Wednesday, February 08, 2006 - News - Team 4: 'All-Out Assault' Planned On Media, Lawmaker Says

A sales tax on advertising. Give me a break. - News - Team 4: 'All-Out Assault' Planned On Media, Lawmaker Says Team 4: 'All-Out Assault' Planned On Media, Lawmaker Says

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Team 4: 'All-Out Assault' Planned On Media, Lawmaker Says

POSTED: 3:56 pm EST January 13, 2006
UPDATED: 6:30 pm EST January 13, 2006
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The following report by Team 4 investigator Jim Parsons first aired on Channel 4 Action News at 5 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2006.

Team 4 has a voicemail recording of Democratic State Rep. Tim Solobay, of Canonsburg, saying that state lawmakers are preparing an all-out assault on the media. Solobay hints that the first volley is a bill that would start charging sales tax on all advertising in Pennsylvania.

Solobay left the voicemail message for editor Cody Knotts, who works at The Weekly Recorder, in Claysville, Washington County.

In the message, Solobay says, "But you know, for the most part, the majority of the legislative feeling about the media right now is if there's something they can do to screw them, you can imagine it may occur."
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"That got my blood boiling because the Legislature thinks they're invulnerable," said Knotts.

Like many newspaper editors in Pennsylvania, Knotts wrote prolifically last year about the 16 percent pay raise that lawmakers took, and then gave back under heavy media pressure.

Then, last month, he learned of a bill in Harrisburg that would hit the media hard -- lifting the sales tax exemption on advertising, along with some other services.

Knotts said the plan would cause some businesses to stop advertising.

"We don't have a big profit margin," said Knotts. "We're sitting at around 3 or 4 percent, maybe, and it's going to cut that down to where we're losing money and then how can we stay in business."

Media executives in Pennsylvania, including those at WTAE-TV, have been lobbying lawmakers to kill the advertising tax.

Knotts called Solobay.

"So, I called Tim and said, 'You know, I think this is a mistake.' He called back with that response about what it was really about," said Knotts. "So, I don't know. The newspaper might be a business you want to get the hell out of right now, because there seems to be quite a vendetta from what I'm hearing on the senior staff and everything else."

"The legislative agenda, maybe not come this spring, but I bet you can guarantee right after November, there'll be an all-out assault on the written media," Solobay said. "Let me tell you, I'm just kind of telling you what I'm hearing."

"When the idea and the real plan behind it is, 'We're going to screw the media,' that's a problem, because their goal is to shut people up. They want to be able to give themselves 16 percent pay raises and not have a complaint from the media about it. They don't want to have anybody in the public speak up," said Knotts.

"There's no vendetta against the media that I've seen. I don't think it exists. I don't see it in any legislation," said State Sen. Jay Costa.

Costa is a sponsor of the advertising tax bill, but he says it now appears that the media's lobbying campaign has worked.

"Well, I think in light of what we're hearing from people who are very concerned about the impact of the expansion, we're looking at some other ways maybe to try to drive out property tax relief," said Costa.

Solobay is in South Carolina, but Team 4 spoke with him by phone.

He acknowledges that he did leave the voice mail message on Knotts' phone, but now says he didn't really mean what he said about a vendetta in Harrisburg against the media.