First, credit where it's due: Steve Novick and Carla Axtman at BlueOregon have been working overtime to find and deliver the facts behind some of the still-developing twists in this story -- hard enough that they drew The Orangeonian's new publisher himself onto their blog to attempt a hit-and-run defense.
Here's it is in a nutshell: Back in October, columnist Steve Duin of The Oregonian took issue with the critics of Measures 66 and 67 who moaned about a proposed "less than one-tenth of 1 percent" increase on gross tax sales. "For many companies that, for years, have paid the $10 minimum," Duin asked, "Who in the world considers that unreasonable?" Pertinent question, I thought.
Measures 66 and 67 are straightforward ballot measures. Oregon lawmakers, faced with a $4 billion hole in the budget last year, stanched the wound with all of its 2009 federal stimulus dollars but still suffered hemorrhage; lawmakers cut public services by $2 billion over the biennium and adopted one slight tax increase on Oregon's super-wealthy individuals and another slight increase by bringing its circa-1931 corporate minimum tax into the middle-twentieth century. But conservatives balked and forced the new laws onto the ballot for public approval. And here we are.
And Duin's analysis was right: For nearly 80 years, companies in Oregon have paid no more than $10 a year in corporate income taxes, though their profit margins might be astronomic.
So one would think The Oregonian, tribune of the people, would support the measures, right? One would be wrong. The same week that Duin's column was published, it newspaper announced the arrival of its new publisher, one N. Christian Anderson III, who was, until two years ago, the publisher of the Orange County Register. In the intervening years, Anderson "has been consulting with media companies and private equity investors since then."
And overnight, it seems, The Oregonian became The Orangeonian. Word around the water cooler has it that Anderson immediately put the paper's editorial board under his own direct control, taking it away from the newspaper's editor, Peter Bhatia. That's odd, isn't it? Bhatia's been around for a while -- executive editor since 1997, managing editor for four years before that -- so it's not like he just parachuted in from, oh, Orange County, California.
And just like that, gone was the point of view offered by Steve Duin. Instead, the Orangeonian has published a series -- I quit counting but they must be up to 10 or 12 by now, not counting the guest op-eds -- of editorials advocating for the defeat of Measures 66 and 67. The editorials have gotten progressively more frantic, repeating the talking points of the measures' mercenary critics, Mark Nelson and Pat McCormick -- also known as the membership list of Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes. (Side note, but seriously: Raise your hand if you've met a real, live member of OAJKT, or anyone working for OAJKT who wasn't getting paid for it.)
The Orangeonian's campaign against these two common-sense measures has beome so hyperbolic that Steve Novick at BlueOregon asked on Sunday, "What is the Oregonian pushing for?" In a great post, he looked at the alternative plans offered by business groups and concluded that, sure enough, "the business associations proposed across-the-board tax increases that would raise taxes on the middle class and on small businesses, while large corporations and the rich would have paid less. If Measures 66 and 67 fail, these presumably are the plans that the Oregonian would have the legislature reconsider."
The Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes campaign has spent months running a purposefully misleading campaign. But here’s their single biggest hypocrisy: The alternative plans to raise taxes would have done everything they falsely accuse Measures 66 and 67 of doing.
If either of these plans had been adopted, small bakery owners really would have seen their taxes increase, soccer moms really would have to pay more. There really would have been a tax increase on small agriculture businessmen in Ontario and, of course, dairy farmers in Tillamook. Now, the Oregonian wants voters to reject the targeted tax increases in Measures 66 and 67, and seemingly wants the legislature to adopt across-the-board tax increases on struggling families and small businesses instead. We believe voters strongly disagree with them.
Novick includes links to downloadable pdfs showing the actual numbers involved, so click through and review them for yourself.
But in the same weekend that Novick was asking about The Orangeonian's motivations, The Orangeonian pulled a fast one: Not only did it publish yet another editorial opposing Measures 66 and 67, but it came gift-wrapped in a "spadea," a half-page advertisement wrapper made up to look like the cover of the Orangeonian, trumpeting in large print, "The Oregonian's editorial board urges voters to VOTE NO on Measures 66 and 67." Above that graphic in faint type are the words "paid advertisement" but it doesn't say who paid for it.
The Orangeonian's new publisher came to the newspaper's blog himself to weigh in with a message about it. To wit, the ad was paid for by unnamed "opponents" of the measures. The ad space was available to both sides of the question, but only the unnamed "opponents" took advantage of it. If supporters of the measure DO wish to buy ad space, their ad will be "subject to our final approval."
I wonder if anyone else was struck by The Orangeonian's failure to cite the name of the "opponents" who bought the ad. Could it be that The Orangeonian donated the ad space to Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes? The Orangeonian publisher himself says no, in a thread of post comments:
I'm not sure what you mean by "was also gratis," because that implies the print ad was free. The print ad was not free -- as I said, the sponsors paid the normal rate -- and neither was the oregonlive.com banner.
So, who exactly were the "sponsors" who bought the ad?
The answer to that question matters a little bit. We have election laws to let us know -- to some degree -- how money influences our politics. Look at any tv commercial for public office and you find the disclaimer, "paid for by ...". In the case of presidential politics, the omission of the disclaimer is even illegal. But I saw no disclaimer in The Orangeonian, only the publisher's vague references to "opponents" and "sponsors."
When a poster on his own blog asked how much the "opponents" paid for the ad space, the Orangeonian publisher ducked the question:
Thanks for your question. How much an advertiser pays for space in The Oregonian is a private matter. The sponsors of this ad paid a normal rate for a spadea.
I suppose that's how they did it in Orange County, California, when someone asked an inconvenient question.
