Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Newspaper owners' shameless support of I-920 getting well-deserved criticism

In today's Wenatchee World, managing editor Gary Jasinek defends his newspaper and its donations to Initiative 920, the estate tax repeal.

You may recall that The Columbian's Lou Brancaccio also felt compelled to defend his paper, which I discussed in this post on Oct. 11.

As I reported in that post, The Seattle Times, Pioneer Newspapers, The Columbian and The Wenatchee World have all donated to a pro-920 campaign committee. The Wenatche paper did run this no on I-920 guest opinion, so duly noted. It's a well written piece by one John Sensensey, so go read it if you can.

Jasinek seemed almost perplexed that observers would even raise the issue of media fairness:
In Seattle-area newspapers, on the Web and in journalism listserves, the fact that The World’s owner and a few other family-owned papers in Washington had donated significant sums to the campaign caused a bit of a media flurry late last week.
Yeah, imagine that. People are talking about newspapers not just endorsing a terrible right-wing initiative, but actively funding it. But we get the "we're professionals so just trust us" argument:
Like most good newspapers, this one has a stout wall between its news report and its owners’ politics and personal views. In my nine years here, never has there been an attempt by the publisher to shape the news in accordance to his personal beliefs — other than as they pertain to good journalism and a complete news report.
Fair enough. I believe professional editors and reporters, in most cases, will behave in a professional manner.

Which isn't the point. Newspapers are institutions, too, not just random collections of ethical people. They wield enormous power still, especially in smaller communities.

But here's something to kick around: newspapers already get to "donate," if you will, to candidates and campaigns they support. They're called endorsement editorials, and newspapers are specifically exempted from Public Disclosure Commission regulations, as are all legitimate news organizations. Sales of newspapers are also exempt from the sales tax.

So what we have in the case of newspapers donating to a pro-920 committee is a case of "double donation." The newspapers get to make their old-style donation in the form of endorsement editorials, followed by actual cash donations by most of the newspapers involved.

The newspaper proponents of I-920 like to absurdly claim that the estate tax is a form of "double taxation." Maybe they should look in the mirror and ask why newspapers are entitled to donate off the books with editorials and again with cash or in-kind contributions.

Fortunately, there is one major newspaper in Washington State that isn't joining Frank Blethen's club, and that's the "family owned" Spokane Spokesman-Review:
In a state where, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, the poor pay nearly five and a half times as big a share of their income in taxes as the well-to-do, a modest impact is a reasonable tradeoff for the improved ability to meet statewide needs. Voters should say no to I-920.
That's excellent advice.

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