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Megan McArdle’s Fake Full Disclosures: What the Daily Beast Correspondent Doesn’t Want You To Know About Her Koch Work

“In propaganda, truth pays off."

— V.I. Lenin

SHAME's recent exposé of Newsweek/The Daily Beast correspondent Megan McArdle went into great detail about her deep, close ties to the Kochs' libertarian influence-peddling machine and her failure to disclose the connections. The most important thing you need to know about Megan McArdle is this: She is the only journalist in America whose byline has appeared on Newsweek and Atlantic Monthly cover stories, while at the same time is so close to Charles Koch that she was chosen to emcee the big 50th Golden Anniversary bash that Koch threw last year to celebrate the success of his libertarian think-tank the Institute of Humane Studies, the first of countless dozens of think-tanks (Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Competitive Enterprise Institute, etc) that the billionaire oligarch controls today.

Megan McArdle (top) beams with joy as Charles Koch’s party clown-for-hire at the 50th anniversary bash of the Institute for Humane Studies

The SHAME profile only touched on McArdle's underhanded strategy of issuing fake "full disclosures" to obscure just how deep her ties to the Kochs really go. And there's a good reason she doesn't want the public to know about her Koch connections. If people knew, they wouldn't waste time debating, reading or even paying attention to someone so clearly corrupt and conflicted. The real question is: Why have the Atlantic Monthly and now Newsweek provided a Koch operative like McArdle with the "centrist" credibility that she so desperately needs in order to do her job as a propagandist?

As far as we could find, there have only been a handful of instances over the years when McArdle felt compelled to issue a "full disclosure" about her journalism conflicts of interest. And every time, these "full disclosures" have been used as smokescreens to give readers the false impression that McArdle was being up-front about her conflicted relationships, when in fact her disclosures were highly selective and edited, and now raise more questions than they purport to answer. As in, "Why did she knowingly give false incomplete information?"

For example: In March 2009, McArdle led a propaganda campaign to discredit an investigation that Mark Ames and I published in Playboy that first exposed the first Tea Party protest as an astroturf campaign backed by the Koch billionaire brothers and the Koch-linked advocacy outfit FreedomWorks. McArdle smeared our reporting as a conspiracy theory, initially arguing from her Atlantic Monthly perch that FreedomWorks did not play a leading role in orchestrating the Tea Parties. She also defended the Kochs with her now-infamous line: "I don’t see any evidence offered that Koch money funds FreedomWorks, or any astroturfing organization . . . from what I know of [the Kochs], astroturfing doesn’t really seem like their style."


At the very end of her smear-piece, McArdle offered readers of The Atlantic a "full disclosure" about her then-fiancé's employment at FreedomWorks:

Full disclosure:  It's pretty much an open secret in DC, but given the content of the article I'm discussing, I think I ought to mention that I live with Peter Suderman, who once worked for Freedomworks.  Other than giving me the name of the right employee to email to make inquiries (no word back yet), I haven't asked him about his former employer, and he hasn't told me anything.  I debated whether to write about this, but since I'm not actually defending Freedomworks, I think it's kosher.

Doesn't seem so bad, does it? Well, that's because McArdle strategically left out a few salient details.

For one thing, McArdle's now-husband Peter Suderman was much more  familiar with FreedomWorks than she was letting on—and his work for FreedomWorks was directly relevant to the Tea Party campaign that McArdle ran cover for. As documented in the S.H.A.M.E. profile, Peter Suderman worked for FreedomWorks on an astroturf campaign called Angry Renter that was essentially a Tea Party 1.0, a 2008 precursor to the Tea Party movement of 2009.

In May 2008 The Wall Street Journal exposed McArdle's husband's outfit as a "fake grass-roots effort" to kill off proposed Democratic Party legislation to provide mortgage relief to struggling homeowners.

A year later, FreedomWorks was using many of the same PR strategies, tapping the same libertarian networks and even pretty much the same rallying cry—an alleged groundswell of popular opposition to a bill that would provide mortgage relief to struggling homeowners—in order to launch and promote the Tea Party movement.

