Complimentary Friday Afternoon PR Lessons

I’ve finally come under the gun of KochFacts, the aggressive PR fightback from Koch Industries against journalists who write inaccuracies and/or things that the PR department doesn’t like. Last week I filed something in the latter category – an ironic reference to the new liberal ire against the libertarian Free State Project.

Here was the reference.

In 2011, people noticed that Free Staters had been elected to the New Hampshire legislature and were introducing bills to decriminalize marijuana and classify TSA groping as sexual assault. They soon received the ultimate honor—being attacked by progressive groups as a “radical right” and Koch-connected plot.

In Keene, the Koch-connected right-wingers are mostly interested in breaking behavior laws and seeing if anyone raises a fuss about it.

Unless you’re clicking over from Slate.fr – and Bonjour , if that’s the case – you speak pretty good English and catch the meaning. I often write about how Charles and David Koch have become Enemy No. 1 and 2 for liberals. The FSP, which liberals really couldn’t have given a damn about before this year, became the target of some muckraking about Koch connections. Because some key individuals in the movement have worked with Koch-affiliated organizations, the guilt-by-association train chugged onward. Pete Eyre, who’s been a recruiter of sorts for Free Keene, spent years working for Koch-funded organizations. And I spent two and a half years at Reason, so I’m part of the “Kochtopus” too. I thought nothing of the reference.

Nonetheless, the reference inspired an accusatory e-mail from KochFacts. To their credit, their e-mail and my response are both posted on their site , as is a second e-mail I hadn’t noticed until now. Line by line:

I don’t see from your piece how readers would know you were referring to an essay in the Nation from a few months ago.

My readers read several items from me about those Nation stories.

I also don’t understand how the reference to Koch is meant to be ironic. The assertion you made seems straightforward: “In Keene, the Koch-connected right-wingers are mostly interested in breaking behavior laws and seeing if anyone raises a fuss about it.”

It’s ironic because the attack from ThinkProgress that I linked to implied that the Free State Project was about to do the bidding of corporate interests. Here I was pointing out that the Keene libertarians were not doing that. They were rebelling against open container and nudity and marijuana regulations. The left-right paradigm is flawed, sure, but painting your breasts and defying cops to arrest you is not behavior commonly attributed to right-wingers. For more about “irony,” consult your local library.

But if you believe that it’s not clear enough, as you say, then perhaps a clarification is in order.

I believe it is clear, especially now, so: No.

Specifically, we request you clarify that Koch is not involved in the Free Keene project.

I never said it was. I said liberal critics exploited the past financial connections of Free Staters generally, and Pete Eyre in particular, for articles that – as the reader can see – don’t do Free Keene justice.

We don’t provide any funding (which is what I meant by “formal”) and we have no interaction with them (which is what I meant by “otherwise”).

One of the most prominent members of the movement worked for Koch-funded organizations for years, though, so the point is moot for our purposes. Some liberals attacked the movement as “Koch-connected” because of this well-known connection; that was all I wrote.

You point out that one of the people participating in the Free Keene project formerly worked for an organization that received Koch foundation funding. As you know, many thousands of people, yourself included, have worked at places that received such funding. At a certain point, the how-many-degrees-of-separation assertion becomes absurd.

Agreed. This was my point. Readers who are not paid to hassle reporters seem to have understood this.

By your logic, anything the person in your story might do for the rest of his career would be “Koch-connected,” correct? Similarly, could Slate magazine be regarded as Koch-connected?

Just as The Nation and ThinkProgress have knocked the FSP that way, I suppose they could knock other organizations that way. Were they to do so, I would treat it with the same level of seriousness I treated it here: None.

I look forward to your response and the requested clarification.

And I hope you have a Merry Christmas. Really, though: How many more people will notice the Koch reference, and scratch their heads about it, because of this over-the-top correction request?

Here’s a tip. If it ever seems like a reporter leaves out some link or context that would make a point more clear, e-mail the reporter or the editor and say so. Don’t start the negotiation by claiming, falsely, to have found an “error,” and demanding a correction, because if there is no error – if there’s only a disagreement about phrasing, one that the reporter would be happy to explain – you’re achieving nothing.