Stop the presses! Here come the documents of secrecy, stonewalling, and collaboration from the nation's biggest chains (Hearst, Singleton, Gannett, Stephens) Why people get mad at the media (l4)


By Bruce B. Brugmann

As expected, Federal Judge Susan Illston ruled on Tuesday April l0 that Clint Reilly can go to trial in his antitrust suit opposing the Hearst/Singleton deal to monopolize the Bay Area newspaper market.

The San Francisco Daily, a free daily, played the story the way it ought to be played: on the front page, with a strong head, "Newspaper monopoly trial allowed, Bid to block it quashed," and a good lead that said, "A federal judge yesterday cleared the way for an unprecedented jury trial to determine if the consolidation of newspapers in the Bay Area violated antitrust laws."

The Chronicle and the Singleton papers continued to run the story as if it were a rummy little squabble between a lone angry reader and a big company out there somewhere, without any redeeming journalistic or public interest values.
But the Chronicle did move the story from its usual burial spot in the business section to a new burial spot: straddling the fold on page 4 of its Bay Area section with yet another Rip Van Winkle sleeper head, "Judge permits trial over newspaper deals."

The story is even harder to find on the Chronicle's website. When I checked about 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, It ranked 23rd on the list of Bay Area stories, behind Farley the cartoon strip, and behind such blazers as "Bay Bridge Labor Day closure may begin early" and "Rain, rain will go away--'til possibly Saturday" and "Out to pasture they go--3 police horses retire/Long in the tooth, these mounts head to Santa Rosa ranch" and "Muni breakdown creates delays." However, it did rank ahead of "Miniature boats provide major fun."

More: not only are the Galloping Conglomerati blacking out and mangling a major story involving their own papers,
but worse they are continuing to reverse their own historic free press and sunshine-in-the-courts positions. They are continuing to press the documents of secrecy, stonewalling, and collaboration in federal court to cover their
moves to monopoly.

Alas, Illston allowed the publishers to keep their records sealed, and the Reilly responses sealed, in their latest filings on April 6, despite her earlier order to open the court records on the demand of the Guardian and the Media Alliance. (The Guardian is appealing her decision and will continue to press to open up the records and keep them open throughout the trial, which is scheduled to begin on April 30.)

Too bad. You can tell, just by glancing at the extensive list of Reilly declarations and records that the publishers want to keep under seal, that there is a lot of explosive stuff in the hopper. Meanwhile, the Riley case remains the only major impediment to the Hearst/Singleton deal. And I am getting the impression that Riley is building a strong case and that Hearst and Singleton are getting extremely nervous about the outcome. It's going to be a helluva trial.

Check the publishers' filings below for a preview of coming attractions and the lengths to which they will go behalf of court secrecy and stonewalling. Check also the move by the Guardian attorneys, the First Amendment Project in Oakland, to request Illston to review her sealing order. Most important, check Illston's excellent, well-reasoned order denying summary judgment. She nails the Hearst/Singleton position on point after point. B3

1. Click here to view the declaration of Joseph J. Lodovic, president of MediaNews Group/Singleton

2. Click here to view the declaration of Daniel E. Ehrman J., vice president of planning and development of Gannett

3. Click here to view the proposed order to seal from the San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst, MediaNews Group/Singleton, Stephens Group, Gannett, and California Newspapers partnership (B3: a business partnership of the papers)

4. Click here to view the proposed order to seal from the MediaNews Group/Singleton

5. Click here to view the letter from the Guardian and its First Amendment Project attorneys asking Judge Illston to review her decision allowing the publishers to seal documents

6. Click here to view the Illston order of April l0 denying the Hearst/Singleton motion for summary judgment and giving Clint Reilly standing to sue