Koch brothers and Coen brothers

    The media buzz this week is that the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers are seriously weighing a bid to buy The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and the other six daily newspapers owned by the flailing Tribune Company. Such a purchase would certainly be great for the Koch brothers, but not so great for what remains of print journalism.


    Much the way vultures feast on dead bodies, moneyed big shots with commercial and political agendas are swooping in on the distressed newspaper business. This has already happened in Philadelphia and San Diego; it happened a few years ago when real estate developer Sam Zell bought the Tribune company and reportedly tried to use the Chicago paper to enhance his proposed sale of Wrigley Field. But Zell ultimately took Tribune into bankruptcy, and today the rapacious hedge funds, who now hold the reins, are anxious to unload the company by swinging the juiciest financial deal. The Koch brothers could be just the ticket.

    What a bonanza that would be for the tea party’s far-flung corporate paymasters. They’d have unparalleled platforms for the advancement of their ideological and financial interests. Print is obviously imperiled in our digital era, but, for now anyway, print reporting still drives most of the chatter and commentary on cable and the Internet. Pity the editorial page editor, at a Koch-owned newspaper, who might want to write critically about tax breaks for the rich, or favorably about alternatives to oil-based energy. Pity the newsroom reporter who might want to pursue a story that puts the Koch brothers’ corporate pals in a less than flattering light.

    The old publicly traded newspaper chains, like the deceased Knight Ridder (where I worked for several decades), were not perfect. They were too beholden to Wall Street, and they often pressured their papers to cut costs. But in the financially fat ’70s and ’80s, they also did much to professionalize independent journalism, and to insulate reporters from local-yokel moguls and other special interests.

    But tragically, as commentator David Sirota wrote this week, newspapers are increasingly being purchased by “new-era Citizen Kanes” who would use those outlets to float their ideology and fatten their wallets. As Sirota rightly noted, “the most effective form of propaganda is that which is baked into seemingly objective news, and therefore doesn’t look like propaganda at all.” I never imagined the day when I would pine for the chains.


    The latest on the Tsarnaev brothers is that they hatched the idea of detonating their remaining bombs in Times Square – only to discover that the SUV they’d carjacked was low on gas. So they drove to a gas station – where the carjacked owner fled on foot and called 911. And shortly thereafter, kid brother escaped the cop shootout by taking the wheel and running over the wounded body of big brother.

    Who wrote their script, the Coen brothers?

    As you probably know, the Coen brothers like to make movies about murderous or hapless knuckleheads whose schemes go badly wrong. Which brings us to Mark Sanford, who is clearly the ultimate Coen brothers candidate. Only a four-star knucklehead is capable of blowing a congressional race in a strong southern Republican district.

    Here’s the gist, at least as of today: Sanford, a tea-party family-values hero and fiscally conservative governor of South Carolina, was widely seen as a potential GOP presidential candidate – until he took taxpayer money to abet his affair with a woman in Argentina, all the while insisting, through a spokesman, that he was really walking in solitude on the Appalachin trail. After several years in exile, he resurfaced this year, determined to win an open congressional seat; on the trail, he has basically said that Jesus would forgive his sins, and therefore voters should do the same. He seemed poised to defeat Stephen Colbert’s sister in the special election slated for May 7…

    …Until he was outed for trespassing at his ex-wife’s house, in violation of their divorce agreement; he later insisted that he had entered the house so that his teenage son would not be alone while watching the second half of the Super Bowl. But, as evidenced by his plunge in the polls, the trespassing episode has taxed the voters’ Christian forgiveness. And Washington Republicans were so ticked off that they cut off his campaign money.

    Sanford then decided to run a full-page newspaper ad (“It’s been a rough week”) that sought to defuse the trespassing episode. He also gave readers his personal cell number and invited them to call him, “if you have further questions.” A delighted Democratic group responded by putting his cell number in an email appeal; as a result, Sanford started getting calls from hectoring Democrats. Sanford then responded on his website, by publishing the phone numbers of the people who had called him – in an apparent attempt to embarrass them. But now the callers (including local voters who were genuinely calling with questions) are ticked off that Sanford publicly posted their private numbers without asking their permission. The other day, Sanford tried to drive this episode out of the news cycle by publicly debating a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi.

    Oh Coen brothers, where art thou?


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal