Submitted by Susan Miller on Fri, 02/13/2009 - 13:54.

There's a name missing in the wikipedia's entry "muckraker" and it's Roldo Bartimole. In this 1996 article from his (now discontinued) Point of View (see below), he lays out how our local fishwrap, the Pee Dee, as Roldo dubs it, serves up bread and circuses while the elected and their business cronies fleece the public. It's the basic sleight of hand that our lofty elected pull on us. Not much has changed more than a decade later.

As a Pee Dee staffer once told me, "scandal sells newspapers". Well, then, the Pee Dee has some learning to do, because the real scandal is glossed over, half reported and repeatedly under reported in their pages. Nowadays the Pee Dee's darlings are the MedMart, the Port Relocation and Expansion, the Opportunity Corridor. Headlines ask readers if they're afraid to cross the innerbelt bridge, and reminds us that there are potholes in our roadways. Parboiled stories with not enough information or slanted non-news is tucked in with a lotta lotta feel good stuff about "Positively Cleveland" and of course - the favorite fodder of this bean and weiner town - sportsmania. There are some exceptions. So just as happened with basketball arenas, baseball and football stadiums, while we follow the "scores", the Fagins and the Hagan's are robbing taxpayers blind. Not much has changed. I publish this here, least we forget.

More of Roldo's writing can be found here on realNEO and at Cleveland Memory.


(by Roldo Bartimole - point of view volume 28 no.9&10, January 20 and February 10, 1996)

Possibly the Plain Dealer should change its name to the Pandering Dealer given the coverage of the past half year when sports and rock and roll appear to be the daily menu at Ohio's largest.

I have watched this past summer, fall and into winter one of the most disgusting displays of slanted, biased, propagandistic, chauvinistic and down-right bad journalism I'd ever expect from a newspaper that I already have the lowest of expectations.

It's a mind-fucking perpetrated by those supposed objective informers of a community who are really so tightly connected to the powers that be that any agenda offered by so-called "civic and business leaders," a catch-all description for those who set community agenda in all cities, that they become the public relations apparatus for private interests.

As I compile article after article of the coverage of The Plain Dealer, which I call the Pee Dee for obvious reasons, of the Cleveland baseball team, followed by the coverage of the Cleveland Browns and its move to Baltimore, I see pounds of newsprint, huge front page headlines with enormous color sports photos, entire sections within the paper which crowd out real news, and column after column of adulation (anything to do with baseball) or denigration (anything to do with football team owner).

An argument taking place around the nation among journalist and academics over Public or Civic Journalism is a joke. What I see - and I don't think that other city newspapers are far from the content of The Plain Dealer - is a journalism steered around by the nose by corporate leadership that includes the management of the newspaper (I won't deal with radio and television which are even more eagerly pursue bandwagon civic promotion). What I see daily is a journalistic tragedy of cooperation with civic leadership that has its own agenda with the major news outlet in the city to hard-sell it.

Having ignored reports from Baltimore of the Browns moving to Baltimore for a day and following a next day with a report squelching the talk, the third day, Nov. 4, the PD confided that the bad news was true with a two-line, four inches deep headline across the front page, with a head-shoulder shot of Art Modell, Browns' majority owner, taking up nine inches in depth and more than six inches in width. Thus began weeks and then months of Brownsmania by the newspaper. Of the 18 inch depth of editorial space across the front page, only five inches were left to two other articles and the daily index.

The following day with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin the top news for most newspapers, the Pee Dee had to limit itself to a four-and-a-half inch deep headline, "Mayor fights Browns move," with the kicker, "Not the final act." Mayor Michael White, a favorite of the newspaper, is pictured thumbs up in a photo more than six inches in width and more than four inches in depth. Accompanying the main story is a eight inch, two column front page editorial supporting an issue on the ballot the next Tuesday that would extend a tax already passed for the baseball stadium and arena built in Cleveland for renovation of Cleveland Stadium for the Browns. (The Pee Dee was the largest contributor to the issue campaign with tens of thousands of dollars in free ad space and Alex Machaskee, the editor, was a member of the citizen task force that recommended the tax). The tax would not take effect until 2015. Fabin's assassination is given two columns and 14 inches. The rest of the page is devoted to sports including a one-column, 4 inch promo of "A season to remember," souvenir section on the baseball season.

