Why The Media Just Can’t Stop Whitewashing The Koch Family Story-level
If you want to suffer in Hollywood at its sappy, you could waste an afternoon watching Mary Pickford’s 1917 tearjerker. The poor rich girl other his new version of 1936 of the same name starring Shirley Temple (source material is a 1913 Broadway play by Eleanor Gates). Both films, as can be guessed from the titles, explore the hardships of being the child of plutocratic wealth. pickford theater plays Gwendolyn, the abandoned daughter of a mother who prefers high society to her daughter and a father mired in schemes to make money. Growing up in a cold home, Gwendolyn finds friendship in the noisy company of the warm if ragged working class, which includes an organ grinder and a plumber. From the temple young princess suffering, Barbara Barry, has only one, and a negligent parent, a widowed father immersed in business. Like Gwendolyn, Barbara also discovers nutritious goodness in the company of underdogs, including another organ grinder.
It’s easy to guess why Hollywood executives were drawn to the “poor little rich girl” narrative in times of global war (Pickford) and economic disaster (Temple). This is fundamentally a comforting fantasy of class reconciliation under the hackneyed but often effective rubric of shared humanity. Most of those who are not wealthy have the opportunity to be magnanimous, as their lives are shown to have an emotional glow that dwarfs the flashy profit of the financially well-endowed. The message is that the rich suffer perhaps even more than we do, so they can be our friends. This fellowship is a form of bridge building that replaces the ugly class struggle.
This ludicrous narrative is being revived in the 21st century, not on the big screen but in the august pages of the apparently serious. New York Times. On February 23, the daily published a profile by reporter Brooks Barnes of Elizabeth R. Koch, daughter of Charles Koch, whose net worth is estimated to be around $68 billion and who is by far the largest donor to right-wing causes in the United States.
Barnes delivers a sad story that focuses so much on how hard it is to be a Koch heir that it could easily be the last reboot of The poor rich girl. According to Barnes, Elizabeth Koch has been “driven to the brink of insanity by her last name” and her “anguish may seem entirely understandable to you. Money can be corrosive, especially for the generation that didn’t make it.”
At this point in the article, I almost expected an organ grinder to show up. Instead, Koch’s link to the less well-off is not, as in rough-and-tumble old-fashioned tenement movies with the working class, but rather reveling in New Age welfare flapdoodle. Koch happens to be a promoter of the concept she calls the “Perception Box” (a term she has trademarked in good capitalist style). “Perception Box” seems to be Koch’s catch-all phrase for an imprinted self-conception that we acquire at an early age through social interaction. Koch’s Perception Box, according to her own account, what about the privileged rich girl that everyone hated. She is now promoting a self-help program so that we can all get out of our particular Perception Box and be friends.
A common characteristic that Koch shares with Pickford and Temple is the goal of reconciliation between classes. According to Barnes, one of Koch’s associates believes the heiress is “uniquely positioned to spearhead conversations on de-divisiveness.”
Barnes mentions that Koch caught his attention thanks to a message from a publicist named Scott Rowe. This might explain why Barnes’ article reads like a thinly veiled rewrite of a public relations pitch.
The article is also similar in many parts of the story, and even in its wording, to a 2018 article. written by Efrat Livni for Quartz, which itself is also little more than a glorified press release. Here’s Livni: “Sure, she knows she’s probably rolling your eyes at the thought of an heiress from Wichita, Kansas, with all the advantages, struggling to survive.” Barnes: “Or you can have the opposite reaction: It must be very, very difficult, to roll your eyes, to be the heiress to one of the greatest fortunes ever amassed, who graduated from an Ivy League (Princeton) university and is now married to a success biotech entrepreneur.” Levni: “When she was an MFA student at Syracuse University, for example, she never admitted that she was one of those Koch’s.” Barnes: “A couple of years later, he lied to his classmates at Syracuse University, where he was working on an MFA in fiction, insisting his name was pronounced ‘kotch,’ unrelated to those ‘coca-colas’, the ones they can have. read sinister things about.” Levni: “Koch actually says she’s ‘apolitical.'” Barnes: “She insisted she was ‘apolitical.'”
What is worth noting here is not so much the similarity of the wording as the similarity of the thought, as if Barnes were uncritically regurgitating an existing PR playbook. Barnes is also notably gullible about Koch’s claims about herself. Is it really true that Koch is “apolitical”? As Jacob Silverman ,, has a history, as far back as 2012, of donating to his father’s PAC and to Republicans like Josh Mandel and John Boehner. Nor, despite what Barnes suggests, are Elizabeth Koch’s New Age and therapeutic interests incompatible with her father’s brand of right-wing individualism. In fact, as journalist Brian Doherty documented in his 2007 radicals for capitalisma long time ago overlap between right-libertarianism and personal self-development through spiritualism and psychedelic experimentation.
In the first published version of his article, Barnes praises Koch’s work on the perception box by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a self-described neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Northeastern University. What was not initially mentioned, until an editor’s note was added, was that “Dr. Barrett’s research lab at Northeastern University has received grants from Unlikely Collaborators, Ms. Koch’s non-profit organization, and Dr. Barrett is now a paid advisor to the group.”
Barnes’ article emphasizes the differences between Elizabeth Koch and her father, Charles. But the two have a lot in common, most notably a willingness to use her wealth to influence the press to launder her reputation. Like his daughter, Charles Koch has also tried to shake off the toxic reputation of being a supporter of the far right. like the newsletter popular informationdirected by Judd Legum, noted on February 7, “Koch has repeatedly announced that he was refocusing his political strategy away from far-right Republicans, including Trump, with no discernible change in his actual political activity.” In 2020, chef said The Wall Street Journal he was renouncing partisanship and was going to spend his money “building bridges across partisan divides to find answers to expanding social problems.” This included working with liberals and Democrats. But, popular information Koch’s political organization reportedly went on to spend “$63,401,608 in support of Republican candidates for federal office, $5,576,858 in opposition to Democratic candidates, and zero dollars in support of Democratic candidates.”
The lesson should be that when Koch talks about building bridges, we need to find another way to cross the water.
As it happens, Brooks Barnes was one of the signatories to a letter of some New York Times employees who oppose to a previous letter, signed largely by freelancers and some staff members, who oppose the newspaper’s coverage of transgender issues. The letter Barnes signed reads in part: “We are journalists, not activists. That line must be clear.” The letter claimed to uphold “factual and accurate journalism that is written, edited and published in accordance with Times standard.”
Based on Barnes’ laughable paean to Elizabeth Koch, signatories to the Times letter objecting to activism perhaps you should reflect on whether this kind of centrist activism could also be detrimental to good journalism. Barnes and other centrist activists salivate uncritically when someone talks about building bridges across the political divide, are utterly gullible when it comes to pronouncements by plutocrats like the Kochs, and see no conflict in selling reworked PR pitches about wealthy influencers. This centrist activism is the source of many of the errors of American journalism.