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George Santos, a Web of Lies and The Rise of News Deserts

Close Up of Man’s Hands While He is Reading a Newspaper

Who is George Santos and What Did He Do? 

As the 118th Congress convenes for a new session, one story has drawn particular public intrigue and outcry: the election of a relatively unknown GOP candidate in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. Earlier this December, The New York Times published a lengthy expose revealing that Congressman-elect George Santos had significantly embellished his political and personal biography. Some of the more outlandish findings include the candidate claiming to have received a degree from Baruch College, to have worked with CitiGroup and Goldman Sachs and to be of Jewish descent. All of these claims proved to be false. 

While the legal implications of Santos’ lies are still evolving, this case illustrates the decline of a vital American institution: local media. To many constituents, the Santos allegations seemed to come out of nowhere. But, the story was actually broken months earlier by a small local paper, The North Shore Leader. In an environment where most voters have adjusted to receiving daily news from national publications and social media, this hyper-local story barely registered. To understand how we got here, we must examine the state of local news in 2023. 

What Is a News Desert?  

A news desert refers to a community that has limited or no access to local newspapers. The term news desert may sound strange and dystopian, but for roughly one-fifth of Americans, this represents a dire reality. Approximately 70 million Americans live in a community that lacks a local paper or is at risk of losing one. As news increasingly migrates to the internet, traditional print media has struggled to adapt. After all, print media rely on advertisements to cover their overhead costs for staff and production. 

With most people opting for free, online sources to gather their news, local dailies are losing advertising dollars and struggling to make up for the lost revenue. From 2000 to 2018, daily newspaper circulation fell to half of its original rate. Between 2008 and 2019, newsroom employment dropped by 51 percent, representing 30,000 less reporters. In the last 19 years, 1,800 local newspapers have shuttered for good.  

What Are The Implications of a News Desert?  

For democracy, this decline portends stark implications. In a 2018 study by the Brookings Institute, researchers found that government borrowing increased between five and eleven percent when politicians were allowed to operate unchecked by local journalists. Another report by the University of Chicago links steep declines in voter participation rates to communities where congressional representatives were not covered by the local press. 

How Did News Deserts Help Santos Win? 

As Long Island voters, journalists and pundits alike wonder how such an obviously flawed candidate could win election to the nation’s Congress, they should look no further than their shuttered local papers. In an environment where voters go to social media for daily news and national outlets for local updates, the North Shore Leader’s story was totally overlooked. As a result, the Santos story was missed and the voters of New York’s 3rd Congressional District elected a con man.

The TASC Group is headquartered in New York City and built on a bedrock of progressive politics. Over two decades of grassroots community outreach and social advocacy, the team has worked with dozens of reputable political organizations across New York State, including United Way of New York City and the Bronx Rising Initiative. Local news is a pivotal factor in combating the spread of misinformation and preventing the rise of demagogues like George Santos. His rise is a lesson for social changemakers to support local media and engage with local politics.

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