Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Meet The New Boss; Same As The Old Boss

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In case you missed it, three local media outlets have appointed new bosses.

The Philadelphia Inquirer just named a  new and suitably diverse top editor, Gabriel Escobar, who, unlike the long line of white male bosses who preceded him at the paper of record, was born in Colombia.

Philly Mag just hired its first female editor, Kate Dailey, and its first black editor at large, Ernest Owens.

And Philadelphia Weekly just named Jenny DeHuff as editor of the "brand new PW," a paper that now has a new conservative/contrarian bent.

So with all those diverse big changes, are readers ready for some fresh viewpoints and daring muckraking exposés? As opposed to the usual drivel from the progressive Democratic media that typically promotes left-wing talking points, while covering for the progressive Democrats who are running this town straight into the ground? 

The short answer is don't hold your breath.

Let's start with Escobar. In his case, the Pete Townshend anthem rings true. Since 2017, Escobar has served as the paper's second banana, with the title of editor and vice president. So there's nothing new to see here.

 The aforementioned Ernest Owens, in his role as vice president of print for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, called Escobar's promotion in the pages of Escobar's own newspaper "underwhelming." 

Owens, who already has one top editor's scalp to his credit, by taking out his former boss at Philly mag, said black journalists would have preferred someone with a new perspective to run the Inky, and not just a "redistribution of power."

If anybody's looking for a new perspective under Escobar, it doesn't look promising. 

While Escobar was the no. 2 guy at the Inky, the paper purged conservative voices such as columnists Stu Bykofsky and Christine Flowers. The paper also launched a progressive reeducation camp, dubbed "Inquirer For All," that had employees undergoing "antiracism training."

According to the Inquirer, Inquirer For All "involves more than 70 newsroom staff members and managers serving on committees to examine the newsroom's journalistic practices and internal culture." The campaign was launched after a horrendous cross-burning incident in the newsroom last June that led the paper to examine how it covers "Black communities and treats its employees of color."

Actually, there wasn't any cross-burning. What happened was that the former editor of the newspaper, Stan Wischnowski, approved a headline over a column by Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron that said, "Buildings Matter, Too." 

The headline was promptly deemed insensitive to Black Lives Matter, and, according to the Inquirer, was also "widely criticized as flip, insensitive, and equating property with human life." 

Oh, the humanity!

That headline sparked an "internal reckoning" with perpetually aggrieved minority staffers that led to the resignation/firing of poor Stan Wischnowski.

What's going on at the Inky, the internal crusade to purge systemic racism, reminds me of what liberal comedian Bill Maher had to say recently. Democrats have gone from being the party of "Let's not see color," he said, to the party of "Let's see it always and everywhere, formerly the position of the Klu Klux Klan."

I think I've written about being half-Italian once in my career, 25 years ago, in a 1995 first-person column about winemaking for the now defunct Inquirer magazine. But there are journalists at the Inquirer, and certainly Owens at Philly mag, who, if they didn't write about race, ethnicity, or sexuality, would have nothing else to say. One-trick ponies, all. 

Is that a problem? Not if you're into navel-gazing, I guess. Or agitating for social justice 24/7. But it certainly makes for dull, predictable, dogmatic, and typically shrill reading. 

Regarding Escobar, I had previously tangled with him when I wrote about how the Inky was always covering for District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of its progressive heroes, to the point of killing negative stories about him.  

Escobar denied the obvious. In a disingenuous email last year, he claimed, "A close and objective assessment of our coverage would show there is no such pattern regarding the district attorney or his office, and that we in fact have applied more scrutiny to the new district attorney, and his new policies and impact than any news outlet."

What a comedian.

In search of more laughs, I emailed Escobar asking as the new top guy, did he have any plans to diversify the content of his newspaper, where, I noted, "Every writer and every columnist writes from the exact same viewpoint."

Escobar did not respond to a request for comment. 

I also asked Escobar about the Inquirer's recent decision to capitalize "Black" in the news columns whenever it writes about a black person. Whites, of course remain lower case. 

Jason Whitlock of Outkick, one of the bravest writers in the country who also happens to be black, has written that the capital letter in "Black" is "a scarlet letter that diminishes, destroys and disenfranchises black people." 

He also has railed against white newsroom liberals, whom he said, are threatened by black independence. And he railed against white liberals in Hollywood and the media whom, he said, get to play puppet master, and define for blacks what being authentically black means. 

Talk about a refreshing point of view. 

But Escobar, who was probably leading another antiracism training session, did not respond to my request for comment.

Next up on our diverse parade of brand new media honchos is Kate Dailey, the new Philly mag editor, who previously was the managing editor at vox.com. Dailey took over Philly mag's top job after the previous editor, Tom McGrath, read a column by Ernest Owens.  According to McGrath, the column said, "real change in our world will only come about when some power is redistributed."

McGrath promptly resigned and publicly stated that his replacement shouldn't be "a middle-aged white guy."

But although there's now a woman in charge, the perspective at the mag didn't seem to change much. In her initial column, Dailey fearlessly took on -- you guessed it -- Donald Trump, for calling local Elections Commissioner Al Schmidt a "RINO," as in Republican in name only. 

"Al Schmidt isn't a RINO," the headline proclaimed. "And he isn't hiding corruption. Keep his name out of your mouth, Mr. President."

Dailey, who had just parachuted into town, had somehow divined that Schmidt and his upstanding colleagues at the Board of Elections "had done an honest and upstanding job of counting the votes, protecting the integrity of the election, and being as transparent as possible with the public."

As part of her research, Dailey cited a 2009 Philly mag profile of Schmidt that concluded he was an upstanding guy. 

