As the historic battle between Mayor Filner and San Diego’s big hoteliers over the tourism marketing deal unfolds, it’s clear where the lines are drawn.
On one side, you have a new strong mayor who is committed to ending business as usual in San Diego and on the other, you have folks like Terry Brown, chairman of the San Diego Tourism Marketing Association who, as Matt Potter at The San Diego Reader has pointed out, is a big time Republican funder as are the crew of business lobbyists, real estate developers, and San Diego Taxpayer Association types who have miraculously found they can love a tax after it has transubstantiated into a fee and serves as a giveaway to corporate interests.
Joining this merry band you also have City Councilman Todd Gloria who has sided with leaders of San Diego’s old private government rather than back his fellow Democrat in the mayor’s office. This should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Gloria’s profile in cowardice as he surrendered to Walmart’s threats, folded like a cheap tent, and joined the council majority to kill San Diego’s ill-fated big box ordinance during the tail end of the Sanders era.
This time he isn’t folding like a tent; he’s already hopped into the sleeping bag with moneyed interests and is feeling downright cozy. Surely his loyalty will not be forgotten when he needs campaign money to help further his future ambitions. It’s an unsavory marriage of inside game and political opportunism at its worst
As Doug Porter has written here at the San Diego Free Press, behind all of this drama is the old guard’s attempt to delegitimize San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in decades and its only progressive mayor ever before he has a chance.
The recall is already in the works and the campaign has begun in earnest with San Diego’s media landscape eating up the anti-Filner narrative portraying our new mayor as a divisive figure by focusing on style and personality while largely ignoring the historical, political, and/or economic context. We should not be surprised.
Last December I did a pair of columns on the corporate media as propaganda at the national level where I briefly noted that:
As bad as this national landscape is, our local media menu is even more skewed, dominated as it is by the House of Manchester, horrible TV news, and weeklies and online publications subject to the same ownership and advertising pressures along with similar sourcing and ideological filters. A thorough analysis of the local scene is a matter for another column but suffice it to say you are reading the only progressive source of news and analysis that is not subject to the pressures that Chomsky and Herman discuss. Hence, San Diego is home to a local Conservative Entertainment Complex on steroids, with some outlets doing very little to conceal that they are mere auxiliaries of the Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce. What this means for our incoming progressive mayor is that he will have to continually negotiate a media minefield, ready to pounce on every misstep, real or perceived, or evidence of his nefarious alliance with labor or local progressive groups. Remember, business is never a “special interest.” Good luck Bob!
And here we are only a few months later, and the local media is hewing closely to this script. Indeed, if you apply Chomsky and Herman’s model to San Diego’s media landscape, it serves as a useful guide to our local doublethink machine. As I observed in the earlier column:
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman delineated precisely how the corporate media serve to manufacture consent for an elite agenda. Their model outlines five filters that “news” has to sift through before it makes it to your newspaper, radio, or television set: the concentration and profit orientation of media ownership; advertising as the primary source of income; sourcing reliant on governmental and business “experts” frequently funded by or linked to powerful interests; flak as a means of disciplining the media; and anti-communism (or more recently “anti-terrorism”) as an ideological litmus test.
What does a quick gloss of our local media scene tell us about the forces that filter San Diego news? Nothing good.
We are only months into the Filner era and Manchester’s Union-Tribune and its right-wing allies the McKinnons at KUSI are predictably bashing away at Filner and not just in their editorial function, but also via their “news” operations which have so thoroughly blurred the line between editorial and news that the boundary no longer exists. And sadly, as a one-paper town, Manchester’s operation drives much of the rest of the news coverage in our city as San Diego’s de-facto paper of record.
Indeed, the SDUT’s editorial page and news operation have become so transparently in the tank for local Republican and business interests that San Diego’s only newspaper is less a source of reportage on the news than a relentless bludgeon used to discipline the enemies of planet Manchester—unions, progressives, activists, the public sector, etc. Like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, Doug Manchester has released the hounds on the unwelcome guests in the mayor’s office.
Thus as the only game in town, the mouthpiece of Manchester serves as a threat to the public interest as it disguises disinformation as news and continues to shape much of the local coverage in other outlets. The SDUT may be a joke, but it is a dangerous one if you believe that democracy depends on an educated populace.
And if the naked influence of the ownership’s agenda on the San Diego media landscape was not enough, the advertising filter ensures that the primary aim of most of our commercial news, even those outlets that are not owned by conservative power players, is to sell advertising to companies who seek to appeal to affluent consumers with the most money to buy their products.
Thus, the economics of San Diego TV news, like that of local news elsewhere, pushes it toward a kind of least objectionable programming that focuses on live action shots of car crashes or crime scenes, schmaltzy sports and weather coverage that lasts longer than the other news segments, and a relentless effort to keep the mood light.
This sad situation combined with the inherently empty 30 second sound byte that brings us the news of the day, means that we are guaranteed to get contextless infotainment on the TV broadcasts that serve as the alternative to KUSI’s Republican Pravda and the SDUT’s party line. Hence, the petty and personal dominate local political coverage and deeper analysis is nearly non-existent. The bottom line is that shallow boosterism promotes the buying mood; boring historical, political, or economic analysis does not.
