Public Miseducation: WGBH and David Koch

(The following is the text of my remarks at the Rally for a Koch-Free WGBH in Boston on October 9, 2013. The event, organized by Forecast the Facts, was held to encourage WGBH, the powerful PBS affiliate in Boston, to remove billionaire climate-change denier David Koch from its Board of Trustees.)

You know, I'm not supposed to like WGBH; after all, I voted Republican for nearly fifteen years, supporting a party that couldn't stand the very concept of public television. Yet -- though I often kept it to myself -- I admired WGBH for its commitment to excellence during a time in which so many media entities were committed to mediocrity.

Two years ago, I made the decision to stop supporting the Republican Party, realizing that the GOP was now being controlled, and destroyed, by a force that drove the party to deny mainstream science, deny economic rationality, even deny the legitimacy of the President of the United States and the government itself. That same force, as it turns out, has influence beyond the Republican Party -- and it's using its influence to control and destroy another institution.

For nearly 60 years, WGBH has served to educate and entertain millions. So many of us are grateful to WGBH for challenging our assumptions, confronting our prejudices, comforting our troubles and courageously pursuing truth.

Courageously pursuing truth, of course, requires that we never compromise our principles -- and the compromising of principles is the issue that brings us here today. WGBH has a conflict of interest. It cannot embrace truth and falsehoods at the same time.

The father of such falsehoods is David Koch, a member of the WGBH Board of Trustees who is also, quite literally, the heir to the legacy of the John Birch Society. Since the late 1990s, Mr. Koch has been engaged in an unusual enterprise: an effort to convince Americans without a scientific background that the abundant evidence linking industrial carbon pollution to changes in the earth's climate is somehow fictional, made-up, unverified.

This enterprise has brought about chaos in both our physical and political atmosphere. Thanks to the effort by David Koch to convince people that facts are not facts, we face a situation where Americans are devastated by extreme weather, yet effectively denied the basic information about the causes of such severe storms, debilitating droughts, and fierce floods.

When David Koch joined the WGBH Board of Trustees, the extent of this enterprise was not known to the general public. But now, the facts are in, and the political science is as settled as the climate science. David Koch is, in effect, working against the interests of WGBH.

And what are those interests? Knowledge. Science. Reality. The principles and values that caused us to tune into WGBH's programming. Those principles and values are at risk when a man who denies basic physics sits on the station's Board of Trustees.

We are on the frontline of a climate crisis, with current and future generations facing a profoundly different American Experience thanks to poisoned weather. WGBH's mission -- to educate and enlighten, to spotlight science, to separate the truth from the lies -- is more critical now than it has ever been... but it cannot possibly fulfill that mission so long as an opponent of that mission is a part of the chain of command.

Consider this: December 20 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the airing of a NOVA special entitled "Climate Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect," which was produced, according to the New York Times, by WGBH. Of course, this was a few years before David Koch became a main sponsor of NOVA. It is impossible to imagine NOVA producing such an informative program today -- and there's only one reason why.

Too much is at stake. WGBH's own credibility is at stake. Every day that David Koch remains a member of the WGBH Board of Trustees is a day that viewers will wonder, "What did they censor? What did they cut out? What did they remove so that they don't defy a donor or snub a sponsor?"

Every institution needs to tend to its own credibility. By allowing David Koch to remain on its board of trustees, WGBH is attacking its own credibility, damaging its own brand, wounding its own image. And for what? To what end? What is the question to which David Koch is the answer?

I'm a fan of WGBH television and WGBH Radio. I've proudly contributed to this station. Greater Boston is as important to me now as Sesame Street was to me as a kid. For all of WGBH's achievements over the past 58 years, it still has tremendous potential to do more and to be more.

However, that potential will remain unrealized so long as a man who scorns science is a member of WGBH's Board of Trustees.

So I'm asking WGBH to consider its own honor, its own values, its own beliefs, its own mission. I'm asking WGBH to tell David Koch that he just doesn't fit with the program.