If Philip Anschutz's Examiner.com websites take off the way he hopes, it'll be like having a local version of Fox News Channel in every city in America.
If you like what Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing billionaire behind Fox News and the New York Post, has done for the national discourse, you'll love what Philip Anschutz is trying to do in your hometown.
Anschutz built his fortune -- his $8 billion net worth is good for 36th place on the Forbes 400, ahead of better-known Murdoch and Steve Jobs -- in the oil and gas industry, augmented with railroad and telecommunications holdings, as well as Regal Cinemas and the production company behind The Chronicles of Narnia films.
The far-right American Spectator describes Anschutz as "a committed conservative" who "gives lots of money to the Republican National Committee and to GOP candidates" and is "friendly with fellow oilman George W. Bush."
In 2005, Media Matters detailed Anschutz's history of conservative activism:
Anschutz has a history of supporting socially conservative causes. According to a recent Post article, Anschutz's family foundation gave James Dobson, the founder of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family, an award for his "contributions to the American Family." The Post noted that according to the foundation's website, Focus on the Family works to "counter the media-saturating message that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable" and that one of the group's policy experts referred to abortion as an example of when "Satan temporarily succeeds in destroying God's creation." Further, as the Post mentioned, Anschutz contributed $10,000 in 1992 to Colorado Family Values in support of the group's efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment to invalidate state and local laws that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. (The referendum passed, but the United States Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional.) According to the Post, "Anschutz's money helped pay for an ad campaign that said such anti-bias laws gave gays and lesbians 'special rights.'"
In May 2003, the Orange County Weekly reported that other Anschutz Foundation beneficiaries include the Institute for American Values, which according to the Weekly "campaigns against single parenting," and Enough is Enough, which "promotes Internet censorship." The San Francisco Chronicle noted on February 20, 2004, that Anschutz also funds Morality in Media. As Media Matters previously noted, the Institute for American Values also receives funding from the conservative Bradley and Scaife foundations, as well as grants from the John M. Olin Foundation, another major financer of conservative organizations. Enough is Enough and Morality in Media have also received funding from the conservative Castle Rock Foundation.
In recent years, Anschutz has turned his attention to his media holdings, including his movie production company. And he is building a news-media empire, as well: he bought the San Francisco Examiner in 2004 and launched the Washington Examiner the next year, while trademarking the "Examiner" name in more than 60 cities. And earlier this year, Anschutz purchased The Weekly Standard from Murdoch.
Anschutz and the people in his employ are quick to counter suggestions that his right-wing politics drive editorial decisions at his newspapers. A 2007 profile of Anschutz in American Journalism Review included a Washington Examiner editor stressing that Anshutz had told him "All I want to do is put out quality newspapers." A 2004 Washington Post article quoted another Anschutz employee stressing that Anschutz had "taken no hand in the operations, nor in demanding any particular editorial policy."
But Anschutz's publications certainly do reflect his conservative views.
Earlier this year, Media Matters' Terry Krepel detailed the right-wing tilt to the Washington Examiner's staff, including alums of the National Review, The Washington Times, NewsBusters, Robert Novak's newsletter, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.
And those kinds of staffing decisions lead to headlines like these, all featured on the front of the Washington Examiner's web page Wednesday afternoon:
- Are Democrats exiting the sinking ship?
- Inside the numbers: How Obama has fallen
- Global warming industry becomes too big to fail
- Youngest voters spurn Obamacare
- Damn the deficit: Full speed ahead on health care
Then there's the Opinion section, which features such gems as:
- Gene Healy: Obamacare is unconstitutional
- Grace-Marie Turner: Ten reasons public won't buy Senate health care plan
- Dr. David Gratzer: Medicine isn't perfect, Obamacare is even less perfect
- Ken Blackwell: Obama's indecision is hurting foreign alliances
If Anschutz's right-wing politics were shaping only the Washington Examiner, it might not matter much. Washington has plenty of conservative media; how much damage can one more do -- particularly given that The Washington Times (another newspaper controlled by a right-wing billionaire) is in danger of imploding?
But remember: Anschutz trademarked the "Examiner" name in more than 60 other cities. And he is making a push into the "hyper-local" news market with his Examiner.com sites.
Anschutz launched Examiner.com about a year and a half ago as an Internet-only local news portal; it currently reaches 129 markets and its traffic ranks 21st among U.S. news sites -- with the fastest traffic growth of any site from August of 2008 to August of 2009. And just a few weeks ago, Examiner.com bought NowPublic, a Canadian citizen-journalism site with reporters in more than 140 countries. The New York Times reported at the time:
With the sale, Examiner.com, a unit of Mr. Anschutz's Clarity Digital Group, became the latest company to show interest in a lively corner of the Web: the tools that let people read and share the news around them, sometimes down to neighborhood blocks.
Rick Blair, the chief executive of Examiner.com, said in an interview that his company's expansion into more than 100 markets indicated that hyperlocal information could be a scalable and sustainable business. Whether it can be profitable is still to be determined. "We're trying many ways to determine the advertiser interest," he said.
Given the newspaper industry's struggles, it isn't inconceivable that Examiner.com could quickly become a key source of news and information for many Americans. At which point, based on Anschutz's history, it'll be like having a local version of Fox News Channel in every city in America.
Jamison Foser is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Foser also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.
- Philip Anschutz