Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Teaching the powerful

Last Friday USA time (Saturday in New Zealand), MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow schooled the billionaire Koch brothers—the biggest and best-known funders of far rightwing political activity in the USA (video above). Like all politically active oligarchs and plutocrats, the Kochs believe that they alone can dictate not just public policy and laws, but even the way we mere peasants talk about them. The Kochs’ lawyer demanded Rachel read a script they provided, one that denounced her own factual reporting. She refused, and then instructed them how democracies work:
“Being a political actor means being subject to political scrutiny. If you don’t want to be known for it, don’t do it, don’t just complain when people accurately describe your actions. Your actions are what we are reporting on, and we will do that on our own terms, as a free press.”
Smaller news organisations and freelance journalists, people who can’t possibly pay for lawyers to defend against lawsuits from billionaires, would probably buckle under the pressure of the probably bluffing threats from lawyers representing oligarchs and plutocrats. In so doing, they preserve themselves and their ability to buy food, clothing, housing, etc., but democracy itself is damaged and diminished—the very thing oligarchs and plutocrats are trying to do in the first place.

“I do not play requests,” Rachel told the Kochs. She was right to refuse and the Koch’s were wrong to suggest she play their tune. A free and unfettered press means—by definition—never doing the bidding of oligarchs and plutocrats or anyone else.

Democracy itself is in peril as long as we allow oligarchs and plutocrats to call the shots. This is true in all democracies, of course, but in the USA it has special significance in a system ordinary people don’t control. The infamous, boneheaded Citizens United Supreme Court decision must be overturned by amending the US Constitution, and there must be reforms made to the electoral system to ensure that the people alone call the shots. The influence of the oligarchs and plutocrats should be merely the same as that of any other citizen: One person, one vote.

That day is far away, so in the meantime ordinary citizens have to rely on a free and unfettered press to at least shine the harsh light of scrutiny on the oligarchs and plutocrats. When they fail to do so, democracy weakens further. Rachel Maddow frequently stands up to oligarchs and plutocrats. In this case, she made the duty of the press clear as she lectured the Kochs that they have no right to restrict press freedom. I hope more journalists take up the challenge of defending democracy, but I worry that few will.


rogerogreen said...


Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That provides a good summary of just how powerful the Kochs are. However, being a rightwing site, it's coverage has a distinct rightward lean to it, so I went to the less conservative Washington Post,

which originally
published the report
Newsmax reported on. The crux of the Newsmax story is at the beginning:

"The extensive network of political action committees and fundraising
groups built by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch
is unrivaled in its fundraising prowess and its legal sophistication
designed to protect donor anonymity.

"…tax filings show that the nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs in the
2012 elections out-raised every other independent group on the right and
also trumped the Democrats' national coalition of labor unions."

rogerogreen said...

Funny, but I get so many REALLY conservative feeds that I don't even think of of Newsmax as a right-wing site.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That's probably similar to why I notice rightward tilt (or near-horizontal lean…): I avoid most rightwing sites (except for periodically checking to see what my adversaries are up to). However, I already knew about that particular site.