Filner Farts at the Cotillion

Can the Voice of San Diego “Tame” the Mayor?  

By Bob Dorn

filner 002“He’s abrasive, aggressive, impolitic, caustic, truculent, brash…” That’s from the second sentence Liam Dillon wrote for the Voice of San Diego of July 30.  The first  sentence was,  “Bob Filner stabs you in the front and stabs you in the back.”

The U-T characterized Mayor Bob Filner on October 27, just before the election, as “Brash. Abrasive. Combative.”

The next day, the LA Times more equitably described both Filner and his opponent, Carl DeMaio, as “abrasive personalities.”

Among the self-styled responsible press of San Diego, things calmed down a bit after Filner won the election early in November.  But the honeymoon lasted less than three weeks when, on Nov. 21, VOSD was back at it, calling Filner “loud, abrasive and about as liberal as you can get without running an LGBT studies department.”

Now that the town has a new mayor you have to wonder how the boys and girls working the city hall beat are going to fare after portraying Filner as an out-of- control bull terrier.   The answer is, with too little regard for fact.

Early this month Filner had to confront Council president Todd Gloria over Gloria’s attempt to hijack the process of who has the power to nominate council members to committees and to outside, joint agencies.   The VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt wrote it was “an explosive event” stemming from a “confusion over the appointment process.”  It fell to VOSD letter writers and The Reader’s Matt Potter (in a story datelined the same day) to point out to VOSD that council rules give the nominating power to the mayor, not the council president.  Filner would have been nuts not to deal strongly with Gloria’s attempted ambush.

Halverstadt and others at VOSD seemed to have decided that anyone as tough and confrontational as Filner does a disservice to San Diego.  “In the past,” she wrote, “Mayor Jerry Sanders held a series of behind-the-scenes meetings with the council president… a move the city attorney’s office decided was kosher.” Down lower in the story, Halverstadt said about those comfortably closed sessions that “Perhaps Filner will we willing to work in a similar fashion on future votes but that certainly didn’t happen Tuesday.”

Those are statements insiders make.  On the soggiest level, they seem to put good manners ahead of open, if noisy, council meetings.  At the worst, they endorse hidden government, an odd position for a journalist to advocate.

Reporters are human beings.  They get crushes on and hatreds for people whom they deal with, but they’re paid good money not to let their personal feelings get in the way of their reporting.  If for no other reason, reporters should worry about keeping the personal out of their reporting so that readers will be inclined to trust them.

Wandering just a bit more into VOSD attitudes seems to reveal just how prominent a role instincts are playing in its reporting.  Some of those instincts apparently aren’t … er… healthy.

Take another look at Dotinga’s Nov. 21 story, and here fairness demands a long quote:

He’s both the consummate insider – he’s been involved in politics just about forever — and perhaps the most outsider mayor we’ve had in more than a century. He’s not buddy-buddy with the media nor business establishments, nor does he hob-nob with the wealthy or rack up triple-figure dinner checks… Not surprisingly, Filner’s not from here. 

Now, I like everything about that last paragraph, excepting the business about where he’s from.  What does that really matter?  Well, the story was about the death of former U-T publisher David Copley, and other San Diego powers who, in contrast to Filner, were considered amiable.

Filner was born in Pittsburgh, went to Cornell College in upstate New York and from there went south to join the Freedom Riders movement, riding buses through the south promoting equal rights.   He arrived here to teach, was elected to the school board and then spent 20 years in Congress.  No, that’s not like other San Diego politicians.

The air was considerably more foul in the story Liam Dillon wrote back at the end of July, placing Filner in a tradition that doesn’t reflect the version of San Diego the VOSD would prefer.

He quotes Filner, “I gotta talk about special interests and their funding and how they do it, so, I’m truculent.”  Then Dillon writes in his own voice:

“This, according to Filner, explains why he keeps getting elected despite appearances that might explain otherwise.  He’s a white New York Jew representing a Latino-majority district on the country’s border with Mexico.”

“Despite appearances that might explain” what?  Was Dillon talking about those ads DeMaio’s campaign ran with the close-shot of Filner’s rictus stretching across San Diego television screens that must have sent shivers through the city’s amiable trend-setters and exceedingly well-mannered political leaders?  You know, even if he was born and grew up in Pittsburgh “New York Jew” just seems to be more to the point, don’t you think?  Those are the sort of people who would live in a very diverse district including lots of minorities and bordering on, ugh, Mexico, don’t you think?

The presumption among VOSD writers seems to be that San Diego doesn’t approve of Bob Filner, even though “he keeps getting elected” by San Diegans.  Either there’s something wrong with San Diego for electing Filner, or there’s something wrong with VOSD’s coverage of San Diego.  Maybe VOSD can fix one or the other.




  1. avatarmr. mike says

    “New York Jew” in this context means “East Coast FDR-traditional liberal” which means “OH JESUS CHRIST HE’S A FUCKING COMMUNIST!! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!!” to VoSD.

  2. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Epithets are well worn ground for all the literature majors out there. Hence “pious” Aeneas, “wily” Ulysses, Richard the “Lion-Hearted”, etc. Epithets are used as a shorthand way to shape a story by constantly describing a person of stature with a specific term.
    They are also a convenient shorthand to shape political narratives- hence “greedy” city employees, union “thugs.” “Abrasive” appears to be the epithet of choice for Filner and I agree with Bob Dorn that the VoSD has embraced the term. (It is interesting that “monomaniacal” was not applied to Carl DeMaio, San Diego’s own Captain Ahab in single minded pursuit of the pension white whale.)
    There are some caveats about the use of epithets. Virgil created an epic poem in which every event that Aeneas experienced reflected and amplified the term piety. When he left Troy carrying his aged father on his shoulders and holding the hand of his young son who took two steps to every one of his own, the reader was given insight into Aeneas’ defining characteristic. Which is to say that an epithet becomes reflexive and meaningless without nuanced connections to specific behaviors.
    The second caveat is the danger created by news sources in shaping the narrative. The U-T has compromised its legitimacy by unabashedly assuming that role. I followed the VoSD coverage of the primary and general election and laced through the reportage was the sense that the VoSD writers did not like Filner. It was annoying to me as a reader to have to push around that judgment to get to a kernel of analysis and the news. As Bob writes “If for no other reason, reporters should worry about keeping the personal out of their reporting so that readers will be inclined to trust them.”
    I hope VoSD retires the term “abrasive” when referring to Filner. It has become meaningless through over use and is suspect as way of shaping meaningful analysis.

    • avatarbob dorn says

      My own suspicion is, the U-T and VOSD have gone around the bend in much the same way and for the same reasons as the Republicans in general have. They perceive so many threats out there to their privileged positions that it’s going to be difficult for either Republicans or the captive press to climb down from the paranoia many of them suffer. The more their enemies are successful the more they’ll lay those successes off to mistakes in strategy and money expenditures, and simply redouble their efforts (against gun control, against Obama, against public works programs, public education and so on, and on, and on). The good news seems to be that a paranoid right is disabling itself, and normal people have proved able to recognize crazy when they see, or read it.

  3. avatar says

    Bob, this was so insightful, I dropped everything I was doing – eating breakfast – to finish it. Wow! I’ve noticed this bias from VoSD writers, but they ain’t the only ones …. Remember how “liberal” City Beat came out early during Primary season and endorsed “independent” Nathan Fletcher (and where is he working now?). And may I also remind OB Ragsters and their progeny of another certain local – and new to SD – reporter for one of our online pubs when he visited one of our meetings – and his bias.

    Early on in his San Diego career, the local corporate media fell in love with Carl DeMaio. Especially, natch, the U-T. No article or issue concerning San Diego published in the U-T was replete without a quote from DeMaioi. When the primary media rooster sets the tone, many of the hens follow.

    As to Filner’s supposed lack of localism, what? School Board, City Council – and then representing the region from Congress, having to be re-elected every two years certainly makes him more local than DeMayo, or Fletcher, or … many of Voice’s writers.

    And Anna, you’ve proven once again to be our resident intellectual par excellence.

  4. avatar says

    As an early and persistent critic of the Voice of San Diego’s (VOSD) stunningly biased descriptions of Mayor Bob Filner, I appreciate Bob Dorn’s attention here to this journalistic travesty. For all the criticism regularly heaped on U-T San Diego, that daily had nothing on VOSD’s vitriolic coverage of the 2012 mayoral race. It was shockingly blatant.

