The Magazine

Bail Me Out, Mr. Paulson

Print journalists aren't feeling the love, these days.

Dec 1, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 11 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Hello? Bailout people? Mr. Secretary of the Treasury Paulson? Aren't you forgetting somebody? Like me? I'm a print journalist. Talk about financial meltdown! Print journalists may soon have to send their kids to public schools, feed dry food to their cats, and give up their leases on Prius automobiles and get the Hummers that are being offered at such deep discounts these days.

The print journalism industry is taking a beating, circling the drain, running on fumes. Especially running on fumes. You could smell Frank Rich all the way to Nome when Sarah Palin was nominated. Not that print journalism actually emits much in the way of greenhouse gases. We have an itty-bitty carbon footprint. We're earth-friendly. The current press run of an average big city daily newspaper can be made from one tree. Compare that to the global warming hot air produced by talk radio, cable TV, and Andrew Sullivan.

There are many compelling reasons to save America's print journalism. And I'll think of some while the waiter brings me another drink. In the first place one out of three American households is dependent on print journalism*. And if you think home foreclosures are disruptive to American society, imagine what would happen if USA Today stopped publishing. Lose your home and you become homeless--a member of an important interest group with many respected advocates and a powerful political lobbying arm. But lose your newspaper and what are you going to do for covers on a cold night while you're sleeping on a park bench? Try blanketing yourself with Matt Drudge to keep warm.

The government is bailing out Wall Street for being evil and the car companies for being stupid. But print journalism brings you Paul Krugman and Anna Quindlen. Also, in 1898 Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal started the Spanish-American War. All of the Lehman Brothers put together couldn't cause as much evil stupidity as that.

Moreover, rescuing print journalism is a "two-fer." Not only will America's principal source of Sudoku puzzles and Doonesbury be preserved but so will an endangered species--the hard-bitten, cynical, heavy-drinking news hound with a press card in his hatband, a cigarette stub dangling from his lip, and free ringside prize fight tickets tucked into his vest pocket. These guys don't reproduce in captivity. And there are hardly any of them left in the wild. I checked the bar. Just Mike Barnicle, as usual. How's tricks, Mike? Where'd everybody go? Sun's over the yardarm. Time to pour lunch.

We print journalists are victims of economic forces beyond our control. We were as surprised as everyone else was by the sudden collapse of the reliable reporting market. We had no idea that real news and clear-eyed analysis were being "bundled" with subprime celebrity gossip, US Weekly derivatives, and Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie swaps. We need a swift infusion of federal aid. Otherwise all the information in America will be about Lindsay Lohan's sex life.

Saving print journalism will be a bargain for the U.S. govern-ment. Nothing approaching $700 billion is required in our case. We'll settle for having the Treasury Department pay our tab at the Capital Grille. True, there is the danger that network television, with its much higher potential losses, will demand equal treatment. But this cannot be justified. Network television has been attempting to lure viewers for years with its low-interest programming only to have those viewers discover later that their brains are bankrupt.

Some taxpayers may object to a print journalism bailout on the grounds that it mostly benefits the liberal elite. And we can't blame taxpayers for being reluctant to subsidize the reportorial careers of J-school twerps who should have joined the Peace Corps and gone to Africa to "speak truth to power" to Robert Mugabe. Senators and congressmen may have their objections as well. They want first call on those twerps themselves. Twerps make excellent Hill staffers and can help elected officials angle for a cabinet post, such as Secretary of Hope and Change and Stuff, in the Obama administration. Obviously more twerps will be available if print journalism doesn't exist anymore. But I think we can ask America's legislators to make this sacrifice. (Memo to pols from an old hack, strictly on the q.t.--The J-school twerps don't smoke, don't drink, do yoga, and will tell DailyKos if you fool around.) And I think we can ask taxpayers whether they would prefer to pay journalists to harmlessly tickle keyboards at the New Republic or whether they would prefer to pay journalists to be in positions of influence on political policies that will wreck the taxpayers' lives.

Remember, America, you can't wrap a fish in satellite radio or line the bottom of your birdcage with MSNBC (however appropriate that would be). It's expensive to swat flies with a pod-casting iPod. Newsboys tossing flat screen monitors onto your porch will damage the wicker furniture. And a dog that's trained to piddle on your high-speed Internet connection can cause a dangerous electrical short-circuit and burn down your house.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

*For house-breaking puppies