by Larry Remer
That’s kind of how I feel about the Voice of San Diego’s coverage of Proposition Z.
I am running the Yes on Prop. Z campaign; and for months I’ve sparred with reporters and editors from ‘Voice of San Diego’ about the negative slant of their coverage. They just parried back and defended what they’d written, as reporters usually do when campaigns and public agencies complain their stories.
But then the first deadline for disclosure of campaign contributions arrived and the No on Prop. Z campaign disclosed its donors.
It turned out that Buzz Wooley, a La Jolla investor, was listed as the largest single donor to the No on Prop. Z campaign. That same Buzz Wooley is also listed on the Voice website as a founder and the current chair of the Voice Board.
This seems like a pretty blatant conflict of interest to me. It also explains a lot.
It explains why the Voice’s coverage of Prop. Z has been so slanted and why the Voice’s “Explainer” states that Prop. Z will increase taxes by more than it actually will.
It explains why Voice CEO Scott Lewis wrote that the School District had doubled the size of the bond, when this had not happened.
It explains why the Voice repeats and elaborates on the SD Taxpayer Association’s objections to Prop. Z without reporting that the Taxpayers Association is supporting other bonds in the county that contain these same elements they’ve labeled as “flaws” in Prop. Z.
It explains why the Voice said it was “Mostly True” when the Taxpayers Assn. charged the School District was spending thousands to buy $399 iPads, even though the District produced invoices showing the cost to be $430 (with tax). This last flight of fancy was so egregious that it prompted a protest from Ricky Young, editor of the UT’s Watchdog Team and certainly no ally of the Democratic-leaning SD Unified School District. Young derided the Voice for allowing the Taxpayers Assn. to add financing costs to the costs of the iPads. “If you buy a house for $150,000 and it costs $300,000 with interest, you don’t tell people ‘I bought a house for $300,000’,” Young said.
And it explains why the Voice, while reporting on the Taxpayers Assn. opposition to Prop. Z, failed to report that this very same Taxpayers Assn approved the decisions of the School Board when they were made and is only now criticizing those decisions in the context of its opposition to Prop. Z.
Now, maybe you’re wondering if the Voice is going to probe the Taxpayers Association and whether or not they have a “hidden agenda” behind their opposition to Prop. Z. I keep waiting for this. After all, on the Voice website they describe their Mission as being an “investigative news organization that gives concerned citizens the tools they need to engage in important conversations about their community. We are unlike any news outlet in San Diego because we dig deeper to uncover the truth . . .”
But, just in case the Voice doesn’t uncover this truth, you should know that:
The Taxpayers Association opposes Prop. Z because the School Board passed a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the 2008 Prop. S bond and for Prop. Z, should it pass. Under a PLA, contractors are required to employ union workers and pay union wages and benefits. Additionally, San Diego Unified’s PLA further requires that employees be hired from the community where the work is being done (which, in this case, includes many of the most economically hard hit communities in the region).
I had breakfast with the head of the Taxpayers Association “Issues Committee”, where ballot measures are vetted for potential support. The first words out of his mouth were, “I have it in for San Diego Unified because of their PLA.” We had a spirited breakfast and he admitted to me that he, “didn’t care if opposing Prop. Z hurt the children” because “the PLA is wrong.”
In the campaign against Prop. Z, the Taxpayers Association has joined with the anti-labor, Republican business group, the Lincoln Club. And in the latest campaign disclosure Buzz Wooley has been surpassed by the Lincoln Club, which is now the largest donor to the No on Prop. Z campaign.
Another point. I’ve read in the Voice about the Taxpayer Association’s opposition to Prop. Z. but I’ve never read about the support for Prop. Z from the San Diego Middle Class Taxpayers Association, a rival group with a larger membership, that testified 3 times at the Board in favor of Prop. Z and signed the Prop. Z ballot argument.
Seems if you’re going to report on the opposition of one taxpayer group, you might want to give your readers the perspective of a taxpayer group that is supportive.
But that would be like expecting the umpire to be fair in calling foul balls hit down the right field line.
A little more disclosure here from me. Some of you know that I used to write for the alternative press (the Door and Newsline) before I became a political consultant in the late 1980s. I work for Democrats and for progressive ballot measures and I’ve run several school bonds for San Diego Unified. I am paid for this, of course, but I also think that Prop. Z is incredibly important.
Our local schools have experienced devastating budget cuts. California was once in the top 5 nationally in per capita student funding. It is now 47th. You wouldn’t know from reading the Voice, but San Diego’s test scores are up for the past 4 years because of the District’s Technology Program (which included the iPad purchases). Prop. Z provides incredibly critical local funding for schools, without which these gains will be in jeopardy.
But don’t look to the Voice for objective coverage of the local schools. In addition to Buzz Wooley, their major donors include three key people who, last year, spent hundreds of thousands in an ill fated effort to stack the San Diego School Board with appointed members.
But Buzz Wooley isn’t simply one of the hundreds of donors who have given $100 to support what they think is independent journalism. He’s a Founder and the Chair of the Voice Board. Either he runs the show, or he’s some kind of a dupe (which I doubt).
So, when I saw Buzz Wooley’s involvement with the No on Prop Z effort, I called Voice CEO Scott Lewis and told him his boss was a partisan in a hot campaign and suggested a brief disclaimer to that effect might be appropriate at the end of any articles relating to Prop. Z.
After all, I noted, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal include mentions in any stories where thier corporate entities have an interest. In fact, the Voice, in its coverage of the Irwin Jacobs/Balboa Park controversy, mentioned that Jacobs was a donor to the Voice.
By the way, Irwin Jacobs is a donor to Prop. Z and signed the Ballot Argument in favor of Prop. Z. He is especially supportive of the funds the District has spent to bring technology into the classroom which has helped raise test scores for 4 straight years. This is the program that wires every campus and classroom with high speed internet, networks teachers and kids in the classroom so their progress can be monitored in “real time” and that includes providing computers (iPads and Netbooks) to students.
In any event, Scott Lewis did not take too kindly to my suggestions. In fact, he was very gruff, arrogant, nasty and abusive. He cursed a lot, accused me of “bias baiting” the Voice, and said essentially that he had no intention of letting his readers know that Buzz Wooley, the chair of the Voice board and his boss, was funding the No on Prop. Z campaign.
I guess he thought that was it because he ended our conversation by hanging up on me.
Larry Remer is a political consultant in San Diego. He was involved with the alternative press in San Diego back in the 70’s & 80’s; he and SDFP editor Doug Porter were co-editors of the San Diego Door.