How far did PBS go to avoid offending conservative funder Koch?

Conservative industrialist and Tea Party godfather David Koch has given $23 million to public television—a very, very good thing, many would argue, because government funding amounts to only around 12% of PBS' operating budget, and the fundraising climate for private sponsorship is grim. PBS is, I'd argue, the last place on television for serious news and investigative documentary filmmaking.

But Koch's backing comes with unambiguous pressure to alter the network's editorial content, and indeed, already has in at least one insance, according to Jane Mayer's piece in The New Yorker.

The story centers around WNET's attempts to placate Koch as it aired Alex Gibney's “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream,” a documentary critical of Koch and other "one-percenters." So critical, it was referred to as "Citizen Koch."

A spoiler regarding Koch's relationship with the PBS affiliate whose show aired the documentary: On Thursday, May 16th, WNET’s board of directors "quietly accepted [Koch's] resignation," the result of his "unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor."

The Koch brothers are eyeing a number of large, struggling US newspapers as possible acquisition targets.

If they buy out a string of companies like the Los Angeles Times, how will that change news?

Alex Gibney's film is embedded below.


(Illustration by Daniel Hertzberg for the New Yorker. Disclosure: I've worked on a few PBS projects, and still do from time to time. )