Dam telling debate

Pub date July 20, 2006
SectionSF Blog

By Steven T. Jones
The debate over whether to tear down the O’Shaughnessy Dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley — which a state report this week concluded is possible, but with a prohibitive price tag of up to $10 billion — is interesting for what it says about the power and perils of activist journalism, particularly when the big boys deign to practice it. Despite their current revisionist history, the San Francisco Chronicle pushed hard for the construction of this dam 100 years ago (waging a nasty smear campaign against John Muir and other conservationists in the process — read Gray Brechin’s great book Imperial San Francisco for the whole story). Then, as now, that paper and its downtown allies wanted growth at any cost. But today, it is another newspaper crusade that has propelled forward the riduculous notion of spending needed billions of dollars to undo a historical error. The Sacramento Bee and its associate editorial writer Tom Philip turned the idea of some environmentalists and studies by UC Davis in a full-blown offensive to tear down the dam, in the process winning a Pulitzer Prize and convincing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to order the study that came out this week.
Now, just imagine if we could get the media mega-corporations to put this kind of effort into eliminating poverty, reducing American militarism and police state excesses, creating socialized medicine, or any of a long list of important social and economic justice concerns, rather than pursuing sentimental pipe dreams. Then we might start making real progress.
Instead, we’re left with the latest skirmish in the age-old Sacramento-San Francisco rivalry.