The Chicago Defender is a historic, old black daily newspaper that
will be closed this month — because of the cold, calculating hand of
intrusive, greedy government.
Begun as a weekly in 1905 on the kitchen table of Robert Sengstacke
Abbott, the Defender was known for its passionate reporting and
editorials. In its special centennial issue last October, Editor &
Publisher magazine, the newspaper industry trade publication, named
Abbott one of the 25 most influential newspaper people of the 20th
The paper became a daily in 1956, and, at its peak, the Defender
boasted a national circulation of 230,000.
But it’s about to die. Why? Because in 1997, the paper’s chairman and
publisher, John Sengstacke, died. The government demanded estate taxes
of $3 million. The family scrambled to arrange a sale of the paper to
keep it alive — but no luck. The Defender is about to become the latest
newspaper casualty of the death tax. As they say, nothing’s certain but
death and taxes. And that goes double for death taxes.
I’ve seen this happen often in my 20-year newspaper career. It’s one
of the principal reasons we have so little newspaper competition
The last traditional daily newspaper I ran, the Sacramento Union, the
oldest daily in the West, was a conscious and deliberate victim of
First, in the 1960s, Jim Copley, the man who built the daily most
effectively, died. His corporation was forced to pay millions in estate
taxes. Thus, it was forced to sell off the Union to remain afloat.
Later, in 1990, California’s Republican Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law
a sales tax on newspapers.
By this time, Sacramento was one of only a handful of markets with
competing newspapers — and the Union lagged far behind the bigger
Sacramento Bee. That was the situation I inherited as editor.
I personally warned Wilson what the newspaper tax would likely mean
to papers like the Union and Oakland Tribune — dailies struggling to
survive. He didn’t care. After all, the Union was a muckraking paper
that he couldn’t control. Even though it was the only paper in town to
endorse his candidacy for governor — against my best wishes, by the way
— he wouldn’t lift a finger to help. As far as he was concerned,
government needed money more than the people needed another newspaper
And that’s the way it has gone since. This is one of the great untold
stories of why we have so little competition in the newspaper world
today — taxes. Never mind the First Amendment, the government is
destroying the free press in America just as surely — and, perhaps,
more permanently — than if its police padlocked the office doors.
Today, government is once again up to its old tricks. Now it is ready
to launch a full frontal assault on the New Media — through proposed
taxes on the Internet. Finally we have competition in the information
business beginning again, so government is determined to stop it.
This is just one more reason — an illustration — of why it is so
important for free people to rally around this idea of mine to kill,
annihilate, destroy efforts to impose taxes on Internet commerce right
You can do it. This is a battle we can win. But we must act now. I
implore you to register at our online petition to stop Internet
taxes right now. Sign up.
Pass it on. This is a fight much bigger than it appears. It’s literally
a life-and-death struggle for freedom and free expression.
If Internet taxation becomes a reality, I can assure you that the
winners will be the state and the big corporations — the ones who have
endured and actually benefited from their government-sponsored monopoly
What do I mean government-sponsored monopolies? Well, think about it.
When government imposes newspaper taxes, who benefits? It’s not just
government. The other beneficiary is the bigger and more successful
newspaper in the marketplace. When the smaller competitor shuts its
doors, the big guy picks up the lion’s share of his revenues. And that’s
how monopolies are born. It’s happened often in the old media. And it
will happen in the New Media world, too, unless we seize the moment and
stop these dreadful plans.
What’s happening on the Internet is revolutionary. It scares
government. And that’s good. Feed the information revolution, don’t