Resident evil

Strictly business: Gosh, it’s hard for Bites not to get swept up in the excitement of the big story in newspapering this week. The analysts tell us that McClatchy Corp.’s $4.5 billion buyout of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain is like “a python swallowing an elephant” or a “dolphin swallowing a small whale.” Bites prefers to think of it as being like a cat eating a watermelon.

But never mind that. The purchase will make the Sacramento-based McClatchy the second-largest newspaper chain in the nation. See, who says we’re not a world-class city? In fact, it’s “one of the most important purchases in the history of American journalism.” It says so right there in the Bee—that’s how Bites know it’s so exciting.

Nowhere in the business press was there any doubt about whether such mergers are good for journalism. Such notions are too quaint even to merit a mention anymore.

Quite the contrary, in fact, it was generally acknowledged that McClatchy has a reputation for quality journalism (again, it’s right there in the Bee) and was the best possible steward for the floundering Knight Ridder.

Of course, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt immediately announced that the company would “move with alacrity” to sell off some truly great papers like the San Jose Mercury News and The Philadelphia Inquirer—papers that are nationally recognized but that “do not fit our long standing acquisition and operating strategies.”

In other words, there are great papers, and there are profitable papers. And Pruitt—who made more than $2 million last year, making him the highest-paid CEO in Sacramento—knows the difference.

Taken for a ride: Representative John Doolittle is sticking it to the taxpayers to pay for his luxury SUV, according to a report released earlier this week from the newspaper chain formerly known as Knight Ridder.

The congressman drives a Toyota Highlander at a cost of $1,073 per month—and we get to foot the bill.

Charlie Brown, Doolittle’s democratic opponent in the 4th District, sent out a pithy press release saying, “This is not conservative leadership—it’s corrupted leadership and it’s time for a change.”

Bites sees his point but was a little disappointed at how many Democrats were taking taxpayers for a ride. Lots of Democrats are driving SUVs on the public dime, too. And Maxine Waters, who is supposed to be the progressive’s progressive—who opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—drives a Lincoln Town Car, at over $900 a month. Maxine, can’t your staffers find you a nice Prius? Put our money where your mouth is.

Stuck in Lodi again: Where in the world is Ayman al-Zawahiri? Well, circa 1998-’99, Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man and Al Qaeda co-founder was living in Lodi, FBI informant Naseem Khan testified Monday in Sacramento federal court. Khan is considered a crucial witness in the prosecution of Umer Hayat and his son Hamid Hayat, Lodi Muslim residents accused of terrorism and lying to the FBI (note to Scooter Libby: This is apparently a crime). Al-Zawahiri, a master of disguise, apparently took a Greyhound bus to the wretched Sacramento Valley backwater, where he played classic rock songs for the inebriated patrons of local bars until finally becoming disgusted with the infidels and catching the next Amtrak out of town.

No, not really. Khan claims he passed al-Zawahiri coming and going at the local mosque and didn’t recognize the second-most-wanted terrorist in the world until seeing his picture on TV two years later, after 9/11.

Of course, the snitch’s testimony came on the same day a federal judge in Virginia shut down the death-penalty trial of Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui when it was discovered that prosecutors had tampered with at least seven witnesses. And al-Zawahiri’s presence in the United States has never been corroborated by any intelligence service.

Finally, it seems extremely dubious that al-Zawahiri would have entered the United States after masterminding the 1998 attack on two U.S. embassies in Africa. But who knows? He wouldn’t be the first person to get stuck in Lodi.