On Monday, Nov. 6, after a Sunday football game, a six-and-a-half inch deep two column front page headline greets readers: "Gloom, anger fill the stands." Next to the headline is a six by eight inch photo of a football fan known as the leader of the famous "Dawg Pound," "Big Dawg," shown with a grim, near-tears face for the camera. Once again the front page is dominated by the coverage - 11 inches deep across the entire page of the 18 inches of editorial space available.

The following day, Nov. 7, the two word headline: "Browns Bolt" and a sub-head, "Modell warned mayor, governor a month ago," took three and one-quarter inches in depth with a five by eight inch color photo of Modell and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Again more than 12 inches deep, the Browns move dominated the front page. Rabin's burial story and the index are at the bottom.

It would take too much space to detail the content inside the paper -the editorials, columns, cartoons, not to mention the sports pages themselves, devoted to coverage of this issue.

For days and weeks after, and then months, both on the front pages, columns, cartoons and the sports pages came an out-pouring of passion about the perfidity of Modell, the fuming, ditched fans and a newspaper promoted campaign, led by Mayor White. Press conference after press conference produced "news."

If ever a newspaper could cause a community mental breakdown, the Pee Dee was giving it its best. In an age when being a victim seems to have some desirability, the Pee Dee was offering mass victimization to the entire community. Too many were buying into the malady.

On Nov. 9, a day after the election results, White, milking the publicity for all it was worth, was back on the front page delivering his financial offer to the empty Modell's offices in Berea. A created event but It was big news. An excuse for another color photo of the mayor surrounded by police and aides, five inches by three columns. The coverage took three entire columns on the front page. Inside it took another entire page. More was on the sports pages and other articles now came under a heading, "The Browns deal."

The hysteria being whipped up was reflected in another 22 inch article about more defections of advertisers from Browns broadcasts and signage, including Revco drug stores, Papa John's Pizza and the Ohio Lottery.

On Nov. 10 the story was again on the front page with an entire page inside with more ad boycotts, including McDonald's restaurants and others. On Nov. 11, the legal battle was the top page one story. Inside there was a piece on a local TV station dropping coverage. Runaway momentum was being created.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, the Browns story was once again across the front page with another photo of White, and a nine by six plus inch color photo of a fan holding a made-up stop sign with the name "Art" on it. Another 10 inches deep was allotted across the front page with two entire inside pages, including the newspaper's promotion of Browns fans to blitz the NFL and others with protests.

The paper gave up seven inches by three columns with a chart of all NFL teams, to advertise - as "news," of course - the telephone numbers, person to contact and fax numbers of team owners. This is a chart that the Pee Dee continues to offer as more free advertising to the political campaign to "Save Our Browns" (SOB), a proper acronym in more than one way.

The next day the story again was dominant on the front page with a photo, nine inches deep, three columns wide, of a woman and her daughter picking up the SOB orange protest ribbons. The total editorial space given was 15 inches deep, three columns wide. Nearly an entire page of runover inside. (Once again there is no accounting for the sports page, columns or editorials.)

The next day, Nov. 14, the Pee Dee gives four columns and 14 inches on the front page with a photo of fans, including a sign, "Judas equals Model 1," one of the few signs allowed that give hint of the anti-Semitism of some fans in this community crusade.

Inside, another near full page of material, much of it dealing with fan ire.

On Nov. 15, the story was off the front page but atop the Metro B section with a bold headline: "White leaning hard on the NFL," as he met with Ohio legislators. There was more coverage inside, including an editorial and editorial cartoon admonishing ABC for not making more of the fan protests at a Monday night football game broadcast.

Stories continued but not until Nov. 19, did the front page once again become the focus of the Browns with three-and-half inch of headline: "How Cleveland lost the Browns,” and subhead. The color photo dominating the page was a woman deep in tears holding a sign, "Art - you broke Cleveland's (a drawn heart)." It was more than six by seven inches. Inside were two more full pages of reviewing, including a time sequence going back to 1974 on the Cleveland stadium lease.