McArdle also didn't mention in her initial 2009 "full disclosure" that her husband Peter Suderman's ties to the Kochs, even though she spent much of that article defending the Kochs. Suderman had spent most of his professional career drawing paychecks from various Koch organizations and propaganda outfits. When McArdle published her smear on the article exposing the Tea Party as a Koch-FreedomWorks operation, her boy Peter Suderman was regularly blogging for Reason magazine and would be hired on as Reason's associate editor just a few months later.

But all the info that was airbrushed out of Suderman's resume is nothing compared with the slash job McArdle did on her own Koch history.

To wit, there is no mention of "Megan McArdle" in Megan McArdle's "full disclosure."

This was February 2009, two years before McArdle would be honored for her services to the Koch cause by serving as Charles Koch's party clown at the 50th Golden Anniversary bash of the Institute for Humane Studies. The IHS was Charles Koch's first libertarian baby—it's the ship that launched a thousand free-market front-groups. So it means a lot to Charles Koch to hire Megan McArdle as his party emcee—and it should mean a lot to McArdle's readers and editors at Newsweek too, though for different reasons.

In her defense of the Kochs in 2009, McArdle didn't mention the journalism training and job placement support she received from the Institute for Humane Studies, a libertarian think tank tightly controlled by Charles Koch since the 196os. (Over the years this program has launched the mainstream media careers of a long list of conservative operatives, along with Megan McArdle.) Nor did she inform readers that just a month before the Tea Party Movement she was singled out at a Koch-funded event for her "leadership role" as a  conservative activist pushing for "re-branding the Republican party," and that she gave a strategy speech in which she echoed the objectives of the Tea Party movement. And there are at least a half-dozen other serious conflicts that she could have picked from . . .

Without getting stuck in the details of McArdle's numerous Koch connections (that's what the handy list below is for), the fact that she airbrushed them out from her "disclosures" is an indication of just how aware she is of the damage those ties to the Kochs would bring to her "credibility" if the public became aware of them.

Those omissions were not, and are not, mere slip-ups. McArdle had a chance to add the omitted conflicts into a subsequent post she published on the The Atlantic, supposedly to clarify and expand on her initial "full disclosure" of Peter Suderman's connections to the Kochs. Instead, she went into sickening detail about how, when and under what circumstances she and Suderman became romantically involved, and how they decided to sleep outside an Apple store while partying at Matthew Yglesias' house. Here's just a small sample:

…on July 10th, when Peter and I slept out in line for the iPhone, we weren't dating.  We were good-ish friends.  In the interests of absolutely full disclosure on this vital topic, Peter Suderman had that very week left his job at Freedomworks, and was about to join the ill-fated Culture11. [Culture11 was funded in part by trust billionaire Steve Forbes, who happened to run FreedomWorks along with Dick Armey. —YL]  The two of us decided to camp out in line three weeks before, at a party which I believe to have been hosted by Matthew Yglesias and his roommates, though it could also have been at one of a half-dozen other friends.  We met up that evening at a book party for Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, and then decamped for Virginia.  While it is true that we shared a queen-sized air mattress for several hours, Peter was a perfect gentleman. . . . Peter and I started dating two weeks after that, on July 24th, if you can refer to his invaluable help cleaning up my apartment after a fairly lengthy cocktail party as a "date".

All her wink-wink yammering about her relationship, all the mind-numbing details and the sarcastic, mocking tone she takes towards "full disclosure" is not McArdle being stupid—it's her acting stupid to throw you off the scent. She is most definitely not stupid, whatever her critics say. What McArdle is doing here is throwing out a crisis-management diversion—the shill equivalent of a squid squirting ink or a skunk discharging its anal stink-glands. She wants readers to wrinkle their nose and turn away in disgust—anything to keep critics from scrutinizing her Koch ties and uncovering her corruption.

We were able to dig up four other "full disclosure" statements by McArdle from the past few years, and they all use the same Peter Suderman decoy trick. In fact, it's so consistent that you gotta wonder: Did McArdle marry Suderman just so she could could hide behind his Koch ties and give the appearance of offering "full disclosure"?

