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What Rep. George Santos' fallout reveals about the news

Congressman George Santos' rocky start to his political career paints a picture of what our news landscape looks like today.
Posted at 1:04 PM, Jan 26, 2023

The midterm elections had been over for more than five weeks, when troubling questions about incoming member George Santos' past first caught the nation's attention. 

So how did something so major — in a race that helped give Republicans the majority in the House of Representatives — go unnoticed? 

Experts say the answer goes beyond just shrinking local newsrooms. It's also the inability for smaller publications to get noticed when they do important work.  

"It's not great that Newsday and The New York Times didn't have their own investigative reporters, but OK, a community newspaper did," Rebuild Local News Coalition Chair Steve Waldman said. "Why didn't that blow up and get followed up by everyone?"

The North Shore Leader — a small newspaper on Long Island — did report on some of serious discrepancies surrounding Santos' finances ahead of last November's election. It just didn't get any steam.  

The paper does not have a Twitter account, and the rest of its social media is rarely updated.  

"It just shows how sickly the underlying local news system [is], that it couldn't even get to that," Waldman continued. "Even the larger places are not paying attention to what the smaller places are doing. And also, that most of the smaller places aren't doing much."

Santos receives 2 committee assignments despite more calls to resign

Santos receives 2 committee assignments despite more calls to resign

Rep. George Santos has denied wrongdoing and maintains he'll serve out his two-year congressional term, unless his constituents ask him to resign.


Another trend Santos' election put on display was the growing nationalization of politics, where voters have trouble getting information about races outside of presidential contests or hotly contested Senate elections.   

"Voters care about Congressional candidates," University of Pennsylvania Political Science Professor Daniel Hopkins said. "They also don't have a lot of sources of information about their specific Congressional candidates."

Voters in Santos' New York District probably didn't find it that odd not knowing much about him.  

And because of that, the individual candidate can be less important than the party that comes after his or her name.

"One of the downsides to nationalist politics is that races for governor, races for mayor wind up looking like the next iteration of Trump vs. Biden," Hopkins continued. "And we might miss the opportunity to discuss issues or to divide along issues that pertain locally, but aren't as important nationally."

The problem for local news advocates like Waldman — whose group is working on public policy solutions to protect newsrooms across the country — is that national media is filling the news void.  

And that can often mean ideologically driven content centered on what's happening in the nation's capital. 

"I just think we should all have a real sense of urgency about the severity of the collapse of local news, and the need to turn this around really quickly," Waldman said. "There's going to be fewer and fewer reporters really just covering things that are of interest or importance to a community."