Hard to believe that it has been 15 years since I ended a singular attempt to cover the machinations of the city’s political and power people and institutions. The quest was via a small newsletter called point of viǝw.
In my “Saying Goodbye” message in December 2000 to subscribers I tried to offer a rationale for doing what I did.
Now it is 15 years later that I have used the same modus operandi to continue the same pursuit.
I wrote in Vol. 33 No. 5:
The great advantage of being able to write point of viǝw all these years has been the unfettered freedom it has offered me to observe this community using my own judgment. The great press critic A. J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.”
POV never actually owned a printing press but was able to control what was in the newsletter simply by paying the bill to have it printed. Over the years I’ve had a number of printers I owe thanks to for being willing to print what might have caused them problems. Only one—a printer located across from a police station—opted out after printing pov for some time for fear of possible retaliation. Ironic, should a location near a police station insure added safety?
POV hopefully has often revealed what seems to be isn’t always what is.
The freedom to speak frankly gave me the ability to critically examine people, institutions and events by my standard, not simply following media conventional wisdom. It afforded me the opportunity rarely enjoyed by reporters working for traditional news outlets. Other reporters are bound by the strictures related to making a profit, satisfying the powerful and, most important, a worldview that demands protecting the status quo of those who exert power in a city. Major news media outlets are businesses, thus share the community or interest with major businesses and institutions…
I hope what pov has tried to be—contrary and, as I wrote in an opening letter to potential subscribers, “religiously irreverent when and as often as necessary.”
This freedom almost automatically allows someone willing to examine how power works in a community the ability to look beyond accepted and conventional thinking. You begin to see from perspectives that open new opportunities for judgments. You open for yourself insights that are always there but remain closed down for lack of any incentive to take roads less traveled.
The results often aren’t acceptable to conventional intelligence because they invite impolite conclusions about supposed polite society. “Sometimes it’s important to be impolite,” I.F. Stone once said. This radical approach is crucial because it helps one avoid viewing the world as framed by those with power, as conventional reporters so religiously follows…
Most of us know in our gut that major undertakings—what’s built in a community, what’s not; what gets financed, what doesn’t; who is taxed, who isn’t—are controlled generally by faceless interests. There may be special committees. They meet first in private and after they have made the decisions they seek “public input” to legitimize their results. The members are never examined as to their self-interests or the community of interest that they represent, which are usually highly suspect. They are typically funded at the start by so-called charitable do-good, clean-hand instruments—Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, etc.,—then pushed along by other civic clean-hand fronts like Cleveland Tomorrow or the Downtown Cleveland Partnership.
These names have changed over the years but an examination of 32 plus years of POV shows that the motivations and activities don’t change but are rarely, if ever, examined by any local media in anything but reverential terms. We are supposed to accept their decisions as neutrally made.
The Downtown Partnership would be typical of organizations spotlighted in POV through the years. A relatively newly created entity to do the bidding of our oligarchs, the Downtown Partnership works, as it tells the IRS for its charitable designation to “engage in the coordination and facilitation of planning, design and implementation of economic and community development for the public benefit and social welfare.”
What it does isn’t necessarily all bad but it is a private entity doing public work about which the public knows little, if anything. A main purpose is to lobby for public funds to subsidize private interests along Euclid Avenue and downtown. It helped push the $320 million redo of Euclid Avenue Corridor project via transit funds. Taxpayers even generously contribute annually to the Partnership’s work to help it lobby their public depending for these private interests: RTA, $20,000 (contribution); County Port Authority, $20,000; County Commissioners, $20,000; City of Cleveland, $20,000 in the most recent available accounting (1998) shows.
Can we expect our one-newspaper-town newspaper to critically examine such institutions that play powerful roles in how public resources are expended? Not likely. The Plain Dealer has been giving $10,000 annually to the Downtown Partnership.
