Monday, May 20, 2013

How director Shapiro kowtowed to a Koch brother

[Shapiro and Koch]

In a fascinating inside account of big money's influence on public television, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer today discloses the unprecedented lengths to which WNET CEO Neal Shapiro went to appease David Koch, a high-profile trustee and financial backer of the PBS affiliate -- and the subject of a damning documentary about wealth disparities in the U.S.

After WNET broadcast the documentary last fall, Mayer says, Koch canceled a planned seven-figure donation to the station. In an interview, Shapiro told Mayer the billionaire industrialist's patronage wasn't a motive for his calling Koch to warn him about the documentary before it appeared. Over the years, Koch, 73, has given $23 million to public TV, Mayer says.

The politically conservative Koch family is widely believed to be interested in buying The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and six other Tribune Co. newspapers, an investment that's alarmed many liberals who worry the Kochs might politicize news coverage.

The documentary, Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream, aired in November. Here's the trailer.

GCI's $260K board member
Shapiro, 55, a former president of NBC News, is the only journalist on Gannett's nine-member board of directors. He's held that seat since October 2007.

On Thursday, Mayer says, WNET's board quietly accepted Koch's resignation: "It was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor."

Curiously, although Mayer's story identifies Koch as an WNET trustee, his name does not appear on this list of members. I've left a message with the station's public relations department to find out whether he's quit.

Last year, GCI paid Shapiro $260,000 in director's fees, according to the annual proxy report to shareholders. As WNET's CEO, Shapiro was paid $703,000 in the year ended June 30, 2012, according to the station's most recent IRS tax return.


  1. Jim, you have to read to the end of the story. Here is the last paragraph:

    In the end, the various attempts to assuage David Koch were apparently insufficient. On Thursday, May 16th, WNET’s board of directors quietly accepted his resignation. It was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor.

  2. …alarmed many liberals who worry the Koches might politicize news coverage.

    Now, all wouldn’t want that to happen now would we as Liberal’s have done such a great job spinning news to the left that that’s exactly what people did when they discovered other news outlets (WSJ, Financial Times and others) who actually told the whole story.

  3. First of all, the Kochs (the correct plural) would be more correctly described as libertarian than conservative. Second, it's hilarious that liberals, who overwhelmingly politicize the news through the lamestream media, are "alarmed" that somebody might actually give them a run for their money. In any case, it's hard to imagine anything more irrelevant than public broadcasting. Hopefully, Mr. Koch will wisely save his money from here on out.

  4. Charles Everett5/21/2013 4:40 PM

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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