Rupert Murdoch and David Koch Collude Against Wisconsin Workers
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In the week-long battle taking place in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights, you'd expect Fox News to be doing what it's done: misreporting the story, mistakenly characterizing a poll supporting public workers to mean its opposite, featuring Glenn Beck painting the protests of union workers as something cooked up by Stalinists. And you might be tempted to think, well, that's just Fox playing to its base of frightened Tea Partiers who prefer a fact-free zone to the more challenging territory of actual news, where the answers are never pat, and the world is a bit more complicated than it seems in the realm of Fox Nation.
You might think it's all about what brings in the advertising dollars for Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox's parent company, News Corporation. But it runs much deeper than that, involving key players at the Wall Street Journal, News Corp.'s crown jewel. The informal partnership between billionaire David Koch, whose campaign dollars and astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, have fomented the Wisconsin crisis, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is profoundly ideological -- the ideology being the exponential enrichment of the two men's heirs, all dressed up in the language of libertarianism and free enterprise. Together with his brother, Charles -- also a big donor to right-wing causes --David Koch runs Koch Industries, the conglomerate that sprang from the oil and gas company founded by his father.
King of the World and Lord of His Majesty's Media
Ginning up the right-wing rabble is a Fox News specialty. Glenn Beck is more than a talk-show host; he's Rupert Murdoch's community organizer. Like Koch, Murdoch embraces a completely deregulatory agenda: one that would leave giant corporations such as News Corp., the second largest entertainment company in the world, according to Fortune magazine, with nary a single regulation to stand in the way of profit-taking. Like Koch, Murdoch has no use for unions, having famously broken the unions of the newspapers he runs in the U.K. Like Koch, Murdoch gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association least year, the only difference being that Koch wrote a personal check for his contribution, while Murdoch's check was written on a News Corp. account.
In AlterNet's coverage of the Kochs and Murdoch over the last two years, we reported how Koch's Americans for Prosperity Foundation synced an annual conference with Glenn Beck's rally last summer at the Lincoln Memorial, offering discounted hotel rooms and bus travel to attendees, as well as day-long shuttle service between the conference hotel and the rally. Perhaps you remember the collusion we reported between Americans for Prosperity and Fox News in creating the furor that pushed Van Jones from the White House. You may recall our report on a 2009 Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference at which one-third of the speakers on a 15-speaker plenary agenda were on the payroll of a Murdoch entity. Two of those speakers, John Fund and Stephen Moore, hail from the Wall Street Journal; Moore sits on the newspaper's editorial board. So it should come as no surprise to find both Fund and Moore carrying Koch's water in this fight.
Together, Fund and Moore play a very particular role in the war to make David Koch king of the world, and Rupert Murdoch his favorite lord. (Murdoch is the lesser of the two billionaires, worth a mere $6 or $7 billion, to Koch's $20-plus billion.) While Fund and Moore talk to those regular folks who find their thrills watching Fox News, they also speak to the elite readers of WSJ, the investors to whom the two sell the notion that what's good for David Koch is good for everybody's bottom line. Writing on the Wall Street Journal Web site last week, Fund offered the standard right-wing rhetoric that paints President Barack Obama in thuggish terms:
[Obama] accused the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, of launching an "assault" on unions with his emergency legislation aimed at cutting the state budget.
The real assault this week was led by Organizing for America, the successor to President's Obama's 2008 campaign organization. It helped fill buses of protesters who flooded the state capital of Madison and ran 15 phone banks urging people to call state legislators.
WSJ's Fund: No Free Speech For the Little People
Speaking directly to Wall Street Journal readers, Fund laid out his case against organized protests in a video on the paper's Web site: they tend to inconvenience upper-middle-class people who are just trying to have a nice life. He complained about a protest staged outside Wisconsin Gov. Walker's Wauwatosa home. "[T]he protesters showed up there, they put up signs, they yelled, and the neighbors were upset because they said, look, this is just a stunt; the governor's not even here. Go up to Madison; go to the governor's mansion. So, again, if it were just the people involved, it would be one thing, but there are neighbors and children involved, and I think this goes too far."
Fund told horror stories of a protest staged outside the Washington, D.C., home of House Speaker John Boehner, in response to an $80 million cut to the federal appropriation, another mounted against the developer who is building a Wal-Mart in D.C., and a demonstration in front of the home of a Bank of America executive.
"So these protests, I think, are violating people's rights," Fund said, "not just engaging in free speech."
When I last saw Fund, he was presenting on a panel at the annual RightOnline conference convened by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which is chaired by David Koch, who also founded the organization. There, appearing before an audience of managers and business-owners, Fund got all folksy, telling a tale of how Ronald Reagan, while in the employ of General Electric, saw firsthand the virtue of "educating" workers in a business-friendly view of economics. The session offered tips on how to talk to one's employees about the Employee Free Choice Act legislation, which would make it easier for workers to organize (panelist Tim Nerenz of the Oldenburg Group said he simply tells his workers, "We don't run a union facility"), and was moderated by Linda Hansen, a close associate of Mark Block, who was then the state director for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Block now runs the potential presidential campaign of Herman Cain, the radio talk-show host and former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.
WSJ's Moore: Created By Koch, Employed By Murdoch
But in the realm of cable news, it's WSJ editorial board member Stephen Moore who seems ubiquitous. Moore takes speaking fees from Americans for Prosperity, for which he seems to have a pretty steady gig. "We pay Stephen Moore a speaker’s fee on an event-by-event basis, which is based on a specific negotiated honorarium," Americans for Prosperity spokesperson Mary Ellen Burke emailed to me. "This is the same process we would follow when asking any public figure to speak at an AFP event."
Americans for Prosperity is directly involved in mounting support for Walker's plan; last week, the group attempted to bus in counter-protesters to Madison, but apparently got few takers. Undaunted, AFP took part in a "Stand With Scott Walker" rally on Feb. 19, and released atelevision ad this week by that title. That didn't stop Stephen Moore from presenting himself as nothing more than a journalist to the investors who watched CNBC on February 22, presenting figures in a deceptive way about the level of benefits received by public employees, and couching the battle in Wisconsin as one over pension and benefits -- even though the major unions have offered to yield to the governor's demands for greater worker contributions in those areas.
The Economic Policy Institute released a study showing that when benefits and pay packages are taken together as a whole, public employees earn less than comparably educated private-sector workers. None of those facts stopped Moore from framing the debate as a fight over benefits, which he claimed public employees scarfed up at a 50-percent higher level than those in the private sector.
When delivering the goods for those speaking fees coughed up by AFP, Moore may be apt to throw a little more red meat, engaging a cause almost as close to David Koch's heart as union-bashing -- that of climate-change denial. (Remember, Koch's billions originate in the the oil and natural gas industries; Koch Industries has some 4,000 miles of pipeline in Wisconsinalone. And buried in the bill, according to the blog, Gin and Tacos, is a provision that would allow the no-bid sell-off of public utilities, such as those that produce energy.) At the 2009 RightOnline conference in Pittsburgh, Moore told the cheering crowd he thought global warming was "the greatest hoax of the last 100 years." He went on to say that the agenda to hold the line on climate change was "not just evil, but…contrary to the free-market system that made this country great."
Journalist or Handsomely Paid Activist? You Decide
Moore's career has, in large part, been shaped from the beginning by the fortunes of Charles and David Koch. After getting his masters from George Mason University, at which Koch funds the Mercatus Institute, a free-market economic think-tank, Moore became a fellow at the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, and later at the Cato Institute. From there, he became the founding president of the Club for Growth, which, coincidentally, put out a pro-Walker ad last week about the showdown with public employees in Wisconsin. (Moore was ousted from the club in 2004, and replaced with Pat Toomey, who is now the junior U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.) Moore also served on senior economist of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee under then-Chairman Dick Armey, R-Tex., who now chairs the astroturf group FreedomWorks, which was founded with Koch money.
When Rupert Murdoch added the Wall Street Journal to his holdings in 2007, he became the titular boss of Moore, one of David Koch's favorite sons. Perhaps it works like one of those royal marriages of yore. With those bonds, the lord of right-wing media cemented, perhaps, his standing in the realm of the man who would be king of the world.tea
(Hat tip to CBS News Online's Stephanie Condon for the Gin and Tacos item.)