|Map by Chuck Kerr|
(rhetorically propelled gumptions) at Texas media credibility with a few suppositions. In that paranoid mindframe we’d feel free to suggest:
• KENS-5’s parent company Belo Corp. has 13 directors, a third of which have contributed substantially to state Republican campaigns. For example, Belo director and homebuilder Larry Hirsch dropped $15,000 into Attorney General Greg Abbott’s 2006 re-election coffers. Could this imply a right-wing bias at Belo’s stations?
• Today Newspapers’ former publisher and managing editor Richard Collins (he sold it last summer) was also a big contributor to the Republican Triumvirate, donating $10,000 to both Abbott and Perry and $15,000 to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in 2006. How could readers possibly trust Cedar Hill Today, Desoto Today, Grand Prairie Today, and Duncanville Today?
• The Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s president, vice president, and treasurer were all politically active in the last election cycle, most notably the $500 chucked at Perry’s campaign by TDNA President Charles Moser (Brenham Banner-Press). Vice President Gary Borders (Lufkin Daily News) and TDNA’s executive veep Ken Whalen financially supported Kinky Friedman’s gubernatorial run. Does this mean all dailies are partisan? After all, the association’s members elect them.
Moving on to the first big conflict of interest of 2007: In the next few weeks, Australia-based Macquarie Media Group will wrap up its buy-out of American Consolidated Media, operator of a slew of Texas rural and community newspapers.
Anti-toll roadie Sal “The Muckraker” Costello announced the potentially unethical connection on his blog (Salcostello.blogspot.com) two weeks ago: MMG is sister to Macquarie Infrastructure, a major bidder on the Trans-Texas Corridor project, our “NAFTA Superhighway” stretch. MMG Managing Director Alex Harvey also sits on the board of MMG’s parent company, Macquarie Bank. They’re partnered with Cintra in managing Indiana’s toll-road project, among others. Cintra, of course, is Zachry Construction’s Spain-based buddy, which together have won TTC bids. And if you overlay the proposed TTC route on the map of ACM’s newspapers, it’s obvious that Macquarie Media’s first American foray ain’t coincidental.
Costello: `ACM’s newspapers` have been digging in the hardest. We’re talking about the editors and the writers, because the people in the community are going to lose their homes, their farms, ranches ...
Current: Is there any doubt in your mind that Macquarie’s purchases are designed to influence public opinion on the TTC?
Costello: Well, um, no. Macquarie says they’re going to tell the papers to just do business as usual ... `But` are you going to write articles over and over and over again digging into your boss?
Soon-to-be-swallowed Waxahachie Daily Light’s publisher Neal White stands his ground, pointing out that on the day of our interview, the Light’s front page promoted an anti-toll march in Austin. On Monday, February 5, they featured an editorial calling for Perry’s impeachment, in part because of his ties to Cintra-Zachry.
“We’re still covering the news exactly the way we did it last week and last month and last year,” White said. “There’s absolutely no change whatsover.”
TTC-favorable editorial is not likely Macquarie’s main motivation. As long as Macquarie Bank’s betting on Texas’s growth, their media group might as well build on the foundation, too. In other words, if they want to control good chunks of the roads, the land, and the jobs, they might as well own the media.
Current (via email): What sort of message would Macquarie extend to suspicious readers regarding the company’s motives?
Macquarie Media Group (Harvey via Public Affairs Manager Karen Halbert): As with our other businesses, the value in ACM comes from each publication’s relationship with its local community. MMG has owned media assets in Australia and Taiwan, and has a history of not influencing editorial content. We have no intention of influencing editorial content at ACM.
Your typical corporate media complaints against the Macquarie’s Australian radio stations are scattered about the internet: de-regionalization, staff lay-offs, the same songs being played simultaneously on two radio stations. In evaluating the commodification of journalism in a corporate world in 2004, Australian media critic Richard Ackland described Macquarie’s management of its radio stations as a “fascinating bellwether” because its business model puts “the radio network into a trust and the management into a separate company that charges the trust fees to be paid out of the business.”
While details of the ACM acquisition haven’t been released, Macquarie implies that ACM’s CEO Jeremy Halbreicht (a former general manager of the Dallas Morning News) will continue to lead the newspapers somewhat independently.
In the meantime, both Costello and David Stall of Corridorwatch.org have written to the U.S. Department of Justice accusing Macquarie of attempting to establish a “virtual monopoly” on rural news. They admit the letters are legally weak and meant just to expose correlations between Macquarie’s newspaper purchases “peppered along” the TTC-35 and TTC-69 toll roads and its interest in individual-facility development contracts.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for `Macquarie` to dictate editorial to have a very positive impact on the corridor project,” Stall said. “If they just provide a climate that is receptive to pro-toll, pro-corridor guest editorials that would be
“I’m not quite as cynical as some of the other corridor opponents, but I find it to be extremely suspect. This is just an incredible coincidence. Incredible in the literal meaning: It’s very difficult to believe it’s credible that of all the gin joints this is the one where they end up.”
Perhaps they’re blowing it out of proportion. After all, conflicting corporate interests are becoming the norm rather than the exception. For instance, Mother Jones reported this month that Goldman Sachs is brokering road privatization. Goldman Sachs also happens to own more than a million shares in Belo. As for Macquarie, only time and close monitoring of lay-offs and walk-outs will tell.
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