There's a fresh wave of media fascination with David and Charles Koch and their political giving.
MSNBC, New York magazine, the New Yorker and New York Times columnist Frank Rich recently have been sorting — distastefully and with growing alarm — through news archives, foundation filings and one another's coverage to produce indisputable proof that the Kochs are highly committed libertarians whose spending has been paying off.
We in Wichita already knew that, didn't we?
The Koch brothers have been investing their money and organizational clout in conservative politics for many years. Now they've been discovered, or rediscovered, by the national media.
There are three proximate causes for their new prominence:
* David Koch, who has an increasingly high profile in New York City and a much lower profile in Wichita, has made contributions to put his name on important buildings in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.
* While the recession reduced some great fortunes, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries fared relatively well, placing the Kochs among the 10 wealthiest Americans and 25 wealthiest people in the world, according to Forbes magazine. Each was last estimated to be worth $17.5 billion.
* Most crucially, the tea party movement has gained electoral traction, and a Koch-founded political arm, Americans for Prosperity, provided some of the spark that lit the tinder of public discontent.
Having four such prominent news organizations focusing on the Kochs in such a short time demonstrates that the media echo chamber is still functioning. In the same way that Fox News host Glenn Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin see vast conspiracies on the left, the New York-based media see them on the right. In both cases, facts are strung together to support existing viewpoints, rather than to provide illumination.
In Sunday's New York Times, Rich linked the Kochs with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch in a billionaire boys club controlling the conservative agenda and its unwitting foot soldiers in the tea party. "The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests," Rich wrote.
It's an appealing idea to liberals that the owners of a privately held company in red-state Kansas, pursuing their anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda, are cynically manipulating the yahoos who believe President Obama is a Muslim and that death panels will do away with Granny.
The truth seems more complicated and the Kochs' agenda more transparent. Koch funding of Americans for Prosperity and other advocacy groups may well have provided a catalyst for the tea party movement, but the voter anger is quite genuine.
If you want to understand the Kochs' agenda, read Charles Koch's 2007 book, "The Science of Success." He makes the strong case that companies, nations and individuals thrive where free markets flourish. Koch Industries has grown into one of the world's largest private companies pursuing his market-based management philosophy.
One source of disappointment to me in all of the recent New York media is that Charles' book is largely overlooked. The noisy national debate would benefit from some of his reasoned conviction and grasp of economic history. The disagreements might be just as sharp at the end, but the level of discussion would be elevated.