So I emailed Dailey, asking how she could stand up for the integrity of Schmidt and his colleagues on the Board of Elections after the unethical way that they spent $29 million earlier this year to buy new voting machines. The board, operating with a total lack of transparency, and a complete disdain for the public, selected not only the most expensive voting machines out there, but also, according to critics, the most easily hacked.

According to the city controller, the specs for the voting machines were rigged to favor the winning vendor. The entire purchasing process was shrouded in secrecy, and the anonymous city officials who participated in it were required to sign an oath of confidentiality while they were in the process of bypassing lower bids.

When they were doing their research on what new voting machines to buy, Al Schmidt, Mr. Integrity, took only one field trip, way back in 2013, to Omaha, to visit ES&S, the winning vendor. Boy, did they strike up a romance. 

The city controller subsequently revealed that ES&S had broken city purchasing laws by not disclosing that since 2014, it had spent more than $428,000 to lobby Schmidt and his colleagues on the Board of Elections. ES&S also hired lobbyists who made undisclosed contributions of $1,250 to Schmidt's reelection campaign.

Because of their ethical transgressions that violated city purchasing laws, ES&S agreed to pay the city a fine of $2.9 million, the largest such fine in city history. 

On top of that, a former senior city solicitor publicly rebuked Schmidt for voting in favor of purchasing voting machines from ES&S, because of an alleged conflict of interest. The city controller tried unsuccessfully to block the purchase because she stated she was "deeply concerned about the legality of this process." But in corrupt and contented Philadelphia, thanks to people like Al "Mr. Integrity" Schmidt, and the other political hacks at the Board of Elections, the deal went through anyway. 

I wrote a half-dozen stories about the voting machines fiasco earlier this year, the first two for Philly mag, so I don't know how Dailey missed it. In an email, I asked Dailey how she could have stood up for Schmidt's integrity after what went down with the $29 million voting machines deal, but she didn't respond.

Just what we need in this town, another top editor who takes it as part of their job description that they need to publicly support our corrupt local officials. Instead of holding them accountable. 

Finally, we come to Philly Weekly, and their new editor, former Philadelphia Daily News reporter Jenny DeHuff.

In her initial column for the new conservative, contrarian PW, DeHuff revealed that she voted for Joe Biden, and that she cheered and clinked glasses with her cohorts over his big victory. Some conservative! But then she decided to take on Mayor Kenney, who gained headlines by telling sore loser Trump to "put his big boy pants on" and admit defeat.

To her credit, DeHuff publicly asked Kenney where his big boy pants were when he failed to criticize the rioting and looting that went on during the George Floyd protests. And where were those big boy pants when for five months our hapless mayor allowed a ragtag army of homeless squatters and anarchists to take over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 

In her initial column that was headlined, "All the news they won't print," DeHuff pledged to bring a new voice to the "liberal echo chamber" that presently constitutes the local media. While she's not going to pump out "right wing propaganda" for Republicans, she wrote, or promote conspiracy theories, she did pledge "to question the Democratic establishment that has owned this city for more than 50 years."

It's a start. But as I wrote to DeHuff, who also didn't respond, we're in such bad shape that mere constructive criticism aimed at the Democrats who run this town isn't going to do the job.

In a town with a record murder rate, a spineless, pandering hack for a mayor, a corrupt D.A. who routinely lets armed and dangerous criminals out of jail, and a rookie police commissioner who's a complete failure, we need something more than constructive criticism.

What we need is a wrecking ball. 

Update: Jenny DeHuff did respond to my request for comment. Here, in part, is what she had to say:

You can trust that I am a conservative. Dan, the owner of PW, and I have had many lengthy talks about our vision for the paper, what our goals are, and how we want to make people think differently in this town. By and large, those who control our Philly media choose to systematically omit relevant information from their publications, tailoring narratives and scripting headlines to fit their own agenda. The way they structure their headlines, their first grafs, the entire bodies of their stories is dictated by their politics. We want to give readers a choice and offer them an alternative, more contrarian point of view in our pages. I tried to express this in my column.

A few people now have asked me – with some disdain – why I chose to disclose who I voted for in my inaugural column for PW. It's for a couple reasons: The first is because I can't stand Trump. That's for a litany of reasons I won't get into here. The second is because I wanted to let our longstanding and faithful readers know outright that I wouldn't be turning the paper into a sounding board for him, as many feared when we made the announcement the paper was going to conservative. What I do care about though, are conservative values, or probably, more libertarian ideals – in that I believe in individual liberties, freedom for the people to make their own decisions with how they live their lives and non-government intervention when it isn't warranted. I've voted for Republicans and Democrats my whole adult life and third-party candidates, though I am a registered Republican.

We are serious about holding our elected officials accountable. Let me prove it to you. I've only been on the job for six days. I know that Jim [Kenney] gets a free pass by every other media outlet . . . But printing what he wants you to write is doing a disservice to the readers and taxpayers of the city and for that and many other reasons I was happy when Dan offered me the top job here . . . 

I hope this answers your questions . . . 

-- jenny

2 comments

  1. No changes at the Inquirer. Newest Board member comes from the Atlantic. Only games being played at the Inquirer is how far to the left can we go and will the last one out please turn off the lights. Disappointed at the lack of coverage for the 500 employees losing their job with the operations move to NJ

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  2. To Jenny DeHuff:
    If you are indeed sincere, the "brand new PW" would be the answer to many, many prayers in this town. In my case, it'd be novenas. A voice to contradict the notorious Philly.com, the propagandized, yellow-journalism that's been infesting weak minds in the Philadelphia metropolitan area for the last twenty years, at least, would be welcomed with open arms and hopefully, open minds. Furthermore, if you actually wanted to put that bird-cage lining, fish-wrapper calling itself "Inquirer" into a coma, you might consider the employment of Ralph Cipriano, who along with Tucker Carlson are my personal journalistic heroes. Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete

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