The idea that a high-level political figure could invest in a newspaper chain and not have an impact on the coverage is laughable, and the attempt of one such political figure to purchase a major newspaper chain has fallen apart. In Philadelphia.
We wrote about the parallels between Democrat politico Ed Rendell’s attempt to buy a chain of Philadelphia papers and Democrat politico Donald Sussman’s investment in MaineToday Media in an editorial last week. The big difference between the two situations is the fact that the journalism community in Philadelphia actually resisted the obviously-compromising financial deal, while the editors and reporters at the Portland Press Herald and the other MTM papers are treating Sussman like a hero.
In Philadelphia, pressure against the Rendell buyout has gotten so intense that it looks like the former governor and mayor is walking away from the deal. Editors and reporters rallied to the cause, and appear to have won a major victory to keep the stink of Rendell’s politics off of their reporting.
Maine’s situation isn’t exactly following suit. A recent article from the website of the newspaper union hailed Sussman as a hero, and described “laughter, cheers, and hugs” in the Portland Press Herald newsroom upon news of Sussman’s investment.
Rendell doesn’t appear to have a direct horse in any electoral race right now, but Sussman has a whole stable. First, his wife Chellie Pingree is running for reelection in the first congressional district. Second, his pet referendum project to legalize gay marriage is on the ballot this fall. Third, state Democrat legislative candidates, who Sussman has funded consistently over the years, will be making a play to take back the state house and senate. And fourth, his close family friend Angus King, who the Sussman/Pingree family spent last Thanksgiving with, is running for U.S. Senate.
In the world of strategy, this is what’s called ‘good positioning’. In real life, this is called a sham. If there’s any doubt that the fix is in, consider this – the two union representatives that brokered the deal with Sussman are Tom Bell, a reporter who is covering Pingree’s political antics, and Greg Kesich, who runs the Press Herald’s editorial page.
There are only two explanations for what has happened with the MTM papers: either the staff is so focused on left-wing advocacy that they’re more than willing to sell their future to the Pingree/Sussman machine, or they are so lacking in basic ethical understanding that they fail to see the problem with their current ownership arrangement.
Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. And for those newspaper readers that want to get the truth this election season – good luck.