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#EarthDay: Mother Jones Validates Koch Industries Connected Outlet

Despite a longstanding criticism of the Koch Brothers for their largely successful attempts to thwart policies to deal with climate change, progressive magazine Mother Jones  validated a publication closely tied to the brothers and their business interests – the Washington Free Beacon.

In an article written by Nick Baumann labeling the outlet “kind of good,” Mother Jones informs readers that the Free Beacon is a journalistically credible ideologically driven news outlet that was formed to offer opposition to liberal partisan outlets such as Talking Points Memo and Think Progress.

The origin story of the Free Beacon told in the article is an interesting though thoroughly incomplete one. Left out of the story is that the Free Beacon was setup as the communications arm of the Center for American Freedom (CAF) not solely to tell conservative stories but serve clients of Orion Strategies where Free Beacon publisher Michael Goldfarb was a partner at the time.

Goldfarb, quoted largely uncritically in the piece, has been a professional lobbyist for some years and has served foreign governments as well as major corporations. According to Politico, Charles and David Koch are among the list of clients of Orion Strategies and though a spokesman for the Kochs tried to distance the the fossil fuel oligarchs from CAF, the connections would only deepen with the passage of time.

One of the most effective Koch Brothers-backed ventures is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Until recently the group was both stunningly influential and exceedingly well hidden. In some cases ALEC would offer “model legislation” on behalf of businesses such as Koch Industries that would be copied word for word and passed into law in state legislatures around the country.

But once exposed to the sunshine ALEC and the affiliated companies started suffering a backlash particularly when it became clear that the Koch-backed organization was trying to undermine efforts to combat climate change.

So in 2012 ALEC hired the Edelman public relations firm to push back against ALEC critics. One of the outlets Edelman used to attack ALEC critics was the Free Beacon which became a platform for Edelman to launder attacks against its client’s opponents. Of course, given Orion Strategies and Michael Goldfarb’s preexisting relationship with Koch Industries it’s unlikely they needed much convincing to serve as such a platform. Edelman’s CEO still claims the firm does not promote climate denialism.

Then again, the US Supreme Court has now ruled via Citizen’s United that money is speech and corporations are people so maybe there is nothing especially problematic with laundering corporate talking points through a purported news organization. It is certainly a good PR tactic though whether it constitutes what many would define as “journalism” is harder to say.

Moving away from the flawed origin story, the overall gist of the Mother Jones piece is that the Free Beacon has diligent researchers and writers – was this ever in dispute?

Since when did conservatives not know how to do opposition research and communications? Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Charles Colson – these names ring any bells? Though one might be tempted to align Goldfarb more with Donald Segretti given some of the mysterious travails reporters have faced after exposing Goldfarb’s dealings.

Shortly after reporter Lee Fang exposed Goldfarb laundering his lobbying work through the Free Beacon on behalf of the government of Taiwan Fang was apparently electronically hacked. In a write up on the Free Beacon and Goldfarb by a more skeptical New York Times in 2013, Goldfarb was painted more as a seasoned Republican operative than someone concerned with journalism. The Times piece notes that the Free Beacon published a photo of Fang that was kept in a password protected file and that Fang filed a police report after it was published over concerns he was hacked.

Still kind of good?

So what’s the moral of the story, why did Mother Jones do something wrong? The Free Beacon is not the only outlet pumping our material in line with the interests of Koch Industries or even just Big Business generally. Hell, Chevron cut out the middleman entirely and just started its own newspaper.

What Mother Jones did wrong was to provide something the Free Beacon can acquire much less easily than corporate cash – third party validation. Even the liberal Mother Jones recognizes the Free Beacon as a credible news organization. That’s highly valuable to PR and lobbying firms looking to use the Free Beacon as a platform; something Goldfarb and friends will surely capitalize on in order to more effectively pound the Koch Brothers’ environmental critics.

It is hard to believe that is the business Mother Jones wants to be in.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.