LOBBYING

04.18.11

Corporate Counterattack

The new battleground for taking on journalists is online.

Update: Since this blog post was published Monday, a spokeswoman for Koch emailed this afternoon to let us know that Kochfacts.com had been updated with both its original ad against the Center for Integrity as well as a lengthy rebuttal of the center's piece about the company. You can see it here.

It’s not unusual for aggrieved companies to challenge news organizations with a swift rebuttal.

When Koch Industries was angered by a Center for Public Integrity story that called its lobbying practices into question, the corporation launched an online ad campaign to discredit the piece. And it posted links on Facebook and Google.

But the ad was apparently taken down, with no explanation from the billionaire Koch brothers who have become lightning rods for supporting conservative causes.

The story by the Center for Public Integrity (which has a cooperative relationship with Newsweek and The Daily Beast) details how Koch Industries has ramped up its lobbying efforts over the last seven years. Koch did not comment for the article, but author John Aloysius Farrell used federal filings to report that the company’s spending in this area rose from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008. The story examined several of the company’s business dealings, including how it came to buy up ethanol plants in Iowa and lobby for looser regulations on dioxin, asbestos, formaldehyde and benzene.

The ad, titled “Responding to Slanted Journalism at the Center for Public Integrity,” criticizes the center for being biased and having ties to George Soros, the liberal financier whom the company accuses of bankrolling a smear campaign against them.

In a cached version, the ad also slams the writer, John Aloysius Farrell, stating, “It soon became clear that Mr. Farrell is not an objective reporter as he had presented himself. … We still have received no answer from CPI on Farrell’s apparent bias and how CPI justifies assigning him in light of that.”

Here’s a bit more from the ad: “Our concerns about objectivity and fairness were met with indignation. An obvious problem raised about CPI’s backers was ignored. Our request to review and react to assertions about us was also disregarded. If that’s how CPI treats basic journalism standards, readers should be skeptical of anything they publish – and not just about Koch Industries.”

The ad also led readers back to a Web site called kochfacts.com, which bills itself as a “repository for media responses and factual information presented by Koch Industries, Inc.” The site warehouses Koch’s complaints about how the company is portrayed in media accounts.

A Koch spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions about why the ad had been taken down from the Web site, but said in an email it was “entirely proper and more than appropriate.” She added that Koch Industries had “good-faith concerns we broached with CPI” that remained unanswered.

William Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, says Koch hasn’t requested any corrections or a retraction of the story.

“The story is based on Koch’s own lobbying disclosure reports, hardly controversial material that would warrant the ad hominem attack on a reporter who was objectively doing his job,” Buzenberg said. “Rather than answer our repeated efforts to get their side of the story or to address issues that are irrefutably factual, it seems as though Koch simply wants to use advertising to bully and chill a free press.”