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AFL-CIO, Wary of Koch Money, Presses Tribune to Shelve Newspaper Sale

Stocks in this article: TRBAA NWSA

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer last month described how a $150,000 pledge in public television funding for the project was suddenly withdrawn after Lessin refused to change portions of the film dealing with the Koch brothers. David Koch, who was a member the New York public-television station WNET from 2006 until last month, had donated $23 million to public television, Mayer reported, and was poised to make an additional "seven-figure donation" until WNET aired another film Park Avenue, which focuses on the Koch's influence in business and politics.

The Kochs, on their Web site KochFacts said "that Koch made no effort to dissuade WNET or anyone else from airing" the film.

Lessin sees it differently.

"David Koch is not a fan of public scrutiny or metaphors," Lessin said. "We were asked to remove the name Koch from the film, and then public television asked us to take Koch out of the film. This should be a warning about could happen to these newspapers were the Kochs to buy them."

The Koch Brothers aren't saying whether they plan to bid on Tribune's newspapers, though their spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia did steer me once again to KochFacts for guidance, and there, in black-and-white, the Kochs make clear that when it comes to buying Tribune's newspapers, "we are not ruling it out."

The Kochs are nothing if not defiant, making clear that recent public protests in cities with Tribune newspapers against the brothers have possibly had the reverse effect of making the activist billionaires more motivated to jump into this politically-charged scrum.

"In America, protesters have a right to protest; however we haven't been intimidated by past politically motivated attacks, and we won't be intimidated by these protests. The demonstrations carry no weight and have no influence on investment decisions we make," read the Koch post.

But were the Koch Brothers to extend their political campaigns from the editorial pages into the general newsroom, they may risk killing the very property they purchased, warns Alex Jones, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and author of Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy.

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