Poor Ed Rendell. He feels like everyone is picking on him for trying to control, er, buy the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. As Rendell sees it, he is just a guy trying to help save a civic institution. But the more Rendell talks, the more clear it becomes that his owning the newspapers is fraught with trouble.
Rendell can’t believe all the fuss. Last week, he told the New York Times: “Any ownership group may have some interest in controlling the content of the newspaper, but ours is no more or less than that.”
That’s not very reassuring to journalists who value integrity, independence and the ability to pursue stories without fear or favor. In fact, “controlling the content” is about the last thing the reporters at 400 North Broad want to hear from a lifelong politician angling to oversee the papers—especially one now collecting paychecks from several other influential institutions.
Rendell says he is just trying to do some good and save the company. Cue the violins. It all sounds so noble and patriotic.
Of course, Rendell is not putting any money where his mouth is. Hey, the business model is shot. Who wants to invest in a sinking enterprise? The real prize is controlling the media. If the deal goes through, Rendell plans to be the chairman of the newspapers without investing a nickel. What a deal.
Rendell brushed aside concerns that his past roles as mayor, governor and head of the Democratic National Committee could influence coverage. Never mind that one of the other investors, George Norcross, is the South Jersey political boss and has a brother who is a state senator in Trenton. “You’d think this was the first time some political people owned a newspaper,” Rendell told the Inquirer.
Rendell pointed to other newspaper owners who have a political bent, including Pittsburgh Tribune Review owner Richard Mellon Scaife and former Inky owner Walter Annenberg.
How comforting. Scaife’s paper is pretty much a right-wing rag and the Inquirer under Annenberg was an agenda-driven piece of crap. Just ask Milton Shapp or the Sixers.
On Monday, Rendell said his investor group would consider establishing a “fire wall” to limit interference with its newsrooms. Sounds nice, but don’t believe it. For one, it is not even a promise, just something they are considering.
It comes just days after Rendell talked about having input in the content. Even if there was a fire wall, it is impossible to imagine Rendell would abide by it. Ditto Norcross who already combats negative coverage of his dealings. And Ed Snider is no shrinking violet.
Rupert Murdoch set up similar checks and balances when he bought the Wall Street Journal, but promptly ignored them. There’s nothing to stop Rendell & Co. from doing the same.
After the story of Rendell’s bid was leaked to the New York Post, Rendell called a press conference in part to complain that the confidentiality agreement was breached. Days later, Rendell’s spokeswoman told a reporter he wasn’t available to comment on a story because he had signed another confidentiality agreement.
But within days Rendell was back yapping to anyone who asked. Over the weekend, Rendell reportedly told a blogger he bumped into on the street that his group probably wasn’t going to buy the papers. After that set off a media flurry, Rendell vowed to stop speaking to the press.
“I’m not going to talk to anybody any more. I’m done,” Rendell told the Daily News. “You’re going to have to waterboard me to get me to say anything.”
On Monday, Rendell sat for a radio interview with Bissinger. The sounds of silence.
So any promise by Rendell & Co. not to interfere with the content of the newspapers will last about as long as Rendell’s promise to stop talking to the press.