MCR in Washington Post spotlight

Ann Knef Dec. 6, 2004, 10:03am

Jeff Birnbaum

The Madison County Record splashed onto the front page of the liberal-leaning Washington Post Dec. 6, causing a ripple of national and local media curiosity and criticism.

"Advocacy Groups Blur Media Lines: Some Push Agendas By Producing Movies, Owning Newspapers," an article written by Washington Post staff writer Jeff Birnbaum, discusses the relationship between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Madison County Record.

"The chamber is one of a growing number of advocacy groups that blur the distinction between legitimate media and propaganda to promote their causes," wrote Birnbaum. His report states that the Chamber has partial ownership of the Record.

Located just blocks away from the Madison County Courthouse, the Madison County Record--which primarily covers civil court action in southern Illinois--launched its first edition Sept. 7.

Record Publisher Brian Timpone said the newspaper's business relationship with the Chamber does not de-legitimize its mission, which is to fill a void in Courts coverage.

"Civil courts, and Madison County's, in particular, have a significant impact on our lives," he said. "The attention we give to the Madison County Circuit is not unearned. People are starved for information.

"We fill a news void with fair and objective reporting," he said.

Birnbaum, who also is a Fox News analyst, asked the Chamber's chief legal officer, Stanton D. Anderson, why the pro-business group chose to get involved in the newspaper business.

"We wanted to educate [the people] that their county is the laughingstock of the country," Anderson was quoted as saying.

Several days after Birnbaum's report first appeared in the Washington Post, it was featured on National Public Radio's "Marketplace."

The story was picked up by many news outlets across the country and commentary provided by a sampling of journalism professors agreed with Birnbaum's premise.

The Record also received front page coverage by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as well as a blistering editorial which argues the MCR is not a credible news source because of its ties to the Chamber.

"The Madison County Record has chosen to obscure the fact that it is owned by a giant national business lobbying group. In the process, it's torn its credibility to shreds," according to the Post-Dispatch Dec. 10 editorial.

But a countering view delivered by Ronald Bailey of Reason Online, suggested that readers are smarter than they are given credit.

"The Washington Post published another story Monday about how poor dumb Americans are being duped by advocacy organizations who are apparently posing as real live journalists," writes Bailey.

"The Post's condescension to the world's savviest media consumers is breathtaking. At no time in history has it been easier for viewers, listeners and readers to find out who is behind articles, shows, or publications."

"What must the ink-stained wretches over at the Post think of the publications like The New Republic, The Nation, The Village Voice, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Mother Jones and, of course, Reason? Not to mention The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Earth Journal, Grist, Worldwatch Magazine, Organic Style, Vegetarian Times, Life Extension Magazine, Ecology and on and on and on."

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