BY JONATHAN VALANIA When Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy called up the governor of Wisconsin late last month pretending to be David Koch — AKA one half of the infamous Koch Brothers — he not only humiliated a sitting governor and revealed him to be nothing more than a stooge for the corporate oligarchy, he also put a chink of transparency in the armor of a rapacious billionaire who has heretofore proven untouchable. Sure, it was juvenile, irresponsible and barely legal but I would argue that it was also the greatest feat of gonzo journalism since Hunter S. Thompson published Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail. George McGovern’s campaign manager famously said that Thompson’s book was “the least accurate and yet most truthful account of the campaign.” Arguably, Ian Murphy’s prank phone call was the least accurate but most truthful piece of reportage (yes reportage, it was fly on-the-wall immersion journalism taken to it’s logical extreme) on The Battle Of Wisconsin because it pulled back the curtain to reveal, in a way that everyone could easily grasp, the depressing reality that corporate puppetmasters now control the strings of politicians. Let’s face it, most Americans didn’t read Jane Mayer’s exhaustive and indispensable Koch Brothers expose in the New Yorker, but in the wake of the blanket news coverage Murphy’s prank phone call garnered just about everyone understands the gist of her piece: elected officials serve at the pleasure of the corporate overlords that funded their ascendance to public office. And is not making the scales fall from the eyes of the general public — wherein they once were blind but now can see, to paraphrase an old hymn — the ultimate act of journalism? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. With this in mind, we got Murphy on the horn to discuss all the above as well as his plans to run for Congress as the Green Party candidate.
PHAWKER: What were you hoping to accomplish when you called up Gov. Walker posing as David Koch?
IAN MURPHY: To prove one simple point: That at a time when Walker couldn’t be bothered to talk to the voters of Wisconsin, or even the Democratic Senators in exile, he had plenty of time to talk about crushing unions with an archconservative billionaire donor.
PHAWKER: Looking back, what do you think you accomplished? What do you make of how the situation in Wisconsin played out?
IAN MURPHY:I’d normally be too bashful to say this, but after spending a week in Madison, I’d say I changed the narrative. Before the call, everyone—most bought into the false premise that Wisconsin was broke and poor Scott Walker was only doing what he could to make things right. After the call, people realized that Walker was carrying out, as he saw it, the first attack on working families and unions in a nationwide assault—one partially engineered by the Kochs. A lot of people never heard of the Kochs. They know them now. And they see this attack on the middle class sweeping the nation.
The situation in Wisconsin isn’t over. They crammed that anti-collective bargaining legislation through, and it’s since been temporarily stayed by a judge. It’s not over. Many of the State Senate Republicans face serious recall efforts, and once he’s been in office for a full year, as is the law, Walker himself will face a recall. And after the week I spent in Wisconsin, I have to say, he should be worried. He lied about what he’d do as Governor, he overreached on ideological grounds, and the good people of Wisconsin are going to fire his dumb ass. It’s not over.
PHAWKER: What was the fallout/blowback? Death threats, job offers, free drugs? Have you heard from the Koch people? Is there any legal action pending?
IAN MURPHY: No, no, nothing but shwag. Nothing from the Kochs. The last thing they’d want to do is draw attention to this again while litigating a case that they have absolutely no chance of winning.
PHAWKER: How do you respond to people saying you are the liberal equivalent of James O’Keefe? Do you see yourself as a counterweight to O’Keefe striking a blow for the good guys?
IAN MURPHY: I respond by fighting back the urge to punch things. You can make comparisons about the way we obtain information, but it ends there. He edits raw data to fit his conservative narrative, regardless of the truth, and I’d never do that. If you mean I’m a truthful counterbalance to his lies, then I have no problem with that.
PHAWKER: Can we expect more hijinks like this from you?
IAN MURPHY: Perhaps. It’s really not wise to say, especially now…
PHAWKER: Why are you running for Congress and what do you think your chances are?
IAN MURPHY: For all the corny reasons. I love my country and I want to make it a better place. I want to fight for the righteous, not the rich and depraved. I want middle class America to thrive again. I want to give people the opportunity to lead decent lives and have decent jobs that pay a decent wage. I also want people to go to my website (murphycanhascongress.com). After getting into the hard data, I’d say my chances are a lot better than people presume would be the case, for a third-party candidate in a typically republican district. Perfect storm: the Republican, the Democrat and the Tea Partier split the vote, and we excite half of the eligible voters who normally don’t see the point in choosing between Schmuck A and Schmuck B. We’re going to get people off the couch and surprise a lot of cynics.
PHAWKER: Could you please clarify Matt Taibbi’s connection to/involvement with The Beast?
IAN MURPHY: Matt founded The BEAST in 2002 and then quickly left town. I don’t know the guy and he’s never acknowledged my existence. So I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge him to a no holds barred game of cribbage. May the best man win.