An Alternative Reason Why Newspaper Endorsements Mean Nothing

May 4, 2012 | The day when reporters become bloggers and bloggers become reporters is here. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I use the term blogger as a pejorative here, since some people use the term interchangeably with reporter. It truly depends on the spirit or point the speaker is attempting to convey. In reality, anybody that independently reports the news is a reporter and a blogger and neither go far in paying the bills.

I bring this up surely as a chance to skewer elitist at tree-destroying legacy newspapers, but also because of what appears to be numerous editorial boards in the Bay Area attempting to flex their depleting opinion-making muscle when, in fact, their acts at anointing the next congressman or assembly member is based on zero reporting. Zero context and, therefore, zero credibility.

The endorsement by the Bay Area News Group of 18th Assembly District candidate Joel Young forced many in the East Bay to scratch their collective heads. One person said the article should have been published in the satirical newspaper, The Onion. Not only has Young been hounded by domestic violence allegations and troubles with telling the truth, the newspaper’s “editorial board” (apparently comprised of Daniel Borenstein) tabbed him the best candidate for a single issue–reforming government pensions. Borenstein also applied the lone template to candidates for the Hayward City Council, who proceeded to trash Councilman Francisco Zermeno for a perceived lack of intelligence. Zermeno told me this week, that he didn’t meet with the BANG editorial board, so the assessment apparently was based on a sole article written by its reporter Eric Kurhi. At least, the Daily Review wrote at least one story to base its recommendations.

The BANG has not covered a single issue or debate on the 18th Assembly race to this date. As the only reporter who has covered the campaign for both the East Bay Express and The Citizen, I have no trouble discerning why Borenstein fell in love with Young’s charismatic ability for saying whatever he thinks you need to hear. The irony here is, if Borenstein understood Young as being the candidate to screw over public sector workers, then it proves the Service Employee International Union correct when they pulled their endorsement from Young in March after he privately trashed his Democratic opponents as being too liberal.

The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle has been no better. Their shockingly distasteful dress down of Rep. Pete Stark was nothing more than a vendetta by elitist journalists who could be heard gleefully cackling in a video posted this week as the 40-year congressman painfully searched for answers to his now-struggling campaign for re-election. Their endorsement of Eric Swalwell (although, it mentions little in terms of his qualifications and accomplishment) appeared to have been hijacked by the Tea Party Patriots who have long heckled Stark over the past two years.

Over the past three years that I have covered politics in Stark’s congressional district, I have never seen a reporter from the Chronicle. Their political reporter, Carla Marinucci, recently referred to Stark as a “South Bay congressman.” South Bay? As in San Jose? Two weeks ago, Marinucci wrote an article on Stark’s bribery charge in past tense and it showed. To make her point, she used an anecdote about the Tri Valley Democratic Club voting to reprimand Stark for his allegations. The intent by Marinucci was to impart some sort of mutiny against Stark was taking place in his district. What she apparently did not know was Swalwell is one of its loyal members. She used the same trick to report audience members in Hayward for the now-infamous bribery charge were angry at Stark when he spoke. This is true, but as the reporter in the room would know, the group was actually Tea Party member there to support Stark’s other opponent, Chris Pareja.

To push the similarities between the Chronicle editorial board and the Tea Party further, the sole intent of distributing video of Stark’s meeting with Chronicle editors, was to trumpet a gaffe in the vein of Pete Behaving Badly. Stark incorrectly charged a Chronicle columnist with contributing to Swalwell’s campaign and confusing Solyndra with Tesla. In the fall of 2010, Tea Party activists led by Golden Gate Minuteman Steve Kemp consistently camped out at Stark’s monthly town hall meetings hoping for a similar offending soundbite and, in some cases egged him on with mouthfuls of vicious rejoinders, including one Tea Party member who vaguely threatened to hit Stark over the head with a tripod.

