Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part Four

in which we consider the killers themselves


The Times-Picayune began in 1837 as the Picayune-- the price of the paper in its early years, and a word denoting pettiness or triviality. After a rapid rise it absorbed a succession of other dailies, some themselves the results of previous mergers. For a while New Orleans had six daily newspapers, then four, then only two. In 1980, media mogul S.I. Newhouse Sr. merged those two, the States-Item and the Times-Picayune, into one.

Laid off after 118 yrs, the Times-Pic
Weather Frog does what he must.
Although the States-Item and the Times-Picayune had shared an owner since the 30s, they had never been in editorial lockstep. "The different newspapers all served powerful interests, but they at least served different, sometimes competing interests," explained a friend whose family worked for the States-Item. "[Louisiana District Attorney] Jim Garrison was being paid off by the Marcellos. Everyone knew, but only the States-Item people would call him on it. The Times-Picayune would never rock the boat. They were the oil company paper... they were the newspaper that was in Shell's pocket, and they didn't want to upset anyone who made decisions about oil leases or oil companies. The whole city government in Bogalusa was KKK-- the judges were active Klansmen-- and the Times-Picayune wouldn't write about it. They had no incentive."

"When finally there was only one newspaper, it basically tried to please all the powerful interests, by avoiding anything that pissed off anyone with real money. I'm not saying the Times-Pic didn't do some good work, and didn't have some great staffers, but the assholes in charge had to be led by the nose before they'd cover anything controversial." I mentioned the post-Katrina murders by NOPD. "Absolutely," he said. "If the national media hadn't put pressure on the Times-Pic by scooping them over and over, the editors never would've paid any attention. You saw how they ignored it for years. To the owners, articles were filler between ads."


Those owners are the Newhouses. Their patriarch clawed his way to the top of the food chain just a couple generations back, and his successors have thus far managed to remain where their granddaddy put them. They're a clan distinguished not by their methods, merely by their success; they are to media what the Walton family is to retail. Besides a notable aversion to the spotlight, the Newhouses are just run-of-the-mill capitalist pigs-- nepotism, monopoly, occasional philanthropy.

"Shy, short, insecure, awkward,
inarticulate, rude, cruel--
and in his way, brilliant."
The pair of brothers now atop the Newhouse heap, S.I. Newhouse Jr. and Donald, are two of the richest people in the world. They own tons of media, including a cable company (Bright House Networks, roughly 2.2 million subscribers), Condé Nast Publications (Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Wired et al.), around 35 U.S. daily newspapers and 40 weekly regional business journals as well as all those print entities' corresponding websites, most of which use variations of the same awful templates. The Newhouses also own the hellhole of misery that is, about which more later.

Many Forbes-list billionaires, American and otherwise, follow some variant of the Donald Trump behavioral model. In sharp contrast, the various Newhouses have consistently maintained public profiles so low as to be subterranean, an invisibility incongruous with their extraordinary wealth and power. They don't dabble in local or national politics beyond token contributions to the DNC, and aided perhaps their ownership of so many media outlets, they've been able to escape media coverage of their own lives almost entirely. The exceptions are minor: a couple wrangles with the IRS, occasional inclusion in society columns, and a single uninformative, unauthorized 1998 book about the dynasty that hilariously described aging patriarch Si Jr. as "shy, short, insecure, awkward, inarticulate, rude, cruel-- and, in his way, brilliant."

How painstakingly the Newhouses have kept themselves uninteresting may be the only interesting thing about them. Back in the 1930s when the original S.I. Newhouse was building his empire and buying up newspapers left and right, it didn't behoove wealthy Jewish people to crow about their accomplishments. It's pure speculation on my part to suggest the Newhouses' familial creed of secrecy is rooted in the historical realities of antisemitism, but even today, many of the websites which attack the Newhouse media monopoly do so from an explicitly antisemitic perspective.

Newhouses have lived in New Orleans since the 60s. Although a few of their wives have distinguished themselves through charity work, the Newhouse men have never been part of the social scene. A comment on a Gambit blog entry asserts that being Jewish kept them out of our city's inner circles. Though there's no denying the hardline bigotries of our old-line social & carnival club coteries, it's also not clear the Newhouses were interested in joining such organizations.

After a lively career including an Italian knighthood and a stint as executive officer of the CIA's predecessor agency, Norman N. Newhouse (kid brother of S.I. Sr. and uncle of reigning brothers S.I. Jr. and Donald) spent his final decades here in New Orleans, overseeing the Times-Pic as well as a number of the family's other regional holdings. "We are, basically, anonymous people," he said in an interview three years before his death.
We never went in for titles... If I were to walk into a room in New Orleans with the 100 most prominent people in town, there may be two who would know me personally. Most would probably know the name and the connection, but they wouldn't know me personally or recognize me by my face, because my public position is nonexistent.
Steve Newhouse (top),
David Newhouse (bottom)
The crop of Newhouses on their way up the ladder don't seem concerned with New Orleans one way or the other. Advance honcho and heir apparent Steve Newhouse, the man who made the call to have the Times-Picayune shut down, came through the Crescent City only occasionally. Though he owns multiple newspapers, nobody but the New York Times can get a quote from him about the Southern bloodbath he's ordered.

