On Dec. 29, the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News wrote a column entitled &quot;Papers Matter More Than Ever.&quot;
In his essay, Brian Tierney stated, &quot;Our original news reporting sets the table for the entire region’s news output, much of which derives from the work we do. No other news medium – television, radio or Web – can compare to the daily coverage (we) produce.&quot;
He added, &quot;This is a tremendous responsibility, and we take it seriously. Without the Daily News and Inquirer, who would be exposing corruption and incompetence…and covering our city and region so thoroughly?&quot;
Mr. Tierney concluded his article by stating, &quot;Our local owners know that it’s more than a business; it’s a public trust.&quot;
Not mentioned in the column was that Mr. Tierney had been in discussions with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, D, for several months regarding a potential government bailout of Philadelphia Media Holdings, the entity that owns both newspapers.
In a discussion with Chuck Ardo, the Governor’s press secretary, The Bulletin was informed that &quot;the governor and Brian Tierney have had a number of conversations over the course of the last several months (regarding a possible bailout). The governor has made no commitment as a result of those conversations.&quot;
When asked if a bailout of the newspaper was still on the table, Mr. Ardo responded that the governor, &quot;would certainly be open to discussions with Brian.&quot;
Reaction to a possible taxpayer-funded bailout of a news entity was one of consternation by elected officials, media watchdog organizations and newspaper readers.
&quot;Where does one start?,&quot; asked Brent Bozell, III, President of the Media Research Center, a media watchdog organization in Washington. &quot;I would submit that if there were a bailout, it would prove the end of the free market system in America. There’s no such thing as free enterprise when everything is government owned. It’s called socialism,&quot; he said.
Mr. Bozell stated that the last thing a journalist should want is to be controlled, even in the slightest, by the government. &quot;When a media outlet proposes a bailout, it proposes to put itself under the authority of the entity bailing it out. Therefore, if it’s a government, the media entity proposes to become an arm of the government,&quot; he explained.
&quot;I guess my first reaction would have to be, ‘Are you kidding me?,’ &quot; stated State Representative Doug Reichley, R, Lehigh. &quot;Mack Trucks in Allentown could use a bailout, but I haven’t seen the governor’s office soliciting them to see how much aid they need,&quot; he said.
The legislator, a leader in the effort to reform no-bid contracts, said that had a &quot;better idea&quot; for a bailout. &quot;Maybe the governor’s office could make the best out of two bad situations by placing slot machines in all the Boscov’s stores. That would be a way of drawing shoppers into the failing retail chain he is trying to prop up, and would assist the declining slots revenue until the two Philadelphia slots locations are done with litigation,&quot; he said.
Boscov’s Inc. received a $35 million bailout to rescue the department-store chain from bankruptcy, courtesy of Gov. Rendell’s maneuvering.
Mr. Boscov contributed $139,000 to Mr. Rendell’s campaigns, and other Boscov family members gave an additional $25,000. Questions posed to the governor regarding this connection were repeatedly dismissed.
A concern of many is that the objectivity of the Inquirer and Daily News is now irreparably compromised because of the bailout discussions, regardless of whether money ever changes hands.
&quot;If ‘Papers Matter More Than Ever,’ as Brian Tierney has written,
then how is it that journalistic integrity and editorial independence
apparently matter less than ever?&quot; asked Colin Hanna, President of the public policy organization Let Freedom Ring.
Mr. Hanna added, &quot;There’s some small difference between moral compromise and the outright selling of one’s soul. This request from The Philadelphia Inquirer seems to me to be the latter. &quot;
A lack of substantive content from the Inquirer was the primary concern of Kevin Kelly, founder of The Loyal Opposition in Philadelphia.
&quot;If the Inquirer didn’t alienate 50 per cent of its potential customer base
with left-wing nonsense masquerading as news, it wouldn’t be in
Harrisburg with a cup in its hand. If I cut my customer base in
half, I’d be out of business in a week,&quot; he said.
Matthew Brouillette, President of the think-tank Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, cited the historical importance of an independent American media in expressing his opposition to the possible bailout.
&quot;Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of a free press in a free society when he 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.’ &quot;
&quot;The Inquirer’s request for a bailout and Governor Rendell’s entertainment of it must have Jefferson and Franklin rolling over in their graves, and Lenin and Hitler cheering them on,&quot; Mr. Brouillette added.
Jay Miller, a newspaper reader from Wallingford, Delaware County, expressed his contempt that tax dollars would potentially be used to bail out the Inquirer. &quot;Maybe Ed Rendell will take some notice that not everyone thinks he’s God’s answer to Pennsylvania. I will be letting my representative and senator know of my displeasure with even thinking about a bailout!&quot;
&quot;How in the world can this paper propose to be a watchdog for the public when it’s had conversations about being bankrolled by the government? Period!,&quot; Mr. Bozell stated. &quot;When you are bankrolled, you are then beholden. There is no way around that proposition. No way,&quot; he added.
When asked how the public, and in particular the Inquirer’s readers, might view bailout discussions, Mr. Bozell said &quot;as long as the people who even considered this are involved with that newspaper, it has no credibility.&quot;
He stated that non-Inquirer readers would be incensed that their taxes could be used to fund an enterprise like this. &quot;And I think readers of the Inquirer would be outraged that they could no longer rely on the paper for objective truth. It now becomes a propaganda arm of the government bankrolling it,&quot; he said.
&quot;If the media wasn’t trusted before, just where do you think the trust factor will be for this newspaper now?,&quot; he asked.
Whether the deal goes through or not, Mr. Bozell said, &quot;the reputation of the paper is sullied forever. That a newspaper would even consider prostituting itself like this…is outrageous.&quot;
Calls to Philadelphia Media Holdings went unreturned.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]