A Conspiracy of None

Claims of a Koch Bros. conspiracy rejected by PBS, Kochs

'Citizen Koch'
• June 26, 2013 5:20 pm


A liberal filmmaker claimed on Wednesday that a public television station declined to air her documentary on the evils of Charles and David Koch because the station does the bidding of the billionaire libertarian brothers.

"Because of David Koch’s influence, we can’t get our film out there," said Tia Lessin, creator of the documentary Citizen Koch.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) allowed the Koch brothers to "dictate their programming decisions," she claimed.

The film is an exposé about the brothers’ involvement with groups that supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) after he proposed reforms to laws governing collective bargaining for state employees.

"For a film that takes such a strong stand against such an important issue, there is remarkable little fact-checking on display," wrote one reviewer.

Lessin’s conspiracy theory is based on a May report by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, a frequent Koch critic.

Mayer suggested that David Koch used his positions on the boards of two public television stations, as well as an implied threat to withdraw a seven-figure contribution to the station on which Citizen Koch was supposedly slated to air, to kill the project.

"Our experience speaks to the power that his money wields even in one of our most sacred public institutions: public television," Lessin said at a Wednesday event on Koch Industries’ potential purchase of the Tribune Co., a major media conglomerate.

The local public television station PBS, the Kochs, and the public television arm that funds original PBS content all reject Mayer’s and Lessin’s conspiracy theory.

Lois Vossen, a vice president at the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which finances public broadcasting projects, said the service "ceased negotiations" with Lessin after "cuts of the film did not reflect the proposal" initially presented to the ITVS.

ITVS funding, Lessin insisted on Wednesday, "had been promised to us."

However, in a statement designed to stem "the rising flow of misinformation," ITVS said it "initially recommended the film Citizen Corp for production licensing based on a written proposal," but that "the film was never contracted by ITVS."

"The [Citizen Koch] filmmakers’ shift in editorial direction from the written proposal during the negotiation window led ITVS to cease negotiations," the statement said.

Kellie Castruita Specter, a spokeswoman for WNET, the public television station that was slated to run the film and until recently included David Koch on its board of directors, denied that the station had exerted any influence on ITVS to alter or spike the project.

"No one at WNET knew anything about this film and never had any discussions about it with ITVS or any other entity," Specter told PBS’s Ombudsman.

PBS likewise denied any knowledge of internal deliberations or decisions regarding ITVS’s decision to pull support for the film.

"PBS had no direct involvement with ITVS' dealings with Ms. Lessin or Mr. Deal or ITVS' decisions about the film," said senior director of corporate communications Jan McNamara.

Koch Industries also flatly rejected Mayer’s claims, later repeated by Lessin.

"Ms. Mayer’s fundamental failure is that there is not a single fact in the piece showing any such conduct by Mr. Koch" to influence PBS programming, according to a company statement. "That is because these facts don’t exist."

Lessin maintains that David Koch killed her film despite these factual gaps and the across-the-board denials of her conspiracy theory.

She did not directly respond to a question on Wednesday about whether she had sought funding from other sources after ITVS declined to support Citizen Koch, only saying she is "trying to get the film out there" and "hoping for other possibilities."

The Koch conspiracies have yielded significant interest in the film, Lessin revealed.

"We’ve had a great film festival showing for our film because this money was taken from us, because of David Koch’s influence," she said.