Folks in New Orleans who've dealt with Steve speak of his cold-bloodedness, his disregard for personal niceties and his strikingly un-touristic lack of interest in the city outside his hotel. During his brief visits, those whom he summoned for meetings had to go see him at the hotel, in the same suite he rented each time. It seems the judge who passed the Times-Pic's death sentence didn't care to venture forth from his Windsor Court chambers .

Steve's designated David Newhouse, one of Norman's sons, to oversee this exciting transitional time at the local level. Having edited a newspaper for ten years, David will presumably know how best to kill one. Steve himself hasn't been around lately.

Can you stand to meet one more Newhouse dude? There's one I'm genuinely curious about: Steve's nephew, S.I. Newhouse IV. I really want to know what he thinks about the killing of the Times-Picayune.

S.I. Newhouse IV, from the film "Born Rich"
Mostly known for expressing oedipal angst in the 2003 documentary "Born Rich," fortunate scion Si the Fourth was sent down here after college for "executive training" at the Times-Pic, and I'm told he had a very very good time in New Orleans. What does he think about the firings of all those who helped train him, those who showed him such hospitality? This was where he gained his first "executive" experience, barely a decade ago. Surely you never forget your first executive experience.

Does S.I. IV remember us fondly? He mai er may not. After all, we've been the ruin of many a rich boy. This young up-and-comer might share the opinion of former President Bush, speaking about New Orleans on Sept. 2, 2005: "I believe the town where I used to come to enjoy myself, occasionally too much, will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to."


Now I'm just an ol' spittin' cobra, but even I lack enough venom to adequately excoriate callow, shameless opportunistic tragedy-profiteer Ricky Mathews, the newly Newhouse-appointed president of the newly Newhouse-created NOLA Media Group.

As much as I despise the kind of narcissistic neocolonial fucks who consider our centuries of culture and history a "blank slate" for twee art experiments and corny childish bullshit they'd never try back in their hometowns, as much as I hate entrepreneurial techno-twaddle and "new urbanist" gentrifiers and blog-themed restaurants and Kirsha Kaechele and the Mall on St. Claude et alia ad infinitum, every ounce of that combined vitriol, supersized, is but a fingernail-fraction of what Ricky Mathews deserves.

Ricky Mathews
Can a Southern boy be a Carpetbagger? Ricky Mathews proves it's possible. Wherever something terrible happens to folks, Mathews pops up to get a paycheck from the powers that be. He's like a truffle-hunting pig, except he's a rat who snuffles out blood money.

Anathematizing the generic, profit-maximizing titans-of-industry Newhouses at any length feels like sorting out recycling: it might make some feel pious, but I personally can't be bothered. I'm not convinced there's a point. Yes, they're super-mega-capitalists, yes, they're bad. I consider Ricky Mathews something far more pernicious, more disingenuous, and more repugnant.

Let us examine, for example, Ricky's reaction to the 2010 BP oil disaster. The black death was flowing unabated into the Gulf when he parlayed his media credentials into the chairmanship of a spin agency funded by BP, an agency whose homepage's Project Overview, titled "Beyond the Oil Spill," opens with the sentences, "A once-in-a generation opportunity is upon us. A transformational moment in Alabama history."

That's the kind of shit that makes my Corexit-tainted blood boil. Further down that same page we see Ricky's gormless mug gracing an article titled "Oil Spill’s Silver Lining."

"We can turn a very bad thing into a good thing," Mathews says of the environmental holocaust in which BP murdered a dozen human beings and poisoned countless more, eradicating Gulf wildlife wholesale, destroying generations of coastal community, and laying waste to the lifeways of entire cultures.

"What we learned after Katrina on the Mississippi Coast," says Ricky Mathews, "is that a crisis of even enormous proportions provides opportunities to re-imagine a whole region."

Crisis, Opportunity. Crisis, Opportunity. Reading Mathews' work, it's hard not to vomit. It's also hard not to recall a prominent predecessor to Mathews' "Oil Spill's Silver Lining" piece. It's something Jeffrey at the Library Chronicles has recently refocused attention on, a New York Times editorial that's proven almost a Rosetta stone for understanding the post-Katrina experience.

The piece in question is David Brooks' September 8, 2005 essay,"Katrina's Silver Lining." In that essay, published while more than half our city was still flooded and the death toll was climbing daily, Brooks was already rubbing his hands together over the opportunities the "blank slate" of New Orleans could provide. His first sentence? "As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity."

It's clear what kind of opportunities vermin like Ricky Mathews see in the suffering of our region, in the layoffs at the Times-Picayune, in the environmental holocaust of the BP disaster, and in the horrors of Katrina. To Ricky, these are financial, personal career opportunities. Is there a conflict of interest in the publisher and president of the Mobile Press-Register serving on a BP-funded commission, and his newspaper running an article in which Mathews is quoted assuring the reader that BP has cleaned the Gulf, and that the seafood is safe?

