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McClatchy Bankruptcy Backstories

More to it than the Knight-Ridder acquisition and the internet age

By Lloyd Billingsley, February 19, 2020 2:34 am

Last week the McClatchy newspaper chain filed for bankruptcy, ending family control of the nation’s second-largest news company. Writers for the chain’s flagship Sacramento Bee cited the $4.4 billion acquisition of the Knight-Ridder chain in 2006, and the woes of newspapers in the digital era. Other causes may have been overlooked.

As the California Globe noted, Sacramento Bee columnist Diana Griego Erwin cranked out columns that turned out to be fake. Even so, the Bee allowed Griego Erwin to resign without any admission of wrongdoing. One of her enablers was Sacramento Bee executive editor and senior vice president Rick Rodriguez. On his watch, readers complained, nothing negative was permitted about illegal aliens. That trend continued after Rodriguez left the paper.

In 2011 in Rancho Cordova, Saul Isidro-Aucencio and Francisco Delgado gunned down Jamir Miller, 15, Richard Ward, 16, and Robert Corpos, all targeted, as the court record shows “simply because they were African-American.”  Bee reporters did not identify the shooters as Mexican nationals illegally present in the United States. In similar style, Judge Helena Gweon, a Schwarzenegger appointee, told the mother of Jamir Miller the case had “nothing to do with illegal aliens.

Still others noted a different trend in coverage of entertainment. On August 25, 2002, music legend Ray Charles played to an overflow crowd at the Radisson Hotel. Charles’ many fans found no conventional review of his performance in the Sacramento Bee, highly unusual for an artist of that magnitude, but not an isolated case. As Sacramento jazz musicians noted, the Bee gave short shrift to African American artists such as Sonny Rollins and Branford Marsalis. 

Ray Charles passed away in 2004 and in 2005 Diana Griego Erwin resigned. Rick Rodriguez departed in 2007 but that did not spell the end of fake news with the McClatchy chain.

Last October 26-27 a Belgian Malinois named Conan accompanied U.S. special forces as they took down ISIS terrorist Abu al-Baghdadi. In the aftermath, a column headlined “Humans may use animals for war, but we mustn’t abuse them,” appeared in the October 29 Sacramento Bee. In some McClatchy papers, author Markos Kounalakis was identified as someone who “grew up with farm dogs” and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Sacramento Bee did not identify Markos Kounalakis as an Obama appointee, a Clinton supporter, or the husband of California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis. She is the daughter of real-estate tycoon Angelo Tsakopoulos, a major donor to the Clintons and Democratic Party. In 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Six years later, her husband Markos Kounalakis pulled front-line media duty in the Russia hoax. 

“Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton included a third participant: Vladimir Putin, standing in the background, stealthily inserting himself in the process,” Dr. Kounalakis wrote in “Putin’s power playbook: Hack, steal, disrupt, mislead, confuse,” in the October 28, 2016 Sacramento Bee, days before the crucial election. The author came billed as “a senior fellow at Central European University” with nothing about his wife’s Clinton connections.

As the Lt. Governor’s official site explains, “Dr. Markos Kounalakis is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated foreign affairs columnist, author, and scholar. In 2017, “President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Kounalakis to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.” 

The current opinion editor of the Sacramento Bee is Gil Duran, former press secretary for California Gov. Jerry Brown and communications director for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Democrat.

Meanwhile, the ill-timed Knight-Ridder acquisition doubtless played a role in the McClatchy bankruptcy. If readers saw fake news, evasive reporting, and political bias as contributing factors it would be hard to blame them.

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2 thoughts on “McClatchy Bankruptcy Backstories

  1. Thanks for this, you’ve nailed why newspapers are failing, despite the screaming from the editors and some of the reporters themselves that the failure is due to the internet. The Sacramento Bee, and newspapers like the Bee, are filled with politically correct nonsense, half-truths, omissions, and often downright lies. If I wanted that, I’d just google a retrospective of Gavin Newsom press conferences.

    If I happen to see a good reporter at, say, the Bee, that person seems to cave to the P.C. pressure in the atmosphere after a few stories — as if they have been hazed and had better conform or else. And as you point out with the example about no review for Ray Charles, they do not present themselves as full-fledged, big-city newspapers with broad and varied reporting. If that is because they can’t afford to hire enough reporters, as they might assert (“because of the internet”), I contend that they have only themselves to blame, for all the reasons you point out.

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