Tuesday, November 28, 2017

All in the family

Out for a late afternoon walk and smoke. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017. Sunny, fair, and 50 degrees yesterday in New York, cooling off to the mid-30s. The summer “garden” is gone. I brought in the croton and the lily a couple of weeks ago. Last year I left them out too long and they were bitten by the cold. Some very generous friends sent me a (four) orchid plant currently keeping company with the croton. The impatiens are gone; the ferns won’t make it. I feel guilty but helpless abandoning them to the elements. I don’t hover over the thought but it does pass through my mind in moments.
I didn’t have lunch obligations yesterday and so I made a plan of what I would accomplish with those daylight hours. I’d got to bed earlier on Sunday night and woke up earlier yesterday morning. I decided to get started at my desk about eight o’clock. Checking my email first, I saw a message from a producer for the BBC in London. A journalist who had interviewed me some time ago when she was studying at Columbia Journalism.

The subjects of the BBC interview: Charles and David Koch. Photo: Patrick McMullan
I’m interviewed fairly frequently (and usually very briefly — as most are looking for a “sound bite”) when the subject at hand has something to do with “society” here in New York. It interesting how the subject is regarded superficially, and yet the fascination that it provokes is far from superficial. Actually it’s all history, of human behavior and otherwise.

The subject at hand with the interview yesterday was the news that Meredith Corporation was buying TIME, Inc. and the Koch brothers, David and Charles, were contributing $650 million to the $2.1 billion price. The producer who called me said she was aware that I might know them personally (I know David in the way one knows another by being in the same room, dinner table, cocktail party, environment with them often enough; but I don’t know Charles).

I told her I wasn’t sure I could shed any light on the Meredith/TIME matter because I know nothing about it or about the business decisions of the two brothers. I know they own the 2nd largest privately held company in the US and that their personal wealth is way up there in the billions. But everybody knows that if they want to.

The show, I was told, is broadcast daily all over Europe. As I said, I don’t know much about the Kochs and their political activities except to know that they have them. Their father Fred Koch (born in 1900) founded the firm and came up with the device that turns crude oil into gasoline. The elder Koch was also reported to be one of the founders of the John Birch Society.

Fred Chase Koch — father of Fred,
Charles, David, and William.
The name is mentioned frequently but it’s more than two generations old and most people haven’t got a clue as to what it is/was. What it was in the public perception (in the 1950s/early to mid-1960s) was a very right wing organization with “old-fashioned” values. Many of its members were among the wealthy and even the very rich determined to keep the old rules as they saw them.  What that said about the father/founder Koch is anybody’s guess. But he and his wife brought up their four boys to take care of themselves and with enthusiasm and responsibility.

David and Charles bought out the two other brothersFred Jr. (the eldest) and William (David’s twin), fifteen or twenty years ago and the settlement sums were way up there in the billion class or almost —  although it left the remaining brothers in an even more favorable position financially.

Since then all Koch political activity — funding favorites, etc.— has been with the two owner-brothers. Which brings us to the interview and the Meredith Corporation purchase of TIME Inc. with the Koch brothers’ massive participation.
The Koch family posing for a Christmas card, circa 1950s. Left to right: Charles, David, Fred, Mary, Bill, Frederick. Special Collections and University Archives, Wichita State Universtity Libraries
Was this also in some way political? I wondered. Print magazines are and have long been now on the wane. TIME no longer has the influence it once possessed greatly (in the high cotton days of Henry Luce). In fact, it’s irrelevant except in media circles. One of our problems is almost nothing of the printed nature is flourishing in quite the way it has for the past six or seven centuries.

The host of the show  speaks very quickly, Walter Winchell-like but with a British accent. Ratta-tat-tat, get-to-it.  He asked me what I thought of the Meredith/TIME buy and why were the Kochs involved, did I think? He didn’t say it but it seemed he was inferring that it was a political move, moves they are known for.
The host of the show, Matthew Amroliwala.
I’d thought about it before and it occurred to me that the brothers are both at a later stage age in life. David is 77 and Charles is 84.  What would be the motivation for these two men at that age to invest in a political move? Would it be their love of country, their anticipation of a better world (even a better world for them)? There is within them a very strong Midwestern sensibility. At this later stage in the lives of both men, very rich men, men who are into their wealth and its preservation, they are clearly motivated to manage their fortunes wisely, prudently and with a stability that can continue after they are no longer around. Is that so political?

That was more or less my response.
When you get to that age, as I know from experience, unless you are a highly evolved and spiritual individual, your most important concerns are the management of your life and your legacy and/or your family’s future without you.

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