Similarly, Cleveland Tomorrow (now Partnership allied)—which has played a crucial and successful role in major subsidized projects downtown—reported donations of $68,700 from the Plain Dealer in its latest IRS report and $186,000 from the Newhouse (PD owner) Foundation. Doesn’t that contaminate its coverage not only of Cleveland Tomorrow but also of all the projects—Gateway, Browns Stadium and a host of subsidies—pursued by Cleveland Tomorrow? Don’t contributions of those amounts by a newspaper and its tributary foundation place the newspaper—and eventually its reporter and editors—in a position of conflict of interest?
How can you trust the coverage of a newspaper that puts itself in such a position? Particularly in a one-newspaper town. Liebling also wrote: “A city with one newspaper…is like a man with one eye, and often the eye is glass.” I’d have to go a bit farther and say his one eye sees with only one point of view.
You have to watch in particular those institutions that society generally deems “good,” because often that’s the facade behind which those institutions do what the powerful need to have done. After all they are funded by wealthy interests so how can anyone believe that they will not serve those interests?
This in part was the service that Point of Viǝw provided, poking at such institutions and their ties to wealthy interests in town. It was job that unfortunately you could never expect the conventional media to perform.
Reporting at the Plain Dealer on urban renewal, welfare and social issues during the mid-1960s gave me an advantage to view a power structure under severe pressure. It provided me insights that I could later use to weigh how powerful institutions work behind scenes.
In the 1960s, the times and their emergencies forced the usually unknown (accept in receiving accolades) oligarchs to reveal themselves making decisions to restore stability (which they didn’t do until the 1980s). Stability for ruling oligarchs means the smooth ability to make decisions with little public scrutiny.
Even under conventional news coverage, I had always been aware that those reporters who gained knowledge by covering some of these issues usually ended up being promoted, going to new jobs, etc., taking with them the institutional memory that might help them and the public see how events are interlinked. Further, reporters seemed to know the acceptable bounds of criticism of elites and remain well within them to save causing friction. POV allowed the luxury of forgetting such limits.
Being independent gave POV the ability to remain narrow in its coverage and relentless (to the point of being criticized as boringly repetitious) in intensity and repeated coverage of certain issues. With columns in the Cleveland Edition (thanks to Bill Gunlocke) and the Free Times (thanks to the late Richard Siegel and successors) over nearly the last 15 years, there’s a record for our times that differs sharply from the of the conventional media.
In reviewing some material trying to write this final issue, I was struck by a quote from me in James Aronson’s 1972 book, “Deadline for the Media:” “I even feel it a bit of a loss when I become real to a reader by meeting him or her. There’s a feeling I get from people that they think POV appears somehow mysteriously since it appears to have no financial backing and no organization backing or producing it.” (He also reminded me that the rumor in the early days was that Cyrus Eaton was financing the newsletter. Not hardly. It was even being prepared for production on a borrowed electric typewriter in 1972)…
Though the times today differ dramatically with the 1960s when POV was started, the conditions do not. Our society’s view of what can be done about such conditions has changed to a frightening degree. We are in a period when the conditions that once brought protest and a desire to correct human problems leave too many of us, sadly, incapable of even seeking solutions.
During these binge economic times, America’s leadership became more malevolent toward those with needs. At a prosperous time when you shouldn’t have to be concerned about reactionary policies a whiff of neo-nazi attitudes should warn us that it can happen here. The overwhelming African-American (Who knows oppression here better?) vote against George W. Bush, and thus Republicans represents America’s canary call to beware the reactionary direction we are heading.
Though you won’t be seeing these pages anymore I hope to continue to follow a while longer my adopted motto of unknown origin: “I shall continues to be impossible so long as those who are now possible remain possible.”
I followed with this final little squib:
NOTE TO ME IN 1966 FROM PLAIN DEALER EDITOR:
“Good job on the sad case of the waitress who has too much money taken out of her paycheck.
“Incidentally, I’m sorry to learn that you are leaving us. Your work in the last year has indicated that your future was pretty bright.”
Signed: P. (Phillip) W. Porter, Executive Editor.
Thankfully, Cleveland State University’s Memory site has preserved all 32 years of Point of Viǝw.
There are POV issues that tell comprehensive pieces that can be accessed by searching: “30 Years of Shaming Devils” and “Who Really Governs” (25 years of Cleveland Mayors).
October 14th, 2015