The End of Freedom Communications? (maybe not)

In 1972, when I was a young political activist working in the antiwar and pro-marijuana movements, I became aware of the Orange County Register. I was working at the campaign office for Prop. 19, the first California marijuana initiative. Word came in that the main newspaper in conservative Orange County had become the first daily paper to endorse our measure. We were amazed.

I found out later that this should have been no surprise. The Register was the flagship paper for Freedom Communications, a libertarian-owned newspaper chain. It had been founded in the early 1930s by R.C. Hoiles, who was to become a leader in the modern libertarian movement.

The Register‘s finest hour came in 1942, when most of the established media were calling for internment of innocent Japanese-Americans. Weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hoiles wrote clearly against the idea of taking away their liberty and property. The Register continued to run editorial after editorial against the internment and against the rollback of civil liberties in the time of war. The paper was the victim of several bomb threats.

More recently, as the rest of the media piled on to the false claims of the Bush Administration over Iraq, the Register ran many editorials against attacking Iraq. They have continued to support withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Former Register editor John Seiler writes today at LewRockwell.com on the history of Freedom Communications. It is definitely worth reading.

Here is a report on the effects of the bankruptcy from Alan Bock, longtime writer and editor at the Orange County Register and longtime columnist for Antiwar.com.

I am gratified at the number of people who have inquired about the Orange County Register, where I work, and about my personal fate, in the wake of the Register’s parent company, Freedom Communications, filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Whether it was inaccurate or half-accurate news reports or people listening with only half an ear, some people got the impression that we were on the verge of ceasing to publish. Happily, that’s not true.

The Register, unlike many large newspapers, has never gone into the red and is still profitable, though less so than in the company’s and industry’s salad days. Freedom Communications expects a profit of around $50 million this year as well. Trouble is, that’s not enough to service the debt.

The debt arises from the resolution of a family feud among the heirs of R.C. Hoiles, who founded the company and died in 1970 at age 90. The descendants of one of his three children felt they were being squeezed out of significant decision-making and demanded either that the company go public or that they be bought out. Freedom brought in two investment bankers to raise the money to buy out those who wanted it, giving them an equity stake in the company. While they were at it they borrowed a lot more money from a consortium of banks to recapitalize. This was 2004, in the midst of the housing boom, when newspapers were still ridiculously profitable.

We hit the Perfect Storm and then the recession, and profit margins declined precipitously. So the company negotiated with the banks to go into Chapter 11. It’s a "prepackaged" deal; though a bankruptcy court will have to approve the details, in essence the banks reduced the debt from $770 million to $335 million in exchange for ownership of the company (the remaining family members retain 2%).

As Register publisher Terry Horne explained in a series of employee meetings on Tuesday, the banks can’t get the $435 million they’ve foregone with more layoffs and cost-cutting, of which we’ve already had a lot. Their interest, not only to keep payments on the $335 million flowing but to have a prayer of recouping the other money, is for Freedom and the Register to grow to the point that they become attractive items to sell. Right now nobody wants to buy newspapers or TV stations except (maybe) for pennies on the dollar (see San Diego Union-Tribune). If the recession ends and the Freedom newspapers recover and find a way to monetize their Web presence better, there’s a chance – not a guarantee but a chance – that the banks can sell us for enough to recover the money they’ve foregone in Chapter 11.

The upshot is that the Register and other papers will keep publishing for the foreseeable future, while working to improve our Web presence (if you want to help you can click on http://www.ocregister.com/opinion and click around the page for a while fairly often). There’s been no call to change the libertarian character of the editorial pages, not do we expect one. Changing the editorial philosophy is unlikely to improve the bottom line and just might hurt it. Our presumption – we haven’t met our new owners or the board members they’ll appoint and probably won’t for 6 months or so – is that they’re more interested in money than ideology. So we’ll continue to speak out against war and statism as long as possible, which looks like a fairly long time indeed.

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Shocked, Shocked! The Pentagon Is Profiling Journalists!

Published originally @TAC

I am glad that Stars and Stripes has nailed the story about the Pentagon profiling journos headed overseas for embed duty, not only because it is only fair that we know how our taxpayer dollars are being spent in so-called military “strategic communications” and that the Fourth Estate knows exactly where it stands with the military establishment, but that it was Stars and Stripes, virtually inoculated from any rightwing sniping about ‘flyover’ and ‘driveby media’, that has been bird-dogging this latest example of government manipulation of the news in wartime.

Simmering for over a week, the story is starting to sprout earnest legs, but given a few more hours and days, will likely slide off into familiar media narcissism, as more reporters begin demanding their profiles and posting them online. Given the hyper-competition in the foreign policy reporting space, one can easily imagine one scribe scrambling over the other with contempt for the Pentagon out of one side of his face, using the other to call attention to his overseas bonefides. Not all are that egotistical, of course, and seeing your life’s work clinically analyzed like a FBI background check has to be quite disquieting. Nevertheless, some may want to think twice before broadcasting their profile: the Pentagon may like you and that could be kind of icky, especially when you’re trying to pay it cool.

