John D. Rockefeller

The New York Times’ Michael Cooper gives us a fawning tribute to billionaire David Koch, he of the infamous Koch Brothers and fifth most wealthy man in America, using the dedication of a cancer center at M.I.T. funded by Mr. Koch to extol his virtues as a great humanitarian and philanthropist. Oh, please.

The Times editors and Mr. Koch, it seems, are worried about what people might think of a man whose industries despoil the earth, poison our air and water and cause massive public health problems that cause untold thousands of deaths every year, while using his great wealth and power to corrupt our politics and fund the most radical, anti-human corporate protectionism in America. How could anyone think ill of him?

But Mr. Koch is a human being and he’s suffering from prostate cancer. Hence his dual need to find the cure and have others think well of him. So Michael Cooper and his editors oblige:

Mr. Koch, a billionaire who is perhaps best known for his family’s contributions to conservative causes, got a standing ovation from scientists, Nobel laureates and politicians of various political stripes as he opened the new David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he gave $100 million to help build. And in a brief, and rare, interview, Mr. Koch, 70, spoke of his hopes for the new center, his prostate cancer and the prank call heard around the world.

So, this is about Mr. Koch’s need to feel good about himself:

But he said that he felt he had been vilified for his support of conservative causes, which have ranged from opposition to the health care bill and pushing for small government and low taxes, to questioning whether climate change is caused by humans. He and his brother Charles are known, on the left, as the billionaires who bankrolled the public policy and citizen action groups that helped cultivate the Tea Party.

“I read stuff about me and I say, ‘God, I’m a terrible guy,’ ” he said. “And then I come here and everybody treats me like I’m a wonderful fellow, and I say, ‘Well, maybe I’m not so bad after all.’ ”

Gosh, how could people have so misjudged the man? Perhaps it’s because his opposition to the health care bill extends not just to Romney/ObamaCare but to opposing having to pay taxes for any government efforts to achieve universal health care. Or perhaps it’s because lowering taxes for himself and his companies is made possible by extracting take-home pay from teachers, nurses, and sanitation workers. Or it’s because Mr. Koch is not merely “questioning whether climate change is caused by humans,” he’s secretly funding phony think tank studies and op-eds to mislead the public and lie about the science, and buying politicians and lobbyists to prevent any government restrictions on his unfettered ability to extract, transport, process or burn highly toxic substances that pose lethal threats to public health and without regard for the environmental damage it causes along the way.

The Times’ Cooper only hints at this evil when he notes one of Koch’s companies is trying to prevent regulators from limiting a toxic byproduct, formaldehyde, but that’s it. He doesn’t attempt to give us an accounting of the damage done by Koch’s companies, let alone an estimate of the numbers of people killed or sickened by these endeavors versus the number that might eventually be helped by Koch’s charities.

But the Times might at least have recalled that America has seen plenty of billionaire philanthropists use their ill-gotten wealth to convince us and themselves that their misdeeds didn’t matter.

This is the old John D. Rockefeller ploy. Ravage the land, poison the air and water, monopolize the resources, fix the pricing, overcharge the public and loot the public treasury. Then literally buy politicians to make sure you never have to curb your harmful behavior or give back in taxes more than a tiny fraction of what you stole.

Once you’ve amassed billions by doing that, you can afford to set up charities and attend ground breaking ceremonies where people applaud you as you tell yourself, “I’m not such a bad man, am I?”

Yes, Mr. Koch, you are.

More on Koch efforts in Wisconsin from Think Progress.