Court actions took up much of the next few days but White in photo was back on the front page, Nov.-22, along with Modell as both testified. Not until Nov. 25 did the story again dominate the front page with the court decision earning a headline across the front page; "Browns told: Stay put!" of about 8 inches across the page with a four column, five inch color photo of the lawyers examining the decision. Inside there was another page of material and another editorial.

Two days later, Nov. 27, a protest rally, led by a Cleveland comedian from a TV sit-com was on the front page again, with a four column, five inch color photo of him and a small crowd of protestors! "Rally a bright spot on a glum day." The Browns lost to Pittsburgh.

On Nov. 30, Mayor Mike White was again holding a pep rally and the Pee Dee thought it deserved coverage. The mayor is depicted with a sign, "NFL - No Fan Loyalty," in a six inch, four column color photo. Another 12 inches of coverage, four columns wide dominated the page, along side an article that Revco and Rite Aid had merged, a deal that would eliminate 1,100 jobs. Inside, the story took another full page, including the chart with telephone and fax numbers urging Clevelanders to contact NFL owners.

There were a number of other page one stories of modest size until Dec. 10 when again the rallying cry was on Page one as the main story. This time a two column four-and-a-half inch headline with subhead: "Cleveland fighting to keep itself in the game," told of more White strategy on the "Save Our Browns" campaign, there were two inside articles.

On Dec. 11, it was again in the familiar top right hand front page spot as the lead article: "NFL chief says league wants team in Cleveland," a three inch, two column headline. On the 12th, there was an editorial, another inside story and a column. On the 14th it was again modestly on the front page and took more inside space of nearly a page, including the chart with telephone and fax numbers.

On Dec. 15, the top of the front page was again devoted to the Browns issue - a conference of some mayors called by White. Another four inches of headlines and sub-headlines. The rest of the top of the front page was dominated by the baseball team's signing of Jack w McDowell with a five plus inch deep, four column photo of the pitcher Jack McDowell holding his baseball shirt with a "Jacobs Field, home of the Indians," in the background. The article took eight-and-one-half inches, four columns wide.

On Dec. 16, the entire top of the front page once again has the same theme with the headline; "Cities united to block NFL moves." A five column, five inch deep color photo of White and other mayors dominated more than 10 inches of space, across the top of the entire page. Inside was another full page which allowed Al Lerner, Modell friend and money-man, an opportunity to put some counter spin on the story.

On Dec. 17, it was Brownsmania again, this time with the bold headline: "The No. 1 fans," with sub-head more than two inches deep, accompanied by a three column, nine inch color photo of a costumed fan with the famed Dawg mask. The space allotted: 12 inches, four columns wide, with another two articles inside and run-over amounting to about another page of space. Once again, this doesn't include sports page coverage.

The next day, Dec. 18, it was the same pandering to fans. Under the headline, "A fan farewell," of three inches depth was a posed photo of Big Dawg (John Thompson) of more than six inches in depth and five columns wide. He's looking out at the field in an empty stadium. The Page One coverage was 13 inches, five columns wide, again totally dominating the front page.

With the football season over and the holiday season in full swing, the Browns story went inside but it wasn't long before the front page was again about Modell and the Browns.

On Dec. 24, Modell"s photo greeted readers, a five-and-a-half inch, four column photo of Modell's face from chin to cut off forehead. The headline and subhead of two inches: "Bitter end. How Art Modell's on-again, off-again love affair with Cleveland finally ground to a halt." There were two full pages inside.

That wasn't enough. The second section had a three column, eight inch photo of Pat Modell and another of son David, jaw jutted with cigar, and a full run-over page. Admirably, the Pee Dee had space for an article urging concern for the poor, too.

There was an inside second section piece on Dec. 25 and by Dec. 27, the story was back on Page One with a piece headlined: "Doubt grow on fixing Stadium," a piece that was to begin the softening of public opinion for constructing a new stadium rather than renewing the old. Another full page followed inside.

With the mayor out of town on vacation, everyone took a few days off but by Jan. 1, the story was back, though on the front page of the second section.

