A few more words about Jane Mayer

This is an addition to my previous review of Jane Mayer’s impressive 2016 Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

The shit hit the fan in America when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.   The Democratic president had both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court still had a “swing vote” [1].   Hope and Change were in the air after two terms of bungling, warring, tiny minority-enriching right wing rule that culminated in a massive fraud-driven economic crash.   It was a bleak time for the radical right, and their best and brightest got busy strategizing and putting their strategies into action.

After their victory in Citizens United, the cleverly argued case that legalized unlimited campaign-related spending as the protected speech of legal fictions now considered “persons”, Charles Koch and his network went into overdrive.   The secretive billionaire group funded the “grassroots” Tea Party making it possible for Americans to see continual, locally organized anti-Obama protests on television every evening from every corner of this gigantic nation.   There appeared to be a groundswell of spontaneous, united opposition to Obama, who was otherwise enjoying a 60% approval rating, but no matter.  The optics are key.

After putting Scott Brown into office, with a huge infusion of cash right before the interim election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, ending the Democrats ability to overcome a filibuster, Koch’s network got busy nationwide in the lead-up to the 2010 midterms.   In that election they spent over $137,000,000, gaining 63 seats in the House of Representatives and wresting control from the Democrats.  The massive spending also allowed Republicans to further eat into the Democrat’s Senate majority, where a bunch of the contested seats were flipped. Crucially, Republicans also picked up massive influence in state elections across the country, taking over a majority of state governments.   This last bit was crucial as electoral district lines were about to be redrawn after the 2010 Census.      

Democracy was not necessarily going to be the long-term solution for the Koch network and their unpopular ideas, but this kind of unprecedented national electoral victory was intoxicating.   Unlimited “dark money” changed the game.  Few candidates could survive being massively outspent by an opponent who could constantly air effective attack ads right up to election day.  

Not much was known about the roots of powerful advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity and many other interlocking right wing foundations, think tanks and non-profits set up by the Kochtopus until investigative journalist Jane Mayer and her colleagues began researching the players and their connections.   She wrote a long 2010 piece in the New Yorker that infuriated Charles and David Koch and their friends.   Mayer had previously written about the billionaire funder of liberal causes George Soros, whose foundation, the Open Society Institute, spends up to a hundred million dollars a year on its causes.   Soros, unlike the Kochs, had agreed to be interviewed for Mayer’s article.  He accepted the unflattering things about about him and his influence machine in the piece without protest.  David Koch went wild when he read Mayer’s article about his family business.  

Koch complained in a four page letter to the New Yorker about the unfair portrayal of his “covert operations,” insisting there was nothing secret about his well-funded and extensive network of political influence, without citing any factual  inaccuracies in the article.  Koch then gave an interview during which he called Mayer’s New Yorker piece “hateful, ludicrous and just plain wrong”.  [2]   Not long after Koch made those comments, a smear campaign was underway to discredit Jane Mayer, featuring e-mailed threats and ultimatums, private investigators and an opposition research staff.  

They didn’t find much they could use, but trumped up a “plagiarism” case against her that was posted briefly on-line, before it was taken off-line, probably to avoid litigation over the attempted libel.   The plagiarism case was extremely thin, with four insubstantial paragraphs cited (from a long career at the New Yorker.)  Two of the four citations contained attributions to the people she was allegedly plagiarizing.     The Kochtopus, not directly implicated in the smear campaign because — why would they be? — didn’t succeed in destroying Jane Mayer or her reputation, but not for lack of trying.  Fortunately, they also didn’t succeed in shutting her up.

In January 2016 her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right came out.   It is a hell of a book, an important story that should be widely discussed as we are locked in this vicious zero-sum fight between the facts (and truth) and endless spin (and powerful lies).   Who are you going to believe, a bunch of hysterical climate scientists claiming that our escalating global climate catastrophes are somehow related to man’s heedless pollution of earth, sky and water, or two of the richest men in America who make their money dirtily extracting a highly toxic, and very lucrative, natural resource, while defending liberty?

Integral to the radical right’s position in the “post-factual” fight is sewing skepticism, doubt, outrage about things that are otherwise indisputable.   We see this in the right’s pre-emptive dismissal of the mainstream media, well-researched, carefully vetted work of honest American journalists is now reduced, for the simple minded, to traitorous “fake news,” the hateful spewing of “enemies of the American people.”   Bizzarro world, my friends.

Take a look at how the two sides of this debate are stacked up, and how unlimited money (“speech”) among a tiny group of super-wealthy anti-government radicals makes for slaughter sides.   Tell me which side is the more deadly enemy of the American people.



[1] albeit a swing vote who voted with the right in Citizens United, actually writing the partisan majority opinion.

[2]  David Koch, a world-class philanthropist, is not always so self-righteously pissed off.   As Jane Mayer writes in her 2010 article, and in Dark Money, he is also capable of world-class self-deprecation:

David Koch joked about his good fortune in a 2003 speech to alumni at Deerfield, where, after pledging twenty-five million dollars, he was made the school’s sole “lifetime trustee.” He said, “You might ask: How does David Koch happen to have the wealth to be so generous? Well, let me tell you a story. It all started when I was a little boy. One day, my father gave me an apple. I soon sold it for five dollars and bought two apples and sold them for ten. Then I bought four apples and sold them for twenty. Well, this went on day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until my father died and left me three hundred million dollars!”


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