KochFacts.com and Poynter.org: A strange relationship

Poynter.org has cornered the market for judging media outlets. Plagiarism, glaring factual error, conflict of interest, ownership of falling-bear-related photos — the site must be on the right-thinking side of every journalism fracas.

This role as media ref triggers a Sunday-school sensibility when it comes to the stuff that appears on Poynter.org, as one of its advertisers, KochFacts.com, has learned. Troopers along the ideo-media highway are familiar with KochFacts.com, which rebuts assertions in the media about Koch Industries Inc. and David and Charles Koch, strong backers of conservative causes in the United States.

“The purpose of the site is to present the facts and set the record straight in our voice since many times what is reported about us is false, misleading, or distorted,” says Melissa Cohlmia, corporate communication director at Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. Recent KochFacts.com posts, for instance, have criticized an Obama campaign aide for remarks made about the Koch brothers as well as a “Democratic political operative” for “tired and debunked” allegations about Koch.



At first Moos declined to provide details on Poynter.org’s ad-oriented disagreements with KochFacts.com. But then KochFacts.com provided such details; Poynter disputed such details. E-mails started flying like falsehoods on cable TV. After a great deal of back and forth, the Erik Wemple Blog is confident in reporting that Poynter and KochFacts.com have fussed over the following ads:

Ad Fuss No. 1: On April 11, according to Moos, KochFacts.com proposed an ad promoting a post rebutting remarks that analyst Karen Finney had made on MSNBC about Koch in relation to the Trayvon Martin case. The Koch people characterized the analyst’s comments as “false and wholly fabricated.”

So KochFacts.com sent an ad to Poynter.org titled as follows: “Dishonesty from Karen Finney: Maliciously false reporting from political operatives at MSNBC.”

No dice! ruled Moos, who objects to “language that is subjective and difficult to confirm.” Good call.

Ad Fuss No. 2: Just a day later, says KochFacts.com, Poynter.org requested an ad change. The Before: “Koch Responds to MSNBC’s Claims.” The After: “Koch Responds to MSNBC.” Now there’s something — Poynter.org was standing firmly against the inclusion of the word “claims” in an ad. A directive from the site to KochFacts.com read in part, “We can OK this version if you can delete ‘claims.’ Ad would read Koch Responds to MSNBC.”

Picayunism of that stature can’t possibly be explained or excused, and Moos makes no effort in that direction:

We do have two versions of that ad, but we can’t find any emails from me or to them about what we wanted changed or why. If we did, indeed, ask them to drop “claims” I think that was a mistake on my part.

*Ad Fuss No. 3: On June 25, Poynter.org asked for the following change. The Before: “Koch Responds to Attacks from NYT Editor.” The After: “Koch Responds to Claims from NYT Editor.” Upshot: One moment, “claims” is a bad word, next it’s fine.

Claims, attacks, whatevers. In the media-political world, they’re the same thing. Let the Kochs speak, Poynter.org! Says Cohlmia about the tweaks: “Although we had mocked up ads internally that used the phrase ‘Koch confronts,’ we shelved those since Poynter has been a stickler on any kind of active characterizations or adjectives.”

Moos puts her own eyes to the site’s ads, which bring in about a half-million dollars per year. (That figure encompasses display ads plus job listings plus some book-selling sponsorship revenue). She takes a case-by-case approach to ad copy and doesn’t hesitate to seek edits. “Some of it is resources and some of it is what can be verified,” she says, outlining internal considerations in examining ads. More Moos:

We appreciate that KochFacts and all our advertisers are committed to reaching our readers in ways that respect our principles and guidelines, which include making claims in ad copy that we can verify as accurate using minimal resources (e.g. “X responds to Y”). We devote far more resources to ensuring that our editorial content is accurate (e.g. “CNN, Fox err in covering Supreme Court Health Care ruling”) and that it conforms to our principles and guidelines for publishing.

Those principles and guidelines, too, place Poynter in an elite category. “None of the three other media-criticism sites — MediaBistro, Columbia Journalism Review, and Jim Romenesko, has raised any concerns with us,” writes Koch’s Cohlmia via e-mail.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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