May 19, 2009

Will Bunch today writes that the Philadelphia Inquirer still won't admit they screwed up by hiring torture architect John Yoo as a columnist.

It doesn't surprise me. Let me tell you why.

The Inquirer, long a 'liberal' paper, underwent some changes a few years ago when they (and the Philadelphia Daily News, where Will blogs) were purchased by the Philadelphia Media Holdings. The new publisher was Brien Tierney, a well-known Republican media strategist. (Until then, Tierney was best known to Philadelphians for his aggressive media defense of local Catholic churches against child molestation charges.)

When his group of investors bought the paper, he made a public pledge not to interfere with the papers' editorial slant. Since then, Citizen Tierney has hired several conservative columnists, including Rick Santorum and Mike Smerconish, and has overseen (mandated?) the occasional use of opposing editorials, presumably to make sure readers don't take the one with the "wrong" (read: liberal) opinions seriously.

Last week, Will Bunch noticed that Yoo, someone who was thought to be an occasional op-ed contributor, had actually been hired as a regular staff writer, and he generated a blogswarm asking for Yoo to be fired. The NY Times covered the uproar:

Harold Jackson, The Inquirer’s editorial page editor, said he was surprised by the sudden delayed anger directed his way over Mr. Yoo. He said the decision to hire a columnist was his, but that “Mr. Yoo was suggested by the publisher,” Brian Tierney.

Big surprise there. After all, freedom of the press belongs to he who owns the press! Tierney is just as principled in all his activities:

There’s a little-publicized story that the parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Newspapers LLC allegedly sought a $10-million bailout from the state of Pennsylvania according to lawsuit filed by a Chester County, Pa. charter school. However, the Associated Press reported on April 24 that the company’s chief, Brian Tierney – received $1.175 million in salary and bonus compensation in 2008, despite being forced into bankruptcy protection in February for $395 million in debt.

“Recent court filings also show that Tierney collected $1.175 million in salary and bonuses last year, somewhat higher than previously disclosed,” Maryclaire Dale wrote for the AP. “Tierney's compensation included $650,000 in salary, a $350,000 bonus for 2008, a $175,000 bonus for 2007 and $81,000 in transportation costs.”

Recently, as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported, Tierney appeared before a House committee making a plea for government help.

“The biggest request for help at the hearing was from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Brian Tierney, who wanted protection for newspapers to talk about creating a national alternative to Craigslist,” Milbank wrote in the Post on April 22.

Funny how those free-market principles go right out the window when they affect your positive cash flow, eh?

“There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication,” Mr. Jackson said. “We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix.”

Asked if the release of the memos affected his view of hiring Mr. Yoo, Mr. Jackson said: “From a personal perspective, yes. We certainly know more now than we did then, but we didn’t go into that contract blindly. I’m not going to say the same decision wouldn’t have been made.”

But Mr. Tierney said the memos did not alter his opinion.

“What I liked about John Yoo is he’s a Philadelphian,” Mr. Tierney said. “He went to Episcopal Academy, where I went to school. He’s a very, very bright guy. He’s on the faculty at Berkeley, one of the most liberal universities in the country.”

To critics of the hiring, he said, “The most important speech to defend is the speech you hate,” and he said there were not all that many critics. “I’ve gotten more mail recently on our making our comics smaller than I have on John Yoo.”

So this is all about defending free speech? Hmm. If I didn't know better, I'd almost swear Tierney handed Yoo the spot to help him defend himself (and thus, BushCo officials) against war crime charges. Greg Sergeant:

On March 15, he published a long broadside against “civil libertarians” who have criticized the Bush administration’s expansion of executive powers amid the war on terror — expansions that Yoo helped author.

Needless to say, those “civil libertarians” are the same people that are demanding a probe into the Bush era torture program — one that Yoo himself helped create. At the time of Yoo’s piece, of course, it was still unclear how or whether to probe the architects of that program, as it remains today. You’d think the paper would ask Yoo to recuse himself from writing about such stuff.

It would be one thing for a paper to invite someone under scrutiny to air his side of the story in an occasional Op ed. It’s quite another for a paper to give such a person a regular platform on contract for use in attacking political opponents in an ongoing and potentially criminal governmental dispute.

Oh, don't be silly! They had to do it, Craigslist made them! I hear the next new hire will be Roman Polanski, who will be giving advice on how to cultivate relationships with underage girls and how some people are trying to legislate away his freedom.

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