29 September 2008

Goodbye, Chicago Tribune

Today, I called to cancel our subscription to the Sunday Chicago Tribune. I wrote this letter (submitted online) to explain why:

My husband and I moved to Chicago about four years ago, and shortly afterward began our subscription to the Chicago Tribune. Only Sundays, because we frankly haven’t time to read the newspaper daily. Like many people, we spend so many hours working during the week, most of our news comes from the radio and internet.

Sundays are different, however, and we’ve enjoyed dedicating our Sunday morning hours to reading the Sunday Tribune and the New York Times. It is with regret that we choose to stop including the Chicago Tribune in this ritual. We cannot continue to support a newspaper that publishes intellectually dishonest editorials.

A number of recent editorials have disturbed us, but the latest, “Scapegoating Markets,” was the last straw.

The headline is ironic. While the editorial argues against scapegoating capitalism as the cause of the current financial crisis, instead, attempts to “increase homeownership, particularly by minorities and the less affluent” are scapegoated.

The editorial claims that if deregulation were the problem, “it would be the commercial banks, not the investment banks, that were in trouble,” ignoring the failures of Indy Mac and Washington Mutual, and the shaky status of Wachovia. “The demise of Glass-Steagall turns out to be a boon,” the editorial adds, noting that its absence enabled Bank of America to purchase Merrill Lynch.

The editorial ignores the fact that if the regulations eliminated in the past 20 or so years had still been in place, Merrill Lynch might not have required rescue.

Instead, the editorial blames the current crisis on “an attack on underwriting standards [that] was undertaken by virtually every branch of government.”

Which “underwriting standards” are we talking about? Standards that facilitated discrimination against whole classes of borrowers, including single women and minorities? Redlining of neighborhoods? Certainly U.S. courts and the legislative branch have been instrumental in attempts to eliminate such “standards,” and I hope we are all proud of this.

But where the government has urged relaxation of fiscal lending standards, such relaxation was backed and promoted first by lending industry lobbyists, like—for example—Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager and former president of Homeownership Alliance, a lobbying firm funded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Which were (until recently) private corporations, by the way, not “mixed” public-private enterprises as your editorial suggests.)

We thought a lot about whether it’s appropriate to cancel our subscription to a newspaper because of its editorials. They’re just a reflection of opinion, after all, and we wouldn’t cancel a subscription because of a disagreement with a columnist. We think that unsigned editorials are different, though, because they represent the opinion of the newspaper as an institution, and we find we can’t continue to support an institution that demonstrates such low standards. If we want to read editorial fueled by ideology instead of facts, we can find lots of that online. From a newspaper, we expect measured and reality-based news and commentary.

We understand that your newspaper is launching a redesign tomorrow: more pictures, less words.

Good luck with that.


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