The press censors the press

Pub date August 1, 2006
SectionBruce Blog

Well, well. Today’s Chronicle/Hearst had some big stories on its front page, including a story by its City Hall reporter headed “SF Residents asked to volunteer for a day.” The lead: “Mayor Gavin Newsom today will call on all San Francisco residents to take time out and give a day to their city.” And there were at the top of the page some teaser heads, “After 25 years-still want your MTV? C. W. Nevius on Mel Gibson’s tirade. Bruce Jenkins on baseball’s busy day.” And a big across- the- front – page story, framed in yellow with a white sun, saying, “If you thought last week was hot…More heat, rising ocean, loss of snowpack forecast by the state for 2l00.” Nifty. All legitimate stories.

But way inside on the business page was the hottest local story for San Francisco, the region, and the newspaper business. It was Hearst’s joyful policy announcement story headlined “Bay Area papers cleared for sale to MediaNews, Federal agency’s antitrust review ends with approval.” Our earlier two blogs pointing out the lousy Hearst coverage (and lousy coverage by the other papers involved in the deal) must have done a bit of good. I emailed the obvious questions in my blog to Hearst, but Hearst didn’t reply and Hearst and the other participating papers didn’t answer the questions in their stories, but they did do a bit better with the DOJ story. At least, after I chided them for leaving out a key point in their minimalist stories reporting how a federal judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order in the Clint Reilly/Joe Alioto suit, they asked Alioto if he and Reilly were going to press on with their suit. They are, as I reported exclusively on my blogs. Finally, Hearst et al did publish this fact in their stories. The Mercury-News put it as the last paragraph to its story.

However, the stories by Hearst and the other participant papers read as if nobody ever bothered to check the court documents in the case or at least the Alioto reply memorandum in support of his motion for a temporary restraining order.
What Alioto argued is that Hearst and MediaNews (Singleton), and the other billionaire partners (Gannett and Stephens), have no use for facts nor principles in their move to regional monopoly. Case in point: Back in 2000, when Reilly tried to block Hearst from buying the family-owned Chronicle and shutting down its own Examiner and establish a morning monopoly, Hearst argued that there was no reason to fear a newspaper monopoly in San Francisco because competitors from other Bay Area cities, such as the San Jose Mercury-News and Contra Costa Times, would provide serious competition.

“Specifically,” Alioto stated, “Hearst argued that all of the Bay Area newspapers compete with each other in the Greater Bay Area, and that this competition, both actual and potential, has a tempering effect on the behavior of the competing papers.”

Now, of course, Hearst is arguing the opposite-that these outlying papers are not competitors with the Chronicle and never will be. Alioto pointed out that Federal Judge Vaughn Walker, in ruling against Reilly and for Hearst in that case, agreed with Hearst’s argument and quoted extensively from Walker’s decision. Alioto continued that, “at the very least, this court ought to hold a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, if not a trial, to find out why Hearst and the other defendants are now ignoring and running away from the position taken by Hearst in the prior lawsuit.”

Alioto also pointed out why the contention of Hearst et al that there will be no allocation of markets and anti-competitive behavior is “ludicrous on its face.” Let me give you the precise quote that ought to have been in every honest story on this case:

“Although defendants disclaim the existence of their agreement to allocate markets, and Hearst professes that it will have no role in the combination’s subsequent stewardship of Bay Area newspapers, the claim is ludicrous on it face. Hearst cannot expect this court or anyone else to believe that it is shelling out $263,200,000 simply to buy and deliver the Monterey Herald to its Bay Area competitors to gain an interest in its competitors’ markets outside the Bay Area, without receiving any assurance or reaching any understanding that it will be protected against future competition in the Bay Area from its new partners. Such a claim strains credibility to say the least. Indeed, the role of Hearst in this combination, coming to the aid of its competitor MediaNews, can be explained most logically and cogently only by Hearst’s participation in the combination alleged in the complaint. Otherwise, Hearst’s motivation is truly mystyifying and Byzantine. If ever Occam’s razor ought to be applied, it is here.”

Let’s have a show of hands. Has anyone seen this quote and point, or a summary thereof, in any Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News, Monterey Herald or Associated Press story, or any other Hearst/Singleton/Gannett/Stephens/McClatchy paper anywhere in the country? The larger question: will you ever see this quote as the suit plays out and the messy facts begin to emerge about one of the sorriest chapters in American journalism?

Today, John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times reported breathlessly, in a story headlined “MediaNews looks to set standard for papers online,” that Media News “hopes to harness its newfound Bay Area newspaper dominance on the internet into a regional website that aims to be a model for how old guard newspapers can work and make money online.” He also reported that MediaNews was in “very preliminary” talks with Hearst “about a joint Internet venture that could be run under the name.”

I suggest they first learn to cover local news.

Repeating: one city monopoly is now becoming regional monopoly and the monopolizing powers are now censoring the news toward that end. Alas, that is a terrible harbinger for Bay Area communities, for journalism, and for the free press provisions of the First Amendment. Let us all hoist a Potrero Hill martini for Clint Reilly and Attorneys Joe Alioto and Daniel Shulman.
Check the story yourself and in particular the Alioto/Shulman filings. Click here. B3