The Buffalo News: Dissin' the Senecas with a Colorful New Same Old Same Old

Author:
Updated:
Original:

It's no secret that when you buy a can of Coca Cola, the can costs far more
than the tainted water it holds. In the same vein, footwear companies often
spend more to advertise their wares than they spend to manufacture them.
Today's market is all about the triumph of hype over substance. Hence, it
should surprise no one that beneath all the hype surrounding the May 16
debut of the new improved Buffalo News, was the same tired old Buffalo
News. The much-awaited multicolored polka-dotted dog was finally, amid
great fanfare, out of the cage. But all it did was dart to the nearest
hydrant.

I'm not one to expect much from The Buffalo News, but I was greatly
disappointed to see that paper's first crisp color cover marred by racist
reporting. The cover story, touted by News Editor Margaret Sullivan as an
example of her paper's "enterprise reporting" focuses on the disparity in
wealth in the Seneca Nation. It's good reporting based on solid research.
The problem is that virtually all of The News' complaints against the
Senecas also apply to their neighbors in the United States. So one really
has to ask, why start out with a series attacking a neighboring nation for
the same evils practiced without criticism right here in the U.S.?

The article, which threatens to be a series, starts out with an editor's
praise of its authors, who report on "a nation deeply split between rich
and poor, powerful and powerless." Sound familiar? It should. Because it's
us. And this is where such reporting should begin - with introspection,
instead of sanctimonious condemnation of a captive nation emulating our
economic model.

This would be especially apropos, since The News, owned by the world's
second richest person, serves one of the United States' poorest cities. In
essence, the paper itself embodies everything it condemns in the Seneca
Nation.

The article opens by describing "a couple dozen Seneca merchants" who
"earned an estimated $162 million last year." Just so readers understand
what the number represents, they explained that this is equivalent to what
the Neiman Marcus department store chain, with 62 locations in 24 states,
earned in 2002. Yeah, we got it. It's a lot of money. They quickly
juxtaposed this with the fact that "nearly one third of all Senecas live in
poverty."

This is all legitimate, and under other circumstances, I'd be praising The
News for taking such a strong position against the greed of an unabashed
capitalist market. The fact is, however, that they never followed the lead
of other American newspapers such as the Philadelphia Enquirer, writing the
same story about growing economic disparities in their own community or
country.

The $162 million dollars earned last year by "a couple dozen" Senecas, for
instance, pales in comparison to the approximately $3.5 billion dollars
that The News' owner, Warren Buffett, "earned" during each of the last
eight years.

And yes, the poverty rate among Senecas is around 30 percent and this is
shameful. But the poverty rate in Buffalo, according to the pre-Bush II era
2000 U.S. census, was 27 percent. So why the sanctimony? It gets worse. On
the East Side of Buffalo, the poverty rate is over 50 percent. And things
certainly haven't gotten better under Bush. Suddenly the Seneca numbers
have a new context.

The News reports that the child poverty rate among Senecas is between 39.8
percent and 41.6 percent. The poverty rate for families with pre-school
children in Buffalo, by comparison, is 43.3 percent overall and 65.3
percent on the East Side. Again, why launch a new re-grooved newspaper
attacking the Senecas for problems that are more severe in the Buffalo
News' own community?

You also can't write this story devoid of history. The U.S. forced this
model upon the egalitarian Senecas after invading their territories,
forcibly dismantling their economic system. The construction of both elite
and impoverished classes among the formerly egalitarian Seneca is an
all-American construct.

Yes, the current distribution of income in the Seneca Nation is
inequitable. But consider this - The Buffalo News' owner, Warren Buffett,
"earns" more per year than all of the workers in Buffalo combined (see
actual numbers below). In this light, examine this line from The News'
article: "Those [Seneca] mini-mart barons and others refuse to formally
share their new millions - even if the sovereignty that allows them to make
their fortunes belongs to all Senecas."

Given The News' newly found communism, doesn't this condemnation of the
Seneca elite also apply to Buffett, whose wealth is protected by an
American sovereignty that belongs to all Americans? Or, more to the point,
when should we expect our checks?

(Here are some numbers: Buffett's net worth increased by $27.9 billion from
1996 to 2004. This is an annual average of $3.48 billion per year. Buffalo
had a population of 223,437 in 2000, earning $14,991 apiece for a grand
total income of $3.34 billion.)

Michael I. Niman Ph.D.