Exxon Subcontractor Buys Anchorage Newspaper, Endangered Woodpecker Loses Habitat to Hurricane Hugo, and More Environmental News

Exxon’s primary spill-cleanup subcontractor may be trying to influence the press—by buying it; an endangered species suffers habitat destruction from Hurricane Hugo; the Bush Administration delays acting on global warming; and American capitalism may be due for a re-evaluation.

| March/April 1990

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    April 1989 was cruel in Prince William Sound.

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Exxon Spill-Cleanup Subcontractor Buys Alaska Newspaper

A. J. Liebling—in the opinion of many, the most talented American journalist ever to ply the trade—once observed that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. He knew that editorial influence has a way of filtering down from the top, despite the profession's avowed reportorial "objectivity." 

Someone at Exxon must have stumbled onto that bit of wisdom. Last November, Exxon's principal spill-cleanup subcontractor, Veco International, Inc., bought the Anchorage Times, Alaska's second-biggest newspaper. And was Veco embarrassed by this bald-faced attempt to purchase itself some good press? Not exactly. Veco chairman Bill Allen told reporters that the "big reason" his company bought the Times was to ensure that Alaska would have a pro-development newspaper.

Alaska will have more than a pro-development newspaper. It will also have one owned by a nonunion employer who a few years back paid the biggest fine ever levied against a company in Alaska for violation of campaign-contribution laws. As columnist Eleanor Randolph mused in the Washington Post recently, "So how will the Times cover state politics after Veco takes over on December 14? How will they cover the oil industry? The developers? The unions?"

It's difficult to predict whether the stunt will work. The Washington Times, started by, bankrolled by, and a mouthpiece for Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, has lost pots of money and produced negligible influence in national affairs. And people in Alaska, as everywhere else, tend to carry a healthy load of skepticism. As Fred Dickey, a former editor of the Anchorage Times, said of the sale, "The first time the kibosh gets put on a story negative to the oil industry, it's going to go through this town like corn through a goose."

Endangered Woodpecker Species Habitat Destroyed by Hurricane Hugo

Hurricanes and earthquakes are often measured by how much it will cost to fix the damage they caused. There are other prices—harder to quantify, sometimes more difficult to pay.

Hugo is a case in point. Its terrible winds uprooted millions of trees and plants as it swept across the Caribbean and north along the Atlantic seaboard. It killed thousands of small animals and birds. Most areas and most species will recover, of course. Hugo is neither the first nor the last big hurricane to hit those parts, and big winds are as natural as quakes, fires, and rain.

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