By Jan. 2 it was dominating the front page once again, with a two-and-one-half inch, two line headline: "White faces NFL crunch time," and a subhead. Once again, Mayor White's photo accompanies the article, a three column, four-and-one-half inch color photo. What's interesting is that it shows White with council president Jay Westbrook, both peering at paperwork, seemingly together on the same page. But the mayor and council president have been feuding and White has almost totally isolated the council and its president. The photo, seemingly telling the public the two are cooperating on the Browns problem, is six months old. Another article has Modell telling how he had been wronged. The front page again is dominated by the issue with four columns, 14 inches deep and nearly a full runover page.

It's now two months into the saga and White is again on Page One the next day with a three column story on another Save Our Browns rally at city hall. On the next day, Jan. 5, once again the top of the front page, with a four column-two line headline, is devoted to the stadium issue, again telling readers that the city may have to up the ante with a new stadium, quoting various NFL sources. On the 6th, it's again front page, only a one column head, again on the subject of a new stadium.

On Jan. 7, across the top of the front page, there it is again: "Browns' woes run deep," with a sub-head that "Modell's spending, debt show Stadium is not only issue." with a full page inside and another long piece on Lerner on the front page of the second section. Inside, an editorial further comments on "Modell's woes."

On Jan. 8 there was no Browns news but that didn't stop the Pee Dee from creating another Page One piece, this time to "cope" with the Browns situation, an article on Cleveland baseball nostalgia, three columns, eight inches on the bottom of the page, a front page promo for the baseball team's shop at Jacobs Field.

On Jan. 11, the Pee Dee is encouraging fans to use the Internet to expand the protest, giving the codes to tap into the electronic mail. On the 12th, the story is back on the front page, though on the bottom this time, hurt by a murder case involving a white, suburban woman that dominates the top of the page. But the Browns issue gets three columns, six inches plus with two stories. One tells of free cellular calls via Ameritech to harrass NFL owners; the other a piece on "Browns fans light up Internet." The Pee Dee cooperates with a box listing sites for the free cellular locations and once again the listing of NFL phone and fax numbers.

The next day, Jan. 13, we are back on the top of the front page with the city, another four plus inch headline with subhead: "City accuses Maryland, Modell of conspiracy," a result of another White press conference calling for$300 million in damages. On Jan. 14, the story moves to the front page of the second section as White readies his visit to Atlanta to present his argument for keeping the Browns before the NFL owners who may or may not vote on the Browns move on the 17th.

Throughout all this heavy coverage, the Pee Dee reporters never attempted to test whether there were some elements of public opinion that saw the hysteria being created to "save" a football team with hundreds of millions of public dollars as wasteful, obscene self-gratification not in the best interests of the community. Even the small group that had been used as an opposing voice in the sin tax extension vote was ignored.

The Pee Dee itself was primed for one-sided, World War III patriotic coverage of the Browns with its earlier excesses over the Cleveland Indians success and the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum earlier in the year when the same kinds of gigantic headlines and coverage that sought any kind of trivia as legitimate news.

What's more important was the newspaper's overall modus operand! of joining the chorus of civic propaganda that Cleveland was, in stages of promotion, first, a "Comeback City;" second, a "Renaissance City;" and now, "A new American City." This was a task that required the newspaper to turn its back *on the city's problems and spend much of its time, energy and space telling not only Clevelanders but others that Cleveland was magically transforming itself.

The effort started most dramatically with the coverage of the Rock Hall. On August 27, a Sunday newspaper, nearly all the newspaper was devoted to the Rock Hall with a 52 page souvenir section. Every other section similarly had the theme subject matter.

For a community that had unfairly taken blows for years from national media which used its problems, including its political financial default in the 1970s, as simplified symbols of rust belt city decline, the new attention was a sweet sort of revenge, if it hadn't, just as unfairly, symbolized a comeback that was so narrow that it distorted the health of the community. The national news media and reporters from publication after publication BOUGHT the Cleveland comeback story by limiting attention to a few glitzy achievements downtown and a winning baseball team.

What the Pee Dee did was move the momentum of celebration and self back-patting by civic leaders to such an extreme that the newspaper seemed unable to balance its coverage and had become a willing, undiscriminating cheerleader, forgetting even the conventional "objective" reporting newspapers espouse as a sign of their neutrality.

