George Pyle: In pandemics, as always, follow the money

(AP Photo/Wayne Partlow) Shown is a portion of a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program Borrower Application Form, Tuesday, April 21, 2020 in Washington.

Of course I am in favor of the federal Paycheck Protection Program. It did, after all, protect my bloody paycheck.

Mine and those of however many other Salt Lake Tribune employees are still standing, to the tune of $854,800, in this time of serious fall-offs in advertising and an atmosphere of potentially less generosity to our new nonprofit structure.

There is no shame in that. Certainly no secrecy. As the Treasury Department was coming up with wan excuses for not telling the taxpayers where their money was going, The Tribune followed the instructions encoded in its DNA and told the world about our loan. In the newspaper.

Under pressure from congressional Democrats, such as Utah’s Rep. Ben McAdams, and the media, the Treasury has now released a list of PPP recipients that drew more than $150,000 in loans.

The Tribune was one of nearly 51,000 Utah businesses and nonprofits that, together, borrowed some $5 billion from the feds’ $660 billion PPP. Like everyone else, if we use the money the way we’re supposed to, keeping people’s salaries flowing and the rent paid, we can have the loans forgiven.

In our case, the money didn’t just keep us from cutting staff and, indirectly, stiffing their landlords and mortgage holders. It helped the people who really report the news around here keep up with a flood of events. Not only the pandemic and its economic fallout, but also the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, primary elections and, as you may have forgotten already, that March earthquake.

My first newspaper job was calling a list of some 30 police departments and sheriff’s offices in sparsely populated areas to see if anything newsworthy had happened. Usually, it hadn’t.

One deputy used to apologize to me that he had no news to report. I used to reply that if he and I had nothing to do that day, that was good news for everyone else.

Today, the whole world is dealing with a situation where income to journalistic endeavors is in free-fall just as the need for our services is at an all-time high.

Among the appropriate targets for The Tribune’s journalism has been the slug of money spent by the state of Utah, money that flowed to local businesses, mostly in beloved tech sector, to quickly create, well, something, preferably something that can be called an app -- because everyone knows that apps are cool -- that may or may not increase COVID-19 testing and may or may not help individuals and the state track transmission and virus hot spots.

The fact that the Republicans who run the place seemed to think, as Republicans do, privatize the money first, figure out the true public health benefits later, doesn’t necessarily mean all the money was wasted.

At least not any more than FDR wasted our money by hiring Ford Motor Company to build B-24s or LBJ wasted our money contracting with North American Rockwell to build the Apollo spacecraft. Though, in both of those examples, goals were better defined.

There is also no point in glossing over the fact that The Tribune, as an up-and-running business, was better able than some to negotiate the red tape and not only get the money but be confident we’d follow all the rules.

Not everyone was so fortunate. The New York Times and others report that many small businesses, the kind the PPP was most supposed to help, have missed out or even given the money back already because the are frightened by pages of rules and aren’t sure that, even with the loans, they’ll ever be able to restart their operations. If they don’t, a PPP gift can become an unpayable debt.

Meanwhile, ProPublica (another worthy journalism nonprofit) reports that relatives and business associates of the president of the United States raked in some $21 million in PPP loans.

As Martin Luther King described us a long time ago, “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has long benefited from the Old Bald White Men Protection Program.


Twitter, @debatestate