Saturday, July 16, 2005

Prostitute Times

Hooker at work

Julie Stout recently pointed out in Moe’s Forum that the 56-year-old James M. McGinnis, until last February the president and CEO of Heartland Publications, the parent company of the Portsmouth Daily Times, or PDT, was found guilty last June of having purloined $1.7 plus from company coffers. Shades of Adelphia! McGinnis claimed that he was just borrowing the money, but the judge ruled the former owner of the PDT “committed theft, as that term is defined in 812.014, Fla. Stat. (2004) by taking $1,713,342 from Heartland's accounts for his own personal use and benefit." The judge fined McGinnis $5.1 million or triple damages. According to officials, McGinnis will probably not be able to pay the fine, because his wife divorced him, took possession of their house, which left him with only one asset – his XJ8 gold Jaguar, which will be sold at auction.

McGinnis has long been in the business, over the course of 30 years, of managing, owning. and milking roughly 80 small- and medium-town newspapers in 22 states in what he called the American heartland. Contrary to the prevailing view that American newspapers are liberal, most small-town newspapers, of which there are very many, are politically conservative. Small-town newspapers are conservative partly because they are dependent upon local conservative business people for their survival. If local businesses don’t advertise, there is not much to be milked by the small-town newspaper’s corporate parent. The pressure that the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce puts on the PDT to toe the SOGP line is no secret. If you believe the PDT’s current opposition to a second round of recalls was based on an honest, independent judgment on the editor’s part, then you might also believe Madonna is a virgin.

As for the PDT’s circulation, the other source of its income, it has been about as robust as a fossilized pterodactyl’s. That is why small town newspapers often function as the handmaidens of local Chambers of Commerce and do everything they can to promote local economic development, even if the development has an unethical or criminal character and has a detrimental effect on the community, as legalized gambling has. (I’ll deal with legalized gambling in my next blog.) In the case of our river city, the PDT is not so much the handmaiden as it is the prostitute of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, which is the arm of the Chamber that launders government money.

As for the notion that a small town newspaper might do the kind of investigative reporting that could put local business and political bigwigs in a bad light, forget it. Did the PDT report the conviction of its owner James M. McGinnis? Did it put a reporter on the anthrax evacuation at Shawnee State? Has it ever reported that for a decade or more Shawnee State has been ranked as one of the worst universities of its kind in the U.S., in spite of many millions of dollars of state support and special subsidies? Not that I am aware. But it did recently put a reporter on a front-page story of a duck that was reportedly trapped in a storm drain. The Shawnee Sentinel came into existence and became Portsmouth’s most popular source of local news not by reporting on alleged ducks in drains but because it does investigative journalism and is the generator of lively opinion. The PDT does not cover the news that the Chamber of Commerce and the two other large institutions in Portsmouth, the hospital and the university, do not want it to cover. There is a local news vacuum, which readers abhor. That is why the Sentinel, which reports it had 10,000,000 hits in the last year, finds so many readers. Even my infrequent and somewhat professorial blog, River Vices, as it approaches its first anniversary, has had over 10,000 visitors.

The FBI was reportedly involved in the investigation of McGinnis. I have heard rumors that the FBI is involved in an on-going investigation of criminal activities and corruption among the higher-ups of Portsmouth, but that’s all they are at this point, rumors, born of wishes. But of one thing I am fairly sure: the kind of newspapers McGinnis owned, such as the PDT, are about as likely to be investigating corruption or criminal activities among the higher-ups in the towns of the American heartland, and in Portsmouth in particular, as the Portsmouth Spartans are of playing in the Super Bowl next winter. Rather than investigating the well-heeled of Portsmouth, the drain-duck lame-duck PDT is in bed with them, trying to denigrate the use of the recall of public officials and promote legalized gambling, all the while piously pretending to occupy a moral high ground where it scolds the “troublemakers” on the internet, the same internet that broke its monopoly on local news. What the PDT is really doing is working both sides of the street, like a five-dollar John St. whore waiting for a John, or another Jim McGinnis, in a gold-colored Jaguar.