August 15, 2008


On this, my last morning in California for the summer (since my flight leaves at 6:10 tomorrow morning, I'm not going to count it), I come across an article on the front of the Bay Area section of the San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. Democrats take a sharp turn to the left,

Since this is on the front of a prominent section of a still-respectable paper, you would expect at least a certain minimal level of professionalism: an attempt to distinguish between reporting of facts and editorializing, evidence to support claims, a professional tone, etc. All of these are missing from Heather Knight's piece.

The story is fairly straightforward: Democratic County Central Committee of San Francisco released their endorsements for the November election. The endorsements did not include a number of candidates who self-identify as progressive, and did votes on ballot measures that would decriminalize prostution, opposite JROTC in public schools, and challenge a number of Mayor Gavin Newsom's policies. Compare that summary with Knight's:

The San Francisco Democratic Party has veered dramatically to the left, telling voters that on Nov. 4 they should elect a raft of ultra-liberal supervisorial candidates, decriminalize prostitution, boot JROTC from public schools, embrace public power and reject Mayor Gavin Newsom's special court in the Tenderloin.

What makes this slate a veer, dramatic or otherwise, to the left? We're given no explanation. None of the positions of any of the candidates in the various contests around the city -- either endorsed or not endorsed -- is identified anywhere in the article, except one mention that one candidate (who was not endorsed) is a Green. Similarly, the discussion of the ballot measures is cursory; the additional details given tell me virtually nothing significant I couldn't have guessed from the three-word descriptions. This means the entire article rests on Knight's individual assessment that the slate of endorsements is "ultra-left".

The tone of the writing is also surprising. There are the usual problems of contemporary journalistic writing: run-on sentences, with far too many clauses, used as whole paragraphs; gratuitous adjectives; and paragraphs with no clear structure or point. But Knight also feels free to make use of slang and focus her report on individual reactions, making the whole piece sound more like a report on the student government election campaign in a high school newspaper: "Nathan Ballard, the mayor's press secretary, said the committee's endorsements are out of whack with Democratic values."

Finally, this is the internets, so of course there's a comment function attached to the electronic version of the story. Knight can't be blamed for this, but I was surprised at the red-baiting and racism that pervaded the comments. The inanity and irrelevant rants I expected, of course, but not the way `socialist' and `communist' were tossed around as slurs, much less the way several comments blamed `illegal immigrants' for violent crime (?), prostitution and sex trafficking (??), and panhandling (???).

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