Politics & Other Mistakes: Don’t stop the presses – stop the bailout

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U.S. Sen. Angus King is not an idiot.

But sometimes, he does a pretty good imitation of one.

Maine’s junior senator is technically an independent (wink, wink). King recently joined 18 other senators (strangely enough, all of them Democrats) in signing a letter to Senate leaders calling for any future stimulus package to include financial aid for a special interest close to their liberal hearts:

Newspapers.

“Communities across the country risk losing one of their key sources of accurate information about what citizens need to know and do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said.

I’m not sure where these communities are, but in the rural backwater where I live, I’m bombarded daily with far more information about the coronavirus than I want or need. Once I get past stay home, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, wear a mask, and don’t spit on the produce, I’m done. If I wanted more, it’s readily available on TV, radio and the internet. My local biweekly newspaper is a sad anachronism.

When it comes to funding, there are plenty of more crucial issues than newspapers.

King apparently lives in an alternative universe for idiots. “Reliable local news and information has been critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told the Lewiston Sun Journal, “yet it has become more scarce.”

I think he meant “scarcer.” Also, “have” rather than “has.” King needs a good editor. After all the layoffs, lots of them are available.

The majority of Maine’s daily and weekly newspapers, including the Sun Journal and Portland Press Herald, are owned by multimillionaire Reade Brower, who operates them as a sort of noblesse-oblige hobby. Most of the rest of the state’s print journalism outlets are the property of the Bangor Daily News, run by the wealthy Warren family. Both these organizations have had the audacity to put links on their websites asking readers to donate money to help them cover expenses, even though these rich people need more cash like I need more beard hair.

I subscribe to papers put out by both companies. That’s the extent of my generosity toward for-profit corporations owned by rich people.

But even if newspapers weren’t toys of the privileged class, there’s another, more serious reason why the news media and their customers should oppose a government bailout:

With money comes control.

Once newspapers begin to suckle at the federal teat, they’ll quickly become dependent on it. This could make them hesitant to scrutinize or criticize those controlling the flow of funds. Politicians who don’t like what the press is saying about them – both President Trump and former Gov. Paul LePage come to mind – have long histories of threatening all manner of restrictions on newsgathering. Giving these narrow-minded despots the power to suppress negative coverage is tantamount to turning the First Amendment into toilet paper.

If you think that’s far-fetched, consider that public broadcasting, which derives significant income from both state and federal coffers, has often adopted the strategy of letting other news outlets break the most controversial stories (and take the heat for doing so). Maine Public and National Public Radio then summarize what their braver colleagues have already uncovered, rather than risk offending their most important funding sources. The rest of their news hole is filled with the blandest sort of non-coverage (“Maine Congressional Leaders Have Mixed Views on Infrastructure Bill”).

None of this is to say we shouldn’t support local newspapers, just as we should be doing what we can to help out all local businesses. The best way to do that isn’t charity or welfare. It’s to offer your patronage.

If you want accurate information on important issues, subscribe to at least one newspaper, in print or digitally. If you own a business and can afford to advertise, buy some space in your local daily or weekly. If all you can manage in these desperate times is to offer your support, that’s better than nothing.

But don’t be squandering tax dollars on Angus King’s latest flirtation with idiocy.

Donate your thoughts by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.