Sutherland: Hit Piece

KochsIn Robert Penn Warren‘s classic novel about American politics, “All The King’s Men”, the author created the character ‘Willie Stark’. a brilliant but ruthless demagogue inspired by Louisiana’s Huey Long.

Stark orders a journalist supporter to dig up dirt on Stark’s political enemy. a highly respected judge.  The journalist, the book’s fictional narrator, Jack Burden,” is told by Stark: “There is always something- if it takes 10 years. you find it.”  Stark then adds, in what is perhaps the most quoted line from the book; “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud.”

Burden does indeed find “it,” the one sordid incident in an otherwise exemplary past which can be used to discredit someone who stands as an obstacle to Stark’s relentless quest for power.  He concludes: “For nothing is lost, nothing is ever lost.  There is always the clue. the cancelled check, the smears of lipstick, the footprint in the cana bed, the condom on the park path, the twitch in the old wound, the baby shoes dipped in bronze, the taint in the bloodstream.”

jane-mayerThe foremost contemporary  practitioner of this form of hit piece journalism is The New Yorkers Jane Mayer.  A little over two years  ago, Mayer wrote a lengthy article in that magazine entitled “Covert Operations – The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.”

The piece is to investigative journalism what “Seinfeld” was to situation comedy- a work of art about nothing.  The thrust of the article is that two wealthy Kansas businessmen. David and Charles Koch, who have managed to thrive in a highly taxed and highly regulated industry, petroleum production and refining, support political candidates who favor less regulation and less taxation of business.  This is about as shocking a revelation as the fact that the American Federation of State. County and Municipal Employees was the largest contributor to Democratic candidates in this past year’s elections.

a-hamilton-national-portrait-galleryThe Federalist Papers (largely written by the Koch brothers’ actual ancestor, Alexander Hamilton, a “fun fact” Ms. Mayer somehow failed to unearth) are quite candid in recognizing politics as the clash of financial interests of different groups in society.

Why is Ms. Mayer scandalized by the concomitant  proposition that most people support candidates whose election would tend to benefit them financially?

The other leitmotiv, running through this 10,000 word article, is that the Kochs are acting in a surreptitious or underhanded way by giving financial support to foundations and think tanks with innocuous or politically neutral sounding names, like “Citizens for a Sound Economy.”  To prove this proposition, she cites two liberal groups with equally anodyne names, the “Center for Public Integrity” and the “National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.” (I’m reminded of an incident several years ago when Robert Mulholland, a member of the Democratic National Committee from California, called a press conference to reveal that the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, a 50-something bachelor best known as a Hollywood screenwriter, had frequented strip clubs and thus was unfit for public office. Asked how he knew this, Mulholland replied that he had personally seen the Republican in such vile, disgusting establishments on several occasions.)

Clarence-Thomas-and-Anita-Hill-What makes the article interesting is not anything it says about the Kochs, who are no strangers to publicity.  (How could anyone who spends millions of dollars running for public office, as David Koch did as the Libertarian candidate for vice-president, be described as “covert” or “secretive”?).  The article does reveal, however inadvertently, a great deal about this particular journalist, as well as liberal journalism generally.  The Koch article is only the latest chapter in a long saga that began for Mayer about 20 years ago at the time of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy.

In a book written in conjunction with a colleague (Jill Abramson, now of The New York Times), “Strange Justice,” Mayer established one of the essential foundation myths of the American Left.

Mayer’s argument is that the problem with the Thomas confirmation hearings was that the opponents of his confirmation were too restrained and too polite.  The forces of enlightenment supposedly had mountains of additional evidence to support the notion that Thomas was a deeply disturbed person, unstable and angry.  Intellectually and temperamentally  unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court, Thomas could have been exposed but the Democratic Judiciary Committee members, like Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy, held back out of a misguided sense of fair play and non-partisanship.

Mayer began at that time her life’s work of ad hominem attacks on individual conservatives who pose a threat to the liberal agenda.  It was then that she pioneered her patented method of repeatedly citing unidentified sources to impugn the motives and ethics of those under attack, a technique that reaches its fullest flower in the Koch article.

The other distinguishing characteristic of her writing is a repeatedly demonstrated willingness to crank out pieces on short notice to attack whoever the enemy of the day is.  (Past victims include Linda Tripp, FBI agent Gary Aldrich, and RNC Chair Haley Barbour.)

George Orwell‘s  “two  minute  hate”  in “1984”  is a good analogy to Mayer’s work, though nowadays it’s more like a two week hate, which is the life cycle of most stories in the left-wing blogosphere. The Orwellian propaganda  ministry’s style of the rewriting of history is another totalitarian aspect of Mayer’s writing.  (To give credit where credit is due, Mayer did establish the phrases, “Long Dong Silver”  and “Who put the pubic hair on my coke can?”  as essential elements in civic discourse.)

Within days of the Koch article appearing in The New Yorker,  a condensed version was published by Frank Rich in the New York Times.   Numerous Obama  administration spokesmen, ranging  from David  Axelrod, the White House political  adviser, to obscure  Treasury  Department staffers. to President  Obama  himself, took up the attacks.

george-soros-anti-bushWhat made their job a little more challenging is that the Kochs  have a left-wing  counter­ part in George Soros.  A billionaire who, in Mayer’s  own words, tried to use his vast fortune to single-handedly alter the outcome of the 2004 election, Soros sounds an awkward, discordant note in the Greek chorus assailing plutocrats out to undermine  American democracy.

