Court’s campaign ruling means newspapers are more important than ever
One of last month’s many threats to Western Civilization as We Know It was the Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations the right to spend as much as they want on political campaigns.
As threats to our way of life go, it was right up there with the election of Scott Brown to the Senate on the national stage and the revelation that Mesa State College wants to put a bunch of dead bodies out in the sun to watch them rot on the local stage. It was one of the more significant news items of the month.
The age of the never-ending news cycle has seemingly made every bit of what once was routine news now of Earth-shattering importance. The upside is that if the current crisis is of little interest to you, wait a few minutes. A new one comes along with more regularity than Jamie Lee Curtis with a stomach full of Activa.
Thus the Supreme Court’s decision in the case that opened the very large checkbooks of many a corporation and union to political candidates of every persuasion was featured for a few days — until we moved on to the next crisis; in this case our attention was largely diverted by Toyota — by pundit after pundit gnashing tooth after tooth over either the court’s profligacy or brilliance. Take your pick. It’s not my point to do so here.
Instead, it got me to thinking about what I did for a living all those many years, and the state of the newspaper business today. And, more to the point, that the decision could be something which illustrates why newspapers, whether they be ink on dead trees or digital, are still of importance to Americans.
If, in fact, the ruling leads to a political system awash in corporate money, then full disclosure becomes more important than ever. If candidate Joe Blow interrupts you with robo-calls three times every night while you’re eating dinner and if his is the only face you see and voice you hear during commercial breaks on your television, there won’t be much you can do about it. But you just may, and should, want to know where all the money is coming from that pays for those ads and those annoying telephone calls.
That brings me right back to the newspaper. There is nothing that is better equipped than your daily newspaper to provide you with that information. Who gave how much to whom will “be more important than ever,” my friend and former colleague Tim Harty told me last week.
Harty, The Daily Sentinel’s city editor, also noted that the ruling might end the “shell game” of people forming countless limited liability corporations, each of which can give only a small amount of money. But add them all up and the number can get big. That’s a story The Daily Sentinel did a lot of work on a couple of election cycles ago.
That kind of reporting won’t be found on radio stations, where in many cases there is no news staff at all. Nor will it be found at television stations. There are no visuals. It might be found in the blogosphere, but that audience is tiny. And any reporting there will almost certainly lack context and be accompanied by an agenda.
Voters could dig up the information themselves. But we know the likelihood of that happening.
To my mind, that best vehicle for finding out how much money corporations pump into political campaigns and what campaigns the money goes to is the old-fashioned newspaper. Newspaper reporters, contrary to what the right-wing (for the most part) shouters on talk radio would have you believe, come to work every day with one thing on their minds: They want to get a story. It makes no difference to them where the story leads. It can be good for the Democrats and bad for the Republicans, or good for the Republicans and bad for the Democrats. They don’t care.
Newspaper reporters have the skills to get those stories. They know where to find the records and they know the questions to ask.
That mindset and those skills are more important than ever. And, thanks to the Supreme Court, they’re more important now than they were just a couple of months ago.