Tulsa World publisher Bill Masterson essentially announced recently that the newspaper’s editorial page was going to get even more conservative, and that’s bad news for progressives here in Oklahoma.
To clarify, I’m not one of those people who think that the World has ever been anything but a fairly conservative newspaper, which was recently bought by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. The newspaper’s editorial page endorsed U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in 2008, for example, saying he was more experienced that his challenger. That action alone, though five years ago, indicates the depth and political nature of the newspaper’s intellectual apparatus.
Has the newspaper been as conservative as The Oklahoman, one of the nation’s most extreme right-wing news outlets? Probably not, and if anyone had the time and inclination, they could study the issue, but for what benefit? The newspaper’s former editorial writer Janet Pearson, now retired, often wrote convincing editorials over social and health issues, but, and I don’t say this with hyperbole, truth does and will always have a liberal bias to some conservative people.
Last Sunday, Masterson announced that long-time World journalist Wayne Greene will become the new editorial page editor, but that wasn’t the most significant information in his article, expect maybe for Greene and his staff. Here’s the information that really mattered:
I received a few notes asking for clarification when I mentioned in my first column that the editorial position was going to reflect the community in which it serves.
My reason for that statement was the result of taking a hard look at the data we develop about our readers and our community. It clearly shows that the community perceives (right or wrong) that our editorial position is too far to the left and is not reflective of what is consistent with Tulsa and Oklahoman’s values.
Perception is reality and it is our job to fix that.
Of course, Masterson doesn’t share any of that “data” in his article. He might think his readers are probably too stupid to understand it anyway, right? Note the last bizarre sentence, which relies on a cliché (“perception is reality”) and then the deflating, “it is our job to fix that.” Allow me to translate: We’re not too far to the left at all, but since the “data” from the community says otherwise we’re going to become even more conservative. Maybe in its next endorsement of Inhofe, the newspaper can celebrate the Senator’s archaic positions on climate change and LGBT rights showing how community “data” reflects those values.
Last week, as a preview of “fixing that,” the World ran an editorial that said it was “practical” House Republicans separated food stamps from a federal farm bill and urged cuts in the program, arguing the GOP trope, “It is far too costly – $80 billion. And with federal deficits, continued rapid growth is unsustainable.” So, in other words, let’s balance the budget on the backs of poor people. The editorial also failed to mention the controversy surrounding U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, the chair of the House Agricultural Committee, who voted in favor of potential farm subsidies for himself in a bill that didn’t reauthorize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. That omission must be seen as a lack of journalistic integrity.
That wasn’t the only “fix-that” editorial. Another commentary last week essentially backed the idea for a special legislative session to supposedly repair the state’s tort reform laws in light of a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court decision. Here’s the right-wing drivel: “We believe that most Oklahomans think that would be money well spent if it allows the state to demonstrate to potential employers looking for a new home that Oklahoma is a state that responds quickly to threats to its business environment.” What threat? Why is it so urgent? The editorial seems more like a genuflection to the state’s right-wing governor, Mary Fallin, than a reasoned argument with all that “data” Masterson likes to mention but won’t really discuss.
It boils down to these right-wing canards: Cut food stamps for the poor because of the deficit. Corporations face the real threats here in Oklahoma. Those are Tulsa’s and Oklahoma’s values, right? Maybe so. So how do your make money from that? Who cares about the truth or what’s right?
There’s something terribly and immediately depressing for progressives about the right-wing turn of the World, but what’s worse will be the long-term impact of the relentless dumbing down of its readers.
There have been many reports of layoffs at newspapers across the country lately because of declining revenues and dwindling readership. I continue to believe that newspapers should cultivate intelligent readers, and that means allowing a full spectrum of political views. Metropolitan newspapers, at their core, are about reading and writing. Alienating sizable groups of people-liberal people who actually read and write on a regular basis-is not a good, long-term business model for any newspaper. But maybe this is the way the newspaper industry dies out, always pandering commercially to some “perception” people have of it until there’s nothing viable left of the actual product in any intellectual and pragmatic sense.
When Berkshire Hathaway bought The World some of us here in this ultra-conservative state were hopeful the newspaper’s editorial page would even adopt some of Buffet’s progressive political stances. Undisclosed “data” squashed that dream.