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OPINION: Tariff on newsprint will do far more harm than good

July 23, 2018 By Jack Ryan, Editorial Page Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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Even if President Donald Trump were a supporter of a vigorous free press, we would stand opposed to the tariff his administration has slapped on newsprint, the paper on which newspapers like the one you are holding is printed.

But Trump is not a friend of the free press. More than a 100 times, he has Tweeted that the news media covering him is “FAKE NEWS” and is “enemy of the people.” His hostility and intolerance to all but the most conservative reporting has been obvious. He does nothing to conceal it.

“President Trump’s tariffs on newsprint are an obvious economic attack on the free press from an administration unable to hide its contempt for the media,” Cuomo said in a press release Sunday.

He is not the first president in modern times to have a hostile relationship with the media or show contempt for the First Amendment. But with this tariff he has taken that enmity to a new level.

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The cost of newsprint is generally the biggest budget item at a newspaper after labor. Trump’s tariff could force dozens of publications to close or be reduced to shadows of their former selves. The killing of local, community newspapers by the imposition of tariffs would gut the nation’s free press.

The tariff on newsprint came in response to a complaint raised by the North Pacific Paper Co.—known as Norpac and based in Washington which claimed that Canada’s subsidies “create an unequal playing field that threatens the company and its employees.”

But the administration’s tariff could affect as many as 600,000 American jobs. That’s thousands of more jobs that the single west coast papermill which filed the complaint that it protects.

In a column published in the Buffalo News, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) points out that thee Trump newsprint tariff “affects a specialty paper that many newspapers, especially those in the east, must import from Canada to avoid what would otherwise be exorbitant transportation costs.”

In addition, Schumer notes, the tariff “will not help producers here, but it will drive up the cost of this vital ingredient for struggling papers and the whole supply chain, forcing the loss of both American jobs and local papers.”

Newspapers are not alone in opposing what is at best a short-sighted solution to a virtually nonexistent problem. Nearly 20 members of Congress, representing every region of the United States, warned the International Trade Commission that the Trump administration’s tariff is a “box-cutter at the throat of democracy.”

Republicans, Democrats and at least one independent spoke to the commission, going out of their way to sound the alarm on behalf not just of newspapers, but the national interest.

The opposition is bipartisan, In every part of this nation newspapers have been struggling to keep their heads above water. Although the enmity between Trump and the media has been news in itself, this kind of fighting is nothing new. Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of the free press and went so far as to say, “If the choice were between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” 

The president needs to be reminded that imposing tariffs can be a double-edged sword with the potential to do more harm than good. The tariff is bad economic policy likely to cost far more jobs than it will create — even in the best-case scenario. And the tariff shows a president who is willing to follow personal vendetta as a guide to setting government policy.

In an editorial this week, the Buffalo News notes that the action taken by the Trump administration against sound advice, “risks fracturing the Constitution’s First Amendment pillar, posing a risk to Americans’ fundamental right to know what is happening in their school districts and city halls and their state and federal governments.”

We urge Trump to rescind the newsprint tariff and to welcome a vibrant free press.

—Jack Ryan, editorial page editor

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