George Santos’ victory tells a sad story about local news

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27 Dec 2022, 12:55 pm

MSNBC

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George Santos, a Republican from New York recently elected to Congress, is truly a self-made man in that he apparently made up a biography to run for office. It appears that almost nothing Santos said about himself during his 2022 campaign is true, and on Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office is “looking into a number of issues” regarding Santos and his candidacy. But perhaps the most alarming thought is that such an apparent fraud was able to win a congressional seat in part because local newsrooms have either been shut down entirely or decimated by consolidation and layoffs.

When Santos unsuccessfully ran for the same seat in 2020, he reported having “no assets or earned income.” For his 2022 campaign, the newspaper notes, Santos reported assets worth between $2.6 and $11 million and reported loaning that campaign $700,000. How did Santos go from nothing to millionaire status in two short years? There is no clear answer but we need one given that with this newfound wealth Santos largely funded his 2022 campaign.

Who is the real George Santos? Why did his Democratic opponent not call attention to his lies? And why did the media not catch his lies before the election?

Robert Zimmerman, who ran against Santos, says that while the allegations The New York Times published about Santos were “not a shock,” he didn’t know all those details. He said the Santos story was “drowned out in the governor’s race.” Zimmerman and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may have assumed that, because a Democrat easily won the seat in 2020, there was little need for much opposition research on Santos.

But Santos slipping through an election with such little scrutiny is also a tale of the gutting of local newsrooms. The result is fewer reporters to investigate candidates in their own backyard. When President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which significantly raised caps on the number of local newspapers and television stations a single corporation could own, the era of corporate media consolidation took hold. Local news outlets, be they urban or rural, lost resources and laid off reporters. And that was before Covid.

Since Covid, as the Poynter Institute for Media Studies has documented, local newsrooms and those that are subsidiaries of national outlets have either closed or implemented widespread layoffs. Small community papers from Georgia to Hawaii recently shut down. Gannett shuttered six weekly newsrooms in New York state alone.

Despite those trends, the North Shore Leader, a small local newspaper that has covered Long Island for more than 70 years, questioned in a September report how Santos went from no income or assets in 2020 to assets worth at least $2.6 million in 2022. The paper also said that Santos’ claim to local Republicans that he owned a $10 million mansion in the Hamptons was not backed up by real estate records.

But bigger newsrooms apparently didn’t notice. A search of online articles by Newsday, the largest paper in Long Island, brings up no mention of those allegations before the election. In fact, Newsday noted that Santos didn’t give an interview to their editorial board in 2022 so the newspaper republished its interview of him from 2020.

Local news outlets will likely contract even more, especially if we head into a recession. That means we can probably expect to see even more George Santoses running for office and winning.

While no news may be great news for lying politicians, it’s awful news for our democracy


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