The Society of Professional Journalists Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter is issuing the following statement of concern about the accelerating trend of journalism organizations and entities to both solicit and accept donations from non-profit organizations associated with Charles and David Koch and their company Koch Industries, and from other similar groups that potentially have the incidental or intended effect of ideologically influencing news coverage and journalism policy agendas:
SPJ/LA objects in the strongest possible terms to a $25,000 donation by the Charles Koch Institute for a sponsored session, “Free to FoIA,” scheduled to take place at the national SPJ “Excellence in Journalism” convention in Baltimore, September 27-29, 2018.
The session promises journalists “a tactical and topical guide” to obtaining public records through the federal Freedom of Information Act to “shine a light on government,” and will feature participants from openthegovernment.org (a transparency advocacy group), NPR and a law firm which has represented news organizations.
The Koch brothers and Koch Industries do not come to this issue with clean hands. Between 2010 and 2017, they operated kochfacts.com, a website largely devoted to attacking and discrediting journalists who reported critically on Koch Industries and its activities. The attacks included impugning the reputation of reporters like Jane Mayer, a longtime New Yorker staff writer who reported on the Kochs’ political network in a 2010 New Yorker article and a bestselling 2016 book, Dark Money. The Koch website routinely accused Bloomberg, Forbes, MSNBC, the New York Times, Reuters and many other news outlets of inaccuracies, deceptions and falsehoods simply for reporting facts that the Koch brothers didn’t like.
In recent years the Kochs have changed tactics, quietly deactivating the website and instead trying to co-opt and cultivate a connection with journalism organizations. The Charles Koch Institute and related Charles Koch Foundation have solicited grant proposals and awarded thousands of dollars in grants to journalism entities including the Newseum, the Poynter Institute, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Washington Post and others.
SPJ/LA believes it is fundamentally incompatible with the journalistic mission and codes of ethics governing conflicts of interest to accept money and sponsorships for any reason, whether disclosed or not, from entities like those associated with Koch Industries whose advocacy has long included sustained attacks on the integrity and legitimacy of journalists and journalism organizations.
Moreover, despite its professed support for transparency when it comes to government, Koch Industries itself has never been a champion of openness and transparency when it comes to its own activities. For example, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently reversed a lower court decision and ordered a Koch-connected foundation, Americans for Prosperity, to disclose its donor list to the California attorney general to ensure against charity fraud. Koch Industries had argued unsuccessfully against such transparency, claiming that releasing its list to law enforcement would imperil the First Amendment rights of its donors.
SPJ/LA calls upon the national SPJ board of directors and other news organizations who have sought or received Koch-related and similar sponsorships to ensure that their policies preclude partnerships with donors whose agendas and tactics are fundamentally at odds with the core journalistic mission to further transparency and accountability in all institutions, public and private, carried out by a free and independent press.