Roger W. Knight: Media also influence decisions

November 11, 2013 

The Nov. 5 editorial “Dark money” was another example of the hypocrisy and perhaps self-interest of the major media. It was fundamentally a complaint about independent political expenditures and the Citizens United case. The editorial included the following quote: “Democracy should not be bought and paid for, but the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 made it possible for corporations to pump whatever money they like to support their political causes and undermine those who do not support their agenda.”

It appears The News & Observer wants to deny other corporations and groups the right be a part of the political discussion. What is the difference between the political activity The News & Observer criticizes and what The News & Observer does? This newspaper is owned by The McClatchy Company, which bills itself as the third largest newspaper company in the country. McClatchy owns thirty newspapers, as well as substantial interests in McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, CareerBuilder, Cars.com, Apartments.com, Dealsaver.com, HomeFinder.com and a newsprint factory. By any measure, it is a substantial and diversified corporation, with vested interests in policy issues.

With its substantial media presence, covering at least eleven states, McClatchy is able to exert considerable political and opinion influence. McClatchy’s newspapers exercise their constitutional rights to openly endorse candidates, to write editorials and opinion pieces praising or criticizing candidates and to select and place stories on important issues, and they do so without disclosing the value such endorsements or stories bring to a particular cause.

Nevertheless, The News & Observer and other critics of Citizens United would deny other corporations, groups and individuals the same rights. Without purchasing ads on TV, radio and other media, groups holding opposing views have no meaningful way of communicating their side of the stories or having their endorsements published. Unknown and non-endorsed candidates have no equivalent way to raise name recognition or get messages out to the voting public.

If The News & Observer supports or opposes a particular candidate or issue, it is free to endorse and criticize. There is absolutely no legal, constitutional or logical reason why another corporation should not be free to raise and spend money to tell voters why it supports or opposes candidates or issues. One is no more a case of “buying and selling elections” than the other. The voters are free to ignore or be persuaded by what either corporation or group has to say.

Roger W. Knight

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to give a fuller response to the editorial.

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