Wednesday, August 28, 2013 committed a major blunder committed a major blunder when it rated as false a rumor that Koch Industries (Koch) was paying the defense attorney's fees in the Trayvon Martin murder trial., a website owned by Koch Industries, still publishes Snopes's judgment on the front page of its web site, although the article was published back in April 2012. implies that Snopes backs up its other claim, that MSNBC falsely accused Koch of supporting the Florida stand-your-ground statute that let Martin's killer go free. This judgment puts Snopes squarely on the side of an organization, Koch Industries, that routinely spreads disinformation about climate change, its own activities, and the reputations of others.

Snopes did not investigate the issue thoroughly enough and was too willing to take the word of company spokespersons. They also wrote that Mark O'Mara, the defense lawyer, said something he didn't say. Snopes went to the Koch web site,, where it found that Koch denies having anything to do with "stand-your-ground” laws. This is a completely false assertion. Koch-financed groups gave $75,000 to ALEC between 2005 and 2008, a period when ALEC and  the NRA were promoting stand-your-ground laws to state legislatures. ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained in a 2008 interview that NRA and ALEC were working together to push stand-your-ground laws to state legislatures.

Koch had two representatives from its Koch Companies Public Sector on the Public Interest and Criminal Law study group at American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Cincinnati in 2011. Michael K. Morgan of Koch Industries has been on the board of ALEC since 1999.

Snopes also took Koch's word that Koch had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the defendant in the Trayvon Martin case. As verification, Snopes posts an interview with the defense attorney, Mark O'Mara. The interviewer asks O'Mara who financed the defense.

Interviewer: Who gave? Who were the people who gave?
O'Mara: It's funny, because we got a lot of $5 contributions, a lot of $100 contributions...

Snopes should have noticed that O'Mara did not answer this question fully. O'Mara has recently asked the court to pay $300,000 for expenses in the case, so O'Mara did not get the entire amount he was seeking in small contributions. Anyone trying to answer the question of whether Koch helped fund the defense cannot give a definitive answer on the basis of this interview, because the interviewer did not ask about Koch Industries, nor did O'Mara volunteer anything about it.

Snopes was faced with this dilemma. There is no concrete evidence the rumor is true, but there is equally as little evidence that it is false. Snopes decided to believe Koch. There is plenty of evidence on and elsewhere, however, that Koch is entirely unreliable. The site is a compendium of scurrilous charges and half-truths which must be familiar to Snopes from every other web site in the right-wing echo chamber.

Kochfacts states that “Democratic operative” Karen Finney wrongly accused Koch of a “connection” with Trayvon Martin's death. This is a false statement, in two ways. Finney did not mention Koch as the cause of Martin's death. She excoriated several Republicans for heightening the atmosphere of racial tension through their thoughtless remarks and personal attacks. Finney made no statement about whether Koch had anything to do with Florida's "stand your ground" law, for she was referring to events after Martin's death, not before it. The remark has been repeated out of context on numerous web sites, but mere repetition does not convert falsehood into truth. Furthermore, Finney is now a commentator on MSNBC, not a Democratic operative. calling her an operative is simply another falsehood intended to undermine the reputation of MSNBC.

Koch has underwritten numerous false and misleading statements. Greenpeace documents Koch's funding of a polar bear study, a report that claims that polar bears are not endangered by global warming. This subject is important for oil companies, like Koch, who intend to profit from oil in the arctic. The study discloses that it received funding from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon-Mobil Corporation. The study was a fraud, however, because it pretended to be a research paper and it was not. Its authors, one of whom was an astrophysicist, had no professional knowledge of polar bears and did no original research for the article. Subsequently, two actual experts on polar bears published a response that the Koch-funded study did not adequately support its radical claim that non-climate factors were causing the polar bear population decline.1

Other examples of Koch front groups publishing misinformation are too numerous to mention here.

Snopes had a problem. It wanted to make a decision about whether this rumor, about Koch paying O'Mara's fee, was true or false, but it had insufficient data. Koch said it didn't pay, but Koch is a notably unreliable witness, having told half-truths or outright lies on numerous occasions. O'Mara said he received small donations, but he didn't deny receiving larger ones, or promises of future donations.

Snopes should have given up at this point and said that the truth of the rumor is unknowable. Instead, it made an unwarranted assumption, that the rumor “appeared to be tied” to a coincidence of other popular beliefs. Saying a rumor “appears” to be something proves nothing at all. It is an opinion based on an assumption, not a conclusion based on facts.

Rumors arise from an excess of secrecy and a shortage of facts. The rumors about Koch Industries arise from the fact that Koch has tried for years to hide its political activities behind numerous front groups and conservative organizations. The habit of secrecy is deeply ingrained.

ALEC also has a history of secrecy. It disbanded the Public Safety and Elections study group--which pushed NRA-backed laws--in response to pressure from civil rights groups and its corporate sponsors. ALEC did not stop its activities in these areas, however. It just transferred the assets into other study groups. The NRA continued to be a partner for ALEC.

The net effect of Snopes's rash assumption is that now features on its front page, implying that Snopes has verified all the lies and half-truths that follow. Snopes should repair its reputation by removing its flawed opinion from the website and do some more serious fact checking of  

1Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine 25, Greenpeace USA, 2010.

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