David and Charles Koch, whose companies have sales of $100B+ and who are identified with conservative politics, have said it would be “inappropriate” for the American Society of Magazine Editors to award a prize to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who profiled the brothers negatively Aug. 30, 2010.

Photo: NY City Ballet
Mayer’s article was titled “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging War against Obama.” She said that the Koch brothers, whose father helped found the conservative John Birch Society, have conducted a “covert” campaign against the Obama Administration by spending more than $100 million to support groups with a “Tea Party agenda.”

Wrote Mayer:
“The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation.”

Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden wrote to ASME CEO Sid Holt that Mayer’s article was “ideologically slanted and a prime example of a disturbing trend in journalism where agenda-driven advocacy masquerades as objective reporting.”

David Koch with his wife, Julia, outside the Koch Theater.
Holden objected to any award for Mayer by ASME. She has been nominated for an award in the business writing category. Winners are to be announced May 9. The dispute was covered in Keith Kelly’s column in the April 29 New York Post.

The Kochs, who previously kept a low profile, were little known to New Yorkers until they gave $100M to refurbish Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, where the New York City Ballet performs.

Ballet fans were shocked in the fall of 2008 when they came to the theater and found it had been named the “David H. Koch Theater.” This rubbed many the wrong way because the Kochs are so politically active and at the opposite end of the political spectrum for many New Yorkers who are traditionally Democrats. They felt the ballet had been “politicized.”

“They might as well have named it the 'Rush Limbaugh Theater' or the 'Glenn Beck Theater,'” said one critic.

Equally inappropriate, said balletomanes, would be naming the theater after anyone identified with an opposite political viewpoint including George Soros and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Ballet Has Financial Problems

The $100M refurbishing, which included putting two aisles in the orchestra, has not resulted in increased attendance at the ballet which is under financial stress.

The entire theater was fitted with new seats but attendees found they had been shortened several inches and were uncomfortable to sit in.

“There was a feeling you were about to fall off the seat,” said some ballet fans.

A bitter dispute is taking place between dancers and management over pay, overtime, sick-pay and dancers’ participation in small off-season tours.

Some dancers object to the creation of “New York City Ballet Moves,” which would perform at theaters and summer festivals. The union moved to block such a tour, which was announced in January.

NYCB is facing a $6M deficit on a budget of $62M. Its endowment has fallen from $187M to below $140M.

Mid-level dancers earn from $30,000 to $50,000 for a 38-week season.

Ballet master Peter Martins was paid $699,000 in 2008 and general manager Kenneth Tabachnick was paid $348,000.

Kochs Gave to 34 'Right-Leaning' Groups

Mayer wrote that Koch family foundations have given “millions to 34 right-leaning political and policy groups with names like the Institute for Justice (which files lawsuits opposing state and federal regulations), and the Institute for Humane Studies (which supports libertarian academics).”

She obtained tax records showing that the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than $120M from 1998-08 and the Charles G. Koch Foundation spent more than $48M.

Mayer told Media Ink that the Koch brothers rejected many interview attempts and refused to cooperate on fact-checking.

She said this was the first time in her more than a dozen years at the New Yorker that a story subject refused to cooperate on verification of facts.