After 45 years in the news business, Marty Baron had no answers for how to address the flailing state of the U.S. media.
Baron, who retired as executive editor of The Washington Post (WP) on Feb. 28, was interviewed Sunday by CBS correspondent Leslie Stahl.
He criticized former GOP President Donald J. Trump for declaring that papers like the WP report “fake news” and for calling reporters the “enemy of the people.” Baron declared that democracy will not die in darkness because of the WP.
Of course, Baron knows that Trump is not the real problem with the media today.
The real problem is that Congress has allowed six corporations to control about 90% of media outlets in United States, and most owners are multi-national corporations that have little or no commitment to the First Amendment or the traditional values of America’s free press.
Baron’s assessment is emblematic of the shocking and extreme dearth of intellectual scholarship about the current and future state of the media. Instead, news anchors and journalism professors are teaching students to capitulate to corporate ownership by losing any semblance of objectivity.
Baron had nothing but praise for Jeff Bezos, the owner of the WP and the owner of Amazon, which many consider to be a monopoly in flagrant violation of U.S. anti-trust laws. Baron said Bezos came to the Post in 2013 with a visionary plan to expand its coverage from a regional newspaper to a national digital publication. (Of course, The New York Times had already launched a digital platform in 1996 and a subscription-based internet paper in 2011.)
Baron acknowledged the hemorrhaging of daily newspapers in recent years – some 2000 have disappeared – and wished publishers “good luck” in finding a “sugar daddy” like Bezos, who bought the WP for about $250 million.
The Press As A Lobbying Tool
Bezos has transformed the WP into an exceptionally powerful lobbying tool to protect his cash cow, Amazon.
The WP was unrelentingly anti-Trump, who had announced that his administration was looking into anti-trust violations by Amazon, Facebook and Google’s parent company, Alphabet. So much so that the WP occasionally ignored or invented facts in its criticism of Trump.
The Democratic Party traditionally opposed monopolies but the administration of Democratic President Barack H. Obama failed to bring a single major monopolization lawsuit against a U.S. company. The Open Markets Institute theorizes that Democrats increasingly rely on campaign contributions from big tech and don’t want to jeopardize that cash cow.
Who owns the press matters
In a video clip on CBS Sunday morning Bezos expressed his gratitude to Baron for his accomplishments at the helm of the WP. It does appear that Baron had to navigate difficult waters under Bezos’ ownership.
The WP left it to the tabloid National Enquirer to publish an expose in 2019 on Bezos’ affair with television personality Lauren Sanchez. Both were married to others at the time and have since divorced.
Bezos claimed the Enquirer was attempt to extort money from him in exchange for not publishing sordid photographs and text messages about him and Sanchez. The Post reported the Enquirer set out to do a “takedown to make Trump happy.”
Then Bezos hinted the culprit could be Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, because he was unhappy with the Post’s 2018 “essential and unrelenting ” coverage of the murdered WP columnist Jamal Kashoggi.
Ultimately, it was widely reported that Sanchez’ brother, Michael, sold the couple’s sordid secrets for $200,000 to the Enquirer. He is claiming the Saudis leaked the photos.
Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. wrote “Mr. Bezos and his associates deliberately promoted a Hollywood-sized misdirection, with spies and political conspiracy extending all the way to the White House and Saudi Arabia.”
You Should Care
Bezos and the WP vilified (if not worse) President Trump and Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia.
Federal agents and prosecutors used public resources to investigate the Enquirer’s owner, American Media Inc., which already was in a vulnerable position due to a history of purchasing media rights and then refusing to publish the stories.
Bezos conspiracy theories dominated headlines for a period of time when other things certainly were more important.
The American people are badly served by a media owned by a half dozen corporations.
We are badly served by a media that effectively engages in lobbying for international business interests.
We are badly served when media interests engage in partisan politics to prevent Congress from enforcing laws that benefit the public interest.
Social media is currently engaged in censorship of conservative speech and quashing unorthodox viewpoints on hot button issues involving COVID-19 or the sanity of dispensing hormones to young children to promote their supposed choice to transition to another gender.
Still, nobody seems particularly concerned about the implications of a dishonest media that has the goal of engaging in thought control rather than free speech.