Opinion: Newspapers might get better with Kochs

May 7, 2013


“Mainstream media” are alarmed by reports that billionaires Charles and David Koch are considering the purchase of Tribune Company’s eight daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.

When Warren Buffett spent $344 million to purchase 28 newspapers, there were mostly sighs of relief from journalists glad to keep their jobs. However, reaction to reports of the Koch brothers’ interest in buying the Tribune papers was quite different. Charles and David Koch, you see, are conservative libertarians, not liberals. Will the Kochs, gasp, force their conservatism on readers? Will they sully journalism’s good name? Truth is, no one knows what the Kochs plan to do.

The Newspaper Guild and Communications Workers of America issued a joint statement, which said of the Koch brothers: “They are active political proponents of harsh right-wing positions.” And many current owners, editors and reporters are what? Such arrogance is what has helped accelerate the newspaper industry’s decline.

When news of the Koch brothers’ interest in their paper reached the Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez asked for a show of hands from people who would quit if the Kochs bought the paper. According to a report in The Huffington Post, “About half the staff raised their hands.”

That should make things easier for the Kochs. They can start by replacing liberal quitters and others whose ideology has turned off conservative readers. They could hire reporters and editors who will try to win back readers and advertisers by providing the type of ideologically balanced coverage they seek.

There are many good unemployed and underpaid journalists who could report the news fairly and without bias. They might leap at the chance to work for a paper whose owners would make a strong financial commitment. Why do liberals consider themselves uniquely objective, when numerous surveys have shown the opposite to be true and much of the public doesn’t buy it?

Newspapers, like all media, are businesses first. If they can’t make a profit because too many readers don’t like or trust their product, they will go out of business, or reduce their size and coverage to something smaller and less substantial. The First Amendment is of little use if one can’t afford a printing press.

Why should this matter? It should matter because strong and healthy journalism is essential if government is to be held accountable. That’s why the nation’s Founders chose the press as the only profession — as outrageous as it was in the 18th century — to enshrine in the Bill of Rights. Without a strong journalistic watchdog, government runs amok. Newspapers, especially, can’t sustain good reporting without money to hire talented reporters. If readers have turned away from their product, newspapers won’t have the resources to fulfill their mission. Kochs have the money. Why not the Kochs?

What media elites fear most is the further erosion of their place in the news hierarchy. One might think self-interest — the possibility of keeping a job — would trump ideology at the Los Angeles Times, but for those hand-raisers it doesn’t. Some journalists would rather go down with the ship than right the ship, make repairs to it and then sail onward in better shape.

This year’s “State of the Media” report by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found “Nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31 percent, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting.”

The Washington Post reported last week an 85 percent decline in net income. The company managed to make an overall profit of just 0.4 percent, thanks to revenue from its television and cable operations. Other newspapers, especially in large cities, are experiencing similar struggles as readers and advertisers have left the building.

It can’t get much worse for newspapers. Perhaps things might get better with the Kochs.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Orwell 4 years, 11 months ago

Great idea. Sacrifice accuracy for whatever "truth" further pads the Kochs' bottom line. Promote ignorance, and abandon even the semblance of distinction between journalism and propaganda.

Looks like we're headed toward a world in which, if you're rich enough, you ARE entitled to your own facts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

The Kochs won't be buying these newspapers because it's a good "business investment" in and of itself. Ad revenues from newspapers continue to go down in a trend that is almost certain to continue.

They'll be buying these newspapers merely to amplify and "legitimize" the right-wing propaganda they already fund at ALEC, AFP and numerous astroturf organizations-- you know, repeat the same lies often enough, and they become truthy.

No legitimate journalist would want to be affiliated with that sort of sham. But Cal is not a journalist.

Alyosha 4 years, 11 months ago

It's laughable, and points to Cal's sloppy and unethical thinking, that he'd lead his piece with an overgeneral reference to the “Mainstream media" being "alarmed." The headline for this piece could accurately read "Long-time member of media elite decries media elite's take on Koch Bros. newspaper plans."

Because his columns are so widely syndicated, Cal is a poster boy for the so-called "mainstream media." Either he's too thick to see that, or he knows it and plays his audience for fools anyway.

He's also a poster boy for what's wrong with civic conversation in the U.S.

The Journal-World does the local community a disservice by printing his pieces. Not because of what he writes per se, but because he engages in the worst kind of unexamined bias and sloppy thinking imaginable. If he were able to argue ethically, his opinions might be worthwhile. As it stands, he's simply a good example for younger Americans on what to avoid in terms of thinking and communicating.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

As long as comedy central is still going, the left will have their news network.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

Sadly, a "comedy network" that makes no claim to be anything like a news network does better at dealing with facts than any of the various rightwing "news" sources out there.

Alyosha 4 years, 11 months ago

How are you defining "left" here?

And what a strange assertion, that you consider Comedy Central to be a news network.

Avoids the assertion that there is no definition of "Media elite" that does not include Cal Thomas.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

"How are you defining "left" here?"

Democrats and their little cults, like the green party. Maybe not quite so much the DINOs.

"you consider Comedy Central to be a news network."

You missed the reference to Jon Stewart and that wannabe hack colbert. I thought the reference was obvious.

Alyosha 4 years, 11 months ago

That's a remarkably broad definition. In your thinking, then, all democrats are equally "left"? And as well as being remarkably, and thus unhelpfully, broad, your definition doesn't really define anything. What are the salient underlying beliefs of this "left" you seem to see? All democrats share those beliefs?

And how does it influence your thinking — if influence it it does — that all of the Founders were "liberal"?