Why do those simpletons in the East Bay overwhelming vote for a moron like Stark, the San Francisco Chronicle asks? Stark is rude, they wrote. He publicly called someone a “whore,” said the President gets off on having American troops being killed and lobbed unkind words at his opponents on Capitol Hill. News flash: these are the exact same reasons why the residents of the East Bay vote for Stark. Those words were spoken to lobbyists, President George W. Bush and to Republican obstructionists. Yes, we hate those type of people, too. In fact, Stark may be a perfect progressive in the minds of his East Bay constituents and view the extra-curricular as political theater. To make matters worse, the Chronicle focused in no way on what our representation in Congress without Stark would actually mean. Without disparaging Swalwell, his candidacy, so far, is based upon nothing. He simply has no experience in government and therefore zero accomplishments to hang his hat on. Congress is not the State Assembly and even those two East Bay races feature candidates with more experience than Swalwell. Any rudimentary assessment of the race would signal this is a huge issue and cause for concern.

People have always wondered whether newspapers endorsement really matter even before the changing dynamics of the newsroom over the past 20 years. The reasons now are more fundamental than the dwindling circulation of these legacy papers, it has to do solely with reporting. These editorials this week reveal a not-so-dirty secret, especially if you subscribe to the local papers–they contain very little local coverage. So how can these editors opine on something as important as whom their readers should elect? If there are not supplementing their candidate interviews with hands-on reporting from their journalists, what exactly are they doing? I think they like to call it blogging.

Elitist journalists often disparage bloggers for merely reading a few originally reported articles and typing away their opinions. How is what the Chronicle and BANG papers doing any different? There is very little context and eyewitness reporting in anything their paper’s purport to endorse. In fact, in the dark recesses of insider information in my own brain, some of the assertions and opinions they make are truly hilarious and bound to bite them in the behind when the truth is reported.

It’s kind of like this: remember when the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2010 Nadia Lockyer was best candidate for Alameda County Board of Supervisor? And then their columnist Chip Johnson stupidly wrote last week, Lockyer wasn’t fully vetted? Of course, she was vetted. It was by a “blogger” by the name of me, who covered the race for six months and concluded something wasn’t right with this inexperience candidate. Yeah, of course, now we know she was smoking crank at the time. Did the Chronicle send a reporter to cover the race? No. Does their opinion about the current crop of potential Nadia Lockyers and Mary Hayashis (Lockyashi) matter now? No.

In the meantime, keep blogging, newspaper people, I’ve got a candidate’s forum to cover.

Categories: Assembly, BANG, congress, Daily Review, Dennis Hayward, Hayward, San Francisco Chronicle

35 replies

  1. Great article!


  2. So where does this leave us?
    We reject Swalwell, elect Pete for a swan-song term and then get spoon fed the Alameda County Democratic party leader's “choice” in 2014.

    Now everyone, fall in line, support Pete, and in two years we'll give you a “good” choice. We already have him picked out and he has agreed to wait his turn.
    Now scoot over to the polls and give Pete one more slap on the back. Never mind the fumbling and confusion, he's got seniority!

    My first election to vote in was 1972. I have not had a real choice since then. I'm a 40 year Democrat who is tired of the Alameda County party club that feeds us the likes of Nadia Lockyer and Mary Hayashi, expecting us to fall in line.

    Finally we have the top-two process in place and at least have some real choice.
    I'm not going to vote for Pete if for no other reason than a protest vote against the way the club has run the system for the last decades.
    I've yet to hear one local party leader say anything negative about Mary Hayashi's shame.
    Everyone just zips their mouth, acting like nothing happened.

    Yes, the newspapers will have minimal impact, and Pete will probably win by at least 10 percentage points in November, but voters like myself will finally have a vote in November.
    We can at least say, “you stayed too long” with our vote.


  3. Nice article.

    I will argue that mainstream newspaper endorsements can be very helpful in low turn out, low voter Id races. These races normally suffer from the aforementioned as well as voter fatigue, so the hundred or so votes you may win from an endorsement can be the difference in the results.

    Keep up the good work.


  4. When can we expect your endorsement? I might actually pay attention to that one!


  5. Wow Steven. Your arrogance is striking. Since you are the only true journalist covering this race, what are Mr. Young's policy proposals? Have you ever asked? What were his initiatives on the AC Transit Board? Do you know what committees he serves on?

