We pointed you to this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review in a link dump the other day, but in case you missed it, it's worth a read. Former SF Weekly editor John Mecklin, who's now based in Santa Barbara and writes for the CJR's politics and policy desk, calls out the San Francisco Chronicle for the highly questionable ethics of employing former mayor Willie Brown as a weekly columnist. The detailed piece echoes many of the criticisms levied by Elizabeth Lesly Stevens in that piece from last summer, published in Washington Monthly, and this 2011 piece by the Bay Citizen. So, how long will it be before the Chronicle pays attention to the fact that their integrity is being questioned on a national level?
Mecklin points to the obvious overlaps that occur between Brown's gossipy column, "Willie's World," and the purportedly hard-hitting City Hall-watching done by Matier & Ross. In one recent example, Brown bragged of his trip to China with Ed Lee, Rose Pak, and Kofi Bonner, an executive with Lennar development (whom Willie may or may not have a consulting contract with), with the hope of bringing Chinese investment to Treasure Island and Hunter's Point. Four days later, when the Chinese deal collapsed, Matier & Ross reported on the information from an anonymous source "outside City Hall," spinning it in a way Willie would probably have encouraged by saying that the Chinese were only going to hold up the progress of the project.
Of course, none of these criticisms are new, but it's interesting that they're coming from sources far afield from the left-entrenched SF Bay Guardian, where editor Tim Redmond first called out Brown's conflict of interest, vis a vis representing PG&E, back in 2010.
The ethical issues with Da Mayor's association with the paper are pretty clear, given that SFGate is an extremely well-trafficked website (we don't have any data regarding the newly paywalled SF Chronicle site), and readers likely would not understand the difference between Brown and any other journalist or columnist writing there. Brown is able to use his column both to benefit possible clients he invokes privacy and attorney-client privilege in not revealing who, exactly, he's working for as consultant, lobbyist, or whathaveyou and air grievances and wield power over the mayor he created, Ed Lee. As Stevens wrote last year:
The Chron once covered Brown’s dealings aggressively, but it is now so weak that Hearst Corp. nearly folded it a few years ago. Brown often uses his column to promote friends and punish enemies, and his column is not subject to the paper’s ethics policy.
That's right: Officially, the word from the Chronicle is that Brown is just a "celebrity columnist." Editor Ward Bushee said to the Bay Citizen in 2011, "He is a newsmaker who is politically active, of which our readers are quite aware. While he’s not bound by the [newspaper’s] ethics policy, Willie has shown his respect for his readers and the rules of conflict of interest."
We're not so sure about that. Subway, anyone?