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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Forgotten: one of life's lessons

By Dick Hirsch

    Some people never learn. That is a sizable group. Then there are those others who have the intellectual capacity to learn but whose established behavior patterns will not permit them to make use of the intelligence they possess. In such cases, their passion subverts their brain function and they adopt an approach known in the street as the “I don’t give a damn” attitude.

    I don’t know whether Carl Paladino belongs in either of those categories. He may even be regarded as a person inhabiting a class by himself after his noisy and embarrassing campaign for governor last year. Wherever he positions himself he has ignored one of the basic axioms of public life.

    When you are familiar with an axiom and it applies to you it is recommended that the advice it offers should be heeded. Axioms provide premium advice. Axioms are more intense than adages, aphorisms or proverbs, which are more casual, even folksy. Axioms stress established wisdom and usually provide counsel only on matters of a serious nature. 

The axiom that prompted this discussion is this:

    “Never get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

    That relates to a public figure becoming involved in an ongoing public fight with a newspaper as Paladino has done with The Buffalo News. Paladino has ignored that essential axiom. After his shattering loss in what developed into an unusually nasty gubernatorial campaign, it would have been expected that Paladino would flee the public arena, seeking an interlude of solitude, some thoughtful time during which he could soothe his wounded psyche. But no; within a very short time he was once again elbowing his way into the public consciousness, erecting a huge billboard attacking Stanford Lipsey, the publisher of the News, on a Paladino-owned building, a dilapidated warehouse alongside the 190 expressway near downtown.

    The sign said: “Spineless Stan Lipsey & The Buffalo News threw WNY under the bus.” Paladino has earned a reputation as an outspoken man and the campaign for governor only enhanced that image. He also was revealed to be a sore loser, apparently vengeful because the News endorsed Andrew Cuomo for governor.
The first time I saw the billboard I was both startled and amused. I knew there would be a response. There had to be a response; no newspaper is going to remain silent when its publisher is subjected to a personal attack. Yes, daily newspapers are in decline, but they still wield considerable power and remain the primary source of news and informed opinion in the communities they serve.

    Public officials have had visible arguments with the News in the past but they tiptoed around the issue, strongly disagreeing, but concealing the underlying rancor. Mayor Jim Griffin had many differences with the paper during his four terms and even claimed he quit reading it. But he was restrained and wise enough to avoid malicious name calling. Years ago then Mayor Frank Sedita grew furious about stories published containing insinuations of wrongdoing in his administration. That provoked a prolonged vendetta with the News, during which he blamed the paper and its editor for the investigation that resulted. 

Those were memorable events at the time but they really don’t apply because the men involved were public officials. Paladino is unelected and appears to be breaking new ground by engaging in such an adversarial relationship with the paper. It is very rare to have a private citizen embroiled in such an escapade.

    The response of the News has been diversified. Surely the most creative countermeasure was the full page advertisement reproducing 10 editorial cartoons published during the campaign and portraying Paladino as a menacing and malevolent character. The paper is offering reproductions for sale in various sizes, framed or unframed, available for purchase through its store, They probably don’t expect to sell very many, but the paper will enjoy each and every sale.

A few days later appeared a front page story about the thousands of dollars of unpaid bills for services rendered to Paladino during his campaign. That was followed by a story relating to the billboard being erected without a permit close to a state highway as well as alleged code violations at the Paladino building where the billboard is located.

Yes, at the News they buy ink by the barrel. That axiom originated in the 19th century and we are now seeing that it still applies at a time when some are questioning whether newspapers can endure.


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