    You've written about a dozen articles on an eight month old restraining order request that was dismissed with prejudice by a family court judge. That pretty much sums up the extent of your extensive coverage. If you want to cover this race, why not ask the candidates about why they're running and what they want to do in Sacramento? That's what the editorial boards that you pillory here did. Apparently that's not good journalism in your eyes. What is?


  6. Keep up the good work Steven!


  7. Mark, as someone who has covered many of the same events as Steve has recently (The Pioneer), I agree with Steve's article. I recently asked Swalwell the other day if the SF Chronicle ever bothered to talk to him before the Stark scandal started and he said, “no.” He followed with with, “well the Stark thing,” pointing at Stark's recent allegations as the only reason for the SF Chronicle's recent interest. Even then, it was only for an editorial board endorsement. The fact is the recent newspapers haven't done much to cover local politics other than some light coverage by Josh Richman. Other than that it has been a man using blogger to cover politics and a school newspaper (The Pioneer). The “Heart of the Bay” has a gaping, fat hole of political events that have gone uncovered for years and the residents know it, city council knows it, the candidates know it and business owners know it.


  8. The Bay Area News Group has taken a decent-to-good set of local papers and turned them into right-wing rags. It is entirely accurate to say that Borenstein, by far the most frequently published editorialist for the papers, has little interest in policy other than destroying public sector pensions and other forms of worker compensation. Of course, BANG's treatment of its staff, particularly those who have been represented by the Guild, is notoriously abysmal, so this is not a surprise that Borenstein would reflect a point of view which is far out of step with its potential readership.

    How it improves our economy to take money from public servants is never made clear; in fact, the loss in sales tax revenue and business closings that must come from job and pay cuts to local consumers is never contemplated. Nor is it contemplated by City Managers in the East Bay.

    I wonder why?


  9. One of Young's main proposals he is now touting via his AC Transit office is Buy American. But he didn't even introduce that proposal, Elsa Ortiz did. He has shown little leadership on the AC Transit board, maybe that's why Ortiz and other her fellow board members have endorsed Abel Guillen over Young.


  10. Hi! You must be “anonymous insider”. Young was the swing vote on the Finance Committee and also saw to the resolution's implementation. That's why he's the only candidate endorsed by the Teamsters Local 853 and the Painters District Council 16, who represent workers at Gillig.

    He also worked with Dr. Eleanor Ramsey to revise AC Transit's procurement policies to increase sourcing from small, local, and emerging businesses. And ran workshops explaining to local business owners how to contract with the agency. Two initiatives which, among many others, he led. It's true Ms. Ortiz doesn't like him. Other than her, who at AC Transit endorsed Guillen?

    Since you want to bring up records, what about the multiple grand jury investigations of the Peralta District during Mr. Guillen's tenure as Board President? 6 years into his term, the District is on probationary status for accreditation. The financial reforms he trumpets on his website and in his literature all happened within the last two years, after they were slammed by the Bay Area News Group, ratings agencies, and the state. Less than a year ago, the Contra Costa Times wrote, “In its annual report, the civil investigative panel said elected board members — nearly all of whom remain in office — in 2005 began essentially rubber-stamping ill-advised recommendations by former Chancellor Elihu Harris and other administrators” that “unnecessarily boosted the District's retirement costs to more than $750 million.” The new Chancellor excuses the Board by describing them as “laypeople”, but in his materials Guillen describes himself as “an educational finance expert.”


  11. The Bay Area News Group has taken a long list of East Bay papers, including fine publications like the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune, and turned them into cookie-cutter right-wing rags with almost no local content.

    In his editorials, Borenstein has established that he has little interest in policy other than a desire to eviscerate public services and the compensations for the public servants who provide them. Since BANG treats its own workforce with open contempt, particularly those who have organized under the Guild, it is unsurprising that manager Borenstein takes his war on the middle-class outside the newsroom as well.

    How will the local and State economy recover if the labor market is in a race to the bottom AND public services and programs are taken away or reduced? This is not explained at all. How wil local businesses thrive and sales and other business tax revenue be brought out of its tailspin if more people lose their jobs, pay and benefits?

    Gee, you might wonder if permanenty crippling our government's ability to respond to problems is exactly what Borenstein and BANG want. That puts their endorsement of Young in perspective.


