Was resignation of billionaire Koch from WNET Board related to controversial doc?

By Dru Sefton

On May 16, David Koch, billionaire and powerful backer of conservative causes, resigned from the board of WNET in New York City. The resignation “was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor,” writes Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

The problem, according to the story, stemmed from a documentary examining Koch’s wealth and influence, “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream” by filmmaker Alex Gibney.

The doc was set to run last year, just as WNET was about to begin a big capital campaign. Koch “had been planning to make a very large gift,” the story said. “It was going to be a seven-figure donation — maybe more,”the source told the magazine.

WNET President Neal Shapiro contacted Koch before the film aired last November, and offered him a chance to take part in a roundtable after the program. Koch declined but the station ran a critical statement from Koch, unedited, immediately following the film.

Although many prominent New Yorkers are portrayed in the doc, Shapiro only called Koch. “He’s on our board,” Shapiro said. “He’s the biggest main character. No one else, just David Koch. Because he’s a trustee. It’s a courtesy.”

Mayer also reports that Shapiro “felt blindsided” by the Independent Television Service “for not giving him sufficient advance warning of the documentary’s contents.”

“Shapiro acknowledged that, in his conversations with ITVS officials about ‘Park Avenue,’ he was so livid that he threatened not to carry its films in the future,” the article says.

“Neal Shapiro was on a rampage against ITVS,” a pubTV exec told Mayer. To smooth over the problem, ITVS sent him a box of candy. (Shapiro said it was delicious.)

But the Koch reverberations also reportedly affected another ITVS-backed film, “Citizen Corp,” which filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal have since renamed “Citizen Koch.” After initially supporting the project, ITVS told the New Yorker, “early cuts of the film did not reflect the proposal . . . and ITVS ceased negotiations.”

Lessin and Deal responded with a statement saying in part that the film “is identical in premise and execution to the written and video proposals that ITVS green-lit last spring. ITVS backed out of the partnership because they came to fear the reaction our film would provoke.” The two also posted a more detailed statement on the film’s website.

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