By Doug Porter
Carl DeMaio’s back in the news just months after losing San Diego’s Mayoral election. The UT-San Diego ran with a front page banner headline and the hot button sub heads using words like ‘secret project’, ‘financiers’, and ‘legality unclear’. The gist of the story is that DeMaio was the focus of a failed effort by his political enemies to dig up ‘dirt’ under the guise of a journalistic enterprise.
The cast of characters aligned against the then-mayoral candidate includes a downtown developer with a personal dislike for DeMaio, an aide to former Mayor Jerry Sanders, and several individuals ‘aligned with’ the candidacy of Republican-turned-Independent Nathan Fletcher. Additional funding came from a Native American casino and the Firefighters union.
This project was active in the early months of 2012, as a crowded primary campaign was underway for the top spot in San Diego. The contest got very ugly, replete with nasty TV advertising campaigns, charges and counter-charges. Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner emerged as victors. By then the project was dead.
The details of this background investigation came to light after a settlement stemming from a joint investigation by the San Diego Ethics Commission and the California Political Practices Commission. A case against the entity created to run this deep background investigation, named ‘Spotlight San Diego’, was dismissed following the filing of a financial disclosure statement.
Although downtown developer (and the instigator of this project) Fred Maas maintained the ‘Spotlight’ group was a journalistic enterprise, officials contended that campaign finance laws were violated. The settlement, which does not admit to any violations, came about due to what the agencies involved felt was a complex case that could have spent years being adjudicated.
As a result of this agreement a significant number of emails and other documents became available. These formed the basis of the UT-San Diego story by political reporter Craig Gustafson. What they reveal is that a former reporter found little other than derogatory information relating to SDGLNews Publisher Jonathan Hale (DeMaio’s partner).
A Big Yawn
This information was anonymously distributed to local media. Reporters and editors pretty much went “meh, so he’s gay, so what?” A SDGLNews competitor with a long and bitter antagonism towards Hale published bits and pieces and the ‘story’ seemed to be relegated to the back alleys of Twitter and Facebook.
I guess it’s a testament to how far things have come in San Diego that somebody’s sexual orientation just isn’t an issue anymore. Less than a decade ago, as candidate Dwayne Crenshaw pointed out recently, the daily paper ‘outed’ him via a letter to the editor.
My immediate reaction to the UT-San Diego story was “meh, politics as usual, so what?”
Labor activist Lucas Connor was even more cynical in his assessment, saying (via Facebook):
Two days before the District 4 election, and all that San Diego‘s political chattering class can talk about is the philosophical underpinnings of the influence Fred Maas failed to have on the mayoral race or politics generally nine months ago.
Others around town didn’t quite see it that way.
Scott Lewis at Voice of San Diego argued forcefully on Twitter that disguising opposition research as journalism and anonymously distributing the results was contemptible, tweeting:
“The journalism defense is so pathetic, Fred Maas. You were too chicken to publish what you had! Gay baiting asshole.”
San Diego City Beat editor Dave Rolland, who like many others was aware of the ‘research’, chimed in:
I was ready at the time to write an editorial defending DeMaio. Glad I didn’t have to.
Some local conservative activists were quick to jump on the tenuous connection with the Nathan Fletcher campaign. Flash Report, a local newsletter, tweeted:
Fletcher denies any involvement in or knowledge of the project. It doesn’t, based on what I know about him, seem like his cup of tea. But certain Republicans are still furious about his decision to redefine himself as an independent last year.
The conserve blog SDRostra did a terrific job of compiling a Storify (collection of Tweets) from local journos and political activists on this topic. I highly recommend that you read this if you’re interested in better understanding the different points of view at play here.
A small part of me wonders if there might be some connection to the play (Sunday paper, front page banner) this story received at UT-San Diego and Fletcher’s endorsement of Lorena Gonzalez’s assembly campaign last week.
One local politico on the Democratic side of the equation told me yesterday the story was an attempt to ‘control the narrative’. (Not that Papa Doug would ever try to ‘control’ anything…) I agree. The story will get played in a way that helps ‘re-frame’ the political history of the city, even though the results of this ‘investigation’ had a negligible effect on the primary election.
My big takeaway here is that, once again, questions about ‘who is a journalist?’ and ‘what is journalism?’ come into play. As someone who straddles the boundaries of the old school and yet-to-be defined future of the craft, I think this is a discussion that’s becoming increasingly important. And one that’s unlikely to be resolved easily, given the rapidly changing nature of the business.
