Special correspondent on economics, business and public policy; Newsweek/Daily Beast
Megan McArdle is a Koch-trained conservative activist working as a business journalist and pundit. She earned her MBA from the University of Chicago, received journalism training at the Kochs' flagship libertarian think-tank, the Institute for Humane Studies, and has used her position at The Atlantic and, most recently, Newsweek/Daily Beast, to run cover for and promote Koch interests and the Republican Party agenda. In early 2009, a GOP outfit backed by the Kochs hailed McArdle for her "leadership role in ... re-branding the Republican party." McArdle continues to conceal the extent of her deeply conflicted relationships with the Koch influence-peddling machine.
The recovered history of Megan McArdle
- Megan McArdle built her career on bashing public servants and government, but her father's taxpayer-subsidized work in government and as a government lobbyist funded her upbringing as a "child of privilege" as she described herself. McArdle's father, Francis McArdle, was a career public servant in the New York City administration who took the revolving door to the private sector as chief lobbyist for the union-busting General Contractor's Association of New York, where her father represented private contractors "primarily engaged in construction of public buildings and plants." In 1987, the head of the New York state Organized Crime Task Force accused Francis McArdle's clients of pervasive corruption, bribery, racketeering and union-busting. Thanks to New York's lucrative public construction projects, Megan was able to attend Riverdale Country School, the most expensive prep school in America, according to Time magazine. Today, annual tuition at Riverdale runs over $40,000.
- In the early-mid 1990s, McArdle attended the University of Pennsylvania. She converted from "ultraliberal to libertarian" in her junior year, after working as a canvasser and field manager for Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Groups, which she called “the most deceptive, evil place I’ve ever worked.” [ 1 ]
- In 2001, after her job offer in management consulting was "rescinded", McArdle was given a day job in the construction industry, which her father was lobbying for at the time, and started blogging free-market Republican propaganda under the Ayn Rand-inspired pseudonym "Jane Galt." McArdle claimed she did not use her real name for fear of being persecuted for her libertarian views: “I lived in the Upper West Side so I couldn’t discuss these things with anyone. I would just stew.” Her first blog post to go viral in the conservative blog network argued for scrapping corporate taxes. [ 2 ]
- In 2002, McArdle applied for a job in the Foreign Service but was rejected, which she blamed on asthma. “Apparently, they don’t want a foreign service full of people who are, like, ‘Well, I can only go to Paris,’” she told the Koch-funded AFF newsletter, Doublethink.
- In 2003, The Economist hired McArdle as a blogger. On the eve of the Iraq invasion, McArdle gleefully advocated the use of violence to suppress antiwar demonstrations, writing: "I'm too busy laughing. And I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it's applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner."
- In 2003, McArdle attacked economist James Galbraith as "paranoiac" and critic Eric Alterman as "nuts" for suggesting that the Iraq war could cost $2 trillion. McArdle declared the Iraq War "is not going to run us several trillion dollars (though even if it did, that would work out to less than 0.1% of GDP over the next 20 years.)...But making up ridiculous numbers in order to support your predisposition isn't helpful -- and when the war doesn't cost us $2t, people are going to remember that the next time you talk about the costs of a program you don't like." In 2008, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calculated that the Iraq war cost at least $3 trillion.
- McArdle received journalism training from the right-wing Institute for Humane Studies, headed by Charles Koch since the 1960s. According to the IHS, its journalism program "places talented writers and communicators—who support individual liberty, free markets, and peace—at media companies and non-profit newsrooms" and offers "mentoring and job placement assistance." The program currently includes a $3,200 stipend, as well as travel allowance.
- In 2011, McArdle returned to her Koch alma mater as a guest lecturer and instructor at the Institute for Humane Studies' "Journalism & the Free Society" summer internship program. The program tackled such topics as "Is an 'objective' press possible — or even desirable?" Other faculty members joining McArdle that year included Radley Balko, then-editor at the Kochs' Reason magazine
- In a sign of just how close and trusted McArdle is to the Kochs, in October 2011, she was chosen to emcee Charles Koch's 50th Anniversary gala celebration of his flagship libertarian think-tank, the Institute for Humane Studies, featuring Charles Koch as the keynote speaker and guest of honor. McArdle and Koch were joined by hundreds of leading GOP donors and activists. An IHS newsletter wrote of her performance: "Emcee Megan McArdle wove a humorous narrative through the program." The IHS attempted to hide McArdle's involvement, scrubbing her name from the dinner announcement page. (See side bar for more info on the gala event.)
