Friday, November 11, 2005

Missing Robert Scheer: Newspapers Turn to Mush

Journalist Robert Scheer has over thirty years of experience. Every Tuesday morning for breakfast I consumed his weekly op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, which, along with Frank Rich’s clear explanation of the meaning of current events, in the New York Times every Sunday, allowed me the feeling that I had obtained a richer understanding of politics, reality, and our times.

Here's a portion of Scheer's biography:

From 1976 to 1993, he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where he wrote articles on such diverse topics as the Soviet Union, arms control, national politics and the military. He is currently a contributing editor at The Times, as well as a contributing editor for The Nation magazine. Scheer has interviewed every president from Richard Nixon on through Bill Clinton. He conducted the famous 1976 Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter, in which the then-presidential candidate admitted to have lusted in his heart.—

As of today, Scheer is no longer ‘a contributing editor at The Times,”

On Friday I was fired as a columnist by the publisher of the Los Angeles Times… The publisher, Jeff Johnson, who has offered not a word of explanation to me, has privately told people that he hated every word that I wrote. I assume that mostly refers to my exposing the lies used by President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq…

Starting Wednesday morning, my column will be appearing here
on the Huffington Post. --Huffington Post, 1/11/05

That means good news and bad news. For me, it’s 90% good news in that I can get Scheer’s take every week as usual. The 10% bad news, is the state of printed news in our time. The proliferation of cable news channels, the internet, and now of course, blogs, have reduced readership, circulation, and therefore advertising revenue to all time lows. Across the country big and small publications are in real financial jeopardy. This may be just the way business is trending.

In an effort to maintain business as usual, some publishers are acting as if retaining subscriptions and achieving a positive bottom line, are the most important elements of success—not promoting writing that inflames, antagonizes, or turns off readership—in other words, controversial.

That the antagonistic, controversial, or inflaming point of view is just that—a point of view—and not necessarily a turn-off to readership but actually an attraction, is all in the perception of the publisher and his needs and wants. In the case of Fox News, the agency simply caved to the commands of owner Rupert Murdoch and hinted right-wing conservative slants to everything from politics to economics to human interest stories, and then called it “fair and balanced.” That’s an extreme example where a dictator runs the show.

What is scary lately is the alteration of the bastions of great tried-and-true journalism—the newspapers that people read to get the more profound truth behind a story—to pander to the perceived demands of what readers are left. In the case of the New York Times, a publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, stands behind his reporter, Judith Miller, regardless of her lack of ethics and standards, or her ties to the Bush White House, and stains the reputation of a great institution from now on.

The Los Angeles Times may remain a world-class newspaper with its in-depth reporting and talent that only money can buy. But as an arbiter of opinion, what’s it going to do if it hatchets out the contributors, like Robert Scheer and others, who have a viewpoint worth reading?

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