When I first saw the news the some anonymous buyer had purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest paper in the state, it occurred to me that we might be seeing the next big step in the oligarchification of public life in America. To be clear, rich people have been buying newspapers for a mix of vanity and political influence for generations. There’s absolutely nothing new about it, though in the past there was usually a deeper rootedness in the communities in question. The Chandler family and The Los Angeles Times is a good example of that history. But you always knew who they were.
Now we know that Sheldon Adelson is the purchaser of the Review-Journal, and given his demonstrated willingness to buy power and influence on a massive scale, one can only imagine what a joke the paper will soon become. But here’s where things connect up, where this connects up to other strains of the oligarchification of America.
As I noted in my ‘brittle grip’ series over the last few years, as extreme wealth has gotten more and more free rein to buy power in the political process, that power has been accompanied by a demand for greater anonymity, for greater protections from the consequences of exercising such outsized power. In other words, it’s one thing that billionaire X can spend a hundred million dollars on an election. But many say they want to be able to do it with no disclosure. They say they need anonymity to prevent being vilified as plutocrats basically or even facing threats to their safety.
Fears about being endangered are basically absurd. But getting bad publicity is certainly a legitimate concern. After all, there are whole public campaigns against the Koch Brothers now. And you certainly know who Sheldon Adelson is. But this is just part of being a high profile player in the political realm. Obviously, there should be some limits of civility. But if you’re spending tens of millions of dollars to buy political power and influence you are a political figure pretty much as much as someone in elected office. Getting criticized is part of the deal. (I discussed the issues surrounding this mix of embattlement and entitlement in the brittle grip series I noted above.)
I wonder if we’re moving in the same direction with newspapers. Rich people buy newspapers, for all sorts of reasons, but to push their views has always a big one. But do plutocrats who own big chunks of the press now need protection from our knowing who they are? I suspect we’ll hear more of this.