[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."
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.