Being a Democracy Hating, Corporate Power-Defending Newspaper Owner Runs Deep in the Koch Family
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
This article first a ppeared at Not Safe for Work Corporation.
There’s a rumor going around that the Koch brothers are interested in buying up the Tribune Company, which includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun… And there’s a lot of speculation about what would happen if they did.
Some worry, and rightly so, that the Kochs—whose combined wealth makes them the biggest billionaires on the planet—would integrate the Tribune Co. with the rest of their free-market thinktank-industrial complex, and turn its newly acquired news media property into a gigantic business propaganda machine. Half the reporters at the Los Angeles Times even took a vote saying they’d quit if the Kochs bought the paper.
Others are positively enthusiastic about the possible takeover. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, for one, argued that "America would be better off for it" because the Kochs would spent lots of money building a better "conservative media product."
But while the country’s media commentators busy themselves trying to predict what Koch ownership would mean for newspapers, many of them are overlooking one important fact: We already know. Because the Koch family has a long history of newspaper ownership.
The Kochs and newspapers go waaay back, right back to their grandfather Harry Koch (yep, that’s a real name), who emigrated to America from the Netherlands in 1888 and bought a newspaper in a podunk railroad town in North Texas called Quanah. With the power of the press behind him, ol' Harry Koch went on to make a fortune for himself and his brood by aggressively rah-rahing on behalf of railroad and banking interests, fighting organized labor and savaging New Deal programs.
Not much is known is known about Harry Koch. Charles and David Koch don’t like to talk about him much. And when they do talk about Grandpa Harry, they don’t tell the truth. Like a lot of billionaires, they want the public to think they're self-made, that they came from humble beginnings, and so they portray their grandpa as if he was a po' immigrant who lived on the edge of poverty, barely scratching out an existence from his tiny newspaper business.
"The whole area was very poor and people didn’t have the money to pay for their subscriptions. So they would pay in produce or chickens or eggs," Charles Koch recalled.
When I travelled to Quanah for the Texas Observer in 2011 to investigate the life of Harry Koch, and to understand the environment that spawned the most powerful brother-oligarchs of our time, I discovered that the truth is much more interesting than Charles' tale. Quanah, Texas, is the world as Harry Koch made it, through his newspapers and railroad. His sons have been remarkably true to the Darwinian-capitalist views Harry ceaselessly proclaimed in his newspaper. So, if you want to know what the Koch brothers have in mind for our country, start by taking a look at the newspaper that their Grandpa Harry Koch ran.
Harry Koch was born in Holland in 1867 into a wealthy family that owned farmland, ran a linseed oil mill and operated a shipping business that ran sailboats between his seaside hometown of Workum, and Amsterdam. Harry Koch's mother died when he was a child, and his father remarried a much younger woman—the daughter of a local banker—and had seven new kids with her.
Life at home didn’t satisfy young Harry. As soon as he turned 21, he emigrated to the United States, hoping to get in on the railroad boom of the late 19th C.