    VOSD, a small on-line enterprise heavily financed by Qualcomm founder Dr. Irwin Jacobs that survives on paid-subscriber “memberships,” was disappointed in love with defeated Republican-turned-Independent mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher. Fletcher recently took a six-figure job as vice-president-for-looking-good at Qualcomm.

    During the mayoral race, VOSD dutifully covered surviving GOP candidate
    Carl DeMaio, but VOSD spared nothing as it tried, unsuccessfully, to vilify Bob Filner. (Dorn’s examples do not begin to cover the extent of the VOSD smear campaign to discredit Filner, an unapologetic liberal who has spent his entire life in public service to
    San Diego as a teacher, a member of the School Board and City Council and as a Congressman for more than 20 years.)

    It should be noted that Liam Dillon, VOSD’s City Hall “reporter,” has been reassigned to another beat since the mayoral election. Dillon’s only credit in this dark chapter of San Diego journalism was a swan-song acknowledgment that Filner won election by 5 percentage points — which is in fact a huge margin in politics.

    Winning IS the best revenge, but San Diegans deserve better than having hatchetmen or hacks delivering our information.

  5. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    A few thoughts:

    1. I wrote an opinion piece. That’s why it appeared in VOSD’s Opinion section. It’s incorrect to imply that it was basic reporting.

    2. That being said, there’s long been a cry for journalism that doesn’t just take dictation and offer he said/she said summaries of issues. People want journalism that offers a perspective on what the truth is. Like it nor not, VOSD does that.

    3. Filner allies can’t decide if he IS abrasive (and it’s a good thing because he’s on their side, yay!) or that he ISN’T abrasive (and to say so is a smear against him by non-progressives).

    There’s another possibility: He may be an unmitigated jerk who makes life miserable for everyone around him, even those who are his fans. We’ll see.

    4. Dorn, my old journalism professor, is confused. My point about Filner not being from here is just that: He’s not a genteel, go-along-get-along, moderate-ish, Copley-style native San Diegan. He’s a rabble-rouser from the East Coast. He’s different.

    5. CityBeat is a liberal publication. Its antipathy toward Filner (which is nothing compared to its hatred of DeMaio) says a lot about how he’s alienated many of his own allies.

    6. All of the hullabaloo about VOSD’s supposed anti-Filner bias utterly ignores the many (and I mean many) VOSD stories that bashed DeMaio for a long list of untruths and exaggerations.

    And allegations of VOSD’s supposed love affair with Nathan Fletcher ignores VOSD’s giant fit after the infamous late-night Sacramento “porkfest” that Fletcher spearheaded.

    7. Frances lives in a fantasy world where VOSD is a tool of the right. Irwin Jacobs, a major funder? Neil Morgan, a founder? While they’ve consorted with the GOP, they’re on the left. But not the far left, which means, in her mind, that they’re buddy-buddy with Reaganites.

    8. Lest you think I’m some VOSD apologist (yup, I write for them part-time), look around to see what else I’ve written about them. While they’re not ecstatic about it when I go rogue, I’m willing to criticize them when I think they’ve made big mistakes.

    -Randy Dotinga

  6. avatarbob dorn says

    I don’t have a problem with opinion pieces, Randy. I have a problem with writing that is not truthful, especially when reporters are doing the writing. As to Neil Morgan and Irwin Jacobs being lefties, is that the hand they use to sign their debentures? And, calling Filner “East Coast” is like calling the Steelers the NY Giants. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Truth to tell, though, he does seem to rouse you and your rabble.

  7. avatar says

    In a display of touching loyalty, Randy Dotinga feels obliged to chime in every time there is any criticism of his buds at VOSD. But it’s not Dotinga — a humorist, aggregator and sometime essayist, not a reporter — who was responsible for the Filner-bashing at his journal.

    VOSD “reporter” Liam Dillon followed editorial directions during the campaign and then was reassigned from City Hall after completing his character assassination of Bob Filner so that there could be a clean(er) slate for someone else to report Filner’s four-year mayoral term.

    Does anyone imagine it’s pure coincidence that VOSD funder Irwin Jacobs’ son found a spot for Nathan Fletcher at Qualcomm after that professional Marine and Assemblyman found himself in November a man without a party or a job? It’s obviously payment for services rendered.

    Readers can connect the dots and figure out who’s engaging in fantasies here. Only someone like Dotinga, raised and educated in America’s Finest City, could act all duh-mazed that anyone could question where rich and influential people like Irwin Jacobs and Neil Morgan might lie on the spectrum of local political interests.

