Censorship In America: How A Billionaire Blocked Two Unflattering PBS Documentaries (VIDEOS)

Author: June 10, 2013 4:41 pm
Censorhip in America: Cookie Monster from 'Sesame Street' as a roll of Koch brothers' brand Brawny paper towels.

Censorship in America is easy when you’re a billionaire like David Koch. Next thing you know, PBS may replace Cookie Monster with Brawny paper towels. Image screen captured from the May 22, 2013 edition of the Colbert Report.

What do 2Chains, folks from the NSA, Barack Obama, and Alex Jones have in common? They probably all wish they could stifle criticism from the media right now. Unfortunately for them, we supposedly don’t have censorship in America. Unless you’re a billionaire like David Koch (of the infamous Koch brothers). Then, you can get away with all sorts of nasty stuff, like influencing politics behind the scenes, polluting Detroit, and quelling criticism of your evil activities from the media. According to Jane Mayer from The New Yorker, Koch has also successfully wielded his wealth and influence to block not one, but two unflattering documentaries on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Has anyone else noticed that the supposed hotbed of liberalism that was once PBS has grown increasingly tepid in recent years? Maybe that has something to do with Koch donating $23 million over the past few years and getting himself onto the boards of PBS affiliates WGBH and WNET:

PBS has long been a political target of conservatives [...] When Koch joined the boards of WGBH and WNET, it seemed to mark an ideological inroad, enabling him to exert influence over a network with a prominent news operation. Meanwhile, the member stations, by having Koch as a trustee, were inoculating themselves against charges of liberal bias, and positioning themselves to receive substantial new donations.

Koch’s recent infiltration is — in some ways — even scarier than the Koch brothers’ attempts to buy the ailing, but influential, Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers. These newspapers have always been run as for-profit (albeit not always profitable) businesses. PBS — and the airwaves of its affiliates — on the other hand, is supposedly a public resource devoted to educational, informative, and socially useful programming. According to Wikipedia, respondents to Roper polls have rated PBS as America’s most-trusted national institution since the mid-2000s. In an age where many don’t trust the media, this says a lot. Unfortunately, pervasive budget cuts — thanks to Koch brothers-backed Tea Party legislators — have effectively privatized PBS. Unbeknownst to most Americans, only 12% of public broadcasting’s funds come from the U.S. government, the rest comes from private sources … like David Koch.

Most recently, Koch blocked “Citizen Koch,” a documentary funded by the Independent Television Service, a San Francisco, CA non-profit associated with PBS. William D. Cohan reports for Bloomberg:

Using the 2012 Wisconsin recall election as a tableau, “Citizen Koch” fairly and accurately portrays the way big money, much of it from out of state, was used to help the Republican governor, Scott Walker, retain his office.

The title of the film is partly a play on “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’ thinly veiled portrait of William Randolph Hearst. It also refers to the documentary’s description of the role played in the recall election by Americans for Prosperity, a so-called super-PAC funded by David and Charles Koch, the ultraconservative billionaire owners of Koch Industries Inc. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index pegs the brothers as being worth $43.7 billion each, making them the sixth and seventh richest people in the world.

Unfortunately, we’ll never get to see this documentary until it comes to our local theaters or pops up on NetFlix, because Koch didn’t like it one bit. And if you watch the trailer, you’ll see why. Here’s the video:

 

Nor is this the first time a documentary got Koch-blocked. An earlier ITVS-sponsored documentary also provoked Koch’s ire and got the boot: “Park Avenue.” According to Mayer:

“Park Avenue” is a pointed exploration of the growing economic inequality in America and a meditation on the often self-justifying mind-set of “the one per cent.” As a narrative device, Gibney focusses on one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Manhattan—740 Park Avenue—portraying it as an emblem of concentrated wealth and contrasting the lives of its inhabitants with those of poor people living at the other end of Park Avenue, in the Bronx.

Unfortunately for PBS, the film makers, and the producers, David Koch happens to be one of 720 Park’s residents. And “Park Avenue” does not portray the Koch brothers in a flattering light:

A large part of the film, however, subjects the Kochs to tough scrutiny. “Nobody’s money talks louder than David Koch’s,” the narrator, Gibney, says, describing him as a “right-wing oil tycoon” whose company had to pay what was then “the largest civil penalty in the E.P.A.’s history” for its role in more than thirty oil spills in 2000. At one point, a former doorman—his face shrouded in shadow, to preserve his anonymity—says that when he “started at 740” his assumption was that “come around to Christmastime I’m going to get a thousand from each resident. You know, because they are multibillionaires. But it’s not that way.” He continues, “These guys are businessmen. They know what the going rate is—they’re not going to give you anything more than that. The cheapest person over all was David Koch. We would load up his trucks—two vans, usually—every weekend, for the Hamptons . . . multiple guys, in and out, in and out, heavy bags. We would never get a tip from Mr. Koch. We would never get a smile from Mr. Koch. Fifty-dollar check for Christmas, too—yeah, I mean, a check! At least you could give us cash.”

But Stephen Colbert, in his May 22nd edition of The Colbert Report, probably explains Koch and censorship in America best. Since Koch has given PBS $23 million over the years, while PBS is only 12% funded by the U.S. government, ” that is why PBS has become more and more dependent on viewers nothing like you.”

Colbert goes on to quip:

“I guess for a donation of $75 you get the PBS tote bag, and for $23 million, you get PBS’s nut sack. But I say it is not enough just to avoid saying nasty things about Dave Koch. PBS should replace cookie monster with a roll of Brawny paper towels.”

Here’s the video:

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