Dastardly dailies

Pub date June 2, 2006
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

Why oh why does San Francisco have such terrible daily newspapers? In one of the most progressive cities in the country, why must we be subjected to Carla Marinucci’s regular hit pieces on the most liberal candidate in any race on the Chronicle’s front pages, or Examiner columnist Ken Garcia’s sanctimonious, truth-challenged screeds against progressives? Why do these papers so consistently sabotage human progress?
If you’re looking for evidence of the Chron’s political agenda, just read Marinucci’s two front-page stories in the last two days, both of which made the exact same accusation against gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides: The stories said rich developer Angelo Tsakopoulos was trying to buy the election, and a future governor’s allegiance, with about $9 million worth of independent expenditures favoring Angelides.
Such editorial overkill is clearly designed to hurt Angelides and help his Chronicle-endorsed challenger, Steve Westly. Why else would both articles bury or ignore key facts in the story?
Tsakopoulos isn’t the political neophyte Marinucci pretends he is. He’s actually been one the top regular contributors to Democrats for almost a generation (Bill Clinton used to stay with Tsakopoulos during California visits throughout his presidency); he’s also a close friend and mentor to Angelides, not simply someone trying to buy his way into a position of influence. Tsakopoulos already had Angelides’ ear; he didn’t need to spend a dime to get it.
I’m certainly not arguing that sizable independent expenditures aren’t notable, worrisome, or newsworthy. In fact, the Guardian this week reported that Sup. Fiona Ma has benefited from more than $750,000 in IEs on her behalf, most of that from the same sorts of corporate power brokers that the Chronicle regularly supports.
So why didn’t this story make the Chronicle’s front page even once, let alone on two consecutive days the week before the election? After all, the money spent on Ma’s behalf was a far higher percentage of the campaign spending in that race – and will likely have a bigger impact – than what Tsakopoulos spent on the governor’s race.
And it came from sources who really do have an interest in influencing Ma – the tobacco and liquor lobbies, gaming interests, developers, and her old boss, John Burton, who wants to retain his power broker status.
Maybe one reason is the fact that the Chronicle endorsed Ma and has been running the very attack ads that these IEs paid for (which, not so coincidentally, run right next to the web versions of Marinucci’s stories).
Another reason could be Marinucci’s barely concealed schoolgirl crush on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who her articles have described in terms that are flattering and deceptive (see “Couple in the news," www.sfbg.com/40/17/news_shorts.html). It happens again and again. Just pop over to sfgate.com, do a search using “Marinucci and Schwarzenegger” and you’ll see what I mean.
I sent an e-mail to Marinucci and five Chronicle editors raising these points, and here was Marinucci’s response: “As a longtime reader of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, I’m going to refer you to a wonderful motto which I know your publisher, Bruce Brugmann, and many of the people on your staff understand. It’s on your paper’s masthead: "It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
    “It’s absolutely your right not to like our stories. Sometimes, the candidates — Republicans and Democrats — don’t like them either.  There’s no hidden agenda or anything else in play, another than another old newspaper motto that Brugmann also understands well: that we do the job "without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved."
I responded that her quotes didn’t seem to answer my questions, particularly because the second one seems to directly contradict her approach to political coverage, in which she seems to reserve her attacks for the most liberal candidate in any race. But she didn’t respond to my follow-up questions. 
We at the Guardian have our own bias – a progressive bias – and we spend more column-inches helping our friends and hurting our enemies than the other way around. It’s something we’ve always been honest about, unlike the Chronicle, which pretends to the high standard of “objectivity.” We strive for fairness to all sides and don’t apologize for advocating the broad public interest.
But we have no self-interest in our approach. We don’t like Ma’s opponent, Janet Reilly, because she’s going to defend our corporate interests in Sacramento. We like her simply because she’s far smarter and more progressive than Ma. And we don’t like the IEs attacks on her because they attempt to fool voters into believing just the opposite – deceptively misrepresenting where these two candidates fall on the political spectrum — something all newspapers should actively oppose.
Yet neither Ma, Marinucci, Garcia, nor any of the wealthy interests they represent seem to have much regard for the truth, at least around election time. I suppose that’s their prerogative, and perhaps just the nature of the beast. But San Franciscans deserve better, and they should be offended that they aren’t getting it from their daily newspapers.