When the doors to the Federal Reserve’s money vault swung wide open and the bailouts started, my fear was that the doors would never be able to close again. Although I stopped believing in the tooth fairy at the age of six, everyone else seems to expect to find free money under their pillow. Corporations, in their effort to secure welfare, remind me of the crowd in front of the Walmart store that trampled a man to death on Black Friday. It is all about greed and nothing about consequence
I was still surprised to see someone in the newspaper industry asking for a handout from the government. Brian Tierney, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, has asked Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell for a $10 million bailout for his Philadelphia Media Holdings. Tierney is currently in a tight spot because the bonds of his holding company missed their June interest payment.
The newspapers of Philadelphia are not the only newspapers with their hands out. Connecticut Assemblyman Frank Nicastro is petitioning the state government to provide funds to save the Bristol Press, covering the city of Bristol with a population of 61,000. Maybe my loyalties to Philadelphia are showing, but I do not understand the necessity of a paper serving a community of 61,000 people.
Although they have brought this cataclysm on themselves, I do have some sympathy for the newspaper industry. The internet, the invention of which nobody could have predicted, has decimated the newspaper industry. Like many others, I prefer to read by pointing and clicking for free rather than paying to get my hands dirty with newsprint so that I can read the same material. I also hate the clutter of newspapers in my house.
Although many bloggers disparage the mainstream media, I think that they are essential to preserving our democracy. Someone has to actually go out and report the news that bloggers sit home and carp about.
Newspapers seem to be deliberately going out of their way to make themselves irrelevant. I do not actually have to read Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times to predict her opinion on most matters. It is a mystery to me why the Washington Post would pick up William Kristol after the New York Times dropped him. Couldn’t they find another conservative columnist that did not make so many factual errors? The Wall Street Journal was chasing the inconsequential backdating options story while missing the gargantuan Madoff fraud that was handed to them on a silver platter by Harry Markoplos. The New York Times should be embarrassed for running the story on John McCain’s unproven extramarital romance. All newspapers should be given a spanking for spilling so much ink on the inconsequential relationship between former terrorist William Ayers and Barack Obama.
Nothing except for Obama’s inauguration seems to be able to save newspapers. Even the most adroit businessman experienced in reviving companies in dying industries — Sam “the grave dancer” Zell — has failed at saving newspapers. His Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy last year. The venerable New York Times was forced into a sale leaseback of the New York headquarters and to borrow $250 million from a Mexican billionaire at a steep 14% interest rate to stay afloat.
Newspapers already receive some kind of help from the government. The postal service subsidizes the cost of mailing newspapers and magazines. Some cities’ newspapers are organized under joint operating agreements of the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970.
I do not know how to save print newspapers, but I am sure that newspapers taking money from the very government which they must report on is a titanically bad idea. I would rather see newspapers go to an internet only edition than install the government as their partner. Government funding the free press cracks the foundations of our democracy to its core. Osama Bin Laden must be smiling in Afghanistan at the thought of this chip in the sacrosanct principle of freedom of the press.
Regardless of what happens to the bailout request, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News’ reporting on government will always be suspect from this day forth. The public can no longer expect a critical eye on the government from these newspapers because it would go against human nature and the instinct of self preservation for anyone to bite the hand that either feeds it or may someday.
Their reputation is permanently sullied. The editorial board would look hypocritical if they railed against bailouts for the auto part industry or the retail chain Boscov’s when they have their own hand in the till. If their publisher’s request was not untoward, it should have been first reported in the Inquirer’s own pages rather than in its competitor, the Philadelphia Bulletin.
It is understandable that Governor Rendell or any politician would consider buying the press, especially when they do not have to use their own money. Just by meeting with the publisher, he transformed the press from a watch dog into a lap dog.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”