- In 2006, McArdle published an article in Reason, a magazine controlled by the Kochs since the 1970's, headlined, "The Virtue of Riches: How Wealth Makes Us More Moral". McArdle's article argued that wealth makes people "more tolerant of minorities, more welcoming to immigrants, more solicitous of their fellow citizens, more supportive of democratic institutions, and just plain better specimens of humanity." In fact, studies show that the wealthiest Americans are more likely to lie and steal, while the poor donate proportionally much more of their incomes to charity.
- In August 2007, The Atlantic hired McArdle as a business and economics blogger. Her first post, titled "Dont panic!" [sic], wrongly predicted that the liquidity shock that hit the financial system earlier that month was nothing to worry about: "Having a nasty market contraction does not mean that your economy automatically goes down the tubes."
- In September 2008, as the financial markets collapsed, McArdle gave a talk at an anti-regulation event hosted by the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University focusing on how "government regulation actually contributed" to the financial meltdown. [ 3 ]
- That same month, in September 2008, McArdle transformed her blog at the The Atlantic into a feverish Wall Street crisis-management propaganda outlet. She argued that bankers were largely innocent, blamed government regulators and homeowners for tanking the economy, and mocked news of a criminal investigation into Wall Street crimes, writing, "For what, I have no idea." McArdle also bizarrely claimed that bankers were victims of the real estate bubble, while blaming borrowers for being greedy profiteers: “You know who made most of the money on the subprime bubble? Anyone who bought a house in the last ten years. Yes, that's right, you, with your low fixed interest rate on a reasonably sized house. You're the profiteer who laughed all the way to the bank.” The truth is that rampant fraud and predatory lending had decimated homeowner net-worth, leaving people substantially poorer and more in debt than they had been in decades.
- McArdle's position on financial regulations was in perfect sync with Koch Industries. The company is a major player in financial markets and emerged as one of the most powerful forces lobbying against financial reform following the crash, according to Bloomberg. Just in the last four months of 2008, Koch Industries spent over $7 million on lobbying efforts, much of that directed at fighting various financial regulation bills. Despite blatantly promoting the Kochs' political and business agenda, McArdle failed to disclose her numerous Koch conflicts of interests.
- In 2008, McArdle argued that the recession had a silver lining for liberals and the 99%, claiming the economic downturn would reduce wealth inequality because it hurt the rich more than middle- and lower-income Americans: "Recessions are bad for everyone, but they're worse for the wealthy." In fact, wealth inequality has substantially worsened since then.
- McArdle proposed permanently ending inheritance taxes on the super-wealthy, citing her own experience as a "child of privilege" which gave her insight into how the super-rich never paid their taxes anyway, so why waste money forcing them to offshore their earnings. She also claimed that "estate tax may actually cost the treasury money."
- In January 2009, McArdle was singled out for her "leadership role" by the Koch-connected America's Future Foundation and took part in a panel of GOP strategists and top conservative activists pushing for "re-branding the Republican party." McArdle's strategy speech argued that so long as unemployment remained high and housing prices remained low in 2010, the Republicans would win the mid-term elections, and it would be easier to shift blame for the 2008 economic collapse onto Democrats and Big Government.
- McArdle spent the next two years criticizing proposals that threatened to improve voters' lives before the 2010 elections. She pushed hard against health care reform, mortgage relief, financial consumer protection and unions.
