Homers lose one

Dec 5, 2008 at 6:05 pm
Because of my total ineptitude at anything athletic, it still gets a laugh out of people when I tell them that my first job in journalism was covering high school sports for a small daily paper. It was at that paper that I first heard the term “homer,” which my editor used to describe a fellow sports reporter working for the competition. It’s a derisive term for the kind of writer who strives to portray the local team in the best possible light no matter what the reality. Don’t want to piss off all those moms and dads by saying junior’s team lost because it really, really sucks. Just say there was an unlucky bounce here and there and you save yourself from a lot of angry calls and abusive letters and snide remarks at the grocery store. I thought about that while reading an editorial on the front page of the Wednesday Detroit Free Press. This was before the jaw-dropping site of Friday’s front page, filled completely by an open letter to Congress. The point of Wednesday’s piece, driven home with all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer, was that Detroit’s Big Three were seeking a loan, or, as the Freep had it, a L-O-A-N, and not a bailout. Now, we’re all concerned about what will happen to this region if one of our car companies goes belly-up. Everyone recognizes that we’re already struggling mightily with nation-leading unemployment, a plague of foreclosures and population flight. But among those with the biggest stake in Congress’ decision regarding the L-O-A-N is the Freep itself. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere among the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of words written in an attempt to convince Capitol Hill that it’s a good idea to lend taxpayer dollars to private corporations that haven’t been doing so well when it comes to winning the battle against foreign competition, but for those of you who still get a paper version of the paper (as opposed to reading it on-line), it is apparent that the local Gannett-owned property derives a significant chunk of change from auto ads. Aside from dealers and suppliers, it's hard to imagine any entity outside the companies whose well-being is so closely connected to the fate of the automakers. To borrow a line from Birdy, one of my favorite movies: “What, you’ve never heard of enlightened self-interest?” And there’s no doubt that a considerable amount of self-interest is at play when the local dailies pull out all the stops in their attempt to convince Congress that it’s in everybody’s best interest to L-O-A-N the car companies the $34 B-I-L-L-I-O-N they are asking for. But here’s the thing about the Freep editorial that really gave me a chuckle. To convince Congress that such a loan would be fiscally prudent, the paper’s editorial writers pointed to the $1.2 billion the government loaned Chrysler back in 1979. Money, as was duly noted, that was paid back with interest and ahead of schedule. Then came the kicker: “Times have changed, sure, and we’re talking about a bit more money, even adjusted for inflation. But it’s still a loan, a borrowing of needed funds with a promise of repay-plus.” Did they say a B-I-T more money? Talk about writing for the home crowd! In raw dollars, we’re talking about a difference of almost $33 billion between what’s being sought now and what Lee Iacocca and crew received nearly 30 years ago. Or, put another way, the Big 3 are asking for an increase that approaches 3,000 percent. So let’s have a reality check here: $33 billion, no matter how you try to frame it, is not anything close to being “a bit more.” To put that figure in perspective, it would be enough money to run the city of Detroit for the next 11 years. Even adjusting for inflation, it is still huge. According to the online calculator we ran the numbers through, $1.2 billion amounts to less than $4 billion in today’s dollars. So there’s still a difference of say, $30 billion between now and then. To be sure, these are desperate times, not just for this region and this state, but for the country as a whole. But no amount of desperation justifies the bit of intellectual dishonesty embedded in that editorial. —Curt Guyette