Terry McAteer: Paper tariffs could make ‘fake news’ a moot point | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: Paper tariffs could make ‘fake news’ a moot point

Terry McAteer
Columnist

Terry McAteer

One way to solve the "Fake News Media" issue in our country is to eliminate all newspapers.

That process is underway through the newly-imposed newsprint tariffs instituted by the Trump administration. Newsprint tariffs have attributed to the increasing costs of our own hometown paper, The Union, with costs rising over 25 percent this past year. This growing concern is being accelerated by these same tariffs throughout our country.

"It's troubling, particularly as the news industry is limping along in the transition toward a digital future," said Brian Hamilton, The Union's editor.

Newsprint tariffs were imposed this year on Canadian newsprint which the Trump administration claims is selling newsprint at artificially low prices. The claim was made by North Pacific Paper Company, a paper mill based in the state of Washington.

According to the New York Times, newspapers throughout the country are already feeling the effects of the tariffs. At least a dozen papers have cut production days and one Ohio newspaper, The Jackson County Times-Journal, shut down, citing tariffs and declining readership as the cause.

The Robesonian newspaper in rural North Carolina has dropped printing the Sunday comics in response to the Trump tariffs. The newspaper editorial said it made the "not so funny" decision to cut the comics because of the rising costs due to the Canadian tariffs.

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"This newspaper has made the difficult decision to drop the Sunday comics, a decision that we really believe was made at the White House," the editorial said.

For the first 100 years of American history, protective tariffs were an important tool used by Congress to protect fledgling American industries from cheaper European goods. Our young industries needed a chance to compete against the more advanced French and British economy. The U.S. government also gained from the tariffs as they became the primary source of revenue for the country until the introduction of the income tax in 1913.

That is not to say that tariffs were uniformly popular in America during the 19th century, as southern cotton farmers were adamantly opposed to tariffs since European markets imposed retaliatory tariffs on American cotton imports. Actually, the roots of the Civil War can be traced to tariff issues as South Carolina Congressman Pierce Butler threatened secession as the Tariff Act of 1789 made its way through Congress. Following World War I, America had eliminated most tariffs as we emerged as an industrial giant and did not need to protect American manufacturers.

According to John Steele Gordon's 2004 award winning U.S. economic history book, "An Empire of Wealth," "a protective tariff has a surface of plausibility that makes it attractive to politicians: a protective tariff saves jobs and protects profits in the short term."

Gordon goes on to explain that a protective tariff is not paid by the foreign producers; it is paid by the domestic consumers to whom the added cost is passed along. Consumers, according to Gordon, not only pay higher prices for the foreign goods, they also pay higher prices for domestic goods as well because local producers will invariably take advantage of any opportunity to raise their own prices. Therefore, a protective tariff partially insulates domestic producers from competition, the engine of innovation and cost-cutting so important to a vibrant, capitalist economy.

In its statement, North Pacific Paper Company said Canadian companies have flooded the U.S. market with cheap newsprint, forcing the closure of paper mills across the United States.

"Canadian producers have been engaged in unfair trade practices, which harm American workers and cause material injury to our industry," the company said.

That is not the view from Capitol Hill as a number of lawmakers, led by Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, have sided with the newspaper industry and tried to halt the tariffs until an impact study is completed detailing the effects on the measure. A bill to halt the tariffs was introduced in May by Collins and has bipartisan support of 20 senators; an identical bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota.

Small newspapers, (like The Union) which cater to local communities have been hit the hardest, said Andrew Johnson, president of the National Newspaper Association.

"When they're gone, they're gone. They're not coming back," said Skip Bliss, publisher of the Janesville Gazette. "This means those communities — everything we do to hold government and schools and law enforcement in check — there's not going to be anyone to do that."

Terry McAteer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com