Can the Voice of San Diego “Tame” the Mayor?
By Bob Dorn
“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.