SAN DIEGO (TheBlaze/AP) — The new media barons of America’s eighth-largest city are upfront about wanting to use their newspaper to promote their agenda of downtown development and politically conservative causes.
Douglas Manchester and his partner John Lynch gave their 143-year-old newspaper a new slogan — “The World’s Greatest Country & America’s Finest City” — ran a front-page editorial that declared their plan to reshape the city’s downtown waterfront their highest priority, and forecast doom if President Barack Obama wins re-election.
Manchester, who became wealthy building hotels during the dawn of San Diego’s downtown renaissance and insists on being called “Papa Doug,” after a Little League coach used it to distinguish him from a son, also named Doug, bought The San Diego Union-Tribune last year and its most serious competitor, the North County Times, this month. As he and Lynch eye expansion to Los Angeles and other major cities, they are frank about seeking to use their new platforms to advance their beliefs — and they think they can make a profit while they’re at it.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Lynch said the new owners bought the newspaper in part to promote their views in editorials. He called those views pro-family, pro-military and pro-America, and said “anybody who isn’t shouldn’t be living here.”
“We think our country is on the edge of real, real danger, and you have to stand up, and that was a huge part of why we bought this,” said Lynch, vice chairman and chief executive officer of U-T San Diego, the newspaper’s new name.
The editorial page named Obama the worst U.S. president and predicted a second term will result in “Arab terror states” attacking Israel, “death panels” rationing health care, income tax rates between 60 and 70 percent for many Californians and an attempt to get taxpayers to pay for late-term abortions. It warned of an effort to erase “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency.
Manchester, 70, is likened to a smaller market version of Rupert Murdoch and earlier moguls like William Randolph Hearst and Robert McCormick who used newspapers to wield influence. The unusually strong editorial tone stands out in an era when many newspapers are owned by corporations.
Lynch said editor Jeff Light has complete control of news coverage and that neither he nor Manchester, as chairman and publisher, meddle.
“Aside from the activist stance of the owners, I am someone who is scrupulously concerned with fairness,” Light said.
Lynch, a former radio station owner with a linebacker’s build at age 65, speaks bluntly. He recently wrote to Scott Peters, a Port of San Diego commissioner and Democratic nominee for Congress, demanding to know his position on a shipping contract to unload bananas that could complicate the publisher’s plans for the downtown waterfront redevelopment. He wanted an exit clause.
“Otherwise this will become a major issue in the campaigns and the UT will be forced to lead a campaign to disband the PORT,” he wrote.
The email correspondence, dated in early August and released after a public records request by KPBS/I-Newsource, came as Peters wages a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican endorsed by the newspaper.
In May, Lynch lashed out when the city warned of a fine for hanging a promotional banner outside its offices. He agreed to take it down while seeking approval for a large video screen atop the five-story building.
“If it weren’t for the digital sign pending approval, I would instruct our folks to run a piece on how this is so reflective of this city being anti-business,” Lynch wrote a city councilman’s aide, according to an email published by the San Diego Reader.
Lynch said his missive about the sign was intended as a joke and questions why other news organizations haven’t taken a harder look at the port.
According to Lynch, he and Manchester are old friends and allies since they led a failed campaign to move San Diego’s airport out of downtown in the 1990s.
And the two also put their money behind social issues.
Manchester donated $125,000 to support a 2008 ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in California drew protests — a decision Lynch says his partner regrets.
“If you’re a Catholic, marriage is between a man and a woman,” Lynch said. “He had no idea there would be these kind of ramifications.”
Manchester invested in San Diego-area resident Dinesh D’Souza’s hit documentary, “2016: Obama’s America,” which portrays a gloomy future if the president is re-elected, according to Lynch.
Manchester bought the U-T from private equity firm Platinum Equity LLC for $110 million and picked up the North County Times from Lee Enterprises Inc. for $12 million. Last week, the Times’ print edition was folded into the U-T.
The U-T has spent $5 million on a television venture with a studio in the middle of the newsroom and 12 hours of daily cable programming that highlights Lynch’s radio background. The Sunday edition features more in-depth reports and military coverage.
“We’re trying to do what we can to change the direction of this country,” Lynch said.
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All photos courtesy the AP.