Ken Burns Clarifies the Extent of His Connection With Clarence Thomas

An investigative report into the Supreme Court Justice turned up a photo of him with the filmmaker

Ken Burns
Ken Burns, filmmaker, co-director and co-producer, speaks during a panel before "The U.S. and the Holocaust" screening at the United Nations.
John Lamparski/Getty Images

In high-profile political news this week, ProPublica recently brought a series of connections between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Charles and David Koch to light via an investigative report. One of the more eye-catching installments of the report, however, came via a photograph that accompanied the article of Thomas, David Koch and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, taken at the exclusive retreat Bohemian Grove. (No date was given for the photo, but given Koch’s 2019 death, one can assume it was taken sometime before then.) The caption noted that “Koch has financially supported” Burns’s films.

The presence of Burns in that image was disconcerting for some, given that his politics are — to put it mildly — to the left of both Koch and Thomas. That same cognitive dissonance might help explain why Burns felt the need to clarify exactly where he stands with respect to both Thomas and Koch.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson for the filmmaker provided more context on the photograph. “Around ten years ago, Ken was stopped and asked to take a photograph with a Supreme Court Justice and David Koch, who was a supporter of public television and would later provide some funding for his film, The Vietnam War,” the spokesperson said. “So he took the photo, as he has done with many, many others … Other than the taking of that photograph and innocuous pleasantries, that’s the extent of his contact with Justice Thomas.”

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It’s worth mentioning that Koch providing funding for the arts is in keeping with his past history. In the wake of his death in 2019, the New York Times explored the contrast between Koch’s role as a patron of the arts and the contrast with his political donations.

As for Burns, his next project, a documentary titled The American Buffalo — not to be confused with the David Mamet play American Buffalo — is set to debut next month.

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