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President Bush hosts a dinner meeting with a group of Republican governors at the White House. As deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later recall, because the meeting is private—no press is allowed—Bush is “conspicuously candid with his former colleagues, now trusted friends and political allies.… Bush’s forthrightness about his thinking and approach on Iraq [is] revealing.” Bush boasts of the recent capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 11, 2002) and says of Osama bin Laden, “[W]e don’t know where he is, but he has been diminished.” He then turns to Iraq: “It is important to know that Iraq is an extension of the war on terror,” he says. “In the international debate, we are starting to shift the burden of guilt to the guilty. The international community is risk averse. But I assure you I am going to stay plenty tough.” He repeats his belief that if the international community brings enough pressure to bear, the Iraqi people will take matters into their own hands: “I believe regime change can occur if we have strong, robust inspections. Saddam Hussein is a guy who is likely to have his head show up on a platter” if enough outside pressure is brought to bear. Of Hussein, Bush says: “He is a hateful, ugly, repugnant man who needs to go. He is also paranoid. This is a guy who killed his own security guards recently. I would like to see him gone peacefully. But if I unleash the military, I promise you it will be swift and decisive.” He then tells the governors how to handle questions from possible critics: “Don’t fall into the argument that there is no one to replace Saddam Hussein.… And our planning will make sure there is no oil disruption; we are looking at options to enhance oil flow.” To sum up, Bush says: “Military force is my last option, but it may be the only choice.… I’m gonna make a prediction. Write this down. Afghanistan and Iraq will lead that part of the world to democracy. They are going to be the catalyst to change the Middle East and the world.” In the questioning period, Bush tells the governors that while he intends to invade Iraq sooner rather than later, he is aware that the political timing of the decision is important, with the midterm elections approaching. He reiterates: “[I]f we have to go [into Iraq], we will be tough and swift and it will be violent so troops can move very quickly.… If we go, we will use the full force and the might of the US military (see February 25, 2003).… I believe in the power of freedom.” After the meeting, Governor John Rowland (R-CT), the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, calls the meeting a “heart to heart” on Iraq. But, McClellan will later reflect, “it was also a frank strategy powwow between the leader of a campaign and some important members of his team—a collection of local politicians who could play a crucial role in helping to generate popular support for the decision to invade.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 139-141)
As it did with the April 15 “tea parties” (see April 15, 2009), Fox News actively promotes the May 14 anti-tax “tea party” protests scheduled to take place at venues around the country. The protests, dubbed “Tea Party 2.0,” are a major portion of Fox’s coverage before and during the May 14 events. On May 13, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren hosts one of the events’ highest-profile organizers, Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC), speaking on behalf of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), one of the hosts of the events. “If you wanted to go to a tea party on April 15 but could not make it or there was none in your hometown, tomorrow’s your big chance,” she says. She also asks Sanford if viewers can log on to a Web site for more information, and asks for a phone number for more information. During the interview, Fox News shows an on-screen text crawl that reads, “To sign up for Tea Party 2.0 go to: www.thegopcomeback.com” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 5/14/2009; Media Matters 5/15/2009)
News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, donates $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The News Corp. donation is accompanied by a $500,000 donation to the RGA from WellPoint, the US’s largest health insurer, and a “seven-figure donation” from oil billionaire David Koch (see 1981-2010). Organizations such as the RGA can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unlike political parties and federal candidates. (Salant 8/16/2010; Smith 8/16/2010; Kleefeld 8/17/2010; Shea 8/17/2010) News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner tells a reporter, “News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.” (Smith 8/16/2010) Others are less sanguine about the donation. Hari Sevugan of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says: “Any pretense that may have existed about the ties between Fox News and the Republican Party has been ripped violently away. Any Republican that appears on Fox should now have a disclaimer that they are financially supported by the network and any coverage of the elections this fall on Fox should be reported with disclaimer for what it is—partisan propaganda.” Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) says: “For a media company—particularly one whose slogan is ‘fair and balanced’ (see 1995)—to be injecting themselves into the outcome of races is stunning. The people owning Fox News have made a decision that they want to see Democratic governors go down to defeat. It’s a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm.” Daschle acknowledges that other media companies such as Disney and CBS have given much smaller donations to both Republicans and Democrats, but says: “The Fox contribution is in a completely different league. Other media firms’ donations are generally small and about equal to the many committees that receive money.” Until this donation, News Corp. had contributed almost equally to both Democrats and Republicans. Horner says, “It’s patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties.” Fox refuses to allow Daschle to appear on its network to discuss the donation, stating: “We understand Nathan’s desire to get face time on the most watched news network. And when he can offer insight on a legitimate news story instead of concocting a dishonest publicity stunt, we will consider having him on as a guest.” Communications professor Tobe Berkovitz says of the donation: “The way the rules are written, [News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch] is playing by the rules. This just reinforces for liberals how evil and manipulative Fox and Rupert Murdoch are. For the civilians out there, I don’t think they’re going to see this as particularly relevant or particularly important.” (Kurtz 8/18/2010) The progressive news Web site Think Progress determines that News Corp. may have violated its own policies by making the donation. According to the corporation’s “Standards of Business Conduct”: “No payment shall be made to, or for the benefit of, any public official in order to induce or entice such official to: enact, defeat, or violate any law or regulation for the company’s benefit; influence any official act; or obtain any favorable action by a governmental agency or official on behalf of the company.… No gifts in the form of cash, stock, or other similar consideration shall be given, regardless of amount.” (Terkel 8/17/2010)
The press learns that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, has donated $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the heaviest anti-Democratic advertisers in the 2010 midterm election campaigns. News Corp. previously donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA—see June 24, 2010 and After), drawing criticism that its chairman Rupert Murdoch, and by extension Fox News and the other media outlets owned by Murdoch’s corporation (including the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal) are violating basic tenets of journalistic ethics by donating money to only one side in an election season. Fox News officials say they knew nothing of the donation until they learned of it through news reports. White House adviser David Axelrod says that while he believes Fox executives did not know of the donation, “it certainly sends a signal as to what the corporate position is.… If you’re pushing a point of view there, you wouldn’t take it as a disincentive to keep going.” The Democratic National Committee says in a statement, “What these contributions make clear is that the Republican Party is a division of News Corp., just as Fox News is a division of News Corp.” The Chamber of Commerce has promised to spend up to $75 million in anti-Democratic, pro-Republican campaign advertisements. (Smith 9/30/2010; Rutenberg 10/1/2010) Politico notes: “The parent companies of other media companies such as Disney (which owns ABC) and General Electric (which owns NBC) have also made political contributions, but typically in far smaller chunks, and split between Democrats and Republicans. In the past, News Corp. has also spread its donations between candidates of both parties.” (Smith 9/30/2010)
Billionaire oil magnate David Koch, who with his brother Charles Koch has become one of the driving financial forces behind the US conservative political movement (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), gives an interview to the Palm Beach Post’s Stacey Singer. Koch, who rarely gives interviews, chose to meet with Singer because of her background as a health and science writer, according to Koch spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas. The interview focuses in part on the cancer research underway at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Koch is being treated for prostate cancer. However, the interview also touches on the Koch brothers’ political participation. Singer begins her report of the interview by informing her readers of the media portrayal of the “secretive” brothers and their construction of what she calls “a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators—even US Supreme Court justices.” She writes that Koch seems “baffled” by that perception, saying: “They make me sound like a bully. Do I look like a bully?” According to Singer, Koch wants to improve his media image. The Koch brothers have given, Singer reports, “many millions to far-right organizations dedicated to spreading an Ayn Rand-infused ideology, one in which a benevolent business class flourishes, unfettered by taxes and regulations. Some have called it free-market fundamentalism.” Nicholas says Koch wants to be remembered more for his philanthropy than his political involvement. “That’s what his legacy will hopefully be: finding a cure for cancer,” she writes. “That is his goal in life right now and it far exceeds any political views he has. Which are strong.” Koch is proud of his political activism, admitting without restraint his organizations’ involvement in protecting Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled. “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.” The “we” in his statement is