By Contributor on April 26, 2013

By Craig Aaron

So maybe Rupert Murdoch really is the better option?

That’s the unfortunate thought that raced trough my head while reading the report in Sunday’s New York Times that Charles and David Koch — the notorious billionaire bankrollers of climate-change denial, voter suppression, and much of the right-wing noise machine — could be the leading candidates to buy eight major daily newspapers from the recently bankrupt Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

The Koch brothers reportedly see “the media” as a next phase in their “10-year-strategy” to shift the country toward their political goals of no taxes, no regulations and no unions to interfere with the pursuit of profits. As Harold Meyerson wrote in Wednesday’s Washington Post, that “doesn’t bode well for the kind of fact-based journalism that most American newspapers strive to practice.”

The positive spin on this development is that perhaps the Kochs just want to siphon off cash from the still-profitable newspapers business before it completely dies off. Yes, the upside is that maybe they’re just vulture capitalists picking at the industry’s bones.

The more likely story is that the Koch brothers recognize how much influence these outlets still have in shaping the political agenda. Local TV and, yes, the blogs still look to the local papers for many of their story leads. The websites of these newspapers are still the highest-trafficked sources for local news and information. Being a newspaper reporter may have been named “the worst job of 2013,” but if you’re looking to shape the local or national narrative on any issue that matters, newspaper owner remains a very powerful perch. Rupert Murdoch — who is known to covet the Los Angeles Times in particular — understands this. And so do the Koch brothers. Choosing between them is like being asked whether you’d prefer the firing squad or the electric chair — either way, your long-term prospects aren’t so good. So how do we stop this from happening? Under existing Federal Communications Commission rules, Murdoch shouldn’t be able to buy the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune because he owns TV stations in those markets. (There are, of course, many other good reasons to disqualify him starting with hacking phones and bribing foreign officials. See also Sean Hannity.) He could still seek a waiver to complete such a deal (which is how he controls TV stations and newspapers in New York). And the Obama administration has gone out of its way to try to change the rules to make it easier for Murdoch to make a move on the Tribune papers. But so far growing public opposition has kept that from happening. The Kochs present a trickier case. They don’t currently have massive media holdings, so the FCC or Justice Department won’t be involved. And as a privately held empire, they’re not susceptible to shareholder pressure against getting into the newspaper business. So the best hope of preventing the Koch brothers from becoming America’s newest press barons is convincing the Tribune Co. leadership that it’s a bad idea to alienate their already shrinking ranks of readers. That means millions of people speaking out now. (You can start by signing this petition.) If you are currently a subscriber to the Tribune, Times, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant ­or other Tribune paper, you can commit to canceling your subscription if the Koch deal goes forward. We may need to picket and protest, too – basically, to do whatever it takes to make selling these papers to somebody else more attractive. Better still, we should push the Tribune board to sell these papers to more than one somebody. Tribune could find local owners in each of these places willing to make a go of it. They are out there. Some will fail; others may push their personal agendas; maybe one will become a nonprofit; another might experiment with a new business model once it’s not buried under the crushing debt of its companions. We already know what won’t work. Media consolidation has been bad for journalism. It has been bad for an informed local citizenry. And it has been bad for business, too. The Koch Brothers are telling us what they want – and it’s not better journalism and community service. There’s a better option: break up the chain. Putting these newspapers back in local hands, making them again part of the communities they are supposed to serve, would give each of these papers the best chance not just to survive but to prosper.

Craig Aaron is president and CEO of the media reform group, Free Press, at freepress.net.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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