Newhouse Is People Too

In recent days, New Orleanians have been agonizing over the downsizing of the Times-Picayune by the parent Newhouse corporation. The loss of jobs in a town this closely knit has a particularly bitter impact. Everyone knows someone who is out of work because of this move.

Times-Picayune Lays Off 200 Employees

Over and over you hear the baffled observation that the paper made draconian cuts in staff despite the fact that it was making money and had one of the most desirable saturation rates of any American newspaper. I have not heard anyone relate this to the war on the middle class being waged around the country by right-wing radicals using the Republican Party, the political wing of corporate America. The attack on public workers by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is just another phase of this all-out war by the rich elite against average American workers. Americans are supposed to recoil at the notion of class warfare, but when it’s oligarchs attacking the support system for the poor and fast-disappearing middle class, what else are you going to call it?

The Times-Picayune wasn’t a union shop, so there was little the employees there could do when faced with firing. Unfortunately, the lack of a union prevents workers from standing together, and we’re already seeing some of the employees who’ve been retained pushing back against a boycott of Newhouse editorial product. Of course, a union at the T-P probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway. I was in the Newspaper Guild and on staff at the New York Post when Rupert Murdoch assumed control of the paper for the second time in 1994. His first move was to fire everyone on staff, eliminating the union by fiat.

Just as Walker eliminated collective bargaining with a wave of his Koch Brothers-made magic wand, outspending his opponent 7-1, Newhouse doused an effective investigative voice in American journalism by hobbling the T-P. Management went after the newsroom and the paper’s best reporters like a predator going for a kill shot. Triumphs in journalism like the Times-Picayune‘s coverage of the federal flood; its ability to uncover vast misallocations of recovery resources; its pieces on the Danziger Bridge and the prison system; and its coverage of the misdeeds that led up to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will almost certainly disappear under the flashing pixels of with its emphasis on celebrity journalism and feel-good social networking. The fact that Katy Reckdahl, one of the paper’s best reporters, was among the first to be cut tells you all you need to know.

Whoever controls the information people are exposed to controls the national political dialogue and by extension the democratic process itself, especially after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United case that allows unlimited campaign contributions from anonymous donors, all of whom stand to benefit financially from getting their chosen political frontmen elected. Murdoch’s Fox news is a blatant Republican propaganda machine. The radio giant Clear Channel, which controls the biggest radio talk shows in the country, is owned by Bain Capital, the company started by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Bain Capital acquired Clear Channel and 850 radio stations in partnership with the Boston-based investment firm Thomas H. Lee partners (THL). Though Romney is no longer “with” Bain, his ongoing financial relationship with the firm resembles the cozy deal Dick Cheney had with Haliburton. Clear Channel syndicates the far-right talk-radio shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage.

Last March, Wayne Barrett exposed Bain’s propaganda campaign with an incisive piece in The Daily Beast, demonstrating how Bain acquired Clear Channel in order to frame public opinion in the 2008 presidential campaign and beyond. The shameless hectoring of President Obama over his birth certificate and religious background was orchestrated from the bully pulpit these right wing talk show hosts command.

“The $26 billion merger,” writes Barrett, “which was launched simultaneously with Romney’s first presidential candidacy in late 2006 and placed Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and much of the talk-show right under Bain/Lee control, also involved Romney’s longtime law firm, Ropes & Gray, whose managing partner is the trustee of the family’s blind trust… While Bain partners, employees and family members, including the Clear Channel directors, have given a combined $4.7 million to Romney’s two presidential campaigns, THL also has a long history of Romney support, with some donations dating back to Romney’s first, unsuccessful run against Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994.”

Sometimes we have a hard time connecting the dots in American political life, but it’s hard not to see that right-wing ideologues are bent on controlling public opinion through propaganda. The closing of a muckraking newspaper, the acquisition of a network of right-wing talk shows and the massive union-busting campaign funded by right-wing billionaires are all part of the same plan, a design to place ultimate power over all of our lives in the hands of a few financial oligarchs.

Losing the Times-Picayune is only a small part of this very big picture, an ugly portrait that is still coming into focus.

As Willard “Mitt” Romney likes to say “Corporations are people too.”

  • suz4freedom

    Little by little, we are shrinking into a nasty wadded ball with the fists of th4e ultra rich wadding us ever smaller and tighter, gasping for breath.

  • Anonymous

    I really appreciate John Swenson placing the Times-Picayune dissolution into the context of Capital running rampant through every aspect of our communal (and private for that matter) life. We in New Orleans tend to see our situation as sui generis but in fact we are as deeply embedded in global processes as every where else. I realized right after Katrina that New Orleans had sprung to the forefront, leading the way into a very scary future: first the ecological and social destruction and then the response of the powers that be (the criminalization of poverty, the militarized social control of the victims, the ethnic cleansing, the privatization of public housing and education, the unilateral nullification of union contracts, the re-investment directed towards gentrification,etc.) compressed into a very short time span the trends that all urban populations face.

    To me, what is striking about the Newhouse’s action is the attack on the concept of professionalism in general and professional journalism in particular. Certainly professionalism (in journalism, education, academia, law, and medicine) has always left much to desired, since it is inherently a conservative voice aiming to preserve the status quo. Yet at its core, professionalism honors a notion of Truth as an independent and knowable force at least theoretically removed from the dictates of power and Capital and the self-validating “Market.”  Any anti-capitalistic impulse in the professions was red-baited out of existence a very long time ago, but professionalism did act as a brake on many of capitalism worst impulses to poison our world and us, just as the trade union movement traded away any deep criticism of the capitalist order in exchange for a fairer share for the working person. We have now entered a world where Capital no longer has any interest in maintaining the old equilibrium and seems dead set on undermining any way of knowing that is not bought and sold. Journalistic standards, as weak as they have proven to be in the face of massive inflows of money into the world of discourse, must be destroyed because they offer a model of Truth that cannot be established through market mechanisms. Academia and education must now answer to the dictates of the market. Yes, cutting wages certainly factored into Newhouse’s decision, but the larger picture was the desire to undermine any sense of authority offered by an institution with its own professional traditions. No longer will the “truth” be down in black on and white for all to see; it will exist solely in the slippery and provisional digital data-sphere. And we should remember that information in the cloud is worth no more than the paper it’s printed on.