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Directors Reveal How PBS Quashed Airing of Negative Koch Brothers Film

Posted on Jun 2, 2013
Screenshot via "Democracy Now!"

According to a recent report by The New Yorker’s Jane Meyer, PBS canceled the airing of “Citizen Koch,” a documentary that portrayed David Koch—one-half of the notorious conservative billionaire duo the Koch brothers and a major funder of public television—in an unflattering light. On Thursday, “Democracy Now!” followed up on Meyer’s in-depth article, discussing with the film’s directors, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, whether PBS resorted to self-censorship in order to appease the Koch brothers.

According to Lessin, the trouble with “Citizen Koch” began once filmmakers came up with the title for the documentary, which was after they had given it to ITVS, the movie’s funder and distributor. The film was initially set to air on Independent Lens, a series curated jointly by ITVS and PBS.

“We had had a working title, ‘Citizen Corp.,’ for our film, but we needed a title to go to Sundance, so we came up with ‘Citizen Koch.’ They had been fine with that a week earlier,” said Lessin. “But then we got a frantic series of text messages and phone calls, you know, and they desperately wanted to see the film that we were going to take to Sundance. And we were happy to give it to them. So, I guess a couple days after that, we got on the phone with the head of production over there, and they said, ‘You know, if you guys don’t change the name of your film, then we’re going to have to take funding away from you. We can’t have a relationship with this film under that name.’ ”

Lessin continued: “And, you know, we were sort of stunned. We were open to other names, you know, quite frankly, but we were really curious about what was behind that. And, look, it took one Google search to figure out that David Koch was a board member of WNET and GBH also, and also a contributor. So we asked, very directly, ‘Did this have anything to do with the demands they were making?’ And, you know, they were not very transparent, but it became clear that, in fact, there was a climate at PBS that would find the name of this film, ‘Citizen Koch,’ unacceptable.”

According to “Democracy Now!” host Juan Gonzalez, “ITVS eventually withdrew its offer of a production agreement to acquire public television exhibition rights.”

The controversy over PBS’ decision comes at a time when the Koch brothers are reportedly thinking of buying newspapers set to be unloaded by the Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

Watch the whole interview below.


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