I’m not surprised that a journalist took money for a hatchet job and then got cold feet. This whole affair would have never seen the light of day if its backers had simply treated it as a political rather than a nascent journalistic enterprise. This ‘scope of work’ memo sets out the terms and expectations of the project and is totally worth reading.
The reality is that the Doug Manchesters of this world can get away with utilizing their ‘resources’ in pursuit of political goals. The rest of us are supposed to play by the rules, rules that don’t often seem to make sense these days.
The Sky is Falling!
Since I’m picking on the daily paper today, I may as well get in my two cents on their Friday editorial, which proclaimed San Diego’s tourism business to be already in the toilet due to Mayor Filner’s intransigence on signing off on a poorly conceived deal to fund marketing. Here’s themoney quote:
A tourism official said local hotels are already seeing a “huge” falloff in business from the lack of promotion.
This ‘revelation’ stems from an article in a trade publication saying San Diego had a large drop off in occupancy for the week on March 10-16. And it’s literally true. The local hotel market has been soft recently. And tourism officials have been aggressively selling the local news media on this ‘story’.
Cough, cough. What a load of baloney.
The kafuffle over tourism marketing dollars has resulted in cancellation (it could be resurrected, FYI) of a summer campaign for San Diego. Employees at the Tourism Marketing District have been issued warnings of an impending layoff. Nothing bad has actually happened, yet.
Somehow we’re expected to believe that Expedia and other agencies are telling people not to come to San Diego as the result of a political dispute between the Mayor and a bunch of hoteliers. That the impending cancellation of a future marketing campaign has already had negative results.
Those folks have been drinking too much of the ‘marketing is instantaneous and retroactive’ kool-aide. Or they’re lying.
All the TMD has to do is come to the table. This ‘my way or the highway’ attitude won’t work anymore. This city voted for a strong mayor form of government and now we have one.
As one commenter at UT-San Diego noted:
Mayor Filner’s alternative proposal will get the money flowing immediately and require the Tourist Authority be subject to the Public Records Act. What exactly is the problem?
Most Hoteliers on the Tourism Authority did not even vote for the 2 percent TMD Hotel Tax increase.
Nothing to See Here in District 4, Move Along
Finally, let’s talk about the pitiful excuse for coverage of the District 4 special election for City Council in the daily paper. It’s an example of ‘framing the narrative’ at its finest by UT-San Diego.
Here’s the headline: Contenders Jockey in Low-Key, District 4 Council Race.
Yes indeedy, Craig Gustafson’s story would have us believe that those folks on the Southside of San Diego are just shufflin’ along and shakin’ hands.
There is no mention of the campaign flyers bearing the seal of the City of San Diego mailed to voters by a shadowy GOP front group. Or that the accusations in that mailer are “truth challenged”. (VOSD rated one of them as huckster propaganda)
There is no mention of the homophobic editorial in the Voice and Viewpoint newspaper aimed at candidate Dwayne Crenshaw. You’d think that the conflicting points of view over being Gay in the traditionally “Black’ district might be newsworthy. But you’d be wrong.
Or that perhaps all the Texas developer money flowing into Bruce ‘I used to be a Republican’ William’s campaign might raise an eyebrow.
We do learn that candidate Myrtle Cole is being supported by Labor groups to the tune of $80k plus.
The significance of the contest vis-à-vis the makeup of the City Council and their relationship with the Mayor is, uh, missing.
‘Nothing to see here, folks, move along’.
Video du Jour
After all this seriousness, I think you need a good retro video. Here’s Debbie Harry and Blondie circa 1981 doing ‘Rapture’. Watch for the goat!
Check Out the SDFree Press Calendar
Thanks to the efforts of Brent Beltrán, the San Diego Free Press now has an on-line calendar of events. You can see events in the arts, performances and political gatherings of every persuasion by clicking on the ‘Calendar’ Tab at the top of the page. To get your event listed, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
On This Day: 1911 – In New York City, 146 women were killed in fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. The owners of the company were indicted on manslaughter charges because some of the employees had been behind locked doors in the factory. The owners were later acquitted and in 1914 they were ordered to pay damages to each of the twenty-three families that had sued. 1954 – RCA manufactured its first color TV set and began mass production. 1966 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the “poll tax” was unconstitutional.
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