It's but one stunningly bare-faced example, an example which the Gambit points out remains prominent on BP's Facebook Page. In it,
[Mathews] noted the need for continued perseverance in getting out the message that the coast has bounced back from the April 20, 2010, oil rig explosion that led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. BP, which leased the oil rig, has done admirable work in helping market the coast since the cleanup, he said.
image courtesy of
Is that unethical? Is that conflict of interest? Shit no... that's just someone who knows how to seize opportunity.

Opportunities for Ricky Mathews at the Huntsville Times, where he oversaw the firing of 102 workers, leaving the paper a 15-person newsroom. Opportunities for Ricky at the Birmingham News, where under his leadership news staff was cut sixty percent-- 107 fired, including two pregnant women and a cancer patient. Opportunities for Ricky Mathews at the Mobile Press-Register, where seventy-five percent of the newsroom staff were fired. There, where Mathews was still both president and publisher, the news of those layoffs and the death of the Press-Register's 200-year legacy of daily publishing was headlined "Exciting Changes for our Readers."

Exciting changes.

The Gambit provided an invaluable account of Ricky Mathews' introduction to our city's new stratum of cyber-capitalists by superdeveloper Sean Cummings. Presented like a blushing debutante to the venture-funded eligible bachelors of our post-K NOLA technocracy, Mathews sounds ridiculous.
"We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment,” Mathews told the group. “It’s our goal to create a world-class digital work environment for the journalists who are going to work for us, because we can attract the best and brightest from around the country."
He also brags of a three-hour meeting with Mayor Landrieu, in which Landrieu "got it immediately." On followup, the Mayor's office then told the Gambit it "wouldn't characterize the meeting in those terms, either in the amount of time spent or in the mayor's takeaway (from the meeting)."

What's a little truth between journalists? In his recent Pearl-Harbor-sized above-the-fold front-page Times-Picayune advertisement for himself, Ricky writes, "The true story of our effort will be that we want the story that is told of our efforts to be that we embraced the amazing entrepreneurial spirit that has evolved since Hurricane Katrina." If you can parse that fucking mess, I doff my cap.

Ricky Mathews is an idiot, a gap-toothed clown useful only to his paymasters... but idiots can be dangerous. George W. Bush was an idiot, too.

Let us learn from the past. Let us learn specifically from this slimy invasive nutria rat Ricky Mathews' abhorrent and unforgivable past. Rob Holpert, managing editor of the Mobile, Alabama weekly Lagniappe, lays out the Ricky Mathews narrative:
The second Ricky 'Stormcrow' Mathews entered the building, the [Mobile Press-Register]'s fate was sealed.

The first story the P-R ran when Mathews came in was a lie, claiming his predecessor Howard Bronson had retired, when, in fact, he’d been fired. ...Mathews has been nothing but a hatchet man more interested in running groups he has no business being involved with than running the newspaper he was allegedly hired to save.

Newhouse can count his billions while Mathews moves to New Orleans and chops them to pieces next. Sounds like another "exciting change” in the making.
Unlike the Fifth-Avenue Newhouses, Ricky is here. Though he hasn't had the nuts to show himself in the newsroom, he's here in town, living it up on the blood money the Newhouses have paid him to swing axe. They outbid BP for his services-- here he is quaffing drinks at our bars, eating at our restaurants, maybe even walking our streets.

Let's find opportunities to give Ricky Mathews the welcome he deserves.


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper

Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley


  1. it was something truly scary to see that kid's face again from Born Rich. you can see the whole blood-boiling movie here:

  2. Great series here. For what it's worth, TP employees are reporting on that closed Facebook group that Ricky has now been in the building a couple of times for meetings. Haven't heard that he's addressed the employees. Apparently he darts in and then rushes out. Can't blame him. That building is just not as a plush as the Windsor Court. I'm sure he can't wait to get back to the Polo Club Lounge.

    1. I worked at the Sun Herald Newspaper in Gulfport and no one, I mean no one liked Ricky they still do not. He treats employees like crap and will not even speak to them if they pass him in the hall. They were glad to see him go and with him he took the Adv. Director, Circulation Director and a few other of his ass kissers. He even had the nerve to have employees at Mobile call the Sun Herald on how to do jobs???? I mean really how dumd is he.

  3. please stand by

    your broke-as-a-joke author is dealing with some technical/mechanical difficulties aka HARD TIMES, DADDY...

    The series will continue shortly... in the meantime thanks so much to all for your kind words and feedback.

  4. Jules, thanks for the link to the Media of Birmingham story on the Birmingham News firings.

  5. i can parse ricky mathews' words. i can't draw y'all a sentence tree on my phone here but I'll do my best to sort the sentence beast out. it was surprisingly revealing to me.
    the true story of our effort will be"

    that we want the story that is told of our efforts to be"

    that we embraced the amazing..."

    he's begging you to believe he's the coolest shock doctrine exploiter in history.
    he's saying this was a lesson in vicious exploitation and that he should be first against the wall as the old joke goes.

    may the death squads he hires be bad with instructions. that's all I can say to that.

  6. 'oh and tell everyone!'