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Filmmaker Robert Greenwald Tells Truthout How the Koch Brothers Endanger Democracy and Our Health
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald. (Photo: Brave New Films)

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald Tells Truthout How the Koch Brothers Endanger Democracy and Our Health

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald. (Photo: Brave New Films)

BuzzFlash at Truthout first got to know Robert Greenwald when he and Earl Katz, who is now chair of Public Interest Pictures, were trying to get a film about the theft of the 2000 presidential election, “Unprecedented,” off the ground. That was over a decade ago.

Since that time, Greenwald went on to form the extraordinarily innovative Brave New Films. Brave New Films has been a leading user of social media to disseminate progressive video clips and documentaries. Most recently, Greenwald launched the distribution of “Koch Brothers Exposed,” a DVD that features the best of Brave New Films’ videos, revealing the dark side of the Koch family empire. Receive it, shipped directly from Truthout, with a one-time donation to Truthout of $30 or a monthly gift of $15 or more.

Mark Karlin: First, congratulations. Another extraordinary film showing the importance of documenting public issues of vital importance. Indeed, how far your use of film for the public good has come. I remember talking with you a decade ago, when your first steps were still uncertain, but now you have built a thriving and vital progressive studio for the Internet age. How have you felt making the transition from a Sunset Boulevard Hollywood director and producer to a creator of advocacy and documentary films and Internet clips?

Robert Greenwald: All change and transitions are challenging and filled with tensions and excitement. The opportunity to work each day on the most profound issues that affect each and every one of us is a constant source of great tension. How to tell the story in the way that will have the most impact; how to structure the film so that it can reach the most people emotionally, and then, intellectually; how to take a complicated issue and make it compelling, as well as activating – these are things that keep me awake at night and have me jumping out of bed at dawn.

Mark Karlin: Now to “Koch Brothers Exposed.” The father of David and Charles Koch, Fred, was – as mentioned in the DVD – one of the founders of the John Birch Society. It appears to me that when you connect the dots of the nefarious Koch brothers’ activity – what ties their political initiatives together – they are pretty much following the John Birch Society ideology (although they claim they are libertarians). Is that something that you would agree with?

Robert Greenwald: I think one of the most important roles we play at Brave New Foundation is connecting the dots on war, on economic inequity, etcetera. It is never, never the rotten apple theory; it is systemic. And we need to find ways to tell the story of how the system works and doesn’t work. I think the important thing with the Kochs is to understand parental influence and the fact that they are representative of the 1 percent. They are not the only ones, but it is important to see and understand what they do and how they are doing it.

Mark Karlin: The size of the wealth of the Koch brothers is mind-boggling. How much are they worth, and why do you think they aren’t just content being among the richest people in the world?

Robert Greenwald: The billions they have is beyond our comprehension. Why aren’t they content is a question better suited to psychologists (my father, mother, brother and sister-in-law, by the way). However, there is a book my brother gave me years ago about wealth addition, and I think that would be an accurate description. There is never enough money; they keep using millions to make billions, to buy up democracy.

Mark Karlin: You have a segment in “Koch Brothers Exposed” dealing with the Koch’s involvement with an effort to re-segregate a school district in North Carolina through one of their organizations, Americans for Prosperity. How does taking on Brown v. Board of Education fit into their agenda?

Robert Greenwald: The Kochs founded and fund Americans for Prosperity. It is the boots-on-the-ground organization that helps carry out their ideas and plans. It is very effective, but with all that Koch money, it is not a surprise. Americans for Prosperity plays a critical role in many states – in North Carolina, with resegregation and in Wisconsin, busting unions.

Mark Karlin: Speaking of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs have also played a key financial role in FreedomWorks. These two organizations were instrumental in getting the Tea Party off the ground with seed money and infrastructure building. Do the Tea Party members know that they are the puppets of multibillionaires?

Robert Greenwald: Well, I wish I could read the minds of Tea Party folks! But I can’t.

Mark Karlin: What is the story on the forgotten Koch brother, Bill Koch?

Robert Greenwald: I don’t know much about him. We chose to focus on David and Charles and how they are using money to advance their economic and ideological interests.

Mark Karlin: David Koch, as you point out in the DVD, is a cancer survivor, and gives to cancer prevention organizations, but Koch Industries, as “Koch Brothers Exposed” shows, causes cancer. Do you ever become revolted by such hypocrisy?

Robert Greenwald: The cancer section was one of the most painful to work on. It is just a strong story. Natalie Kottke, who found and researched it, did an amazing job, and so did Jeff Cole, who produced it, and Joseph Suzuki, who edited it. The segment is a poster child for the intersection of class and race and the media’s indifference to those people who are getting screwed over.

Mark Karlin: Would you call the annual conclave of leaders of the US oligarchy sponsored by the Koch brothers an attempt to form a shadow government?

Robert Greenwald: It’s not so shadowy. These folks meet, exchange ideas and then implement them. We need all our resources to investigate and expose them, as we do in the film.

Mark Karlin: How are the Koch Brothers related to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their work on behalf of unfettered capitalism, as well as on state legislative models of right-wing legislation? Their efforts on the latter included pushing the “Stand Your Ground” bill which, thus far, has allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, to take life with impunity. (Update: Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder on April 11.)

Robert Greenwald: The Kochs are major funders of ALEC. They are major funders of so much of the right-wing infrastructure. As head of an organization where we are constantly working so hard to raise dollars, the way they spend money in support of their economic interests is quite something.

Mark Karlin: “Koch Brothers Exposed” ends with your Brave New Films staff trying to get the Koch brothers to comment for the film, but unsuccessfully. Once the film was released, however, a statement from Koch Industries accused you of engaging in “maliciously false and deliberately misleading” filmmaking. What is your response to their allegation?

Robert Greenwald: I have challenged the Kochs to debate: no answer. We have challenged the Kochs to prove one fact wrong: no answer that makes any sense. And I challenge them to debate once again.

This interview is not covered by Creative Commons policy and may not be republished without permission.