Blog by John Miller

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The worst is here

Warren Buffett, whose portfolio includes newspapers, once said: "Thirty years ago if you had an idiot nephew, you bought him a newspaper to run, but it's not that easy anymore.”

Wait a minute. Can't idiots still become publishers? Based on recent evidence, Buffett may have been wrong -- it still seems ridiculously easy enough. And it usually has disastrous results.

We take you now to Niagara Falls, NY, where a man named Frank Parlato is publishing a suburban weekly called the Reporter.

It used to be a respected local newspaper. But since Parlato, a developer, took it over earlier this year, "suddenly the pages of the Niagara Falls Reporter ... were filled with sexism, racism, the mockery of immigrants, the condemnation of gay men and lesbian women, crude demeaning political tirades, and poorly-written, loopy cultural points-of-view."

That's the verdict of the paper's long-standing film critic, Michael Calleri, who has resigned and gone very public with his indictment of Parlato and the kind of people who seem to be gaining control of the press these days -- people with little interest in their public responsibility to the truth, little commitment to foster responsible journalism, and absolutely no ideas to make society better than it is. They're either interested in making money or, like Parlato, using newspapers as a bully pulpit against his enemies or things he doesn't like.

What doesn't Frank ("I believe in manliness") Parlato like? Well, um, for starters ... modern women.

In an amazing email he sent Calleri, who wondered why his film reviews were not making the paper lately, Parlato said "I have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. Snow White and the Huntsman is such a film. When my boys were young I would never have allowed them to go to such a film for I believe it would injure their developing manhood. If I would not let my own sons see it, why would I want to publish anything about it?"

"I don't want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta," he said. "If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) I will be glad to publish these.
I am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles."

Now I am tempted to leave Parlato and his Neanderthal views to the more enlightened readers of Niagara Falls to sort out, except that he -- albeit with all his cartoon-like deficiencies -- represents a disturbing trend in newspapers these days. Gone are the days when every smart publisher knew enough to keep the advertising salespeople out of the newsroom and his or her own nose out of reporters' notebooks. Newspapers have been taken over by the counting house people.

Witness the recent upheaval in Canada at Sun Media, where regional publishers have been replaced by people whose only function was to sell ads. They are the geniuses who failed to see the Internet coming. Hopefully none of these new people turn out to be Parlatos, but what happens when push comes to shove over something their paper prints that offends someone? How will they react? Will they patiently explain the function of a free press in society and allow, say, a film reviewer to continue to write about new films with modern ideas? Or will they side with the money and cut out the offending reporting as a surgeon might amputate a tumour? I'm afraid I don't know the answer for sure, but I fear the worst.

And speaking of the worst, Parlato won't ever get it. He struck back at Calleri's blog with his own, accusing his former writer of unethically publishing his email, which he understood to be off-the-record, and claiming that he intended parts of it to be "tongue-in-cheek."

He didn't say which parts were tongue in cheek but he did own up to wanting to publish only material "which promotes traditional family values and, at the risk of offending many, supporting the traditional roles between a husband and wife, where, for the welfare of their children, a mother can stay at home to raise her children and a father goes out to work damn hard."

And he had the gall to boast about his business success and take a gratuitous shot at his tormenter. "We owe a hearty thanks to our growing ranks of readers who are, for the most part, as far removed from the values and morals of Hollywood as Calleri is from being a legitimate, full-time, working writer. "
Goodnight Frank Parlato and we leave you with further wisdom from Warren Buffett. Explaining why he invests in newspapers, Buffett once quipped: "I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will."