- In February 2009, McArdle led a propaganda campaign in her Atlantic blog to discredit investigative journalism exposing the first Tea Party protest in February 2009 as an Astroturf campaign backed by the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks. McArdle wrote of the Kochs: “from what I know of them, astroturfing doesn’t really seem like their style. I’ve seen Koch in action at private events, and though I’ll respect the privacy, I’ll say that even in the company of other like-minded rich people, he displayed rather a mania for honest dealing.” The Tea Party was launched in February 2009 to oppose a White House bill providing mortgage relief to struggling homeowners, and thereby stabilize housing prices. In the "Republican rebranding" campaign, it was important to present the Tea Party as completely autonomous and grass-roots, rather than backed by the Kochs and FreedomWorks. Thanks in large part to McArdle's efforts discrediting the exposé, the media spent the next year-and-a-half misrepresenting the Tea Party as an authentic grassroots uprising rather than a Koch-sponsored Astroturf campaign. [ 4 ] [ 5 ]
- A year before the Tea Party, in 2008, McArdle's fiancé Peter Suderman worked on an identical Astroturf campaign for FreedomWorks called "AngryRenter.com", a fake grassroots movement launched by FreedomWorks' wealthy Republican donors designed to kill proposed legislation to provide mortgage relief to homeowners, which then-President Bush opposed. In May 2008, the Wall Street Journal exposed AngryRenter.com as a fake campaign funded by Republican donors and lobbyists: "Though it purports to be a spontaneous uprising, AngryRenter.com is actually a product of an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. It's a fake grass-roots effort -- what politicos call an AstroTurf campaign." McArdle did not disclose that her fiancé worked on FreedomWorks' AngryRenter.com Astroturf campaign when she attacked the 2009 exposé on the Tea Party as a FreedomWorks/Koch project.
- In May 2009, McArdle led a smear campaign against New York Times reporter Ed Andrews who published a book about how he went broke under the weight of mortgage and credit card debt. To "prove" that Andrews' bankruptcy story was really his own fault, McArdle obtained his wife's records showing she had declared bankruptcy in the past, and used that to paint the author as untrustworthy and profligate. In fact, his wife was forced to file for bankruptcy before she met Andrews, when she had been a single mother with an ex-husband who refused to pay court-ordered child support. However, the damage was done; numerous publications attacked Andrews' credibility, effectively blunting the effect his book might have had on the public discourse on debt and bankruptcy.
- In June 2010, McArdle married fellow Koch activist Peter Suderman. Suderman spent much of his adult career on the Koch payroll, rotating through positions at America's Future Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, as well as the Moonie-owned The Washington Times. Suderman is currently a senior editor at Reason magazine.
- In 2010, McArdle wrote about how she bought a house in a low-income black neighborhood in Washington DC that was in the process of being gentrified, and claimed she'd met an anonymous black man on a bus who told McArdle he (and presumably many more) blacks fully approved of their neighborhoods being gentrified and pushed out by wealthier whites. McArdle quoted the anonymous pro-gentrification black man telling her: "'You know, you may have heard us talking about you people, how we don't want you here. A lot of people are saying you all are taking the city from us. Way I feel is, you don't own a city.' He paused and looked around the admittedly somewhat seedy street corner. 'Besides, look what we did with it. We had it for forty years, and look what we did with it!'"
- In December 2010, McArdle attacked a New York Times investigation into the dangerous effects of formaldehyde, which causes cancer in humans. McArdle mocked those dangers: "It's a chemical! Indeed it is. You're surrounded by chemicals. Your couch is made of chemicals. So is the table. So is the hand-carded wool sweater you bought from the woman who raises her own sheep on organic feed. Distilled water is a chemical. Fine wine is full of them." Once again, McArdle ran cover for Koch Industries' business interests: According to an investigation into the Koch family by New Yorker reporter Jane Meyer, "Koch Industries has been lobbying to prevent the E.P.A. from classifying formaldehyde, which the company produces in great quantities, as a 'known carcinogen' in humans." [ 6 ]
- McArdle's breaking point with the group came after she was assigned to canvass a poor suburb of Philadelphia, which she described as full of "welfare mothers, elderly people collecting the minimum Social Security payment, young men on disability." [↩]
- McArdle's first blogging partner was another pseudonymous right-wing blogger, Andrew Hofer, a banker with Brown Brothers Harriman and graduate of Exeter, Yale and Columbia, who denounced Bush's critics as "elitists." [↩]
- Koch Industries funneled a combined $3.7 million to Mercatus in 2007 and 2008. The Wall Street Journal called the Mercatus Center "the most important think tank you’ve never heard of.” [↩]
- The investigate piece that McArdle smeared was authored by S.H.A.M.E founders Yasha Levine and Mark Ames. [↩]
- The Tea Party was central to the Republican Party rebranding strategy that McArdle helped map out in January 2009. [↩]
- The company has long been involved in funding front groups and fighting against laws that would classify it as a carcinogen. [↩]