The thing that gets me is none of this is really a surprise. The Rendon Group didn’t come out of a hole in the desert, it helped start the war. In fact its propaganda and message management work for the government goes back decades. Meanwhile, the military has put all sorts of restrictions on its official embeds and that’s why we have independent reporters who risk life and limb to get the story. The military hired a covert PR firm to plant “good news” in Iraqi papers — why wouldn’t it want to keep tabs and try to manage journalists it couldn’t outright buy or silence?

It’s amazing, as I see the first signs of this profiling story on major television news networks, I recall how none of them — save PBS — would touch the explosive Message Force Multipliers story of 2008. Because it involved the corporate broadcast media participating in the Pentagon/Bush Administration-led Spin of the Century, they acted as though it never even happened. Now that they are the victims, it is a different story?

Eli D. Greenberg to Bring ‘Transparency’

Eli D Greenberg – the former attorney and listed contact for the Clarion Fund – has resurfaced as the head of an independent committee tasked with policing and encouraging greater transparency in the nonprofit foundations within the Sephardic communities in New Jersey and New York according to an article last week in Jewish Week. Non-profits operating in Syrian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Israeli Sephardic communities in the US have been on the receiving end of increasing criticism for their secretive operating structures since the arrest last month of three Syrian rabbis for an alleged money-laundering scheme.

For those who don’t remember, the mysterious Clarion Fund produced the anti-Muslim documentaries The Third Jihad and Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West and funded a massive distribution of 28-million DVD inserts of Obsession in swing state newspapers shortly before the 2008 presidential election.

Greenberg is an interesting choice for an attorney to help promote transparency and good governance since the Clarion Fund was widely seen as serving to hide the identity of wealthy donors who wished to influence the presidential election and spread unsubstantiated fears about Muslims in America.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigated accusations that Clarion may have violated its non-profit 501c3 status by explicitly endorsing John McCain in a statement on one of its websites, Radicalislam.org.

The statement, which was later removed, read:

“McCain’s policies seek to confront radical Islamic extremism and terrorism and roll it back while [Barack] Obama’s, although intending to do the same, could in fact make the situation facing the West even worse.”

Further muddying the waters was the appearance that Clarion was not only trying to influence the presidential election but that the funding – or at least the organizing – for the effort was coming from Aish HaTorah, a Jewish Orthodox Ashkenazi organization based in Israel.

Clarion has denied any organizational links but its four listed directors all have had close relationships with Aish. Clarion’s assertions that Aish and Clarion are completely independent entities are undermined by the facts that: Rabbi Raphael Shore, Clarion’s founder was employed as Aish HaTorah International’s executive director; Gregory Ross, Clarion’s spokesman and communications director was a fundraiser for Aish HaTorah International and the Clarion Fund shares a mailing office with Aish’s office in Manhattan.

All of the above doesn’t mean that Clarion necessarily did anything illegal but it does suggest that Clarion isn’t the poster-child for transparency and that its counsel didn’t impose the stringent ethical and good governance guidelines that presumably he will impose on the Sephardic charities in New York and New Jersey.

Greenberg seems to have a specialty in nonprofit foundations within the Syrian and Sephardic communities.

Four Mamiye brothers – Charles M., Charles D., Hyman and Abraham – gave $25,000 to the Clarion Fund in 2007 through their nonprofit foundation. Their nonprofit—Mamiye Foundation—gives primarily to the Sephardic Syrian communities in New Jersey and New York.

Greenberg serves as an attorney for a Mamiye held company.

Torturous Odds for Justice?

So the Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to prosecute some CIA agents who went beyond the guidelines the Bush administration authorized for extreme interrogations. This is good news.

But will the torture policymakers be exempt from the law?

If so, maybe the pimp media will bring West Virginia’s Lynndie England, the star of the first round of Abu Ghraib court martials, back for an encore.

Many of the top officials in the Justice Department and the White House knowingly conspired to violate federal laws and the Geneva Convention. If the Justice Department refuses to look beyond the actual enforcers, then today’s apparent breakthrough will be simply another variation of a coverup.

Where’s the Coverage of Cindy Sheehan?

With President Barack Obama heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a long vacation away from touting the “success” of the Iraq War and promoting the Afghan War’s escalation this weekend, he is going to be greeted with a lot of ads critical of his health care plan. And something else, or rather someone else.

Cindy Sheehan.

Remember her? The public face of the antiwar movement who hounded President Bush for years after her son was killed in Iraq in April 2004. The woman who expressed exasperation when the Democratic Congress which was swept to power largely on antiwar sentiment failed to do anything about ending the wars.

She’s back, or really she never left, but you might not have heard anything about her in awhile. And you might not be hearing about her now, unless you’re reading sites like ours or the Washington Examiner. The Bush Administration gave way to the Obama Administration, and while the wars are going as strong as ever, being antiwar is just so… passé now.

At least that’s the impression you’d get watching the cable news. According to Sheehan, the mainstream media “wants me to go away like most of the rest of the anti-war movement has done under the Obama presidency.” Cindy isn’t going away though, and she’ll be shadowing the president’s vacation just as she did with the last one. The only question is, will anyone cover it?