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Sunday, November 8, 2009

The scoundrels' new mouthpiece

Over the years, Portlanders grew to view with suspicion the public relations firm of Gard & Gerber. This outfit always seemed to be calling the media plays for the big money in the city's West Hills when they wanted to fleece the little guys down below. PGE, OHSU, Neil Goldschmidt, and many others called upon G&G to make the ugly truth go away as quickly as possible. State Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Goldschmidt lieutenant, worked there for a while, which made her candidacy for anything immediately unpalatable to us.

These days, Gard & Gerber is no more. Gard's still out there, but Gerber has gone the way of the husband in the Mattress World commercials.

If there was a void in the Portland villain flack ranks, however, it is being filled nicely by another outfit, Gallatin Public Affairs. This regional firm, which appears to be based in Boise, is currently fronting for Little Lord Paulson on his double-barreled stadiums boondoggle, and it's even got Vera Katz on the payroll to help grease the skids.

Now comes word that Gallatin's helping the Portland police union in its efforts to deny justice in the case of the two police officers who senselessly killed Jim Jim Chasse three years ago. You go, Gallatin. You're building up quite a base of goodwill here in Portlandia.

Comments (7)

Merritt Paulson and the police union's mouthpiece are two of the biggest a**holes in town, so it all makes sense.

Gotta love this part: Update 2, 4:12, Westerman says he sent a fax invite. "I was wondering why there were so few people there," he says. "We're switching to email for these things, from now on."

What happened to the husband in the mattress commercial?

I think when the gal got all glam'd up and in shape she decided he was dragging down the image...

I believe the mattress people got divorced.

We've covered the Mattress World husband disappearance previously, e.g., here.

Read this awesome Monbiot and tell me it doesn't describe the propagandists (fed by folks like the ones mentioned above) at the Oregonian to a t:


They are the pillars of the community, champions of the underdog, the scourge of corruption, defenders of free speech. Their demise could deal a mortal blow to democracy. Any guesses yet? How many of you thought of local newspapers?

But this is the universal view of the national media: local papers, half of which, on current trends, are in danger of going down in the next five years(1), are all that stand between us and creeping dictatorship. Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain’s most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.

I’m prompted to write this by a remarkable episode in my home town, Machynlleth, which illustrates the problem everywhere. A battle has been raging here over Tesco’s attempt to build a superstore on the edge of town. Its application received 685 letters of objection and five letters of support(2), but the town council, which appears to believe everything Tesco says, supports the scheme. The local paper, the Cambrian News, appears in turn to believe everything the council tells it.

A couple of weeks ago consultants hired by Powys county council published a retail impact assessment which supports the arguments put forward by the objectors(3). If the new store is built, the assessment says, it will cause trade in the centre to decline and generate longer and less sustainable shopping trips. How did the Cambrian News respond to this devastating blow to Tesco’s application? By running a smear job on its front page.

According to the town clerk, the consultants had fabricated a complaint by the local butcher. They had claimed to represent his views in their assessment, saying that he feared he would be forced out of business by Tesco - “but they haven’t even spoken to him!” (4) The News, ironically, ran this story without speaking to the butcher, the consultants, or, apparently, performing even the briefest check. Its only informants were the town clerk and the councillors, who lined up to say that the behaviour of the consultants was “disgusting”, that they were “scaremongering” and that they should apologise to the butcher. It took me 30 seconds to discover that the story was completely untrue: the assessment says nothing about the butcher or his shop(5).

I asked the editor of the Cambrian News to tell me whether her reporter had read the assessment before filing his story or whether anyone at the paper had checked it. Her response was priceless. “Any information that we obtain, we keep exclusively for the Cambrian News and do not pass it on to rival newspapers.”(6) I pointed out that I wasn’t trying to steal her non-story, but asking her to defend her decision to publish it. She has not replied.

This petty affair is a synecdoche for the state of local journalism. Most local papers exist to amplify the voices of their proprietors and advertisers, and other powerful people with whom they wish to stay on good terms. In this respect they scarcely differ from most of the national media. But they also contribute to what in Mexico is called caciquismo: the entrenched power of local elites. This is the real threat to local democracy, not the crumpling of the media empires of bigoted millionaires.

Since May Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University, has been running a series on the Guardian’s website called “Why local papers count”(7). It’s a brave effort, but it demonstrates the opposite of what he sets out to show. Across six months he has managed to provide just one instance of real journalism: a report by the Kentish Express on the inflated costs of upgrading a local road(8). Otherwise he appears to have found no example of local papers holding power to account. . . .

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