Americans already don’t trust the media
The local news industry wants you to know that it is dying, but it also wants you to know that it can be saved, if only the United States Congress would give it your money. That is the basic premise behind a $1 billion proposal floating through the U.S. House of Representatives called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.
The bill’s sponsors say their intent is “to provide a pathway to financial viability for local newspapers” because “such publications were already facing financial hardships before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only worsened over the last year.”
Why should we save newspapers when there have been countless industries swept into the dustbin of history? When Netflix came along, was anyone begging Congress to bailout Blockbuster video? What about the encyclopedia industry? Landline phone makers? Travel agents?
With local news, though, we’re told, it’s different because newspapers hold powerful people, like politicians, accountable. And yet, the bill’s sponsors point out that their proposal “received overwhelming national support from local journalism outlets.” Should we be surprised they didn’t dare bite the hand that proposes to feed them?
Let’s review: a bunch of Democrats and even a handful of Republicans in Washington D.C. decided they want to give local newspapers one billion of our tax dollars, and the local newspapers respond by applauding their move in their local newspapers, which those same Congressional leaders then boast about in their press release to the local newspapers.
If that’s not enough evidence that they aren’t the objective and trusted sources they claim to be, let’s take a look at an example published just this week, where a local newspaper is supposedly holding the powerful to account by reporting “objectively” and “accurately” on what’s happening in Tallahassee.
Enter the recently unionized (and thus politically left-leaning by default) Miami Herald, and their union organizer/reporter Mary Ellen Klas, who is so anti-business she can’t even tell the truth when she’s contradicted by her own reporting in years past.
Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, will be in the public eye Monday when the Florida Public Service Commission opens hearings on a proposed rate case settlement proposal.
Mary Ellen Klas, head of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau, took the opportunity to preview the hearings with a story published Friday afternoon, summarizing various points of view about the proposed settlement. For more than a decade, Klas has covered FPL news, and almost always with a negative slant. This time was no different. She used the story to advance her own opinion that closer scrutiny of FPL is warranted. Klas wrote:
“This is the third time in nearly 12 years that FPL could avoid a protracted rate case and sidesteps having its expenses — from decisions involving when it shuts off utility customers to how much it compensates its executives — getting thoroughly scrutinized by regulators in a public forum.”
The claim by Klas that FPL has avoided public scrutiny for more than a decade is simply false.
In a fully-litigated rate case, the company, in this case, FPL, files hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, witness submittals, depositions, impact studies, and more, thousands upon thousands of pages of which are available for review by enterprising reporters with a few clicks on the internet.
Between 2009 and 2010, FPL went through a fully litigated rate case that was under review for 10 months, and didn’t end up in FPL’s favor. How do I know this? Because the Miami Herald told me so. Most, including the first and last stories on the subject, were written by Mary Ellen Klas herself.
In 2012, FPL filed a full rate case with more than 100,000 pages of evidence, including witnesses who underwent cross-examination before a settlement was approved. I know this because I read that story about the settlement in the Miami Herald, too. Like the first, it was also written by none other than Mary Ellen Klas.
But wait, there’s more. In 2016, the company had another, fully-litigated rate case, with hundreds of thousands of documents that are available for public review by anyone. That case, too, was ultimately settled. Mary Ellen Klas again wrote the article summarizing the outcome of the case.
It’s not clear at this point why Klas thinks she can’t access the related documents or why she believes FPL is somehow avoiding public scrutiny.
The company’s current case, set to be taken up Monday in Tallahassee, also involved filing more than 100,000 pages of evidence, before reaching a proposed settlement that is broadly supported by a variety of groups, including the Office of Public Counsel, which represents Florida consumers.
FPL can toot its own horn about why its low rates, high reliability and investments in clean energy have earned it the right to ask for a better rate of return than other utilities in the state. I have no doubt that Klas will be there to disparage their request and paint the company in as harsh a light as possible, because that’s what she’s done for the last 12+ years.
Klas probably sincerely believes she is “holding the powerful accountable” with her “reporting.” But doing so dishonestly isn’t holding anyone accountable. And worse, the fact that she writes for the Miami Herald makes her a powerful voice in her own right. Who’s holding her accountable when she reports falsely?
That brings us full circle with the original premise. Do we really want to use our tax dollars used to prop up one-sided, politically-biased, factually inaccurate reporting like this? I’m certain the Miami Herald will be among the first in line to lay claim to their share of $1 billion in bailout money. Those dollars would almost certainly be better spent elsewhere.