Letters — From the November 2012 issue

Letters

Paper Routs

In “The Only Game in Town” [Report, September], David Sirota unjustly mentions an old publisher of Philadelphia’s two dailies in his catalogue of newspaper owners who use their papers for personal gain. He implies that Brian Tierney, who took over the Inquirer, the Daily News, and philly.com in 2006, meddled in the newsroom. While many at the papers feared he would do so, he never did.

Sirota cites a strange example to indicate impropriety: a lawsuit that alleged the Inquirer published negative stories about a local charter school as retribution for its backing out of a business deal with Tierney. But the lawsuit, which was never successful, was filed by Vahan Gureghian, the extraordinarily litigious owner of Charter School Management Inc., who once sued an eighteen-year-old for posting a photo of his $13.5 million mansion on the blog Homes of the Rich. The investigative article in question uncovered suspicious financial practices at the school, which had received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. If anything, it provides an example of Inquirer reporters doing a good job under Tierney.

Sirota’s Philadelphia story does miss one recent example of owners interfering in the newsroom. After a group of hedge funds took over, editors accused the new management of pulling stories about the potential sale of the papers and scrubbed details on their financial performance. Reporters fought back against the censorship and prevailed.

Readers and reporters must remain vigilant that Philadelphia’s papers—and papers across the country—maintain their independence, and the new owners must continue to invest in the newsrooms they promised to save.

Daniel Denvir
Reporter, Philadelphia City Paper

Sirota’s idea that the Denver Post became a worrying monopoly that could “shape local politics, business, and election outcomes” after the closure of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009 is questionable. Unlike in the days before the Web, there is no shortage of competition, with bloggers, tweeters, and nonprofit investigative units now on the scene. We’d be crazy to pull the Adirondack chair out from under our readers just because the Rocky is no longer here—and we haven’t.

Sirota alleges we suppressed a story on Denver Public Schools’ pension-refinancing program that the New York Times reported on days before a primary election in which former school superintendent Michael Bennet was a candidate—but the plan was already old news for us. We had published a handful of articles on the deal starting in 2007. And Sirota failed to mention a red flag raised in our office at the time: Jeannie Kaplan, a major source for the Times article, was a prominent supporter of Bennet’s primary opponent. That fact was excluded from the Times’ original story and eventually merited a correction.

Sirota didn’t divulge a conflict of interest of his own. His wife lost her bid for a seat on the Denver Board of Education last November, and the Post’s editorial board endorsed her opponent. I don’t know whether that influenced his piece, but it would have been nice if he’d disclosed it.

Gregory L. Moore
Editor, Denver Post

David Sirota responds:

As Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently reported, “most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.” While bloggers and tweeters are important, they simply do not have the resources to compete with a newspaper. That the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper considers a scheme that imperils his city’s finances “old news” shows what trouble we’re in.

My wife’s campaign for an unpaid position on the school board is irrelevant to my reporting. Moore made the same decision not to disclose her candidacy when his newspaper ran my syndicated column before, during, and after the election. It seems to me that Moore mentions this only to distract from his paper’s journalistic crimes.

Old Sport

David Samuels argues that a formative influence on Barack Obama was Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man, but the comparison of the president to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby rings truer [“The Changeling,” Essay, September]. Like Nick Carraway, who didn’t approve of Gatsby but still considered him superior to the callow rich who surrounded him, Samuels favors Obama to the wealthy who bankroll his campaigns even though he no longer believes a word the president says. Gatsby at least believed in the illusions he fed others with his titanic passion and creativity. What the president believes in is impossible to say.

David Critchett
West Warwick, R.I.

Just like a Woman

Thomas Frank fails to recognize a key element of Obama’s bargaining technique [“Compromising Positions,” Easy Chair, September]. This son of a single mother learned a woman’s way of negotiating—a fundamentally cooperative approach dependent upon good faith, without posturing or making strict demands.

Unfortunately, when women offer to give something up, men take it as a sign of weakness and demand still more. This is where Obama finds himself time and again. The real mystery is why such an astute man fails to understand that his preferred technique does not work.

Marcia J. Bates
Professor Emerita of Information Studies, UCLA

Los Angeles

Off the Radar

In “All over the Map” [Review, September], Joshua Jelly-Schapiro hits on the truth of maps: they do not show us the world as it is. Mapping has a way of reducing what geographer Doreen Massey calls the “constellation of social relations” to dots on paper.

As the Occupy protests showed last fall, those constellations can be created anywhere. Once mapped, places like Zuccotti Park become monuments and targets, simultaneously trivialized and militarized. Indeed, the software code behind Google Earth came to life with investments from the CIA, which was keen on the technology’s surveillance potential. Even OpenStreetMap, Google’s primary mapping competitor, has proved useful to the U.S. military, albeit to speed disaster relief.

Is there a way of making maps that changes how we see the world? The “poems in maps” Jelly-Schapiro invokes are useless; they won’t save earthquake victims in Haiti. But they do make us notice our own precarious existence. When the earth moves under our feet, we’re left entirely reliant on those around us for direction.

Joe Bryan
Boulder, Colo.

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