January 30, 2014

Orange County Register | Reuters

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman announced plans to retire Thursday. In a statement on his website, the California Democrat said he was “not leaving out of frustration with Congress” and that it was “time for someone else to have the chance to make his or her mark.” All excellent, plausible reasons to leave a job after 20 terms in office. But I know the real reason he left — he couldn’t handle the disapproval of media critics!

Oh sure, you say, media critics are the least-feared workers of the journalistic trade, people who pounce on typos and plagiarism scandals as if they were of equal importance. You might even make the case that Waxman isn’t aware of media criticism (as if such a thing were possible). I’m just saying, the timing is suspicious, that’s all. Consider:

  • On Wednesday, the editorial board of the Orange County Register scolded Waxman for summoning executives from Tribune Co. to explain their decision to spin off the corporation’s print properties, which include the Los Angeles Times. (Waxman did not attend the meeting, but was unimpressed by the assurances of Tribune executives who did.)

    “In addition to our strong reservations about political meddling in commercial affairs, we also abhor the implications for a free press,” the Register’s editorial board writes, continuing:

    Part of the responsibility of newspapers is to hold accountable the powerful – especially those in government. Thus, it hardly seems appropriate for those very same figures to act as if they’re entitled to a voice in how we run our businesses.

  • As stinging as that rebuke must have been — from a newspaper that serves a region close to his district no less! — it cannot be a coincidence that Waxman’s decision follows the thorough thumping administered to him by Reuters’ Jack Shafer, who on Jan. 8 told him to “Buzz off.”

    Waxman “can request all the documents he wants from Tribune, but not even he can roll back the Internet, smartphones, and BuzzFeed,” Shafer writes.

    I worry about the news needs of Henry Waxman’s constituents as much as he does — those wealthy citizens of Malibu, Santa Monica, Rancho Palos Verdes, Pacific Palisades, Topanga, Calabasas, Manhattan Beach, Marina del Rey, and (I’ve got to say it again) Beverly Hills. But unlike Waxman, I’m convinced that should the new Los Angeles Times fall from its current state of excellence, his constituents have resources aplenty to support quality news and information should they desire it. If they don’t, that’s not Tribune’s problem and it’s not Waxman’s concern.

I’d quit, too.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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