Another back-room romance: government and local media
October 19, 2014
“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” — Philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky
OPINION By DANIEL BLACKBURN
It used to be that citizens who had the nerve to stand up to government officials got blowback only from arrogant politicians lacking the time, patience, and courtesy to listen their constituents — an ugly art form currently being advanced by San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Chair Bruce Gibson.
Now outspoken county residents have a different set of backbiting critics — local newspaper editors.
Newspapers traditionally have provided a voice for the oppressed, standing up for the little guy in the face of officialdom’s tyranny. In this funny little county, though, the print media has become entwined with the governing establishment to the point that both the daily and the weekly have shrunk into little more than cheerleaders for office holders and top bureaucrats.
Witness The Tribune’s vitriolic editorial assault several weeks ago on residents of Arroyo Grande who have been audaciously questioning the antics of their mayor, Tony Ferrara, and members of the city council over the Steve Adams- Teresa McClish fiasco.
And now the moribund New Times has chimed in with a Shredder column, penned, apparently, by the Queen of Mean, in which Arroyo Grande octogenarian Otis Page is taken to task for his comments during a council meeting.
First, a word or two about the Shredder. When the column was being written by the late Steve Moss, New Time’s founder and editor, it was a literary delight, and even while doling out its sharpest criticism remained ever clever, correct, courageous, and informative. Moss’s thought processes and descriptive abilities were so roundly developed that even his targets were often forced to laugh at themselves.
When Moss died in April 2005, Shredder should have been put to rest, also, and replaced with a newly-named column. Moss had a unique way of getting to the meat of local affairs, and his work was both widely read and praised. His kind of talent — writing with a velvet glove on one hand and a club in the other — is rare and original.
Such a retirement was suggested to New Times Publisher Bob Rucker, who promptly rejected the notion. The result ever since has been less than successful — it’s a tall task to replicate genius.
The Shredder attack on Page centered not on his comments to the Arroyo Grande Council, but on his personal thoughts regarding gays, which New Times published years ago. Apparently, to the Shredder’s thinking, Pages’ comments then negate his viewpoints now.
I imagine this kind of journalistic misconduct by local reporters and editors is partially caused by their belief that elected officials and high-level bureaucrats are celebrities of some sort, rather than a breed we need to closely monitor. As a young reporter, I felt that way, too — for about a month. And let’s not forget the attraction of ad revenues emanating from these government sources, which would surely dry up in the face of editorial criticism. It is clearly pandering.
As a people we should clamor for a free press that champions the righteous needs and desires of the populace, not of a transient band of government officials. Citizens shrink from the public eye when they are made the butt of editorial sniping by those very publications that are charged with the larger responsibility of representing the public.
It’s easy to see why the economy is not the only indicator of dying newspapers. I’m reminded of the comment by British writer Ferdinand Mount on the subject: “One of the unsung freedoms that go with a free press is the freedom not to read it.”
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