It does no good for you or anyone else to have such ill-defined concepts. They simply prevent one from seeing reality.

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

"It does no good for you or anyone else to have such ill-defined concepts. They simply prevent one from seeing reality."

I think that is the point. Disinform, confuse and change the subject and hope no one will notice that you've said nothing meaningful, only taken a gratuitous swipe at the "left."

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

"then, all democrats are equally "left""

Some are more left than others, but they are all to the left.

"if influence it it does — that all of the Founders were "liberal"?"

I'm pretty liberal, socially, but I'm not left. I think most of the founding fathers were closer to libertarian than anything else.

Trumbull 4 years, 11 months ago

Comedy has a way of cutting to the truth. In this regard, I call it news.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

If the Koch brothers get a newspaper chain, it'll be used to get a president who would better advance their interests, and who would also carry out a war on women and carry out assassinations not only throughout the world, and but here, too.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

He's been very good to them, indeed. But for them, too much is never enough.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

Between Merrill and Bozo, they have a combine 50,000 posts in this forum, yet complain that the Koch brothers are in danger of getter too much free speech. Now there is irony for you.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

There's to having no conception of how irrelevant this forum is in the larger scheme of things.

msezdsit 4 years, 11 months ago

Great job of taking information and massaging it into useless misinformation. You seem to confuse free speech with yellow journalism. Nothing new, you have been doing this for 6500 plus posts on these forums. Look on the bright side, faux news and the Kochs could have a coveted position for you. Now theres irony for you.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

Assuming facts not (yet) in evidence. Should the newspapers in question resort to yellow journalism, however that is defined, then your claim might have merit. Until then, it's mere speculation on your part. No, I'm not confusing free speech with yellow journalism. You're confusing facts with speculation.

As for the position they may have for me, coveted or not, I'm quite happy with what I'm doing now. And with retirement looming, a new career in journalism, yellow or otherwise, seems unlikely.

msezdsit 4 years, 11 months ago

I think that if you are unaware of the practices of the Koch brothers (or just protective of their practices) than you might be naive enough to make the "assumption" that Bozos or Merrils comments are unwarranted. However, if you have any knowledge of the practices of the Koch brothers, then speculation of how their purchase may affect these newspapers is quite warranted.

I wouldn't imply that you take a position with the Kochs/Faux News, only that you might be very qualified too.

msezdsit 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, for however you want to massage your comments, you took a cheap shot at merrill and bozo, plain and simple. I think it is quite presumptuous of you to put yourself in that position of judgement given your history on these forums. That is all I am saying. In so doing, you lend a lack of credence to your own posts.

To call these two radicals because you disagee with them is enough said about you.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 11 months ago

Not one ounce of integrity left in the writer of this column.

John McCoy 4 years, 11 months ago

Hard to associate "strong and healthy journalism" with Koch brothers' propaganda. They are a destructive force in this country. Why is it never enough for "one percenters" like them. They already are billionaires several times over, own countless profitable companies, yet they always want more. With the Koch brothers and their ilk, more is never enough. Just plain good old American greed.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 11 months ago

The presence of these "conservative" brothers in American media needs some vvery careful attention.

Hitler did not take over Germany. The people gave it to him. They bought the Nazi (extreme right wing) drivel and the rest is hostory. (read "harsh right wing positions")

These political positions exist in America under the laughable lable "conservative"

They deserve very close scruitiny.

"Those who do not remember the lossons of history are doomed to repeat them."

MarcoPogo 4 years, 11 months ago

Cal is funny when he starts off with the phrase "mainstream media."

scaramouchepart2 4 years, 11 months ago

History has shown the media tends to legitimize the elitist faction. (Clark. 2001) urban politics. This, unfortunately, would be nothing new.

scaramouchepart2 4 years, 11 months ago

Actually, MacLeod , 2011Urban politics reconsidered. For a start. Clark discusses urban political regimes.

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

He said "ideologically balanced coverage."

I would question if, by definition, ideology can be balanced.

And therein lies Mr. Thomas' problem. Well, one of them.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, I worked on the school newspapers in high school and college and I was taught that first you find out about a story and then you ascertain the facts and that is what you write. You never, ever insert yourself or your beliefs into a story. This is not creative writing class. Just tell the people who, what, where, why.

I feel a little bitter when I read stories today. Since, I was in school when Kennedy was elected, and assassinated, and the Vietnam and Civil Rights Era, I could have written some humdingers. Still, when I think about it, just giving the verifiable facts about those events was enough.

I am very worried about the Koch's wanting own newspapers and the comments on here have been excellent. The only thing that any of us can actually do about any of this is to keep our own freedom of speech alive and well.

msezdsit 4 years, 11 months ago

Great advice to anyone interested in (or currently attempting) journalism.

tomatogrower 4 years, 11 months ago

For a minute I thought the headline was from the Onion. Alas, no. Half of me is laughing my head off, the other thinking I'd better take some more shooting classes to protect myself from these radicals. Cal and his ilk are scary. They want little robots who only think and act like they do.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 11 months ago

Koch will "legitimize" these papers the same way Rupert Murdoch "legitimized" FOX.
Yeah. Rigghhht. (No pun intended.)

ChuckFInster 4 years, 11 months ago

Is that like how MSNBC was forced to legitimize their journalistic integrity regarding the Biden piece they fabricated ?

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, that was certainly unsettling.

rallen17 4 years, 11 months ago

Apparently this writer knows what he and every other journalist will have to say to keep their jobs from now on if people like the Kochs get control of our media.

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