WASHINGTON, June 13, 2014 — A few months ago I was summarily removed as a regular newspaper columnist for Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., a publication for which I had written for the preceding seven years. This was part of a larger purge of independent contributors from the right.
A local Protestant minister, who had taken a strong position against gay marriage, albeit in a very civil fashion, was also purged. Our daily came under new ownership, and from all appearances, the takeover was from the non-descript Left. We now look like the Gannett Press, but with a vestigial Republican presence on a second editorial page, which is intended to please the county’s numerous GOP voters. Unfortunately it’s a fly-over page, full of the usual fare from syndicated GOP columnists, and the editors of this page have expanded their definition of “Republican” leftward to include David Brook.
My column had wide readership; after my unceremonious dismissal, letters from self-described leftists appeared in the paper complaining that without my column, there wasn’t much in the local daily that they liked. I never wrote from a GOP partisan position, but when forced to self-identify, I admitted to being an unreconstructed Taft Republican who had walked in from around 1950.
Apparently this grated on the new owner who kicked me out without even allowing me to complete my monthly quota of columns. This treatment, however insulting, did not result in great financial loss. I wrote for paltry fees, which meant $25 a clip, and considered my work to be a public service. The task was also, not incidentally, becoming more and more of a bother, so when the paper dumped me, I didn’t yell very loudly.
But this incident has led me to reflect on a larger problem than being rejected by a Central Pennsylvania newspaper. I’m at a loss to understand why my region, which is socially and culturally conservative, outside the minority population and the professoriate in Lancaster, cannot sustain a non-leftist daily. From all appearances, it would seem that our only daily is moving sharply to the left on political and social questions, and this is true even beyond the gobs of slanted reporting that it faithfully reprints from the Associated Press.
I can’t imagine that loads of potential leftist customers are just lining up to buy the new product. The Yuppie Left, from what I’ve seen, buys big-city newspapers, if our yuppies (or whatever they’re now called) read printed papers in addition to scanning the internet for news. The sizable Latino population in and around Lancaster have Spanish-language papers, and it is doubtful they or the local blacks will be turned on to the Lancaster Newspapers because the publication is veering sharply to the left and has gotten rid of reactionary columnist like me.
By the way, the only people who wrote letters attacking me to the newspaper were “educators,” who deplored my calls for cuts in their tax subsidies, and liberal Protestant ministers who were shocked by my mean-spiritedness. I also received private correspondence from an elderly viewer of Fox-news, who warned me I’d be going to Hell if I continued to disagree with Charles Krauthammer. I told her I’d take that risk.
One can’t emphasize sufficiently the discrepancy between the direction in which the Lancaster paper is being steered and the general cultural climate in the surrounding county. Lancaster County is strongly Republican and our state legislators are definitely in the right wing of the GOP. Although our congressman Joe Pitts is not exactly an older version of Ted Cruz, he remains nonetheless a right of center politician by current journalistic definitions. And we have a disproportionately large Constitution Party vote, a situation that is helped by the fact that the longtime head of that paradigmatically conservative party, Jim Clymer, lives about three miles down the road from me. If ever there was a favorable environment for a non-Gannett-like paper, it is here in Southeastern PA. But we don’t have such a paper, and the daily we do have, reads like a first-grade version of the New York Times, with the usual sprinkling of public events-notices, obituaries, and comics.
Can’t we do any better? Won’t somebody with money please step forth and help subsidize a paper that corresponds to the sentiments of most of our county’s residents? As a retired academic who is interested in journalism I would be delighted to help organize such an enterprise. Although not a zealot of either of our two party fixtures, I may even take Republican money if offered and if our daily continues to go south.