  12. The funniest thing about Mr. Guillen's literature is that when he talks about correcting years of mismanagement and fiscal recklessness by previous administrations, the administration he's talking about is his. It happened during his tenure as Board President. He also talks about increasing transparency and accountability, but he worked to block the release of internal Trustee emails when BANG was doing their investigation.


  13. The Chronicle endorsement may mean nothing.
    I guess that also applies to the Oakland Tribune, Daily Review, CC Times, Tri-Valley Times and all the sister papers in the group who have just come out for Swalwell.

    Granted, all those papers have one editorial board, but is there any paper Pete Stark can pick up?

    Question, will he make any more public appearances where there is a open forum with all the candidates? Is that too risky, or will avoiding such events, look like he is hiding?

    What is the best strategy?


  14. Mark is a paid campaign operative for Joel Young. He even gave the opening statement on behalf of Young at the APAPA Forum:

    BANG used pension reform as a litmus test for their endorsement. That's why they supported Tea Party Republican Mike Hudson in the 11th Assembly District race, when he has a icecubes chance in hell of actually winning that safely Democratic seat. Endorsing tea partiers and rushing to some faux-middle has hurt their credibility.

    Abel recently received the endorsement of the SF Bay Guardian, which is progressive practically to a fault.


  15. Hello again Anon. Yep, I work for Joel, honored to do so. I've volunteered hundreds of hours for him too. My opinions here are my own. Good of you to bring up pensions again, because I think it's a really important issue facing the state. I think it's important to be clear here that public sector workers are not at fault. They're being blamed for years of bad decisions by political leaders which have threatened the solvency of CALPERS and consequently, state spending on services.

    The Peralta Board is a great example of this kind of bad decision-making. Under the leadership of Mr. Guillen, Peralta engaged in a series of financial investments, including interest rate swaps and complex derivatives, that deferred interest payments on bond issuances until 2049. As a result the Peralta district has a BB rating on its bonds, which is pretty close to junk status for those of you who aren't familiar with bond ratings. That BB rating will cost future Peralta students hundreds of dollars in additional fees that will go to financing the district's massive debt.

    Kicking the can down the road allowed the district to increase its current spending on programs. Programs Mr. Guillen touts as part of his Assembly run. It also allowed Trustees and the Chancellor to engage in spending on travel, food, and entertainment perks that were heavily criticized by an Alameda County grand jury.

    None of the district's practices changed until several months after a grand jury investigation and a threatened removal of accreditation status, which would have prevented Peralta students from being able to transfer to other colleges. When they were compelled to act, the Board did so, and I'm glad they did. But that hardly counts as reform and leadership.

    Why single out Mr. Guillen for this recklessness? Because he went to the same graduate program I did and I can pretty much guarantee he has a high degree of financial literacy. He should have known better. But he was unwilling to call out the Chancellor or his fellow Board members amidst all this reckless spending.

    To put it in context in terms of the Legislature, California currently has an A- credit rating, the lowest of any state in the U.S. A lower credit rating means you have to spend hundreds of millions more in additional interest payments to finance critical infrastructure investments. The main reason given by credit rating agencies is that legislators engage in budgeting gimmicks that kick the can down the road. The same kind of gimmicks used by the Peralta board.

    On his website and at public forums Mr. Guillen talks about reducing the threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority for revenue decisions. For anyone who has watched state politics over the last decade or so, this is the intellectual equivalent of saying “just what for the rapture and everything will work itself out.”

    Would love to have this debate. I strongly support defined benefit pensions for public sector workers and state programs. To preserve those now and in the future, the state must account for its liabilities more transparently.


  16. Mark Goodwin tries to escape the shady character of his buddy Joel Young. But after the likes of Nadia and Mary, Tavares and other journalists should continue to delve into questions surrounding Joel's temperment.


  17. Hi again Anon. I don't see you disputing any of the facts that I've laid out here. I know Joel. I have for years. He's intelligent, free-thinking, he's a leader, and he's certainly not temperamental. He's worked incredibly hard to be in the situation he's in now and he has concrete plans to move our state forward.

    I'm a believer in facts and policy debate. I'm gravely concerned about the lack of media coverage of state policy. State policy has a huge impact every day in the lives of everyone in California.