By mid-September the Pee Dee's civic boosting news coverage revealed its tremendous community impact. On Sept. 17, in a double-line main headline across four of the seven column front page told the story: "Tribe ticket callers crash phone system." A reported 1.3 million calls for playoff game tickets were made in a five hour period, crippling the area's phone system. A photo showed a desperate looking woman, holding her head, as she worked the telephone for tickets, her husband looking on despondently.

The ticket crisis continued to make front page headline news until Sept. 27 when morning readers were greeted with a four column, top of the page, five inch deep color photo of a team employee amid a pile of some 2 million requests for playoff tickets, as a change was made from telephone to post office requests for seats. The Pee Dee had previously printed an order form as "news" devoting a nearly six inch, three column box for fans to mail in.

As one social scientist asked rhetorically, what does it mean when tens of thousands of people make more than a million telephone calls on a matter "as inconsequential as a fucking ball game?" One thing it means, I believe, is that the media are powerful instruments in creating consumption, not only of things but of experience, which has become a powerful form of consumption in this society. The page one treatment of the ticket episode was only a tempered preliminary to the pandering exaggeration of coverage of the baseball post season play. All editorial restraint disappeared.

Day after day, the Pee Dee headlined the playoffs and series on page one, often with a one word line and white space more than two inches deep and usually with an exclamation point, as if it needed emphasis. There was "Sweep!;" "Even!;" "On to Atlanta!;" "Let the games begin!;" "Fiddlesticks!;" "Back to Atlanta!; and "Unforgettable."

Most of the coverage took up either the total front page or most of it. Inside, of course, was more coverage, plus the sports pages. And, of course, souvenir sections. It had become the editorial drug of choice. It was dosed out to the public, not simply because there was true joy over a winning team after so many (41) pennant-less seasons but also because it validated the comeback theme and the multimillions of tax dollars spent for wealthy team owners.

The news pandering has spread into the consciousness of the community. This back-slapping, feel good, servile toadying is infectious, as is the victimization of the Browns issue, in the community and helps form a sickening atmosphere of accepting the status quo and not looking at our problems. We are being conned into accepting frivolous entertainment as news and building our public discourse and decisions not on the First Amendment foundation of a free press but on the triviality of sports and entertainment. It allows those who seize and control the resources of the community to go unexamined.

Even Alex Machaskee - not that he'll really do anything about it -realizes how off course his newspaper has steered us. In his annual message he tried to highlight the plight of the Cleveland schools as the community's major problem. 'It is morally wrong to let these children flounder. I'm sure that when we look into our hearts, our core values demand that we take some responsibility for giving these children a chance," he wrote.

But when it has come to relieving the schools of tax funds for Gateway or the Rock Hall, the Pee Dee and Machaskee had no qualms about where they stood. It was not with the children of the Cleveland schools. Instead, they supported tax abatements and diversions to those projects from the schools. Whether that money would have made significant difference in the school situation isn't the question. More important was the message of the choice that was made.

How successful has the Pee Dee been in its promotion of the city and its present agenda can be attested by the fact that there is not one single voice of any significance in the community, and only echoes in the rest of the media, that speaks in opposition to the corporate agenda as championed by Ohio's largest.


( categories: )

the costs associated with bread & circuses

Indians - player's salaries

Browns - player's salaries

Cavs - player's salaries

Apparently the sports teams are feeling the pinch, too:


Maybe we could just get back to games as games - I enjoyed little league more than the cattle calls of the pricey major league sports - but that's just me. For little league and school teams, there was no televised coverage with aerial shots via the Goodyear blimp. We just went to the ballpark and encouraged sportsmanlike behavior in our kids. Then we returned to our grown up jobs.

Will there be a place for this sort of extravagance in a new economy? When enough of us are unemployed will we turn our attention to the thievery right under our noses? Or will we be happy to do as our Marie Antoinette style government expects of us and be happy to eat cake?

Some in our world are not pleased with the cake plan. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. What's the solution? I don't surely know, but I suspect it isn't expensive sports.