Here's a tweet from 2011:

This "full disclosure" is from an Atlantic blog post from February 16, 2012, defending the Koch-founded Heartland Institute after a scientist obtained internal docs showing that the outfit planned to fund anti-climate-change propaganda aimed at kindergarteners and schools:

Full disclosure: One of the donors in the apparently authenticated documents is Charles Koch, and my husband did a year-long fellowship with the Koch Foundation. However, nothing I'm going to write either defends or indicts Mr. Koch, who's actually pretty incidental to both Heartland's funding, and this story.

This one is from a follow-up post on the Heartland Institute scandal a week later:

Full disclosure: in 2011 the Heartland Institute received a small donation from the Charles Koch foundation, which in the past also sponsored a journalism fellowship for my husband.

And this one is from an Atlantic post from February 24, 2012, that defended the Kochs from a negative Obama campaign email:

My husband once had a fellowship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and works for Reason Magazine, which has been a recipient of funds from Koch charitable organizations.

There might be more of these fake McArdle "full disclosures" floating around the Internet, and we welcome readers to send any new ones they find.

Meanwhile, seeing how Megan McArdle can't or won't fully disclose her conflicts of interest on her own, we will do it for her. So in the interests of media transparency, SHAME offers our readers this handy list of McArdle's conflicted Koch connections. While by no means complete, we think it's a good start. Hopefully some day McArdle will find the time to stop deceiving her readers and fully disclose on her own.

Megan McArdle's Undisclosed Koch Connections (in reverse chronological order):

  • In June 2012, Megan McArdle spoke at a Koch-linked Students for Liberty "Women for Liberty" event held at the Institute for Humane Studies. McArdle was described as a "shining" role model that "young women in the movement should look up to." Students for Liberty is a Koch-funded youth club founded by alumni of the Institute for Humane Studies.
  • In 2012, McArdle served as a judge for the Reason Foundation Bastiat Prize, awarded to libertarian media pundits. Reason Foundation is closely linked to the Koch think-tank network and is funded in part by a number of different Koch foundations. (She has served in this capacity for a number of years.)
  • In 2011, McArdle took part in a Cato Institute panel called "U.S. Debt and the Millennials: Is Washington Creating a Lost Generation?" She described Social Security and Medicare as a "gigantic space alien that's larger, like five times the size of earth."
  • In October 2011, Mcardle was honored by being 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.
  • In February 2011, McArdle was the keynote speaker at the annual International Students For Liberty Conference, where she delivered a talk titled "Building the Case for Liberty in the New Century." The conference included a sneak preview of the film Atlas Shrugged. 
  • In 2011, McArdle was a guest lecturer at the Institute for Humane Studies' "Journalism & the Free Society" summer seminar 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 2010, she was a moderator at a Mercatus conference about credit card regulation. Koch Industries funneled a combined $3.7 million to Mercatus in 2007 and 2008The Wall Street Journal called the Mercatus Center "the most important think tank you’ve never heard of.”
  • 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 June 2009, McArdle served as moderator at a Cato Institute's healthcare reform conference. The title of McArdle's panel was: "Should Congress Mandate Coverage?"
  • In Spring of 2009, McArdle served as a judge for a Koch-funded blogger contest held to identify "young conservative and libertarian talent who wish to pursue careers as journalists and writers." The winner received a $10,000 prize. Other judges included Cato/Reason's Radley Balko, Jonah Goldberg, and libertarian economist Jonathan H. Adler.
  • In January 2009, McArdle was a speaker at an America's Future Foundation (AFF) event that featured "young libertarians and conservatives who have taken a leadership role in . . . re-branding the Republican party." AFF is a libertarian organization that exists to "identify and develop the next generation of conservative and libertarian leaders." It has close ties to the Koch-funded think-tank network, including Mercatus, ALEC and Institute for Humane Studies.
  • In September 2008, McArdle took part in a panel discussion at AFF about "who should libertarians and conservatives support."
  • That same month, McArdle was a featured speaker at an anti-regulation event hosted by the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her talk focused on how "government regulation actually contributed" to the financial meltdown.
  • In March 2007, McArdle partied at Reason magazine's "Happy Hour" with David Weigel, Radley Balko, as well as The Wall Street Journal's John Fund.
  • In the mid-2000s, 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.

Yasha Levine is co-founder of the S.H.A.M.E. Project and author of The Corruption of Malcolm Gladwell

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