Prize-winning New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer made headlines recently when she released a new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, that revealed how the father of the Koch brothers once helped build a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany that was a pet project of Adolph Hitler. Overall, the book tells the tale of a small number of ultrarich donors -- including Richard Mellon Scaife and Harry and Lynde Bradley -- who did much to create the modern conservative moment, with a strong emphasis on billionaires Charles and David Koch. "It is not easy to uncover the inner workings of an essentially secretive political establishment," the New York Times' review of the book notes. "Mayer has come as close to doing it as anyone is likely to come anytime soon." And there's a section in the book that should be particularly chilling for journalists, for Mayer describes how she became the target of a nasty opposition research effort after she wrote about the Koch brothers several years ago.
In the summer of 2010, she published a pathbreaking, in-depth piece, headlined "Covert Operations," which chronicled the rise of the Kochs' ideological network--dubbed the "Kochtopus" -- and the efforts of the publicity-shy libertarian brothers to guide the burgeoning tea party toward policies that favor Koch Industries. The article depicted the Kochs as secretive bankrollers waging a war against President Barack Obama and opposing environmental safety measures. The Kochs were enraged by the story. A lawyer for their company complained; David Koch called the story "ludicrous." But the New Yorker saw no reason to correct anything. And the kerfuffle seemed to die down. Or so Mayer thought.