U-T reveals partisan bias with DeMaio plug

by Brody Burns

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently endorsed Republican Carl DeMaio for the San Diego mayoral race. This move should come as no surprise from an editorial board that made such past endorsements of Republicans including Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, John McCain and George W. Bush on two separate occasions. The surprise is the manner in which the U-T proclaimed its selection of DeMaio, which was done through a front-page endorsement in last Sunday’s edition of the newspaper. This is a highly irregular means of endorsing a candidate; when coupled with the fact that Sunday is the most widely circulated edition of the U-T, the prospect of bias begins to fester.

Meanwhile, the peculiarity of the endorsement continues to grow. The general election is roughly six months from now. Even the primary election, which will decide the two candidates who will run in the general election, is still about a month away. Through such a strong broadcast of its editorial selection, at this point in the election season, the U-T is making a definitive statement — a statement regarding the pseudo-impartial coverage of the entire election from this point forward.

The manner and delivery of the DeMaio selection has created a climate where this endorsement could realistically “set the agenda” of the coverage on the race. Effectively, the U-T has created a situation where DeMaio represents more than just its editorial board’s selection in the race: He has been transformed into the newspaper’s poster boy. This is highly troubling considering the fact that the U-T happens to be the single major newspaper in the city. From this move, one can reasonably suspect that if the U-T so ardently supports one candidate, this passion will spill into the general reporting of the race.

DeMaio, as such a public poster boy, is a major problem when one seeks unbiased, impartial or neutral race coverage. It imbues a perception of partiality at the U-T, where the likelihood of the coverage meeting journalistic ethical standards has been significantly diminished. But it only gets worse.

Jeff Light is the current vice president and editor of the U-T. In a recent tape recording released by independent candidate Nathan Fletcher’s campaign, Light douses the flames of skepticism of the impartiality of the entire newspaper, with the following comments:

“I think that there is a real danger in a (Bob) Filner / DeMaio race at the general election as the presidential election is going on. Filner has a chance to win that and that is something we do not want.”

In referring to the entire newspaper as we, Light has verified all the suspicions of blatantly biased coverage. He has translated the editorial board’s selection into the larger representation of the entire newspaper. Moreover, is it reasonably believable that such strong personal convictions from the vice president of the newspaper would not influence coverage? Or more patently, is Papa Doug Manchester, the owner of the U-T, playing the entire staff like a group of marionettes, tap dancing to his own personal political rhetoric?

That’s the paramount importance of this election season at the U-T. It is the first since Manchester purchased the paper, and the overall credibility of political impartiality has been shrouded in a cloud of doubt.

Further on in the tape released by Fletcher, an unidentified editorial board member said, “How can we get behind you, given that we’ve got a lot of Republican backing and Republican tradition? I think that puts us in a tough position.”

There are multiple problems with this statement. The first being the editorial board apparently votes along party lines, without any investigation into the candidates at hand. Looking beyond the political party attached to each candidate in an editorial selection provides a greater service to the readers. Next, the admission of such a one-sided editorial board is disturbing. At the end of last year, there were slightly more registered Democrats in San Diego County than Republicans. The board should more adequately represent this divide. The U-T should align the board with the actual prevailing attitudes of the entire county.

Finally, why is it making editorial decisions to appease such a small constituency? Shouldn’t the aim be to provide the selection of the best candidate for the region, as opposed to the best candidate for the specific Republican board members, who may have a financial stake in the election? If the board is so one-sided, then increase turnover and bring in some outside perspective. Diversity of opinions and viewpoints will only enrich the overall debate, and translate to more beneficial editorials for a larger population.

The most depressing fact made through the front-page endorsement is the proclamation that the opinion of the editorial board is incredibly newsworthy. It garners the most widely visible placement of the entire week and stinks of noxious egotism. As if the readers could not quench their salivating thirst for the U-T endorsement by turning to the editorial section. It is a shameless self-promotion of the members of the editorial board, and a further blow to the overall credibility of the newspaper.

Readers, I also have an endorsement to make: Seek your news somewhere other than the U-T.