The Wichita Business Journal states with pride that getting an interview with one of the Koch brothers is a big deal. “To the media, and by extension the public, Charles Koch is elusive and inscrutable. Until now.”
That’s the lead-in to the “extended interview” that Wichita Business Journal Editor in Chief Bill Roy and reporter Daniel McCoy carried out with Koch, who with his brother David heads up an industrial conglomerate and steers big money toward free-market causes in the United States. The Koch brothers are known for their Koch Facts website, a platform that combats what they see as frequent distortions in the mainstream media about their business and political activities. At the same time, many of those activities are difficult to trace, as the Washington Post’s Matea Gold noted in an investigative piece earlier this year.
Given the brothers’ media skepticism, it’s no surprise that the Kochs insisted on some conditions for the 40-minute session. The Wichita Business Journal, to its credit, disclosed some negotiations over the interview: “We talked several times after that initial meeting, agreed to some terms, including some topics, photography and taking no more than 45 minutes of his time,” noted Roy in a piece on the interview.
To get a fuller picture of the conditions, the Erik Wemple Blog reached out to Kochs spokesperson Missy Cohlmia, who responded with the following list:
*That WBJ would submit questions ahead of time so we could be prepared and make the most of the 45-minute interview
*We placed no restrictions on the types of questions as is evident from the story itself – it covered business and politics
*That we would work with them to fact check
*We agreed to still photography by WBJ; we did not agree to video (this was the first time they have asked us for video)
*Missy sits in the interview
Hmmm, some interesting ones in there. Just what does that fact-checking clause mean? Did that give the Kochs some control over the resulting piece? “Absolutely not,” Roy told the Erik Wemple Blog in a chat this afternoon. “That’s a deal killer for me. We told her we would go through and check some facts. They would not have pre-publication approval on anything.”
Also curious was the Kochs’ video refusal. Since the Wichita guys were recording the session and taking down the words of Charles Koch, what could have possibly been the quibble with a little video? “My understanding was it was for security reasons,” says Roy, referring, apparently, to the possibility that people would be able to identify Charles Koch. Of course, Charles Koch’s image appears often in news stories on his company. “People know what he looks like,” says Roy.
The two sides went back and forth on the video question, with the Kochs at one point asking for the ability to approve the video beforehand and Roy offering a compromise in which the Wichita publication would video only a portion of the interview on some agreed-upon questions. In the end, the multimedia thing kind of fell apart.
When asked about the security issue, Cohlmia referred the Erik Wemple Blog to a comment this week by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called the Kochs “un-American.” “As we saw this week,” wrote Cohlmia via e-mail, “people who disagree with our POV resort to name-calling and harassment. That, in turn, leads to more threats.”
In keeping with the focus of a publication titled Wichita Business Journal, the interview went heavy on business matters related to Wichita, home base of Koch Industries. It threw a softball on the media treatment, asking whether Charles Koch found it “frustrating.” Distilled answer: Yes. Nor did it dive into the muck that so fascinates Beltway investigative types — namely, the mysteries of the brothers’ political operation. “I knew that first and foremost, my responsibility is to readers from the Wichita area,” says Roy. “As far as being opaque about how they spend their money, we didn’t ask about that.”