primarily Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization that is spending some $700,000 on a single advertisement buy in Wisconsin on Walker’s behalf, an ad that makes statements many union members and public workers say is filled with false and misleading praise for Walker’s policies. In a now-famous prank phone call, a blogger posing as Koch got Walker to say that his goal was to “crush” Wisconsin’s unions, a goal Koch may share, though he is more circumspect in his language. “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important,” Koch says after an expansive dinner featuring salmon and white wine. “He’s an impressive guy and he’s very courageous. If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Nicholas later “clarifies” Koch’s remarks, saying: “Koch companies support voluntary associations, and where they so choose, we recognize employees’ rights to be represented and bargain collectively. We think the best workplace relationships are fostered when the employer works directly with its employees. It is a mischaracterization of our principles to say this means we oppose unions or want to dismantle all unions.” Singer writes that Koch’s usage of the term “union power” seems as biting as one might have said “Bolshevik” in an earlier time—“a new red scare for a new century,” she writes. Besides funding such organizations as AFP, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (where, Singer writes, “copycat conservative legislation is passed among conservative state politicos”), and others, the Koch brothers are one of the most powerful and influential financial forces behind the “tea party” movement, largely through AFP. Singer conducts the interview on February 11; the Palm Beach Post publishes the report based on the interview on February 20. (Singer 2/20/2012; Nichols 2/20/2012) Koch’s public admission of support for Walker could constitute a violation of the laws administering such “nonprofit” organizations as AFP, according to one journalist (see February 20, 2012).
Billionaire hedge fund investor Kenneth Griffin tells a Chicago reporter that he does not believe the extraordinarily wealthy wield enough political influence in America, and says that they must step up to stop America’s “drift” towards Soviet-style “socialism.” Griffin, alone and in conjunction with his wife Anne, has given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney (see June 23, 2011). He has also given over $560,000 to the Republican Governors Association and $300,000 to American Crossroads, the advocacy organization founded by Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove. The Griffins have been heavy Republican donors in previous election cycles, and have given around $1.5 million to Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization founded and sponsored by the billionaire oil magnates Charles and David Koch. Of his contributions to AFP, he explains: “Charles and David Koch are huge advocates for free markets (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011). I have a tremendous respect for their intellectual and financial commitment to embracing a set of economic policies that will give us global competitiveness.… I share their fundamental belief that economic freedom is core to the ethos of our country. It’s the idea that any person can pursue their dreams, whether it’s starting a business or who they choose to work for.” Asked, “Do you think the ultrawealthy have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process?” Griffith replies: “I think they actually have an insufficient influence. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet. And so I hope that other individuals who have really enjoyed growing up in a country that believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and economic freedom is part of the pursuit of happiness—[I hope they realize] they have a duty now to step up and protect that.… At this moment in time, these values are under attack. This belief that a larger government is what creates prosperity, that a larger government is what creates good [is wrong]. We’ve seen that experiment. The Soviet Union collapsed. China has run away from its state-controlled system over the last 20 years and has pulled more people up from poverty by doing so than we’ve ever seen in the history of humanity. Why the US is drifting toward a direction that has been the failed of experiment of the last century, I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” Asked if he believes he should continue to be allowed to make unlimited donations on behalf of candidates (see January 21, 2010), he answers: “In my opinion, absolutely. Absolutely. The rules that encourage transparency around that are really important.… My public policy hat says transparency is valuable. On the flip side, this is a very sad moment in my lifetime. This is the first time class warfare has really been embraced as a political tool. Because we are looking at an administration that has embraced class warfare as being politically expedient, I do worry about the publicity that comes with being willing to both with my dollars and, more importantly, with my voice to stand for what I believe in (see July 20, 2011).… I live in financial services, and every bank in the United States is really under the thumb of the government in a way it’s never been before. And that’s really worrisome to me, as someone who’s willing to say, ‘Wait, we need to step back and try to push government outside the realm of every dimension of our lives.’” (Dorner 3/10/2012; Harris 3/11/2012)
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