Make no mistake. The Malheur Enterprise is in the crosshairs of powerful government officials who don’t want you to have the truth.
Some officials, it seems, now would like the Enterprise punished for doing its job.
Greg Smith, the county’s economic development director and a Republican state representative from Heppner, isn’t letting up.
He’s been the topic of tough and accurate reporting by the Enterprise. He prefers fawning attention.
Recently, Smith tried to intimidate us by claiming our employees engaged in criminal conduct by trying to question him. Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe essentially said of that claim: Hogwash.
Since making reporting a crime didn’t work, Smith is taking another tack.
In a midnight note last week to the Enterprise staff via a Facebook message, Smith wrote, “Malheur County is done reading your garbage.”
He contended that “many agricultural leaders” have “cancelled their advertising.” He went on: “I’ll publish additional names next week.”
This isn’t the first time Malheur County’s economic development workers have taken aim at the business of the Enterprise.
Smith’s assistant, John Braese, wrote in a social media post in June, “Newspapers, like any media, exist only when people want the product.”
In what appeared to be a clear reference to the Enterprise, he went on: “If you disagree with the direction of any business, you have a voice through purchases, through advertising, through word of mouth.”
And then Commissioner Larry Wilson, Smith’s closest ally on the Malheur County Court, told one of our reporters recently, “I am telling you straight up, I wouldn’t be a bit worried you are losing business.”
Remember, Wilson owns a share of the company selling land for the rail reload project.
This all adds up to one point: Local government officials want to control the press.
They don’t want negative news, even if it’s true.
What they really want, it appears, is for us to censor the news, to not tell you the truth.
In a conversation last week, Smith was pretty candid about what he wanted from us, keying on the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
“We’re looking for a cheerleader on this project,” Smith said. “We found one in one paper,” he said, referring to Ontario’s Argus Observer.
Our readers expect something different, and Smith appears ready to use economic force to force the Enterprise to change.
He appears ready to hurt our employees from Vale, Nyssa and Ontario who count on salaries from the Enterprise to feed their families and pay their bills. He appears ready to hurt a business that routinely donates to everything from Vale FFA to the Ontario splash pad. He appears ready to impair a business that invested in downtown Vale real estate and pays local taxes.
Advertising supports some of those costs. Local merchants advertise with us not so they can control the news content, though. They do so because they want to reach our readers – people engaged in the community, people interested in honest news about local matters. Those people are good customers to be sought by any local business.
That those in government would use their power to try to control the press and to harm a local business is hard to imagine. This is Malheur County, not North Korea or Russia. This is a county of patriots, of a people who believe in vigorous debate, honest dealings, and constitutional freedoms.
At the Enterprise, we will not bow before Smith or any of his henchmen. Maybe he has the clout and business community support to drive us out of business. If so, he should indeed “publish additional names” that could then be listed on the death certificate for the Enterprise if it comes to that.
We are strong, though, and our readership is surging. That tells me we’re doing what more and more readers want from us – holding powerful government figures to account for how they use their power and your money. We will serve your interests, not those of public officials who prefer that you be kept in the dark.
Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise. Email your comments or questions to: [email protected].
A government-inspired boycott against the Malheur Enterprise could harm the local employees who work for the Vale operation: (from left) Yadira Lopez, Joe Siess, Roseanne Zueger, Howard Benson, Autumn Butler, Sheila Schroder, Isabella Garcia and Pat Caldwell .