McNamara rips would-be Globe owner on political ads

Eileen McNamara
Eileen McNamara

Former Boston Globe legend Eileen McNamara has posted some disturbing news about Aaron Kushner, who tried to buy the Globe a few years ago and who may make another run at the paper now that the New York Times Co. has put it up for sale.

Writing for the Cognoscenti site at WBUR.org, McNamara reports that Kushner — a Boston-area native who bought the Orange County Register in 2012 — did exactly the wrong thing when two city councilors complained about an ad placed by a citizens group called Save Anaheim. The ad accused them of violating California’s open meeting law — accurately, according to McNamara. But Kushner’s response was to tell his advertising department to stop taking ads that criticize politicians by name.

(The story was first reported by Voice of Orange County, which McNamara credits.)

McNamara writes:

It is hard enough for grassroots organizations to be heard in politics in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which allows corporations to dump unlimited amounts of cash into the electoral process. A free and independent press is all we have to level the playing field. Save Anaheim’s protests online are little match for the bullhorn wielded by City Hall, especially if the city’s largest newspaper refuses to carry its dissenting views to a wider audience.

McNamara, a Brandeis professor who won a Pulitzer Prize back when she was a Globe columnist, says that when she reached out to Kushner for comment, he declined the opportunity. [But see update below.] So can we call that strike two? To be fair, Kushner did talk with Voice of Orange County, saying he acted not to curry favor with the councilors but because “we don’t like negative political advertisements.”

As McNamara notes, Kushner has been winning plaudits for investing in the Register rather than cutting its budget, although it remains to be seen whether his print-centric approach will pay off in the long run.

For Globe-watchers, it’s been easy to fantasize about Kushner — possibly allied with the members of the Taylor family, who used to own the paper — returning it to its status as a locally owned institution.

Well, maybe not so fast.

Update: Kushner has now posted a comment to McNamara’s item. Among other things, he says was concerned that the Save Anaheim ad could have resulted in a libel suit against the Register. Not sure that I agree, but his response is detailed, thoughtful and civil.

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