Maddow embarrasses herself with Koch brothers accusation


THE FACE: Rachel Maddow is a host on the cable news channel MSNBC.

By Jon Cassidy |

Charles and David Koch have donated some $20 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, which just won a court victory overturning a Florida law requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients.

Given the brothers’ libertarian views and support for drug decriminalization, you might expect them to be happy about the ruling, if they had any opinion at all.

But they weren’t involved in this debate, saying plainly and publicly that “we have no involvement in the Florida issue.”

That wasn’t good enough for MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who insisted not only that they were involved, but that they were supporting the other side — the side to which they didn’t give any money.

It’s one thing not to accept an assertion at face value, and to try to refute it by searching public records. But the “follow the money” approach only works if you actually follow it.

On one side of this debate, you can follow the Koch’s $20 million straight to the ACLU. On the other side, you can follow some $40,000 the Kochs have given over eight years to a group called the State Policy Network, a sort of trade association for scores of free-market state policy think tanks.

One of the State Policy Network’s members is the Foundation for Government Accountability, a new Florida think tank that supports the state law.

Based on that pittance donated to the umbrella group, Maddow felt free to label the think tank a “Koch brothers group that has been promoting this idea.”

The Foundation for Government Accountability’s CEO, Tarren Bragdon, said his group did some work with Americans for Prosperity on the Medicaid expansion issue — no money changing hands — but that was the only connection to the Koch brothers.

“We did not work with Koch on the Florida welfare drug testing issue,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, Koch wasn’t involved at all at any level. This is just another example of the shoddy and biased work from Rachel Maddow. Welfare drug testing was signed into law before FGA was even incorporated. Ms. Maddow could have learned this if she or her staff had ever contacted us directly.”

John Hinderaker, writing at Powerline, noted that by Maddow’s logic — donating to SPN equals advocacy of welfare drug testing — she should have been pointing the finger at her own employer, as Comcast, which owns MSNBC, has also donated to SPN.

“Maddow could equally well have said that MSNBC ‘ha(s) been promoting forced drug tests for people on welfare,’ and that FFGA is an ‘MSNBC-affiliated group.’ She didn’t do this for obvious reasons. She knew that she was addressing a stupid audience that would never know the difference,” he wrote.

It wasn’t just a stray remark. Maddow built a 17-minute segment of her show last week around her wild accusation, so correcting her mistake wouldn’t just be some routine correction. It would mean retracting the piece, which can have ruinous consequences for a journalist’s career.

The next day, she refused to correct her error.

“I’m not going to renounce my own reporting on this story because the reporting on this story stands. It is true,” she said on the air.

The reporting that she mentions isn’t her own, and it doesn’t establish her claim that the Koch brothers were behind the Florida law.

On screen, she flashed a cluster of headlines from stories during the past year about conservative fundraising, all in the vein of this recent Washington Post story connecting the dots in the Koch brothers’ network.

Even with the very broad brush used in these stories, in which every group connected to a group connected to a group that once took a donation from Koch is linked until nearly every conservative in the country is nothing but a Koch lackey, you’ll notice the absence of the name State Policy Network from the Post graphic.

That’s because, contrary to Maddow’s fevered imagination, the free-market movement is not a conspiracy. It’s not the invention of two wealthy brothers. And it’s not a monolith.

There are free-market advocates like Bragdon who don’t want to see tax dollars spent on drugs. And there are conservatives of a more libertarian outlook, who are chilled to their core by the sort of argument made by Gov. Rick Scott in favor of his program.

“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child,” Scott said. “We should have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families — especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children.”

So drug use equals child abuse, and we all know how the state handles child abuse.

I don’t even want to think about the horrors that sort of thinking would produce. But I would like to know what sort of political featherbrain hears that quote, and concludes that its real author must be the guys who founded the Cato Institute.

Contact Jon Cassidy at or @jpcassidy000.

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