Activists protest Koch brothers’ potential purchase of Courant parent

On Broad Street in Hartford outside the headquarters of the nation’s oldest, continuously published newspaper, activists mobilized in protest against the Koch brothers’ reported interest in buying the Tribune Co.

“We’re concerned about the way that the Koches know nothing about, and represent nothing about, the values of journalism,” said Josh Stearns, Journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press, a media reform organization. “These are not the people we want owning our newspapers.”

Tribune is the parent company to many of the country’s most widely circulated newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Connecticut’s own Hartford Courant.

Reports that Charles and David Koch (billionaire leaders of Koch Industries) are interested in buying Tribune surfaced months ago, alarming many not aligned with their conservative political agenda. 

As part of a national day of action Wednesday, the Connecticut Action Alliance for a Fair Economy, labor and media policy activists, led a charge of approximately 75 people from the park outside Connecticut’s Legislative Office Building to the sidewalk in front of the Courant’s headquarters.

Protesters lined the sidewalk chanting, “If the Courant gets bought by Koch, all the news will be a joke!” and “Koch news is bad news!”

“We know that the Tribune is not perfect,” said Peggy Buchanan, president of the Greater Hartford Central Labor Council. “We are troubled by the layoffs and their treatment of workers. We’ve been here to protest many times. But things at the Courant will not get better with the Koch brothers.”

Among the protesters was Hartford City Council Minority Leader Larry Deutsch, who announced the introduction of a resolution opposing the potential Koch-Tribune transaction.

“The tea-party funding Koch brothers aren’t interested in reporting the news,” said Deutsch in a statement. “They want to use the Hartford Courant, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other Tribune company papers to push their own corporate agenda. Newspapers should serve the public interest, not a narrow political agenda.”

Deutsch said the resolution states the city does not want industry leaders with a partisan, corporate agenda running the Courant. 

“We rather have something that has unbiased local news coverage,” he said.  

Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, presented Deutsch with a list of more than 4,200 signatures of concerned Connecticut residents opposed to the sale of Tribune to Koch.

The petition is part of a nationwide effort to collect 500,000 signatures of people feeling the same way.

Eric Bailey, a member of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut for 12 years, said he feels the Koch brothers’ purchase of the Tribune Co. would have a negative ripple effect on news coverage in the city, state and federal governments.

“This is the paper for record for the state of Connecticut and if they come in here and continue to inject their right-wing ideologies into the media and into news stories, you’re not going to see any true coverage of what is happening in this state,” said Bailey, of Windsor Locks. “The public will end up being hurt as a result.”

No one from the Courant nor Koch Industries appeared to engage the protestors. The Koch company has repeatedly labeled the reports of its interest in Tribune as “rumors” and has said it does not comment on the business opportunities it is contemplating.