Guest Commentary: We Can Not Trust the Koch’s with our News

By Brad Ashwell, Common Cause Florida 

The Tribune Company is currently considering the sale of eight newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel to Charles and David Koch, two of the most politically controversial billionaires in the country. There is nothing particularly new or inherently wrong about a wealthy family owning a media company. But, the Koch brothers are not a typical wealthy family.

The Koch’s have worked for years to benefit their bottom line at the expense of everyday Americans. They have donated millions to organizations and politicians that deny climate change, attack campaign-spending limits, dismantle worker’s rights, promote discriminatory voter ID laws, restrict access to health care, and increase income inequality. They have aggressively pushed a radical and extremist partisan political agenda by bankrolling think tanks, advocacy organizations, shadowy groups like ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), astroturf groups and educational institutions. What seems particularly troubling is that many of their efforts have involved shaping public opinion on issues in a way that lacks transparency in order to benefit their own economic interests. But the issue at hand is not whether we agree with the Koch brothers stances on issues. The question is really whether we can trust them?

Can we trust these ultra-partisan ideologues to be good public stewards when it comes to providing us with objective news? Will they respect a firewall between owners and the newsroom? Will editors and reporters feel free to hold power in all its forms accountable even if goes against the economic interests of the Koch’s? Will there be self-censorship in the newsroom due to the fear of retribution as there recently was at a PBS affiliate who declined to air a documentary critical of the Koch’s because they are major funders?

Newspapers still play a critical role in the informational ecosystem of a community. This is why  some media ownership limits already exist. Many get their news from television and increasingly from internet sources but much of the heavy lifting is still done by print newspaper reporters when it comes to investigative journalism. They serve to inform the electorate, expose corruption and are an essential community resource when it comes to holding power accountable.

We don’t have to look that far to see how this plays out. We already know what happens to news coverage when the ideology of an owner is placed over informing the public. This sale is likely to create another Rupert Murdoch scenario, and make papers like the Sentinels, the LA Times and Chicago Tribune look more like Fox News. The public needs more news that holds power accountable not more extremist propaganda machines.

Millions of Americans rely on the news outlets currently operated by the Tribune Company to provide them with accurate, unbiased information about pressing issues in their communities and around the world. Ownership by two of the most influential and radical right wing ideologues in the country will skew trusted news sources to further their interests and debase our Democracy.

The public needs news they can trust not extremist agendas. The sale of newspapers to the Koch brothers, or any other party so clearly driven by ideology, is antithetical to the public interest. Common Cause Florida is urging the Tribune company to not sell their papers to the Koch brothers.


  1. Education, the media, agriculture, retail, and government have been compromised by the opposite of republican virtue. Corporate profits at all costs and high salaries at the top are destroying the ability of workers to make enough to eat.

    Obamacare has moved state colleges in Florida to give their instructors who teach over 70% of their college classes less than three (3) courses at a time, which is less than $800 a month to live on and, to avoid complying with the intent of the Affordable Care Act and new IRS rules surrounding it. Florida state colleges are basically giving their adjunct professors less work while keeping most of them without health care. So now most professors in Florida and the nation are making starvation wages and have no health care. That’s no way to educate a new generation by teaching them to oppress those who teach them.

    In summary, the union movement is going to rise now in Florida and the United States. Adjunct professors, consumer groups desiring affordable wholesome food, retail chains like Walmart, and others will put the for-profit above all scheme of the corporate hierarchy to the test because it is killing the workers, the backbone of America. The corporate mentality is poisoning so many industries while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

    You know what happens when the gap between the rich and poor becomes great? There will be revolution, and when threatened with revolution, corporations will make token reform. Then government regulation starts. Then corruption begins.The answer is simple: treat people as you would want to be treated. The honest and the truthful shall inherit the earth. It is inevitable as sure as greed causes the backlash of reform and revolution. The system is out of balance but like nature it will be restored by natural disaster.


  2. Derek Kilborn · ·


    Which of the following two (2) scenarios is a greater threat to your individual liberty, the free press and the rule of law?


    Two (2) aged billionaires – Charles Koch, 77 and David Koch, 72 – buy a bankrupt newspaper from the Tribune Co., a conglomerate of television, radio, newspaper and other media assets. In spite of their potential ownership, the success of the Los Angeles Times will continue to be dependent upon subscriptions and advertising. This market reality is a check against any perceived radicalization of the content and presentation. Given the state of the American newspaper and their inexperience with newsprint media, the Koch brother’s long-term success is possible but not likely. Finally, the Koch brother’s purchase of this asset cedes them no additional power over other media outlets, control over our own individual lives or our own access to thousands of other competing news and opinion outlets.

    (Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative warns us about media monopolies so I find it interesting that Florida Common Cause would be AGAINST an independent purchase that helps break up this existing media monopoly. Giving Florida Common Cause the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Brad Ashwell’s organization is opposed to both the Tribune Co. and the Koch brothers. Are there alternatives to a Koch brother purchase? Yes, it is reported that Los Angeles businessman Eli Broad is working on a separate purchase offer. Unlike the Koch brothers however, Mr. Broad is a significant contributor to Democratic causes. Mr. Broad’s involvement in the sale goes unmentioned by Mr. Ashwell and for that reason alone is likely unopposed by him. Mr. Ashwell’s guest commentary has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the integrity of journalism or protection of the free press.)


    The federal government’s Department of Justice seizes the phone records of press reporters and editors from a major news organization. In a related story, the United States Attorney General personally signs off on an affidavit for a search warrant to seize the phone records and personal emails from a reputable news journalist (and his parents) at a leading media organization. The media organization is regarded as a political opponent to the Attorney General’s employer, the President of the United States (POTUS). The Justice Department argues that their monitoring of the journalist’s private email account should be kept secret, even after a lengthy delay. The Justice Department further asks the court to order Google not to notify the journalist that the company has handed over his private emails to the federal government. Two (2) federal judges reject the Administration’s justification; however, their independent determinations are eventually over-ruled by a third judge who acquiesces. In their justification, the Justice Department describes the journalist as a co-conspirator in an attempt to commit espionage and labels him a flight risk.


    Obviously, Scenario No. 2 is a greater threat to your individual liberty, the free press and the rule of law. I conducted a search of this political blog for any reference to the current, and very real news story, cited in Scenario No. 2. There is none. This guest commentator, Brad Ashwell, and the host, Kartik Krishnaiyer, have an obligation to either support the free press or not. The absence of a balanced presentation makes any (political) complaint about the Koch brothers purchase of the Los Angeles Times, seemingly immature and lacking sophisticated debate.


  3. Brad Ashwell · ·

    @Derek, 1) Common Cause is fully supportive of localized media and the organization, along with others i’ve worked for, are opponents to media concentration and have worked towards protecting the limitations that do exist. 2) Eli Broad not being mentioned has little to do with politics. First off, he’s isn’t nearly as controversial as the Koch brothers when it comes to political activities. But I think I cover that base when speaking more generally against extremists of any political stripe owning newspapers. 3) The DOJ issue would have to be a totally separate piece. It’s just a different issue, story, etc… Thanks for a thoughtful critique.


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