By Jim Bleyer
Aside from not being in the hunt for Amazon HQ2, what do Las Vegas and Tampa Bay share in common?
Both have daily newspapers that were bailed out by conservative billionaires. Once categorized as “mainstream media,” the papers have rapidly transformed themselves into fake news sources.
In December 2015, The Las Vegas Review-Journal was purchased by Sheldon Adelson, the international casino magnate who was Donald Trump’s number one donor in 2016. The Tampa Bay Times was rescued from certain bankruptcy earlier this year by a group of wealthy “investors” who made substantial donations to Republicans including Trump, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Rick Scott, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush.
Adelson’s acquisition was kept under wraps for about a week. He makes no pretense of his unconditional love for Trump, the GOP and right wing causes. Not so the Times. Its takeover, announced June 30, involved subterfuge and mendacity. To this day, the Times insists it impartially reports the “news” and its economic resuscitation by right wing interests does not affect its content.
The least discerning amd most naive among us know otherwise; such is the low opinion the Times has of the people of Tampa Bay.
Only the Tampa Bay Times and its parent, the Poynter Institute, could make the greedy, self-serving Islamophobe Adelson, who uses the power of money to control public policy and news, appear altruistic.
Some outrageous claims from Times Publisher Paul Tash: his rescuers’ political leanings don’t factor into news coverage or editorial policy; the granting of anonymity to some of the white knights does not compromise journalistic ethics; the Times is a sound and profitable enterprise.
The Poynter Institute, a non-profit for the time being, ran a Q and A with Tash six days following announcement of the bailout. The dwindling Times readership and the legions that have canceled their subscriptions must read the farcical “interview.”
Vile, duplicitous, and insulting to Tampa Bay residents, the article underscores the Times’ hypocrisy in light of facts.
Relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays stadium to a site that will benefit two of its investors, Darryl Shaw and Jeff Vinik, by hundreds of millions of dollars and the St. Petersburg Mayor’s race between incumbent Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker underscore the lengths the Times will go to bolster its pocketbook and deceive the public.
The Times has printed outright falsehoods to boost Baker’s candidacy. Baker’s law firm represented the Times when he was elected St. Pete mayor 16 years ago; Tash’s daughter, an attorney, represents Baker’s boss, mercurial and shady local entrepreneur Bill Edwards, in a federal lawsuit alleging he defrauded veterans. Edwards is also a heavy advertiser in the Times.
A large percentage of the Review-Journal’s editorial staff quit in the wake of Adelson’s takeover. Those writers have consciences and ethics. Now, readers in Las Vegas are treated to columns by Wayne Allen Root, the unhinged self-proclaimed libertarian who more accurately espouses the twisted thinking of the alt right.
A different story at the Times: ethically-challenged staffers not only have remained but abetted the Times far right investors by promoting their editorial positions in purported news stories.
Among the most notably unscrupulous are Publisher Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and Charlie Frago, St. Pete city hall beat reporter. Tash is protecting a $550,000 a year salary; Nickens and Frago believe, rightly so at this point, that no legitimate newspaper would hire them should the Times fold. All three want to collect a pension but that fund is in deep trouble because of the Times’ severe financial woes.
If there are any doubts that the Tampa Bay Times as a viable business is headed down the crapper, they should be disspelled by this New Yorker article. Failure to monetize its product in light of 21st century technology dooms every newspaper despite massive cash infusions by billionaire imvestors whose only real benefit is leveraging political influence.
The Poynter/Times breach of ethics, if not illegality, has not gone unnoticed by media watchdogs, journalism organizations, and federal authorities. A complaint challenging the Poynter Instiute for Media Studies status as a non-profit has been received by the Internal Revenue Service.
If the IRS finds that Poynter misappropriated or co-mingled funds, violated its mission statement, failed to adhere to the wishes of its founder Nelson Poynter or participated in political activity, the Institute would be on the hook for back taxes and penalties. In addition, its status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization would be revoked.