Missing Comma (For Real This Time): No, We Don’t Believe Alternet Is Part Of The “Kochtopus”

Last night I published a dumb joke that also served as a semi-congratulations to C4SS’s media coordinator, Thomas L. Knapp, for getting published in Alternet. It was not a well-crafted joke, and as indicated by some of your confused reactions in the comments section, it was much too inside-baseball to work, especially given the low quality of the material. So let’s talk about all this business.

No, Neither I Nor C4SS Believe That Alternet Is A Libertarian Shill Group

There is literally zero evidence that Alternet receives any money from either Charles or David Koch, Koch Industries, or any organizations loosely or tightly affiliated with the so-called “Kochtopus.” I knew that from the moment I clicked “add new post” to the moment I hit publish.

What I knew for sure is that Alternet, like Salon and others, likes to publish articles about how libertarianism is literally going to cause our sun to explode because David and Charles Koch, and also Rand Paul too; the irony that they’d publish something by a libertarian – intentionally or not – was so thick as to be cloying, especially given the tendency of some of their regular contributors to cast aspersions upon an institution for occupying breathing space near libertarians.

Now that it comes up, though, some of us here at C4SS have received money from the many-tentacled Koch-kraken – primarily in the form of speaking fees, airfare and (relatively) small amounts of grant money.

James Tuttle, our director, had his flight to Washington, DC and hotel room covered as a Koch Summer Fellow from George Mason University’s Institute of Humane Studies to talk to college students about radical “IWW style” labor and left libertarianism. Senior Fellow Roderick Long used grants from IHS to help pay for graduate school, lectured at IHS seminars, and has run their graduate program for two years in a row. He said he’s also been paid for the occasional Cato gig as well. 

Tom Knapp said, “For the record, I’m sure I was at least indirectly funded by the Kochs when I worked for Free-Market.Net/Henry Hazlitt Foundation 1995-2002. Don’t know if the Kochs directly backed them, but they got “partnership” money from e.g. Cato, IHS, et. al.”

As far as I am aware, C4SS as an institution has never been funded by the Kochs.

But So What If Alternet Had Been?

Alternet has been going strong as a source of liberal/progressive news for years. As a news aggregator, it publishes (and republishes) a lot of material from around the Internet; some of it fantastic, other stuff… not so much. They publish literally hundreds of articles per day. Even if the average liberal reader could peruse every article posted to the site, how much of that material would they find themselves agreeing with? Surely not all.

So what would be the big loss if it suddenly came out that Alternet was in fact partially funded by libertarians? I don’t believe that the average Alternet reader is rabidly afraid of libertarians to such a degree that they’d suddenly disavow ever reading the site if this alternate reality came to pass.

But some writers believe that even the slightest hint of a libertarian influence is enough to taint any organization or individual for life. These writers, of which the previously-referenced Mark Ames and Yasha Levine are but two, make their living conducting witch hunts against those who are now, or who have ever been, a libertarian. These writers spend weeks at a time, trawling through library archives and semi-private internet databases, digging up whatever information they can find on a person or group that proves they’re part of the great evil that is libertarianism broadly – it doesn’t matter if that person is Glenn Greenwald, or if that organization is the Tor Foundation.

This has become its own cottage industry. Up-and-coming left-leaning journalists and commentators take potshots at libertarianism to bolster their portfolios and gain notoriety among their friends for being intrepid muckrakers (even though, at this point, a lot of their writing is just rehashed material from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – if anything, she should be getting royalties at this point), sites like Alternet and Salon and the Huffington Post get temporary pageview increases, and the world keeps on spinning.

It’s fun to take your own potshots at those who don’t give two farts in the wind about talking about ideas (especially not ideas you may espouse), but ultimately, last night’s impromptu Missing Comma was the wrong way to do so. Rather, I just feel like it bears mentioning that Mark Ames’ old writing site, Exile, went offline a couple of weeks ago, and subsequently a lot of his writing – especially a particularly unfortunate article describing his problematic relationship with Russian sex workers – is no longer readily available. Luckily, we still have the Wayback Machine. Damn libertarians and their net freedom.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory