'The Wire' creator David Simon takes on Koch brothers over newspaper sale

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Image Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun police reporter who co-created The Wire and Treme for HBO, has witnessed the demise of the American newspaper industry up close. He took a buyout from the Sun in 1995 when he concluded the downsized paper was heading in the wrong direction, and he spent an entire season of The Wire dramatizing the paper’s missteps after corporate out-of-towners took charge.

Toss in his self-described “left of the Democratic Party” political views, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that he’s not fond of the idea of the Sun and the rest of Tribune Company’s newspapers being sold to Koch Industries, the billion-dollar conglomerate run by conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch.

In a new web video, Simon urges people to sign a Working Families petition protesting the potential sale, which has been rumored for several months. “When I heard that the Koch brothers — bless their hearts — were interested in purchasing newspapers, and the Baltimore Sun, my alma mater, in particular, I thought, well, that’s kind of the last nail in the coffin,” Simon says in the video. “It’s not enough for [the Kochs] to lobby government. It’s not enough for [the Kochs] to influence elections. There’s an awful lot of capital that’s already introduced into our electoral process. Newspapers, the Fourth Estate, are supposed to be outside of that. … Ultimately, the only chance that democracy has, if you ask me, is that somebody stands on the outside of some of the excess and the fraud and basically calls foul. That doesn’t happen if the newspapers represent a particular ideology.”

Watch the entire video below:

Simon has been a critic of his onetime employer’s management — and the newspaper industry, in general — for years. In 2009, he said the latest round of staff cuts at the Sun were “the last nails in the coffin.” His latest message claims that his problem with the sale isn’t political: “It’s not about Left or Right. It’s about the community ultimately being served by the paper being essentially local. I want the reporters and the editors to be of Baltimore.”

But it’s a little political, isn’t it? The Sun was sold to Los Angeles-based Times-Mirror in 1986 and sold again to Chicago’s Tribune Company in 2000. Baltimore’s paper hasn’t been “local” in more than 20 years. Simon isn’t being hypocritical in speaking out against the Koch brothers’ potential ownership of the paper; he’s been a vocal critic of the Sun‘s out-of-town leadership since he parted ways. But to Simon, the Koch brothers’ political leanings certainly represent an entirely different type of threat to the struggling industry he so reveres: The only thing worse than carpetbaggers are right-wing carpetbaggers!

When EW reached out to Koch Industries for comment, a spokesperson referred to Charles Koch’s statement to a Wall Street Journal reporter on June 5:

“If we were to get involved in the media business, or more specifically in the newspaper business, our focus would not be to have a newspaper as a vehicle for what’s in our business interest or even our philosophical interest. We would have the best chance to succeed by, as we do with our other businesses, understanding what our customers value. Going in, we believe this would be to offer real news, not just selective news and not news with spin on it. The editorial page would be a marketplace of ideas where all sorts of approaches to public policy issues are vetted and contrasted and there could be ongoing debate. We think this approach would create much more interest, more readers, and would ultimately improve newspapers as a business proposition.”

Perhaps the Koch brothers can revitalize the newspaper industry. They seem pretty good at making money, after all. Then again, the Wall Street Journal, which was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 2007, is currently bracing itself for a round of “limited” newsroom layoffs. Buyouts are being offered. Simon might soon have company in the critical chorus. And they’re running out of nails.

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