Monday, March 16, 2009

Pelosi asks DOJ to allow newspaper consolidation

The Chronicle reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is asking the Department of Justice to give Bay Area newspaper companies more leeway to merge or consolidate business operations to stay afloat.

She made her request in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter followed a meeting she had last week with the Chronicle's Phil Bronstein and Hearst general counsel Eve Burton.

She asked the DOJ to weigh the public benefit of saving the Chron and other papers from closure against the government's antitrust mission to guard against anti-competitive behavior.

The Bay Area's two big newspaper publishers, Hearst and MediaNews Group, have long wanted to consolidate certain operations, such as circulation. But when Hearst bought a 31 percent interest in MNG in 2007, the Department of Justice said that Hearst could not own any of MNG's Bay Area assets. So the 31 percent interest applies to MNG operations outside the Bay Area.

Text of Pelosi's letter:
    Dear Attorney General Holder:

    I am writing about the conditions news organizations across the country are experiencing in their efforts to survive. This is prompted not only by the serious economic challenges facing my constituents in San Francisco, including The San Francisco Chronicle and other news organizations in the Bay Area, but also by major news organizations across the country.

    I am sure you agree that a strong, free, and independent press is vital for our democracy and for informing our citizens, especially news organizations that devote resources to gathering news. Our newspapers must be able to engage in investigative journalism and to analyze significant issues, so citizens are informed of public policy issues and public officials are held accountable. As a recent New York Times story on the threats facing the industry noted: "For more than two centuries, newspapers have been the indispensable source of public information and a check on the abuses of government and other powerful interests." (See Richard Perez-Pena, "As Cities Go from Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero," N.Y. Times, March 12, 2009).

    Given the significance of this issue to our democracy, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy will soon hold a hearing and discuss its implications for antitrust policy.

    Over the years, antitrust laws have been an essential protector of competitive choice in the newspaper business, for both keeping members of the public informed and for enabling advertisers to reach them. The antitrust laws are every bit as vital in this industry as elsewhere in our economy, and perhaps more so given the First Amendment issues that are also at stake. I am confident that the Antitrust Division, in assessing any concerns that any proposed mergers or other arrangements in the San Francisco area might reduce competition, will take into appropriate account, as relevant, not only the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, but also the other sources of news and advertising outlets available in the electronic and digital age, so that the conclusions reached reflect current market realities. This is consistent with antitrust enforcement in recent years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. And the result will be to allow free market forces to preserve as many news sources, as many viewpoints, and as many jobs as possible.

    We must ensure that our policies enable our news organizations to survive and to engage in the news gathering and analysis that the American people expect. Thank you for your consideration.

    with best regards,

    Nancy Pelosi
(Photo credit: AP)

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonder how much horse-trading went on during that meeting with Pelosi, Bronstein and Burton? Wasn't Phil at the meeting with Willie Brown where Hearst promised da mayor favorable treatment if he would get the Janet Reno Justice Department to green-light the company's purchase of the Chronicle?

Fred Dodsworth said...

Phil claimed he just happened to have stepped out of the room when the offer to horse trade positive press for DoJ compliance was plainly stated by then Hearst publisher Tim White. White resigned shortly after the story broke but (as I recall) left Heart Corp with an $11 million payday. A timeline of the whole sordid affair (for those interested) can be found at www.saveournews.com/docs/timeline.rtf

Anonymous said...

Pelosi ? Yeah she will save Chron alright !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Robert B. Livingston said...

What nerve!

In the last election, Pelosi never debated her principled challenger, Cindy Sheehan. The San Francisco Chronicle had a virtual blackout about Sheehan's campaign and the issues at stake.

Most San Franciscans were left deeply uninformed by the establishment media about Pelosi's knowledge of the U.S. using torture, the many questions swirling around her true motives for keeping impeachment of Bush and Cheney "off the table"-- and Pelosi's obscure rationalizations for continuing funding of criminal and unjustified wars.

And people today can't understand why no one reads papers! Could it have anything to do with the possibility that they are no longer little trusted?

Anonymous said...

maybe a better headline would be -- Pelosi seeks Chronicle bailout

Anonymous said...

Fred, your memory is off about how Bronstein characterized the meeting. First, never said he left the room. Bronstein, Willie Brown and then Ex publisher Tim White were at lunch on Aug. 30, 1998 when the alleged horse-trading took place. And while White clearly recalls a deal being made (he said so in an e-mail he sent to his bosses that was entered as evidence in Reilly v. Hearst), Bronstein denied any such thing. Hearst immediately suspended White when the e-mail surfaced publicly in court. Bronstein kept his job. Go back and read the news coverage of the trial in May 2000 if you don't believe me. That's what I did when I saw your comment because I knew what you were saying was off.

Anonymous said...

Pelosi just wants to protect her friends at the Chron. Notice how the Chron never writes about things like her demand for a big jet to fly her to and from D.C. Not a word. One hand washes the other. An honest newspaper wouldn't be asking for special consideration from the people they're supposed to cover.

Anonymous said...

Allowing the chron to merge with MNG isn't going to give people in the bay area any more news to read. It will reduce the amount of news coverage. Consolidation means fewer reporters working on fewer stories.

Anonymous said...

All Pelosi is saying is that ANY newspaper in S.F. is better than NO newspaper there. Conservatives should note that if the Chronicle were to merge with MediaNews, all major Bay Area newspapers would be owned by Dean Singleton, who is a conservative and is friends with George Bush.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Holder could a renaming of the Chronicle as a condition. San Francisco Coward has a nice ring to it.

Anonymous said...

The Chron sucks. MNG sucks. I miss the good old days of News Call Bulletin, The afternoon SF Examiner, The San Jose Mercury, The San Jose Evening News and those days when the media didn't think it was so high and mighty.
I say let the Chron fold just like its sister newspaper in Seattle. And then we start anew with another newspaper doing real stories with real reporters, no blogs, no Internet sites, just good old-fashioned reporting with whiskey guzzling, hard-drinking, too-much-smoking, hard-core journalists.

Anonymous said...

If Pelosi gets away with this, she will unwittingly hurt the cause of local news coverage by propping up dinosaurs like the Chronicle and Mercury News. Both papers should fail if they aren't commercially viable. New news sources will take their place. It may not be clear what will take the Chron's place, but given the public's appetite for news, some smart person will figure out how to fill the void and make money in the process. It's no different than bailing out Detroit automakers rather than letting them fail, which would clear the way for more efficient, more modern manufacturers of cars.

Anonymous said...

Pelosi and her pals like Newsom and DiFi desperately need to keep the Chron alive. The Chron supports their efforts and marginalizes their opponents. Without the Chron, Pelosi could be in serious trouble when re-election time rolls around. She knows that, so this is just a favor she's giving in return for all of those positive endorsements she got over the years. Quid pro quo.