By Elizabeth DiNovella on Jun 14, 2011
Prank caller Ian Murphy, who pretended to be rightwing billionaire (and Scott Walker supporter) David Koch, visited Madison this weekend and took in the protests. Murphy was invited to Wisconsin by a schoolteacher from Fond du Lac who flew him out to the Badger state.
Murphy is a folk hero around here. His punking of the governor gave huge momentum to the burgeoning pro-democracy movement. People began protesting at the Koch brothers’ lobbying offices here in Madison and elsewhere. More importantly, by releasing the audio of Walker speaking candidly about the crisis, Murphy changed the narrative. Walker’s naked corporate agenda was revealed for what it was, bursting the “budget crisis” storyline.
The role of rightwing money in funding anti-union efforts often goes unnoticed by the press. But even the corporate media had to take notice. And it gave proof to what many of us had suspected–Walker is in for the long haul and will start layoffs in an attempt to crush bargaining rights. Walker went so far as to admit he considered inserting provocateurs in the peaceful protests.
Murphy’s an editor of the Buffalo Beast, and unlike many out of towners who have descended upon Madison recently, he knows how to dress for the cold. He’s stocky, with a round face and shaggy brown hair underneath a big fuzzy hat. He totally looked like a Wisconsinite.
Mike, the teacher from Fond du Lac, took him to the Capitol rotunda, which had just reopened the day before. He introduced Murphy, and the crowd cheered him and shouted chants of “Beast! Beast! Beast!”
Murphy is a fan of The Progressive and he and his entourage stopped by the office to say hello. After our chat, they headed down to State Street Brats, you know, to get some sausage.
Q: How did you decide to be David Koch, rather than someone else?
Ian Murphy: I came across a quote from Tim Carpenter, one of the 14 Democratic state senators who left the state, about Walker not talking to the Dems.
["He's just hard-lined—will not talk, will not communicate, will not return phone calls," said Carpenter.]
I read this in a piece by Amanda Terkel on Huffington Post. Walker wouldn’t talk to them. He wouldn’t pick up the phone. So I thought, whose call would he take?
I had been following Koch brothers. I knew they had been involved with union busting. The choice was obvious.
Q: Were you surprised that the prank worked?
Ian Murphy: Very. I was a little unprepared. I thought the jig would be up each time I called.
Q: You made more than one call?
Ian Murphy: Yes. The first call answered by a male secretary. He knew the name David Koch. He transferred me over to Executive Assistant Governor Dorothy Moore. She told me my name sounded familiar and asked me to please call back.
I called back and spoke to Keith Gilkes, Walker’s chief of staff. He was expecting me to call. He was thrilled to talk to me. I told him I had to talk to Scott.
He said that could be arranged and that I should just leave my number. One problem was that I was using Skype. So I told them my maid Maria washed my cell phone. I would’ve had her deported, I said, but she works for close to nothing. Gilkes thought this was funny.
He checked the governor’s schedule and told me to call back at 2 pm. And I did and I got through to the governor.
With pranks, you have to tip your hand a little. I tipped my hand with the maid, so they kind of deserved it.
Q: Were you surprised by what Walker said?
Ian Murphy: Yes. The part about planting provocateurs was really amazing. And disturbing.
Murphy put the crank call on the Buffalo Beast website. The rest is history. Now every day I see an anti-Koch protester sign. One of the funniest is, “Scott, you’re Koch dealer is on line 2.”
To see Murphy’s blog about the call on the Buffalo Beast, click here.
To read a transcript of the interview, click here.