The media fascination with Chesa Boudin regularly produces national headlines, but now at least one national news source is casting a skeptical eye on the local news coverage of the SF district attorney.
This morning, SFist briefly mentioned a video of a shoplifting incident at a Hayes Valley Walgreens, which is seen below. That video is currently going viral, is the toast of Fox News as “an example of the city’s lawlessness,” and has the VC financiers of the Recall Chesa Boudin movement declaring “San Francisco / Gotham City” and “we wonder why @Walgreens is leaving the city.” (Note: As Hoodline reported just 36 days into Boudin’s administration, Walgreens was already closing multiple SF locations in what the company called a “transformational cost management program” that was announced in 2019.)
Never mind the obvious questions posed by the above video. (What did the security guard expect when allowing in a guy on a bicycle? Why is absolutely no action taken here? Do we really think the robber even knows who Chesa Boudin is, and has thoughts on ‘progressive’ prosecutors' leniency?) What is unusual is a local reporter hashtagging the nakedly biased kicker “#NoConsequences @chesaboudin.” That video has more reactions than any tweet mentioning Boudin, an insight into the perverse incentives to create biased reporting about the current district attorney.
The Washington Post covers these perverse incentives in a lengthy op-ed piece “The bogus backlash against progressive prosecutors.” While it mentions several new-ish progressive district attorneys around the country, the crux of the piece is a different KGO story by reporter Dion Lim that allegedly misreported a key detail in a story highly critical of Boudin, and the coaching/browbeating of witnesses and sources to trash him in the press.
New: A local news report claimed San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin’s office dropped the charges against a juvenile accused of assaulting a 75-year-old woman. The story went viral.— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) June 14, 2021
But it wasn’t true. The victim still supports Boudin, and says she was misled.https://t.co/x8nQGCrgDR
The story in question is a Safeway carjacking incident from March. KGO published a follow-up story in May which claimed that “Sources tell ABC7 News anchor Dion Lim that felony charges against one of the suspects were dropped by the district attorney.” That story was picked up by right-wing provocateur Andy Ngo, who makes sure to mention that the suspects are “black youths,” making the story a hit in the wingnut blogosphere.
#BREAKING: San Francisco police say a 16-year-old girl has been arrested in the attempted carjacking of a 75-year-old woman in a Safeway parking lot in the city's Richmond District, which was thwarted by a nearby Good Samaritan. https://t.co/XYJPRM1sIb pic.twitter.com/hmqcG1FWAr— ABC7 News (@abc7newsbayarea) March 17, 2021
“The problem is that Lim was wrong,” writes the Post’s Radley Balko. “The charges against the assailant were never dropped.”
“In California, as in most states, juvenile cases are generally sealed, so state law prevents the DA’s office from discussing the case with the public,” he continues. “But in phone interviews, both the victim and [intervening good samaritan Harry] Mulholland tell me they were informed by Boudin’s office that Lim’s story is inaccurate, that the juvenile not only still faces charges but that she also had a court date last week.”
Both Mulholland and the anonymous victim say Lim browbeat them into giving her quotes critical of Boudin. “The victim says Lim persisted until she reluctantly provided a quote criticizing the district attorney,” according to the Post. The good samaritan Mulholland told the Post, “I feel like I was played for a fool,” and “Honestly. I felt a little violated.”
For the umpteenth time, SFist is embedding the above graphic from the Violent Crime Rate and Property Crime Rate dashboard showing that San Francisco crime is generally down over the last few years. Yes, robberies went up in 2020, likely thanks to pandemic poverty, a trend seen nationwide. But homicides are near-historically low, and no, VC bro, we are not living in a goddamned Batman movie.
Sure, SFist has occasionally done some biased reporting too. (A certain former president comes to mind). And honest mistakes happen in every industry. When journalists get something wrong we try to issue a correction and clean up the mess as quickly as possible. It happens to every reporter.
But there’s a difference between an honest mistake, and an agenda-serving hit piece designed to catch on with right-wing media, get retweeted by users with Pepe the Frog as their avatar, and perhaps score a job interview at One America News Network. And there’s reason to suspect that some local news veers toward that direction. Because in the social media era, news sources may have more incentives to be provocative than to be correct.
Image: @chesaboudin via Twitter