If national news stations have a revolving door of official experts that shape the news, San Diego’s media landscape is even more limited with the local news media frequently relying solely on quick and easy official sources with little or no effort to question them. It’s either that or they don’t do much background work at all, period. Larger context? Forget about it.
And the flak that comes to bear on the national stage is even more effective at the local level with a deeply entrenched, entitled power elite and those in their service ready to pounce when a story isn’t framed the way they like it–not that it’s been necessary very often.
Finally, if there is no demonized foreign “other” to fear on the streets of San Diego, there is always labor. Unions have come to serve as San Diego’s post McCarthy era replacement for the red menace. Union density may be lower in San Diego than in other major cities and the labor movement might be in stark decline nationally, but nonetheless, in America’s Finest City, it’s never wrong to blame labor. If there is a civic religion, union-bashing is close to it.
What’s the alternative to the corporate news? In San Diego, the weeklies struggle to pay the bills and while they offer moderate to liberal alternatives to the Union-Tribune, the economic pressures they face limit what staff and resources they can bring to bear in their reporting and whether they can hire and keep good journalists. Economic necessity also makes it bad business for them to alienate current or potential advertisers.
While online sources have fewer restraints they also have even scarcer resources and some are driven by their own ideological agendas depending on their funding sources, perceived mission, or worldviews. Consequently, much of the alternative media in San Diego isn’t that alternative.
On the airwaves, once you’ve waded through the cesspool of right wing ranting, KPBS stands out as the single best news source in the city, but even they rely more on the frame created by the SDUT than they should. More non-commercial options are sorely needed.
So when the average San Diegan gets the news about their new mayor, it’s most likely they’ll hear a story that is part of an orchestrated attack on Filner by moneyed interests or a sound byte of meaningless tabloid-ready fluff. If they are intrepid, they’ll go to public radio or the weeklies or even yours truly here at the Free Press, but the odds are more likely they won’t get the whole story and wonder why Bob just doesn’t play well with others.
Business as usual dies hard.
bob dorn says
But, business as usual IS dying. Any day’s SD-UT now is a thin sheaf of pages shrunk from the big foldouts of even just 10 years ago. KUSI’s lead climate denier and party host, John Coleman is older than his owners, and the anchors are Fox Box chuckleheads. Does anyone with a notion of what day of the week it is admire them? Roger Hedgecock is an imitation of an imitation of Rush Limbaugh; his audience isn’t growing and it’s social demographics are as narrow as the Tea Party’s. I couldn’t agree more that, yes,
“the economics of San Diego TV news… pushes it toward a kind of least objectionable programming that focuses on live action shots of car crashes or crime scenes, schmaltzy sports and weather coverage that lasts longer than the other news segments, and a relentless effort to keep the mood light.”
I’m thinking, though, that this town long ago came to recognize local commercial news for the crap and nonsense it always was. Much of its population is highly educated, more urban and therefore streetwise than the old days when most of San Diego was suburban and subintelligent. The commercial outlets may live on — after all, there is still a Pennysaver in the mailbox every week — but only the Todd Glorias of this city will rely on its coverage of the news to stay in office.
Judge yourself if Filner is rude, or not. Watch the February 27th “Pen and Paper” meeting with the press now running on CityTV. As noted, change is unsettling to those in positions of power and privilege. The TMD folks have been dictating policy for so long they assume it. The ruling class, the Manchesters and Burnhams, have given us broken streets, broken sewers, broken watermains, and no plans to do one thing about it. Filner offers a chance to actually improve the quality of life for the average San Diegan.
Ernie McCray says
Thanks for breaking it down so eloquently as you always do, Jim.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
“KPBS stands out as the single best news source in the city….” Oh my, I don’t agree with this judgement, even though it’s followed with “but even they rely more on the frame created by the SDUT than they should.” KPBS is weak. The people of San Diego are left adrift, newswise, without a paddle.
It’s as ludicrous to keep shining the spotlight on whether Mayor Filner is “rude” as it would have been to be constantly assessing whether Mayor Golding was duplicitous, Mayor Murphy was naive, or Mayor Sanders was an willing tool of the establishment.
The important question is what does the Mayor believe and what does he do to realize his vision for the city? That’s what counts, that’s what doesn’t get covered in any substantive or objective way by most “news” outlets, excepting the Reader which always connects the dots.
Dorothy Lee says
Thank you Frances. Exactly.
John P. Falchi says
Those of us who helped Bob Filner get elected need to remain vigilant and organized to assist him in getting his “citizens and neighborhoods first agenda” across. We need to magnify his administration’s outreach efforts with our own efforts to get the word out.
Wonderfully well-written piece, Jim; and I appreciate all the comments, as well. As someone who participated in “Project Censored” in college, I find the state of our regional press extremely depressing. Thank goodness that so many of us are savvy and kind find good, independent sources for some real coverage.
BTW, if you wish to show support for our progressive, shaking-things-up mayor, please “like” the FB page his supporters have started and share this link around: http://www.facebook.com/SanDiegansForMayorBobFilner We do need to be vigilant as John Falchi says!