    If you'd like to talk to Joel, we're here. Please contact us. We'd love to talk.


  18. Mark maybe a. Paid staffer but it does not diminishes the fact. Peralta debacle was unde the leadership of Abel Guillen. The kid is just not ready for prime time and we should not reward him with our votes becauses he has proved nothing while being at Peralta that would justify his elevation to Assembly. Think people.


  19. By the way Steven, if it's not clear to you yet, my comments here are a direct challenge to your integrity. Because if you are a journalist, you'd do your homework and you'd cover this. If you are who I think you are, you won't, and you'll continue to publish the gossip you hear from your friends as though it were fact.


  20. Funny you attack Tavares yet his reporting was spot on with Nadia Lockyer and in other cases. If more reporters and bloggers had his gumption to challenge the political elite, perhaps we had avoided some of the fiasco we witnessed lately.


  21. That's a nice thought but probably not. The key driver in Mrs. Lockyer's race was money. It's hard to overcome such a large spending differential in a local race. Joel Young endorsed Mrs. Lockyer's main opponent, Liz Figueroa, who I also have a lot of respect for.

    When it comes to local politics, there's no such thing as elite. If you want to talk to Mr. Young or anyone you can pretty easily. In fact we spend most of our time trying to reach out and talk to you. Here's his phone number: (510) 470-4306. Give him a call. My hope is that people ask real questions and seek out specifics so they can form their own opinions.


  22. By MW:

    Since this article is actually largely about the Scam FraudFIXso Comical, a newspaper that even by the “standards” of the mainstream media is an extreme joke, let me first state that many of the articles in the Comical are written mostly or solely with the intent to be of entertainment value only and/or to deliberately misinform the readers.

    For instance, many of the articles in the Comical also are written in such a way so as to cover up the city of San Francisco's dirty laundry and/or the dirty laundry of various bigshots.

    For example, a lawyer named Harvey Hereford while extremely drunk was involved in a major auto accident. If I remember correctly, one person was killed as result of his drunken driving and another person was extremely seriously injured.

    However, the Comical repeatedly referred to Hereford in its various articles on the accident as a Santa Rosa lawyer, and even though Hereford, and while he lived in Santa Rosa, his law office was in San Francisco. So when I called up the Comical to attempt to get that corrected, since he was a SAN FRANCISCO lawyer and NOT a Santa Rosa lawyer, the mentally retarded jokers, er, excuse me, I mean the reporters, at the Comical each time told me, “We don't want to talk about that.”

    I also repeatedly informed the Comical that of the two largest fires SF has had in decades, fires that the drunks, potsmokers, jokers, incompetents, and paid off political hacks in the SF Fire Dept both declared to have been caused by bad luck rather than arson, both fires had an interesting connection to a certain real estate company on Kearny Street in SF. However, every single reporter at the Comical I discussed that with told me, “We don't want to talk about that.”

    In other words, in many cases the Comical is nothing more than a stooge and puppet on a string for Willie Brown, Dianne Feinstein, and SF City Hall.


  23. Haha when is comes to local politics there is no elite? what turnip truck did you fall off?


  24. By MW:

    In my earlier post of 6:50PM on Sunday, May 6, 2012, I neglected to mention that in the practical sense the Scam FraudFIXso Comical often really is nothing more than a PR firm for the city of San Francisco, SF City Hall, big business, the totally corrupt California State Bar (also known as the CSB), certain crooked law firms, and the legal profession in general, and so forth.

    In other words among our nation's major newspapers, it has even far less independence than any of the others, and even granting that many of the others are jokes. However the Comical is by far the very worst of them all.

    In fact, the Comical even used to have a particular reporter whose virtually full time job was constantly “informing” the public that the CSB: one, was a wonderful organization; two, had a truly fantastic system of discipline to keep crooked lawyers in line and protect the public; and three, head and shoulders above all of the state bars in the other forty nine states.

    However, the actual truth is that the CSB is even far phonier, sleazier, more corrupt, and more dedicated to engaging in virtually non stop lies and fraud than even John Edwards, Spiro, and Richard Nixon ever were, and altho the Comical seldom if ever criticizes the CSB.


