Intellectuals and civil libertarians are concerned about the financial decline of the press in America. A free and solvent press is an essential institution for a thriving democracy. Vigorous and unimpaired journalism is required to provide necessary insight into the machinations of government.
There is now a public debate as to whether public funds should be used to provide financial support for struggling media. Opponents of the idea insist that subsidies will impair the independence of the press. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe is clearly aligned with the opponents.
His second column on the subject, "A free press means no subsidies," is unpersuasive because of his inability to define the nature of a subsidy. He acknowledges that National Public Radio "receives taxpayer dollars, and much of its news programming is first-rate." He would undoubtedly also agree that the BBC, which is supported by the British Government, is equally competent.
His column also fails to report any journalistic malpractice by his ultimate employer, The New York Times, even though the Times received extraordinary subsidies and benefits from New York. The Empire State Development Corporation acquired property by eminent domain to provide a big enough site for the Times' new headquarters, and the state provided tax breaks of $26.1 million.
In an effort to buttress his weak argument, Jacoby points to the Banner as an example of how subsidies corrupt journalistic integrity. The first problem with his assertion is that the money was neither a subsidy nor taxpayer funds. It was a collateralized loan from a program managed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority to assist projects deemed essential to the city. The capital was acquired from fees paid by developers.
Jacoby's comments also infer that a hostile relationship existed between Mayor Thomas Menino and the Banner that suddenly became collegial after the mayor supported the refinancing of the Banner. This shows a primitive understanding of Boston politics.
The Banner has always respected Menino as a strong, imaginative mayor, fully committed to the welfare of the city of Boston. In an editorial on May 28, 2009, the Banner acknowledged his achievements. It said, "The recent Boston Globe poll that shows a high approval rating for Mayor Thomas M. Menino is understandable. There is every reason for voters to approve of the many good things he has done in almost 17 years in office." That was well before the Banner ceased publication in July.
Menino is a mayor with strong ideas and strong opinions. It is not always easy to get his attention once he has made up his mind on an issue. The Banner and many members of the black community were opposed to Menino's lack of support for the Parcel 3 development project selected by the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee. Banner editorial comments were harsh.
Then Menino did something that is very rare for a powerful, elected official. He reconsidered his position and decided to support the community's selection, even though it was not his first choice. That was a gracious gesture that should be applauded. It would make no sense for the Banner to criticize the mayor for doing precisely what the Banner had suggested.
Many in the media now seem to think that they are not doing their job unless they are constantly in attack mode. They are like rabid hound dogs baying pointlessly at the moon. Jacoby willfully misinterprets the benign suggestion that since Menino now has the record as the longest serving mayor of Boston, he should work to leave a legacy as the "most productive."
The issue of whether the press should receive subsidies is still not resolved, and the Jacoby column did not add to the debate. His false assertion of the Banner's loss of independence failed to advance his cause.