Protesters are ramping up advocacy against the potential sale of all or some of the Tribune Company to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers with a nationwide day of action. Meanwhile, the number of signatures on various online petitions has risen to more than 500,000.
“We will not sell our freedom of speech. We will not sell our right to have independent news. We will not sell the City of Chicago,” said Shani Smith, 38, a project organizer with Stand Up! Chicago. “We are here for senior citizens, for children, for working families, and that’s what we stand for. If the Koch brothers don’t stand for it, they most certainly cannot buy the Chicago Tribune.”
Stand Up! Chicago joined forces with Action Now, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, SEIU*, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and several other organizations to stage a 20-person protest outside the Tribune Tower, at 435 North Michigan Ave., this afternoon. The demonstration was in line with a national day of action, during which protests were staged in 12 cities across the country, including Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.
“Essentially, we don’t want the Koch brothers to promote their radical conservative views in our mainstream media,” said Smith, an organizer of Wednesday’s protest in Chicago. “We need to put pressure on Tribune investors to let them know we don’t want this sale to go through.”
Protesters fear the Koch brothers’ purchase of some or all of the Chicago-based Tribune Co. would translate to right-wing propaganda being amplified in the daily news.
The Koch brothers, Charles, 77, and David, 72, according to Smith, have “repeatedly and continuously” supported “extremist conservative policies that protect their oil and gas, but hurt working class people who depend on our country’s social service safety net.”
The Tribune Co. publishes the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant and Orlando Sentinel. It also operates more than 20 television stations, including Chicago’s WGN.
For the second time this month, as protests are ongoing, demonstrators submitted a letter to Bruce Karsh, chairman of the board for the Tribune Co., asking him to reject the company's sale to the Koch brothers. Karsh is also the owner of the Tribune's largest shareholder, Oaktree Capital Management LP.
“It’s clear that the Kochs aren’t interested in covering the news — they want to make the news fit their corporate interests,” the letter reads. “We can’t let the Kochs use their concentrated wealth to distort public opinion in America.”
Valued at approximately $623 million, purchasing the Tribune Co. would be a drop in the bucket for the Koch brothers. The industrialists share ownership of a private energy, chemical and manufacturing company, Kansas-based Koch Industries, with annual revenues of approximately $115 billion.
Koch Industries’ PACs spent more than $10 million in conservative federal lobbying in 2012, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. More than $100,000 was donated to Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo during last year’s election cycle. Pompeo’s conservative legislative action includes a 2011 vote against allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases.
“We’re extremely worried this sale is going to go down to the Koch brothers. They have shown again and again that they would use different platforms, including the media platform, to push their extremist conservative agenda,” said Deivid Rojas, 24, an organizer with the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). “We want quality journalism.”
Here’s more from Rojas and Wednesday’s protest:
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC has yet to formally announce interest in purchasing the Tribune Co. According to Bloomberg, Tribune CEO Peter Liguori called the rumors over potential bidders "premature" in a letter to employees.
Speculation that the Koch brothers were interested in purchasing the Tribune Co. surfaced in mid-March.
Neither a representative from the Tribune Co. nor Koch Companies Public Sector returned requests for comment on this story.
Meanwhile, labor organizations are speaking out against the possible sale.
“Members of SEIU are traditionally low-wage workers and the Koch brothers really have an all-out attack on workers’ rights,” said Beniamino Capellupo, director of the SEIU Illinois Council. “What we have in this country is freedom of the press, and if you sell it to people who have a specific agenda, working peoples’ voices will be shut down even more than they already are.”
Capellupo said raising awareness of the Koch brothers’ conservative ideology is “increasingly important” because “the freedom of press is going away in this country.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has also declared opposition to the Koch brothers potential bid, saying “the Kochs’ political strategy includes changing the way the media covers conservative causes.”
“(The Koch brothers) have given millions to right-wing organizations that want to dismantle Social Security, repeal health care reform, overturn Wall Street regulations, roll back environmental standards, and eliminate workers’ collective bargaining rights,” Trumka said in a statement Wednesday. “It is hard to imagine how the Tribune newspapers would continue to provide quality, independent journalism to the communities they serve if they were under the control of the Koch brothers.”
Meanwhile, Caroline Decousey, 64, said she would cancel her subscription to the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper for which she’s purchased an annual subscription for more than 20 years, if the media outlet were sold to the Koch brothers.
“I don’t like the fact the Koch brothers are anti-science, anti-environment, anti-social services, and I do worry they would use the Tribune to support the wrong politicians and policies,” she said. Decousey, a resident of Oak Park for nearly 30 years, participated in Wednesday’s protest.
“I’m middle class, and this gap between the rich and the poor is real,” she said. “How can we allow people with such radical right-wing points of view to purchase newspapers? I inherently disagree with what the Koch brothers stand for.”
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