On Sunday night, ABC’s Barbara Walters hosted her annual 10 Most Fascinating People program which featured billionaire businessman and conservative donor David Koch as one of the “most fascinating people of 2014.”
A preview of the interview aired during Sunday morning’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos portraying Koch as “one of the biggest Republican donors, a reclusive billionaire, David Koch. Democrats love to hate him.” During the full interview, Walters expanded on the liberal attacks against Koch but also detailed the hundreds of millions of dollars he has donated to philanthropic causes over the last several decades.
The interview began with Walters declaring “our next guest is a hero to the right, a villain to the left and a champion to museums and hospitals everywhere. David Koch is one of the brothers who own Koch Industries, a $115 billion corporation involved in everything from oil and gas to Dixie Cups.”
After listing Koch’s numerous philanthropic donations over the last several years, the ABC reporter hit her guest from the left and asked him “you have given money to all of these different hospitals, universities, different schools, and so forth, yet there are people who call you an evil billionaire. Hmm. Why?”
Walters continued to play up how “liberals say the Kochs are a dangerous influence” before she detailed his critics’ objections to his political activity:
Their critics say David Koch and his brother are responsible for secretly financing the Tea Party, polluting the environment, funding candidates who deny climate change, and buying elections with buckets of dough. You are not well liked primarily because of your very conservative politics.
As the interview progressed, Walters detailed how a plane crash in 1991 changed Koch’s life; she played up his wealthy upbringing and hinted that it heavily influenced his political ideology:
David Koch was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1940. He got his love of the arts from his mother, Mary. He got his politics from his father, Fred Koch, a self-made millionaire who founded what would become Koch Industries. Deeply conservative, Fred Koch helped create the John Birch Society, a radical right-wing organization. You were born rich....Do you think, had you been born poor, you would be the same view?
While Walters repeatedly hit Koch for his wealth and conservative values, in the past the ABC host has repeatedly heaped praise on communist dictator Fidel Castro. During an appearance on ABC’s The View on Friday, Walters declared Castro to be “maybe the most charismatic person I have met.” During a 2002 interview with Castro, Walters proclaimed “for Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96 percent.”
See relevant transcript below.
ABC’s Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014
December 14, 2014
BARBARA WALTERS: Our next guest is a hero to the right, a villain to the left, and a champion to museums and hospitals everywhere. David Koch is one of the brothers who own Koch Industries, a $115 billion corporation involved in everything from oil and gas to Dixie Cups. David alone is worth approximately $43 billion. And even if he were not the sixth-richest man in the world, he would still be fascinating. Some days it seems like all David Koch does is give, give, give.
He gave Lincoln Center $100 million to help support the ballet. He gave $185 million to MIT, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, an entire wing to New York Presbyterian Hospital, and $65 million for fountains at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You have given money to all of these different hospitals, universities, different schools, and so forth, yet there are people who call you an evil billionaire. Hmm. Why?
DAVID KOCH: Well, I don't understand that.
WALTERS: How hard it is to understand that has a lot to do with which side of the political fence you're on. To conservatives and libertarians, billionaire businessman David Koch and his brother, Charles, are the good guys fighting against too much government and for individual freedom. Their company employs 60,000 Americans. 30% of their workers are unionized. And they don't just move money around they make real things. But liberals say the Kochs are a dangerous influence.
BERNIE SANDERS: I don't know if the Koch brothers are nice guys or not nice guys. That's not the issue.
RACHEL MADDOW: They have been political figures as long as they have been richer than God.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Billionaires have outsized influence.
WALTERS: Their critics say David Koch and his brother are responsible for secretly financing the Tea Party, polluting the environment, funding candidates who deny climate change, and buying elections with buckets of dough. You are not well liked primarily because of your very conservative politics. Describe your political point of view.
KOCH: Well, I'm basically a libertarian. I'm a conservative on economic matters, and I'm a social liberal.
WALTERS: You support gay rights. You support a woman's right to choose. But conservative candidates you support, many of them, do not have those views.
KOCH: Well, that's their problem. I do have those views. What I want these candidates to do is to support a balanced budget. And I'm very worried that if the budget is not balanced, that inflation could occur, and the economy of our country can suffer terribly.
WALTERS: So the candidates you support are because of their fiscal policies most important?
KOCH: That's exactly right, Barbara. I'm really focused intensely on economic and fiscal issues because if those go bad, the country as a whole suffers terribly.
WALTERS: He and his wife, Julia -- they've been married 18 years and have three children -- are fixtures on the New York social scene. And critics say his giving is a way to burnish his reputation there. But David says it goes back to 1991, when the airplane he was on collided with a smaller commuter plane on a Los Angeles runway.
TED KOPPEL: There has been a jetliner crash at Los Angeles airport.
UNKNOWN WOMAN: The jet made ground contact, and then it skidded several hundred yards.
WALTERS: The lights went off, the plane caught fire, and the cabin filled with toxic smoke. The front exits were blocked by fire, but David escaped through a door over the wing. 35 people died.
KOCH: I was amazed that I had survived this accident. Thinking back on it later, I felt that the good lord was sitting on my shoulder, and that he helped save my life because he wanted me to do good works and become a good citizen. Following that revelation, I became tremendously philanthropic. And I intend to continue being very philanthropic for the rest of my life.
WALTERS: David Koch was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1940. He got his love of the arts from his mother, Mary. He got his politics from his father, Fred Koch, a self-made millionaire who founded what would become Koch Industries. Deeply conservative, Fred Koch helped create the John Birch Society, a radical right-wing organization. You were born rich.
KOCH: I was born well off, not rich.
WALTERS: Do you think, had you been born poor, you would be the same view?
KOCH: I certainly think so. I have a value system that my father instilled in me, and I've been following his beliefs and his value system all my life.
WALTERS: There were four brothers -- Frederick, Charles, and fraternal twins David and Bill. As children, David and Bill were rivals, reportedly encouraged by their father to work out their conflicts through boxing. David went to Deerfield, an elite prep school, then MIT where he studied engineering and played basketball, very successfully. After Fred Koch died, Charles became CEO and David eventually became executive vice president. Koch Industries grew steadily, but the rivalries of childhood played out in adulthood. First Bill and Frederick tried to oust Charles from his CEO job. Then Charles and David bought out bill and Frederick for $1.1 billion, then Bill and Frederick sued them.
Koch vs. Koch Industries went on for 15 years. At the height of the conflict, their mother, Mary, disinherited any brother who sued any other brother. That led to another lawsuit. And although the lawsuits were eventually settled, there were many years when David and Bill scarcely spoke. Were you and Bill close growing up?
KOCH: We were. We had our differences, but as time went on, we grew closer and closer. And not long ago, my brother Bill asked his longtime girlfriend to marry him, and he called me up crying. He said, “Would you be the best man in my wedding?” I started crying. And I said, “Billy, this is a great honor. I never thought you'd want me to take this role, and I will do my darndest to be the best man for you I can be.”
WALTERS: You have been suffering for a long time now with prostate cancer.
KOCH: I found out I had prostate cancer back in 1991. And I've had many, many different treatments. And the last one is a new medication that looks like its cured me of my prostate cancer. I can now live with certainty that when my children grow older, I can see them graduate from college and hopefully see them get married.
WALTERS: So, we're in David Koch Plaza and the David Koch fountains.
KOCH: I think it's magnificent. And I love the variation.
WALTERS: Well, now that you're healthy, I can ask this question -- what do you want your tombstone to say?
KOCH: Well, I'd like it to say that David Koch did his best to make the world a better place and that he hopes his wealth will help people long after he has passed away.