George Santos was elected to Congress last month from New York’s Third District, helping the Republican Party take control of the House with a slim majority. Six weeks after the election, the New York Times and other news organizations reported that Santos appeared to have made up almost everything in his biography, like graduating from Baruch College, working as a financial manager at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and creating a nonprofit animal rescue organization called Friends of Pets United.
On Monday, Santos admitted that he had “embellished” his résumé and had never graduated from college or worked on Wall Street, but he denied being wanted for fraud in his native Brazil, as the Times has reported, or having misled voters by falsely claiming that his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
“I never claimed to be Jewish,” he told the New York Post. “I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’ ”
Observers of the press have asked how news organizations could have missed the story of this miscreant until it was too late, and Santos had won the election. For one thing, the major New York dailies — the Times and Newsday — hadn’t assigned a single reporter to cover that race.
But media critic Dan Kennedy writes that a local weekly paper, the North Shore Leader in Locust Valley, broke much of the Santos story more than four months ago. Three weeks before the election, the Leader reported that Santos directed a venture capital fund that was shut down by the S.E.C. as a “Ponzi scheme” that stole more than $6 million from investors.
In an editorial, the Leader described Santos as “bizarre, unprincipled, and sketchy” and reported that $2 million his campaign claimed to have raised “seems to have vanished — or never been there.” Hundreds of thousands, the paper said, disappeared “into a black hole of dubious ‘consulting fees.’ ”
Maybe some big-city editors will be inspired to start reading small-town weeklies again. They might discover that there’s a renaissance of local journalism underway in this country, and that it is making a difference in civic life.
Cape Air founder and former state Sen. Dan Wolf came by the Independent’s office recently to give us a pep talk on our democracy-protecting mission of keeping people informed and engaged and ask us how our Direct Public Offering is going. (It’s doing OK. We’re about half way to our $375,000 goal.)
Wolf wondered aloud if there might be an easier way to go about raising investment capital: “What if instead of spending $44 billion to buy Twitter, Elon Musk had invested half that amount in local newspapers?” At about $1 million each, that would have bankrolled 22,000 papers — more than five for every county in the U.S.
I’m enjoying that fantasy. It would create thousands of jobs and be bad for the likes of George Santos — and we’d get to watch Musk go nuts trying to control 22,000 feisty small-town newspaper editors.