But Carla Axtman, also at BlueOregon, found the facts. Now that The Orangeonian has shilled for the unnamed "opponents" of the measures, it's apparently offering solicitations for ad buys to the rest of the field. Axtman got her data directly from The Orangeonian:
Update: 8:15pm: Information from an Oregonian account person on purchasing a spadea at the paper:
Please note that for political advertising, each page must have in bold type Paid Advertisement and attribution as to who is paying for the ad. Also, we do require prepayment for all political advertising. Your investment for the spadea would be $24,950 if it were to run on a Sunday and $19,750 if it were to run daily.
You know, if I were a skeptical and suspicious person, I might think that The Orangeonian was playing a little game here, to prop up its declining revenues by extorting $25,000 from supporters of these measures.
But that's just one of the great nuggets found in her reporting. She takes on the question of who paid for The Orangeonian ad:
As we are close to the election, we're in the seven-day reporting period. Yet the expenditure that correlates with the purchasing of this advertisement has yet to be reported by the campaign. It's been publicly known for at least a week that this expenditure was going down.
A look at the "Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes" balance sheet shows that they are barely squeaking by on cash. Which non-partisan business would allow OAJKT to pay only after the advertisement has run? Three scenarios here seem to viably answer what's going on here: 1. OAJKT has recieved a special deal with the Oregonian. 2. The O has "loaned" OAJKT the money to run the ad; or 3. OAJKT has pledged funds that they haven't reported. I'm reasonably sure option #1 is unethical AND illegal. If the O has made a "loan" to OAJKT, it should have been reported. If OAJKT has pledged funds to cover the ad, those too should have been reported.
She digs a little deeper into The Orangeonian's new publisher's background and finds a bedrock libertarian:
Anderson took over as editor of the Orange County register in 1980. He left in 1994 and went to the Colorado Springs Gazette. He came back to the Register in 1999 and left in 2007, when he was possibly pushed out.
Anderson is also CEO of Freedom Metro Information, part of Freedom Communications, Inc:
Our company founder, R.C. Hoiles, left a legacy based on the principles of voluntaryism and the libertarian philosophy. Those legacy values — Integrity, Self-Responsibility, Respect for Individual Freedom, Community and Life-Long Learning — are the bedrock on which Freedom Communications operates today. We call it the Freedom Way.
So basically, this is a company run by the philosophies of libertarianism. Those philosophies have apparently not kept the company out of serious financial trouble, it seems. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2009.
And she also finds evidence to support a suspicion I voiced last week: "On the topic of Measures 66 and 67, is it possible that The Oregonian's editorial board apply Oregon values to its perspective on these measures, but that its recently-of-Orange County master dictates a party line based on still-fresh-in-the-memory Orange County mores?"
Sources from the effort working to pass Measures 66 and 67 say that the editorial board members of the Oregonian were in fact in favor of the Measures, but were overruled by Anderson. The paper's editorial page ultimately contained a puzzling anti-Measures tome, which seems to be part of the larger effort by the paper to send them to defeat.
Some may recall a similar move in 2006, in which the Oregonian's editorial board voted to endorse Democrat Ted Kulongoski but were overruled by Bob Caldwell, who was ultimately forced to explain his actions.
New sheriff? Perhaps. But it feels more like "meet the new boss, same (or worse) as the old boss."
So essentially, our newspaper of record in Oregon is owned by a bunch of folks outside of Oregon, and as an LLC, will only pay $150 under Measure 67, should it pass. And it's run by a guy closely affiliated to libertarianism who is apparently willing to overrule the editorial board by fiat.
Axtman's reporting was apparently so close-to-the-bone that The Orangeonian publisher left the safety of his newspaper's blog pages to post at BlueOregon in person -- but NOT to engage in any dialogue on the matter:
Posted by: chrisanderson | Jan 18, 2010 1:13:10 PM
I'm here to explain. First, no truth to the rumor that I overruled the editorial board; Willamette Week already did its reporting and didn't run a story because it isn't true. Ask Bob Caldwell if you don't believe me. Second, The O didn't loan any money (or give any money) to facilitate the purchase of the ad. They paid the same rate as any other advertiser who wants to buy the spadea (correct spelling). Third, Paid Advertisement should have been in bolder type at the top of the ad, and it's my fault it wasn't since I did preview the ad before it ran. Fourth, I hate to burst your conspiracy bubble, but I don't intend to apply the libertarian viewpoint to The O's editorial pages. Thanks for letting me share this with your readers. And no, I'm not going to engage in any debate on the matter. Have to go make some money.
Honestly, it's too bad that Anderson didn't post ten minutes later, because he might have added his response to one of the most salient pieces of information to come from this whole Orangeonian-opposes-the-measures mystery. It was posted by "Insider," who applied the oldest principle of investigative journalism -- "Follow the money" -- and struck common-sense gold:
Posted by: Insider | Jan 18, 2010 1:21:06 PM
I offer one slight correction to your story:
Publisher N. Christian Anderson III will PERSONALLY pay more taxes under 66 & 67, even if the paper pays only $140 more, since he earns more than $250,000. Same with Editorial Page Editor Bob Caldwell.
That fact may help further explain why they took such a hard right anti-government, anti-schools, anti-health care, anti-public safety, anti-tax turn in the last few months.
Could that be it? Could it be that The Orangeonian, under its new leadership, with its editorial board answering directly to the publisher rather than the editor, changed course with N. Christian Anderson's arrival and adopted a libertarian view against Measures 66 and 67, and today plays loose with election laws to aid the ailing Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes, all for the benefit of N. Christian Anderson, who stands to pay a bit more in personal income taxes because he earns more than a quarter-million dollars a year?
I guess that's how they did things in Orange County, California. Oregon will just have to get used to it.