The surprising purchase of Baltimore Sun Media from Alden Global Capital has set many media observers, employees and consumers of the 187-year-old newspaper into a state of apprehension. Such a purchase might normally lead to cautious optimism, but the cognitive dissonance of a standard liberal-to-progressive daily, the most prominent newspaper in Maryland, being bought out by the leader of the well-known conservative Sinclair operation sets and should set political apprehensions on high alert.
Speaking at a meeting with members of the newspaper’s staff, Sinclair’s top executive, Baltimore-born David D. Smith, said his main concern was the news organization’s marketability.
The most pessimistic reaction to Smith’s purchase was reported by The Baltimore Brew. The news site reported that at a meeting between Smith and about 50 staffers, those staffers perceived only indifference to their concerns about what a Sinclair-owned Sun would mean at the left-leaning paper. Then there were reactions of shock to Smith’s reportedly cavalier attitude regarding Sun mainstays. For example, he pooh-poohed The Sun’s emphasis on sports and the importance of the paper itself, the staffers reportedly said. I find the sports writers in The Sun simply excellent, by the way.
I have had a long career teaching and writing and being interviewed by newspapers, magazines and electronic media. I have written op-eds and have been a subject of articles for such newspapers as The Sun, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and many others. On broadcast media, I have been interviewed on Sinclair television stations, CNN and the Fox News network as well as on local radio such as WCBM and WBAL in Baltimore.
For several years, the former superb editor of The Sun’s op-ed page, Andrew Green, spoke to my political persuasion class. I asked him about the liberal biases of the newspaper, and he said, with reason, that the paper and its opinion pages were not uniformly progressive.
He asserted that Sun readers were more likely to be liberal than conservative, and it would be newspaper suicide to turn it into a Trump-supporting or even a mostly conservative paper. He also pointed out that there were few conservative matters that were ignored. I argued that a few are under-covered.
I personally have argued during the past 10 years in print and on Fox local news that the issue of absent fathers plays a critical role in Baltimore’s level of violent crime. I have criticized The Sun and other outlets for being unwilling to openly criticize Brandon Scott for what I believe was his fecklessness in dealing with Baltimore’s violence and his open disrespect and hostility toward reporters from Fox affiliates.
When Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, it was pushed to the left, and few have complained. Their great erudite columnist Charles Krauthammer has died, and few seriously conservative columnists are writing there, apart from George F. Will. Will, unlike many of the columnists there, will write about topics ranging from the Supreme Court to Iowa to baseball and football. The expanse of topics is missing, save for Will. Even with the brilliant Will, there are none who write in support or defense of former President Donald Trump.
The Sun once had a tremendously impressive columnist, Gregory Kane, and it used to have a regular column by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. Kane died in 2014, and Ehrlich is no longer writing for The Sun. A quick bit of advice for Mr. Smith from a conservative longtime Sun reader: I’m not a fan of Dan Rodricks’ viewpoints, but he is on top of a wide array of Baltimore issues. Keep him, please. Hire a regular conservative columnist like Kane and bring back Gov. Ehrlich (full disclosure, a friend).
You don’t want to destroy The Sun by reversing its tradition. Serious tweaking will do the job. I think Andy Green might reluctantly agree,
Consider this just a bit of advice from an ideologically not unfriendly source.
Richard E. Vatz is professor emeritus of political rhetoric at Towson University and author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model” and many essays and op-eds. He founded the media criticism course at Towson University.