The Inky is once again in a financial crunch, with publisher-part owner Brian Tierney warning the unions and staff of the probable imminent need of a further 10 percent staff cut to permit the paying of interest on the $350 million debt incurred by the local owners when the paper was acquired in May 2006. The newsroom suffered a 66 person cut, 16.7 percent of the total, in February 2007, and some more slashing there seems likely, because on the Tierney business model, as David Carr has pointed out in the New York Times, "the newsroom is no longer the core purpose of media, it's just overhead."
Of course, substantial economies could be obtained by canceling the contracts of the three uninspiring and unenlightening rightwingers hired since the Tierney takeover—Smerconish, Santorum and Bowden—which would still leave the Inky with solid rightwing representation with Kevin Ferris, Jonathan Last, Charles Krauthammer and the frequent ad hoc offerings of Steve Chapman, Claudia Rosett, Jonah Goldberg , Linda Chavez, Kathleen Parker, Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Barone, Frida Ghitlis, and lots of others. That is, there would still be a rightward tilt, but not as egregious as there is now with the Tierney additions. But Tierney had a political agenda that the addition of Santorum, Bowden and Smerconish helped to meet, so the staff cuts in the news room will almost surely take precedence.
The New "College Board" Opinion Piece Program
It is probably no coincidence that the enhanced financial pressures on the Inky are announced almost simultaneously with a new program of opinion pieces entitled "The College Board," to be authored "by writers from local colleges and universities." I suspect that these are unpaid offerings, so there may be a financial saving involved here. This is also in line with a long Inky tradition of getting reader participation as part of an Inky effort to stimulate community discussion or bring community members closer to the paper. I have always felt that this is a bad idea and one that allows the Inky to escape doing a first rate job on what a major newspaper is supposed to do—namely, to bring information and informed debate about central issues to its readers. Actually, "writers from local colleges and universities" have always been available to write commentaries for the Inky, but many of them who I know, and who are very well informed, have had trouble getting letters let alone commentary columns into the paper.
The first contribution in this new series, by a Bryn Mawr College sophomore, Rachel Tashjian, is entitled "Why don't we protest? We like our parents" (Jan. 26). The author claims that her fellow students are all very active—in the kind of community volunteer work that the Inky prizes—but that they don't protest the Iraq war because "it would interrupt our own lives, yes, but it would also interrupt our relationship with our parents." But why doesn't the volunteer work interrupt their lives? And suppose the war is regarded as a moral issue? If it was in the midst of World War II and Jews were being pushed into gas chambers in Germany, would an unwillingness to offend parents be a proper basis for silence?
"The model of authority they present shows us that everything will work out," writes Tashjian. I would hope that she is not accurately representing her parents with this misguided deference to authority that is not very consistent with either democratic principles of citizenship or open-mindedness in thinking about public affairs. She then ends her piece by suggesting that she and her fellow students won't become "Weathermen" any time soon, as if anti-war protest is commonly manifested in violent actions, a bit of a coput and mode of evasion on the issue.
Finally, can Rachel Tashjian speak for all students? Polls show that over 60 percent of the adult population favors a withdrawal from Iraq within two years and presumably opposes the war, so how would "our" parents be offended by student war opposition?
In short, this opening "College Board" opinion piece leaves a great deal to be desired; its biases fit too well the voluntarism emphasis of the editors and the hostility to antiwar activism of Kevin Ferris and perhaps others in the editorial room (is Ferris in charge of selecting these new contributions?). Pretty pathetic.
Advertising/Selling Intensification Versus Appeals to Voluntarism and Sacrifice
In its editorials and Commentaries the Inky has long been keen on voluntarism and individual sacrifice in the public interest. (See their latest, an editorial on "King Day: Be of service," Jan. 29th). It features helping others, by being “citizen servants.” This includes the necessity of voting in elections, and certainly has its real merits; but it does not include the need for organized grass roots activity to contest the powerful, reverse the trend toward inequality, and make it possible to solve problems through state policy. In short, this emphasis is very much in keeping with the spirit of neoliberalism and the notion that the individual, and individuals' benevolent actions, along with markets, can do much if not all, and that a shrinking state is desirable.
What also strikes me is how this emphasis on individual and voluntaristic action is in contradiction with the drive to sell, which is so important in a commercial media and is so dramatically evident in the Inky today, led by advertising executive Brian Tierney. The latest fashions, the newest goods to buy and the places where they may be acquired, the hottest restaurants—and featuring "Always time to shop" (Melissa Dribben, Jan. 27th). Gosh, if these goods and shopping are really all that important to our welfare will we have the resources and time to do volunteer work for the less fortunate?
Surge to Nowhere and Bombs Away
The Inky has followed the national party line in recently allowing the Iraq war to drop virtually out of sight, partly because the "surge" is allegedly working and U.S. casualties have dropped. But the surge is, as Andrew Bacevich points out in an op-ed column in the Washington Post, a "A Surge to Nowhere", solving no real problems and by arming fighting parties in Iraq contributing to intensifying civil war and further ethnic cleansing. As I've noted before, Bacevich, a conservative ex-military man as well as a scholar, has never been given commentary space or a book review in the Inky, although he towers over the Inky regulars in knowledge and sense.
Similarly, the Inky has failed to stress that the "surge" and dropoff in U.S. casualties has been associated with a great intensification of the U.S. bombing war, with almost certain enlarged civilian casualties among Iraqis. In fact, Reuters reported on Thursday that one of Britian's leading polling groups conducted a survey which found that more than a million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the illegal invasion and occupation that so many of the Inky's columnists supported and still support. These numbers support The Lancet Report (largely attacked by Washington and the mainstream media) which estimated that over 600,000 Iraqi's were killed as of July 2006. This has been featured in the writings of Patrick Cockburn, Dahr Jamail, and Tom Engelhardt, reporters and analysts whose work you won't find in the Inky. See Tom Engelhardt, "Bombs Away Over Iraq".
Bush Intends That the United States Will Stay in Iraq Indefinitely
The Inky editors and Trudy Rubin have long denied that the United States is in Iraq for the long term—they have accepted the official claim that we will stay only long enough to provide "stability"—although our stay there has been closely correlated with growing instability. But increasingly the political candidates and generals talk about a longer stay, some of them like McCain openly calling for a fight to victory. Bush has been negotiating with the U.S.-sponsored supposedly "sovereign" government of Iraq for a long stay in our bases, and he has recently declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill. Bush made the assertion in a signing statement that he issued on January 28 after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008.