Time Inc. Buyer Helped Koch Brothers Airbrush Their Image Across the Internet

The Koch brothers once hired Meredith Corp. to soften criticisms of the magnates in Wikipedia entries.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: A view of the Time Inc. office building, November 27, 2017 in New York City. Magazine publisher and broadcast company Meredith Corp. is acquiring Time Inc. in a deal valued at nearly $3 billion. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A view of the Time Inc. office building, November 27, 2017 in New York City. Magazine publisher and broadcast company Meredith Corp. is acquiring Time Inc. in a deal valued at nearly $3 billion. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Monday, Koch Industries confirmed that it is financing Meredith Corp.’s takeover of Time Inc., giving the far-right billionaires Charles and David Koch a major stake in a mainstream media outlet.

The Koch brothers claim they provided $650 million to purchase Time Inc. — which has faced a consistent decline in revenue as advertising income has faltered — only as a savvy business decision, and will refrain from interfering with any editorial or management decisions.

“This is a passive financial investment made through our equity development arm,” Steve Lombardo, a Koch spokesperson told reporters. Lombardo dismissed concerns that Koch would leverage Time magazine to advance a political agenda, claiming that the deal was just one of many profit-making opportunities.

Koch’s partner in the Time buyout, however, has a history of involvement in exactly the type of media manipulation that critics fear most. In the coverage of the Meredith-Time deal, little has been made of the fact that Meredith has worked as a social media marketing firm for Koch Industries.

Meredith provided stealth marketing efforts to delete critical commentary about the Koch brothers and their political ventures.

In the early years of this decade, Meredith provided stealth marketing efforts to delete critical commentary about the Koch brothers and their political ventures. New Media Strategies, a subsidiary of Meredith, was retained by Koch Industries to airbrush Wikipedia articles relating to Koch Industries, David Koch, Charles Koch, the Tea Party, and Richard Fink, a strategist for the Koch brothers’ political operation. It’s not clear if such relationships continued after they were exposed.

An internal investigation by Wikipedia editors found that one account New Media Strategies employees working for Koch had also used a number of so-called sock puppet accounts to edit articles relating to the Kochs. In one instance, a Wikipedia editor named “MBMadmirer” changed an entry about the Koch brothers’ effort to finance groups that deny the link between pollution and climate change. In another instance, MBMadmirer attempted to promote criticism of Jane Mayer, a prominent journalist who has investigated the Koch brothers. When the news was revealed, New Media Strategies confirmed its arrangement.

Multiple Wikipedia accounts allegedly tied to MBMadmirer only edited Wikipedia articles relating to the political activities of the Koch brothers to airbrush criticism. (“WWB,” a self-identified former New Media Strategies employee, also attempted to edit and delete this reporter’s Wikipedia page.) MBMadmirer, named after the Market-Based Management slogan Charles Koch says he uses to run his businesses, was one of several accounts operated by New Media Strategies to shape articles relating to the Koch brothers. The edits show that New Media Strategy employees were busy working to shape the public perception of the Kochs since 2010.

Although Meredith Corp. is best known for a chain of lifestyle magazines and television stations, the company also owns a variety of marketing firms, including New Media Strategies, a digital marketing firm that specializes in shaping social media commentary and Wikipedia entries on behalf of corporate clients. The firm, founded by Republican operative Pete Snyder and sold to Meredith in 2007, has provided rapid-response online marketing for Burger King, Reebok, and other major brands.

The company has recently been accused of operating a series of fake blogs on behalf of former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes. The sites, Salon reported, were designed to appear as fan websites that routinely engaged in overtly sexist commentary about Fox News’ female hosts. The sites were allegedly part of a larger effort by Ailes to go after groups and individuals he perceived as enemies.

Like Ailes, the Koch brothers have long used private detectives, political operatives, and media consultants to lash out at perceived enemies and critical journalists. Koch Industries has long maintained a website to lash out against critical reporters, and in 2011, hired a number of consultants to dig up dirt on reporters viewed as too adversarial.

The Koch brothers’ interest in shaping the media is nothing new. Foundations controlled by the conservative donors have showered donations to conservative news sites, such as the Blaze, the Daily Caller, and Reason magazine.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ premiere political organization, has also bestowed grants and awards to a wide array of far-right bloggers and provocateurs focused on influencing the mainstream media. Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, a controversial right-wing blogger known for spreading absurdly fake reports about immigrants and Democrats, has long been featured at Koch events and has received awards from Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity has also provided generous speaking fees to James O’Keefe, the conservative activist bent on discrediting media outlets and political opponents through undercover videotapes.

In 2013, the Koch brothers expressed interest in purchasing the Tribune Company, a media conglomerate that owns newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Hartford Courant. While the bid failed, there’s no indication the attempt to own a major publication ended.

The Koch brothers have already used their substantial influence in academic programs, think tanks, and with elected officials to advance a narrow political agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, environmental deregulation, as well as campaign finance rules and voter restrictions designed to elect more Republican candidates to office. The New York Times notes that the Meredith deal could give the Koch political network access to Time Inc.’s vast consumer and subscriber data, which the Koch brothers could use for their proprietary voter-targeting company called i360.

While the executives involved in the media deal this week have claimed that Koch will have no board seats with the new company and will “have no influence on Meredith’s editorial or managerial operations,” filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission suggest Koch may still exercise influence if it pleases. As reporter Alex Weprin noted, the financing deal will allow Koch to meet with Meredith executives four times a year to discuss “current business, financial and strategic matters” and will be granted the privilege of having an “observer” for board meetings.

Reporters and editors at Time Inc. publications are wary that the Koch’s involvement will be far more active than their pledge to remain neutral.

“I’ve been in contact with many former editors and writers, and we’re all very concerned about what the Kochs may have in mind in the long term,” Charles Alexander, a former Time magazine editor who opposes the sale, told Mic.

Top photo: A view of the Time Inc. office building, Nov. 27, 2017 in New York City.

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