    It’s not about being “left” or “right:” it’s about being out to lunch at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, out of touch with the diverse communities of this city, arrogant in one’s opinions and exercising power beyond propriety and without regard for the common good.

  8. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    You hint that there’s something nefarious going on regarding Liam Dillon’s new beat. (I have an image of Ernst Stavro Blofeld stroking his cat while reassigning reporters and quietly cackling to himself.)
    As usual with conspiracy theories about journalists, the truth is much less interesting.

  9. avatar says

    Gosh, Randy, who appointed you ombudsman for VOSD?
    I think Liam Dillon got reassigned for practical reasons that are pretty self-evident — a different gig, a change of scene — one that he may welcome as much or more than Mayor Filner. No “hints,” nothing “nefarious” — unless you know something we don’t.
    Personally, I don’t engage in “conspiracy theories,” although alleging that I do is a a dismissive tactic you have used before to discredit what I say. I try to stick with the “less interesting” truth.

  10. avatar says

    No one disputes that Filner is a rude person and difficult to take. This is the centerpiece of VOSD analysis and it is irrefutable.

    On policy VOSD is inconsistent with regard to Filner, exactly what the citizenry requires from a hard-hitting journalism organization which strives to hold an office-holder to their words.

    The assassin of Filner’s character is Filner himself and I write this as a “progressive” who wishes the new Mayor had better manners. One does not dispute his governing program but he makes it very difficult to appreciate in the fog of his crude treatment of people, his unresponsiveness to the news media (and public), his constant tardiness to events, his astonishing arrogance and his failure to provide civic leadership where the population would mostly support him if he was not such a miserable public person.

    • avatarDoug Porter says

      The Filner administration isn’t even two months old and it’s already a failure? You, Tony Krvaric and Doug Manchester should get together and have a tea party to celebrate that.

      As to the population not supporting Filner, it seems to me that when the public had an opportunity to express their sentiment about the man at the polls, he beat his well-connected and financed opponent by 5% not very long ago.

      There is more to Bob Filner than the adjective “abrasive” implies. (and yes, I’ve heard plenty of stories about his assholishness.)

      In the meantime, let’s allow the guy to screw up as Mayor before we tar and feather him.

      Let’s give Mayor Bob a fair trial and then hang ’em. It’s the American way.

  11. avatarChris Crotty says

    Ouch! Randy, please tell us how you really feel!

    It’s not quite as “irrefutable” to those of us who have known Bob Filner for almost three decades, that he is “a rude person and difficult to take.” He may offend your sensibilities, but I get along with Bob quite well thank you.

    Is it any wonder why he is a bit tardy in responding to those of you casting aspersions at him? Holding Bob to his word is something very different than complaining that that you perceive him to be “arrogant” and “miserable.”

    The “population,” as you refer, elected Bob Filner. And, other than some in the media, the “population,” does, in fact, support him. As the Bard had Cassius say, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Check the mirror for “arrogant” and “miserable.”

  12. avatar says

    Character assassination, even from a “progressive,” is still character assassination. Contrary to your mean-spirited post, Barry, the population DOES support Mayor Filner as his recent electoral margin of victory of 5% proves.

    You could just as well be talking about Governor Jerry Brown — someone for whom we are daily grateful, considering the alternatives. Jerry Brown is also famous for being ascerbic, always intolerant of fools, often combative and even dismissive of media questions, dependably arrogant about approaches to problems and especially his cherished notions of expensive high-speed rail and Sacramento Delta water diversion.

    But Governor Brown, like Mayor Bob Filner, is devoted to public service, smarter than 99.9% of politicians, iconoclastic, idealistic, full of energy and enthusiasm for new ideas to improve the lives of citizens in the State of California and the City of San Diego. I’d say we are damn lucky to have them at this moment in time.

  13. avatarKP says

    VOSD = UT, more devious and less obvious in their agenda pushing but ultimately a tool for the corporate elite.

  14. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    KP: Have you seen how many stories VOSD has published accusing Carl DeMaio of being an exaggerator and a serial teller of untruths? There’s lots and lots. Look them up.

    VOSD has plenty of flaws, but being a corporate tool ain’t one of them. If so, the corporations should ask for their money back.

  15. avatarWelton Jones says

    Oh, goodie, a pissing match among Progressives, right here in our own laid-back beach town.

