Home » » The New Yorker magazine runs a (mostly) fair & balanced story on Roger and Beth Ailes and their effort to bring honest journalism to a little corner of New York State. And the result, the New Yorker agrees, is a win-win for the people of Putnam County.

The New Yorker magazine runs a (mostly) fair & balanced story on Roger and Beth Ailes and their effort to bring honest journalism to a little corner of New York State. And the result, the New Yorker agrees, is a win-win for the people of Putnam County.

Written By mista sense on Monday, January 24, 2011 | 8:42 PM

When The Cable Gamer heard, a little while ago, that The New Yorker magazine was planning a big piece on Roger Ailes and his ownership of the Putnam County News & Recorder newspaper (actually, his wife Beth Ailes owns and runs the paper, but close enough), she was worried. The New Yorker, after all, is a legendarily liberal magazine--a magazine written by, and for, snobby liberals.

And when TCG saw the actual article in the mag, and its headline: "Fox Among the Chickens: Roger Ailes' upstate newspaper war," she was even more alarmed.  Uh oh, she thought to herself: Another Esquire-like hit piece.   But as she read the article, she started to relax.  And by the end of the article, she was charmed by the work of writer Peter Boyer

The piece tells a tale of Putnam County, NY, up the Hudson River, near West Point.  Specifically, the old factory town of Cold Spring; a major armaments maker in the 19th century, the industry died in the 20th century.  Now, in the 21st century, the town is full of the descendants--most of them, seemingly, Italian--of those factory workers, plus a bunch of liberal yuppies who have moved in from New York City.  As Boyer, puts it--revealing his own smug biases, the town "held a certain allure for people shop- ping for a home town unfreighted by conventional suburban vulgarities."  We can note the snobbery here: "held a certain allure" means that the rich NYC-ers would see the locals as cute and quaint, certainly not equals.   But from a NYC point of view, anything was better than "conventional suburban vulgarities."  That's pretty much the New Yorker worldview. 

But in terms of the on-the-ground dynamic in Putnam County, we can see the class divide : relatively middle class "townies," plus rich newcomers, or "carpetbaggers."  The townies worry about jobs and growth, the carpetbaggers worry about their views.

Into this world, a few years back, came Roger and Beth Ailes, looking for a weekend home.  And yet the Aileses were different than the usual NYC immigrants.   For one thing, they were nice to the locals; not only did they not look down on them, they helped them.  As Boyer records:

A story told around town, even by Roger Ailes’s critics, is of a Main Street shopkeeper verging on insolvency who told his tale to Ailes and received a cash loan. “Everybody laughed at that, because they knew Ailes would never get it back,” one of the townspeople told me.

Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Ailes sided with the ordinary people against an abusive local power structure.  In 2007, for example, the country proposed a 40 percent property tax increase; that got the attention of everyone.  The folowing year, the couple bought the PCN&R.   All of a sudden, the liberal orthodoxy of the elite found a challenge.   And that's the story Boyer tells, at some length.

Under new management, the PCN & R. pointed out that Putnam County’s property taxes are the tenth highest in the nation, and yet at the same time, students there do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  So in the spirit of transparency, the PCN & R published the salaries of top officials in the school district.  As Boyer relates:

The paper published the salaries of every local school administrator and teacher. Parents learned that Gloria Colucci, the super- intendent of the one-school, two- hundred-and-sixty-student Garrison Union Free School District, earned $164,000. Stephanie Impellittiere, the Garrison principal, earned $123,745. Mary Foppiano, a middle-school social-studies teacher, was paid $104,683.

These were victories for open government, as Boyer seems to concede.  And a reminder of the importance of local journalism, to ferret out, or at least identify, local abuses and issues. 

Meanwhile, the PCN & R did other cheeky things, too, such as (gasp) celebrate Christmas in Christian terms.  As Boyer puts it, "During Christmas Week, the paper wished readers a 'MERRY CHRISTMAS,'  printed in huge green- and-red lettering above the banner."  The paper also published a multi-week series on the Federalist Papers, which, as Boyer relates, upset many of the NYC crowd. 

But perhaps most significantly, the PCN & R openly took the side of local landowners against environmental snobs who wanted to snuff out even such non-threatening activities as building a barn on their own property.  Even Boyer admires the newly revitalized PCN & R:

The paper itself is a manifest improvement over its previous version, in both style and substance; there is no shortage of local trifles (“Audubon Hosts Bird Seed Sale”), and the bigger issues most important to the community are fully engaged, however provocatively.

Yet not everyone is an admirer of the rejuvenated PCN & R, that's for sure.  One of those NYC newcomers/non-admirers is a man named Gordon Stewart, whose main claim to fame is that he helped former president Jimmy Carter write his diasastrous "malaise" speech at the White House in 1979; despite that failure, he seems to have ended up with a lot of money, that allowed him to buy six acres of land in Putnam County. 

Whereupon, Stewart, opposed to just about everything that the Aileses wished to do, started his own online paper, Philipstown.info.   As Boyer explains, this is a good thing, not a bad thing, because competition, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice are good thing.  Putnam County seems to have genuine diversity of thinking, and so why not have two publications?  Here's Boyer: 

Stewart’s online creation seems aimed at a different segment of the community from the one that the P.C.N. & R. covers. In the Calendar of Events for January 13th, Philipstown.info carried announcements for the Garrison Institute’s Zen Center for Contemplative Care and a screening of the film “Made in Dagenham.” The P.C.N. & R.’s listings for the same day included a meet- ing of the Putnam Valley Zoning Board of Appeals and a workshop at the local firehouse. It may be that the Aileses and Stewart, with the P.C.N. & R. and Philipstown.info, have achieved a kind of symbiosis, beneficial to the community. Many places a thousand times larger are served by only a single newspaper; Philipstown now has two, each distinctly better than what was there before.

And that's the secret right there: Both publications--the one owned by the Aileses and the one owned by Stewart--are better as a result of choice and competition.  That's the American Way; a win-win for everyone.    And even the New Yorker magazine--at least in the form of reporter Boyer--agrees that's a good thing.

It would have been nice if Boyer had spent more time considering the merits of the tax and environmental issues that are being argued in Putnam County--and by extension, around the country--but you can't have everything.    Boyer can never completely escape, even if he wanted to, the elitist biases of the people who pay his salary. 

The picture above is of pretty and perky Beth Ailesm, obviously enoying her presiding role at the PCN & R.  Interestingly, the nice pic is from the New Yorker article.  As noted, much to the surprise of TCG, it wasn't a bad article, not at all.

TCG reckons that maybe the liberal establishment is slowly figuring out that there's more to America than the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the West Side of Los Angeles, and are thus forced to provide more fair coverage to the whole of America.  If so, then Roger Ailes really has succeeded.

But only in part, because there's more to be done.  We need about a million more PCN & R's, across the country.

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