–declare the client a victim of tyranny and a martyr to the Constitution. Apparently Weigel isn’t ashamed to use it at Slate.
He even has a change-up strategy to defend Masters Koch. Even as jaded as ol’ David Weigel usually pretends to be, he too can be susceptible to the same sort of “gollee, look-ahere!” naivete he usually trashes. Though he seems to get afflicted with gullibility at just the right time for a pro-Koch PR campaign. Like this “Santa Koch” PR campaign, designed to counter the Kochs’ increasingly bad image as one of the country’s biggest polluters and the largest funders of anti-environmental legislation and propaganda:
The irony seeps through the screen in this report on David Koch at the opening of the MIT cancer research center he donated $100 million to build.
For once in his Koch-watching career, David Weigel didn’t have a “no surprise here” or “nothing new” snide dismissal; as in, “No surprise here: a billionaire opponent of climate change science and notorious polluter gives charity money to cancer research to improve his image, it’s the oldest trick in the Rockefeller Foundation book.” This time, Weigel dropped the Jaded Old Veteran Reporter schtick, and celebrated the hilarious side-splitting irony of it all, irony so delicious it just had to be fattening…
To be fair to David–and I have to be honest, I’ve met him and I found his friendly Spock-like ability to make Rutherford B. Hayes analogies kind of disarming–he has at least disclosed more than the rest. His disclosure goes pretty much like this, and I mostly quote: David Weigel spent two and a half years at Reason magazine, which receives some funding from the Kochs, and in January 2009 Weigel attended and received payment for a Liberty Fund meeting in Alexandria, Va. — one of the frequent intellectual salons organized by the Institute for Humane Studies, funded in part by the Kochs.
That may not seem like a lot to those unaware of what the Institute for Humane Studies means, or until you factor in the fact that Weigel’s only 29, and so a good third of his media career has been funded by or affiliated with Koch-founded outfits. That doesn’t include Weigel’s stint as editor of the rightwing-libertarian student newspaper Northwestern Chronicle, one of several Dartmouth Review-like student newspapers that emerged out of a project launched in 1979 by Irving Kristol, godfather of neoconservatism, and William Simon, former Nixon Treasury Secretary and one of the main forces in the rise of rightwing think-tanks in the 70’s and 80’s. Weigel’s paper emerged from the Kristol-Simon Institute for Educational Affairs. The IEA’s first college newspaper project was run by none other than John “Tiffany Normanson” Podhoretz while he was a student at the University of Chicago…other alumni include Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, and just about every other rank hagfish we’re stuck with today.
What makes this even more depressing is that Weigel probably isn’t all that aware of his journalistic corruption. By this point, it’s too deeply ingrained. Hell, his employer, the Washington Post Group, survives on fleecing poor and often minority youths via the WaPo Group’s for-profit education scams. These days, he’s not alone; in fact, among his libertarian peers, David Weigel is probably the best there is.
Would you like to know more? Read Mark Ames’ article “The Koch Whore Archipelago: How The Billionaire Kochs Screwed My Scoop While Screwing America.”
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
Click the cover & buy the book!
Read more: alec, americans for prosperity, david weigel, florida state university, ian murphy, institute for humane studies, koch, libertarian, mother jones, murray rothbard, oligarchy, reason magazine, scott walker, wisconsin, Mark Ames, Koch Whores
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