Mayer has a ready retort- unlike right-wingers, “progressive minded”  billionaires (Mayer actually named the fellow  conspirators who met secretly  with Soros at his palatial  Hamptons estate to launch that scheme  in the summer of 2004) do not benefit financially from the candidates and policies they support.  Assuming  for the sake of argument that this was the case, what does motivate them? Again, according to Mayer herself, they were driven almost exclusively by personal  animosity towards George  Bush, particularly towards  his professed religious  faith.

Which is healthier for representative democracy?  For left-wing  billionaires to carry out a bitter vendetta against a single individual,  especially one as ad hoc and erratic as the one waged by Soros, or for the Kochs to promote long and deeply-held political  beliefs by educating the public through  research  and persuasion?

The answer  is obvious to even the most casual observer.  Why it is not obvious to Mayer is only clear if one understands her personal  background.

In an unfortunately timed television interview five years ago, Ms. Mayer appeared on the educational station affiliated with U. Cal.-Berkeley.  The interviewer, Harry Kreisler, had Mayer on to talk about her book, “The Dark Side,” a searing  expose of the alleged assault on civil liberties  by the Bush administration in the name of the War on Terror.

imagesMayer volunteered when asked about her background that she and her family were heirs to the Lehman Brothers investment banking fortune.  (Her father is a composer  of modern music. Her mother is a painter.  Trust fund artists, in other words.)  She said proudly that she came from a tradition of liberalism and philanthropy.  A little over three weeks after this interview (August 19, 2008), Lehman Brothers collapsed.  The ensuing financial panic caused the most severe economic downturn the country has experienced since the 1930’s.  The very name Lehman Brothers became synonymous  with greed and reckless speculation.

It’s interesting to wonder if the source of Mayer’s unearned wealth had been instead inherited stock in BP, would she have dared to lecture the Kochs about the supposed environmental depredations of their company?

48539_0000It’s also amusing, given the author’s personal history, that much of the commentary on Mayer’s article by people like Rachel Maddow of MSNBC consisted of sneering comments about “Daddy’s money,” i.e. the Kochs were spoiled heirs dabbling in politics. This was a take that Mayer herself was happy to promote in both television appearances and the article itself.

At least Charles and David Koch actually make things like petroleum  products and other consumer goods, which also tend to expose them and their company to the wrath of the public and government through lawsuits and investigations when bad things (e.g. pipeline explosions) happen, as they inevitably do in business. Apparently, Mayer would have us believe that it is morally superior to engage in less tangible forms of economic activity like currency speculation, trading derivatives, and shorting stocks, like Mr. Soros and her forbears. Again, which form of economic activity has done more damage in recent years?

While there are certainly arguments to make against the Kochs and their political philosophy, I’m equally certain the Jane Mayer’s and the George Soros’ of the world are not the ones to make them.

Ironically, President Barack Obama himself furnished the best explanation of what seems to even the most casual observer to be a glaring double standard:  On October 14, 2010, the President said, “In difficult times, people become tribal in their attitudes.”
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10 Responses to Sutherland: Hit Piece

  1. Steveo says:

    Write on Mr. Sutherland! Although I suppose there is no way our local paper would ever take you in as their token conservative.

    The Koch’s create more jobs than a trillion dollar stimulus, pay more taxes than all the alternative industries combined, and contribute more to charity (personally and business wise) than the entire elected body of Congress.

    Are they self serving, manipulative, and trying to promote policies that fit their political philosophy? Absolutely. Name me a indoctrinated liberal that does not.

  2. harley says:

    Dwight…nice article but wouldn’t it have been easier to pronounce that
    this tactic is used by both sides of the aisle…that both conservative and
    liberals use the same old tactic.
    That fox news has perfected the innuendo/lie/fake sources etc. to do
    exactly what you protest from the other side.
    Also…isn’t it hard to go after someone from inherited wealth when your
    last name is sutherland.
    Then to compare soros and koch brothers is also a little shy of the facts.
    The koch brothers have gone far deeper into the political apparatus
    with their money….working with low level conservatives at the local and
    state levels…where soros money was mostly designated to the upper
    echelon of the crooked politicians.
    On the flip side…i did get a chance to meet your father. Great man.
    Very smart and personable guy….and a very good businessman.
    Met him at the royal event….
    Nice article but as I’ve written in my newsletters and on some blogs
    like red state/huffington post/daily kos etc….these actions are not
    limited to the left. The conservative/right wingers have become very
    good at misstating facts etc. It’s what has caused this nation to be
    frozen intime as the two parties are now so divided in their thinking
    that the real needs of our nation go unnoticed.
    welcome to kcc.
    And while you attack ms. mayer for inheriting money from a financial
    services company you might wnat to ask your boss where his money came
    And..don’t forget payless cashways.

    • Dwight Sutherland says:

      At the risk of sounding like an old Groucho Marx routine(“Viaduct? Why a duck?”), I was not attacking Ms.Mayer for having inherited wealth but for having it,taking advantage of it,and then ATTACKING OTHERS FOR IT! For hypocrisy in other words,i.e. those who enjoy wealth and privilege are not convincing scourges of the whole concept of wealth and privilege .Otherwise, I agree with your points and very much appreciate your thoughtful response.

  3. the dude says:

    Which is healthier for representative democracy?

    I say neither are healthier for a democratic republic. Money should not equal free speech and a corporation is NOT A PERSON. All these unrestricted and pretty much anonymous donations make for a more corrupt government.

  4. smartman says:

    Not much difference in people that come from money or cum for it.

  5. cheech lifting weights says:

    Hit piece? Don’t mind if I DO!


    (passes to super daves not here man)

  6. chuck says:

    Well done sir.

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