Page Two

The paper for Central Texas reminded us again this week that it is still very much run out of Atlanta, Georgia.

Page Two
The paper for Central Texas reminded us again this week that it is still very much run out of Atlanta, Georgia. In the Statesman, there was not only an ad but also an editorial on an important political issue. The environment? Well, no. Labor, abortion, health care, social services, public transportation, roads, suburban sprawl, urban congestion? No, not those either. The ad and the editorial were in favor of repealing the estate tax. This probably won't impact most of you, but it will save the Cox family, who owns the Statesman, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Certainly there are two sides to the argument over the estate tax. If either Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro or I were to suddenly die, it would create financial problems for our families and, conceivably, could affect the future of this paper. But when was the last time the Statesman ran an advertisement supporting a political position? (Check out the "Naked City" section in this issue for a copy of the ad.) That seems outrageous enough, but then in Wednesday's Statesman, a long editorial against the estate tax appeared.

There are, as I said, two sides to this story. There are strong arguments in favor of the estate tax, some of which have been made by people like Warren Buffet. You wouldn't know this from the Statesman. They argue that "The tax -- billed as a 'soak the rich' scheme -- will begin to affect more and more households as baby boomers begin to build on the wealth accumulated by their parents ... That will include as many as 2.8 million estates worth over $1 million or more over 20 years." The 2.8 million figure sounds impressive -- until you realize you're talking about 1% of the population, spread over 20 years. The New York Times just ran an article, and the Statesman reprinted it, about how the estate tax had not forced the loss of even one family farm -- even though repeal is often positioned as a "save the family farm" measure. In the Statesman it was "save the family-owned newspaper" which, technically, the Statesman is. Cox is a $2-3 billion family-owned company, run by the two Cox sisters, and it owns the Austin American-Statesman, along with many other media properties.

This piece is not about the estate tax. It is about the Statesman. When Politics Editor Michael King talked to Jay Smith at Cox in Atlanta, Smith pointed out that he decided to run the ads, prepared by a national newspaper association, and had not, in any way, been influenced by the Cox sisters. Smith said he sent the ads out and hoped all the Cox papers would run them. When Michael King told me this, I burst out laughing.

In the editorial, the Statesman acknowledged the conflict of interest. But in reality, repealing the estate tax will mostly benefit the well-off, which is not to argue it. It will be, of course, most beneficial to the super-rich, like the Cox family. It is an oddly deceptive campaign the Statesman is waging against this tax. Their reasoning is that this is a tax that is bad for the economy, and everyone hates it, so it is time to repeal it. The truth is that most people don't care about it and probably shouldn't. In both the ad and the editorial, an elitist position has been presented as a populist cause. Rarely is the Statesman so blatant in the way it is manipulated -- but that doesn't suggest how often it is or isn't.

For the meat-and-potatoes coverage, see King's report in "Naked City." But ask yourself, when was the last time the Statesman ran its own political ad? The major factor in running the ad and the editorial was not the well-being of most of the community. It may have been the Cox's sisters' wealth. This shouldn't be the inspiration for our daily's most militant political action in years.

The good news is that everyone at the Statesman must feel even more secure about their jobs, even in this failing economy. One of the editorial's arguments in favor of repeal was that family-owned companies don't have to be overly concerned about profit. Unlike the evil "Wall Street" (where "it's never enough"), they place people and quality over making money.

The Chronicle Hill Country Food and Wine Guide first ran several years ago, and we have updated it regularly since. This year we originally planned to just run another update. Publisher Nick Barbaro suggested it was time to run the whole guide rather than just an update, and the staff quickly agreed. This was a decision made on last Thursday or Friday (after our regular editorial meeting). When someone finally got around to mentioning this to Food Editor Virginia Wood, she was quite surprised. Not only was she the last one told, but she was also the editor/writer who was going to have to do the most work on it. Just to make this a little more painful, this is the same period of time as the Austin Wine and Food Festival. Suddenly, Virginia Wood had even more work in an already packed schedule. She insisted on revising and updating the entries to be most useful to the reader. Amazingly, she got it done. Now it's up to you! Get in your car, canoe, or bike, go camping, shopping, hiking, boating, and get out of town sometime in the next couple of weeks. Here are places at which to reward yourself along the way. end story

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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