  25. I don't know anyone who has ever heard of Mark Goodwin. In fact, all I know about him is that he looks like Joaquin Phoenix.


  26. I visited the Joel Young website. As someone who knows nothing about him at all, I was moved by this discussion to do a little more investigation before my typical early June cram session. I found what I always find on such websites: next to nothing of import. There is a page with his issues, but about 200 words of filler under each topic. No stats and certainly nothing talking about how he proposes to take on each issue. I find all of the political candidates do this. The Internet is the perfect place to let people know about what you know about as a candidate, but it seems they don't want to put too much out there because they may be called on it and have to walk stuff back. No guts, no glory.

    I am someone who is looking for a good candidate to vote for. I am not opposed to Mr. Young, but there is nothing to speak for him and I don't care about newspaper or political endorsements. I want to vote for someone who is ballsy enough to put themselves out there by talking in full sentences not soundbytes and to the point. Is there some way to get the candidates to put on paper what it is they really mean to accomplish during their term in specifics? If they cannot do this easily it means that they are just full of hot air and mean to spend their whole term glad handing and trying for higher office. We already have too many of those in Alameda County. Like everyone currently in office. Change, change, change, change…


  27. Hi. The problem with posting lengthy explanations of policy proposals on your website is that no one will read them. Requiring voters to read a lot is not a smart way to run a campaign. I've seen more than one politician lose by using too much text.

    Like I've said before, if you want specifics, please reach out to us. Would love to spend 10 minutes on the phone answering questions or giving details. Here's my number if you don't want to call Joel-510-338-7735. I won't pick up if I don't recognize the number, but I will call you back. I'm also going to post some longer position papers up on, but those will take another week.


  28. I'm right here Steven. Thanks, I think, on the Phoenix thing. I asked you out to lunch last week. I'd bet I know a lot more about Joel and his policies than the “insiders” you quote. And if you want to know more about my background, all you have to do is ask.


  29. This is one of the best articles you have ever written – you have cut through the bullshit and got right down to it. The Chronicle and BANG didn't endorse Swalwell has much as they vilified Pete. Pete has been on the right side of every vote that matters to the people he serves. His leadership on health care reform, civil rights, and standing up for working families in Alameda County is without equal. I really was shocked to see the attacks on Pete and the endorsement of someone so clearly unqualified for Congress.


  30. To Anon: Just to give you some evidence. There have been 189 visitors to date to the “Issues” page on our website. Based on past experience, that number may hit 300 by election day. I can pretty much guarantee that most of those people don't read to the bottom of the page and that more than half of them are political operatives of some sort. I wish websites and lengthy policy proposals were a better tool for communicating with voters but they're not.

    Please do give me a call. I'm not a soundbite type.


  31. I don't think it's appropriate for the manager of Joel Young's campaign to be making comments, but, who knows? This must be a new state of the art way of trying to intimidate reporters. I just don't understand why Joel Young thinks I'm in the race. Why doesn't he attack his opponents, instead of me?


  32. Yes Cindy, Pete forever.

    You know, many of the “attacks” on Pete stem from his own attitude.
    It wasn't by mere chance that his fellow members of the Ways and Means Committee took the most unusual step in bypassing him for the chairmanship.
    After waiting over 37 years, they just passed him over, throwing out the proclaimed advantage of “seniority”.

    The attitude that made that happen is not completely different than much of what drives the current feelings about him and his ability to serve the new district.
    Like an old boxer, he has stayed too long.
    Not saying he's gonna lose, but it would have been a elegant exit if he left on his own and allowed the other two or three “qualified” candidates a open path to contest the office.

    However this election turns out, it will still have been one term too long.


  33. I'm not trying to attack you. I'm pretty civil. I'm just trying to call you out on your reporting, or lack thereof in some cases. It's not very state of the art. All of our contact, other than a brief phone call, is plainly spelled out here for everyone to see. If you want to influence the public space, and especially elections, you should be accountable for what you say.


  34. At least I'm not making a bunch of anonymous comments and pretending like I'm not a campaign operative.


  35. Here is another anon for you, Mr. Goodwin. Sound like you have a better chance of representing the 18th, since you are doing such a fine job of representing your client. Why don't you run instead?


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