    Sometimes it seems like nobody loves Bob Filner except us voters. (Check his won-loss record.) But isn’t that, after all, the love-life that’s most important to a political leader?

    When the Union-Trib was howling for some response from the mayor-elect, I believe it was Lorena Gonzalez who asked, “Why should he talk with them about anything?” And, given the yearnings of the scrambling journalists in this gotcha generation, there may be a lot more unreturned calls to “news” outlets. But probably not. Our Bob has shown little fear of anybody. Not the shadowy establishment which has long used funding, promotion and access to elect enough hacks for the desired results. And certainly not the pitiful pack of pouting pundits that covers these early stages of his culture-changing.

    I thank my good friend Bob Dorn for writing this feisty piece and salute such respected community heavies as Frances O’N. Zimmerman and Frank Gormlie for defending it. I suspect we’re going to have many more opportunities to relish Filner’s style. He’s by far the most promising mayor we’ve had in my 45 years as a San Diegan and I expect him to be the most gosh-darn fun, too. I feel very well represented.

    By the way, on this hometown boy stuff: David Copley wasn’t a native. Neither was his mother, Helen Copley. Nor his (adopted) father, Jim Copley. Nor his adopted father’s grandfather, Ira Copley, who moved here from Illinois to buy the SAN DIEGO UNION. Might as well be accurate if we’re gonna yak about such matters.

    • avatarbob dorn says

      Hey, big dude, you keeping well? Thanks for getting into this
      pissing contest. Wanna write on theater? It’s free here. They
      even let me do it.

  16. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    As I understand it, David Copley was born here and grew up here.

    Whatever the case, he represented San Diego’s traditional style of genteel, don’t-scare-the-horses politics. As I wrote in my column, those days have vanished thanks to a new publisher and a new mayor.

    As for “pitiful pack of pouting pundits”: Spiro? Has your ghost inhabited poor ol’ Welton Jones? Give him back to us!

  17. avatarDoug says

    VOSD = UT?? Holy cow. I think both publications would be insulted by that inaccurate comparison.

  18. avatar says

    Dotinga, you are rude again to your elders and betters. Plus, in the unfortunate tradition of VOSD, you are wrong about the birthplace of David Copley. Do your research. Read the Reader for the history of the Copley family.

  19. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    I rely on the Reader! How else would I know what anonymous observers think about local political topics? Or about rumors that Don Bauder heard that may or may not be true?

  20. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    That’s not the point, Peter.

    The issue is whether he is degrading, dismissive and disrespectful to his own staff and his own allies.

    • avatarPeter says

      Randy, knowing members of his staff, and having personally worked with the mayor several times in the past, I think that is exactly the point. He’s tough, and he is dismissive & disrespectful of BS, but that is a good thing. Sure he’s burned bridges, but has built far more than he has burned. I think his style is exactly what city hall needs. Why do you think Vince Hall has been working with him for so many years?

  21. avatarWelton Jones says

    You understand the facts of David Copley’s birth incorrectly. But don’t take my word for it. Nor the word of any other publication. There’s an old saying in the news business: Go to the source. That’s what I did.

    But your use of David Copley as a symbol of traditional politics here is hard to defend. The truths about him, as so often is the case, are far more complicated.

    As is all truth of political influence. Linking the new publisher and the new mayor into some sort of revisional tandem is so naive and absurd that I will have trouble from now on taking your opinions seriously.

  22. avatar says

    The subject here is the slanted strange coverage by online of successful mayoral candidate and now Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner.

    The side issue about the former publishers of the Union-Tribune — what they “represent,” where they were born, is on the record at the San Diego Reader. Anna Daniels will provide the proper link in these comments when she gets back from lunch.

  23. avatarRandy Dotinga says

    Yes, exactly, Frances! VOSD continuously and incessantly exposed the supposed mistruths and exaggerations of a mayoral candidate, aggravating his fans and making the site sometimes seem like a tool of his opponents.

    The candidate who underwent all this journalistic harassment? Carl DeMaio.

    Pete: This is not about calling out BS. It’s about whether a politician treats people with human decency and whether he damages them on a personal level by degrading them.

    • avatarPeter says

      Randy – let’s leave it your experiences seem to differ from mine. Either that, or it’s something that, in context specific situation, you think is over the line is something I consider appropriate.