A Sunday New York Times op-ed from the money-man behind the SF Standard reads like a formulaic Mad Libs SF-trashing hit piece, but his attacks on the rival publication The San Francisco Chronicle raise questions about his real motivations.
Well-known billionaire SF venture capitalist and SF Standard financier Michael Moritz appears up to something. On February 9, he got an op-ed in the Financial Times entitled “San Francisco’s drug and homeless crises can’t go on,” a paint-by-numbers rich guy critique of the city’s “open-air drug markets and homeless encampments.” This op-ed was promoted heavily to journalists (myself included) in emails from a PR firm called Riff City Strategies, whose president is a DA Brooke Jenkins adviser, and a firm that allegedly sometimes writes Jenkins’s tweets for her.
“Even Superman equipped with a light saber would not be able to govern San Francisco,” writes Michael Moritz (@moritzKBE). https://t.co/IysPBHIMpy— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) February 26, 2023
Today, journalists like myself got another similar email from Riff City Strategies promoting Moritz’s Sunday op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Even Democrats Like Me Are Fed Up With San Francisco.” (Which I guess refers to however many SF Democrats are “like Moritz” and have $4 billion laying around). That too was promoted via Riff City Strategies emails to journalists, decrying how SF’s “inflated, self interested & easily malleable government is resulting in corruption,” and offering follow-up interviews with the executive director of a Moritz-funded PAC and longtime Mayor Breed staffer Kanishka Cheng (sure, a Breed staffer would know plenty about City Hall corruption!).
“This astonishing city that I have been lucky enough to call home for more than 40 years has become subject to the tyranny of the minority,” writes Sequoia partner Michael Moritz.— Paris Marx (@parismarx) February 27, 2023
No surprise the “minority” he blames isn’t the tech billionaires. https://t.co/fOTVaeVWxy
The op-ed itself reads like an AI-generated chatbot post of “How would a billionaire bitch about SF,” with one exception: instead of the tried-and-true techie “Batman analogy,” Moritz writes, “Even Superman equipped with a light saber would not be able to govern San Francisco.” Otherwise, the piece is a slew of not-fact-checked claims, and complaints about income inequality and “homeless encampments” from a guy whose firm handed out $600 million to the crypto bros (which parenthetically, is roughly the same sum as the annual budget of SF’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing).
Hey @nytopinion: I thought you made essay authors declare their conflicts of interest. Michael Moritz trashes the @sfchronicle but fails to mention he put more than $10M into his competing project, the @sfstandard. (I see there is a late addition in his bio). pic.twitter.com/BJibd3E1XI— Frances Dinkelspiel (@Frannydink) February 27, 2023
But what’s really riling people is the post’s attack on the San Francisco Chronicle, to which Moritz’s newer SF Standard is a competitor. The op-ed alleges that “The hollowing-out of city newspapers, in our case The San Francisco Chronicle, also contributes to poor governance.” As seen above, many journalists find it a little disingenuous that Moritz does not disclose in his piece that he runs a competing publication.
In the fine print at the bottom of the piece, it does note that Moritz “also funded… the San Francisco Standard, an online news organization.” From what we can tell from the Wayback Machine that postscript was also in the original version of this op-ed (though again, is smaller print at the bottom).
It is a falsehood to say that the Chronicle has been hollowed out. Yes, the paper’s union is currently in labor negotiations, but the Chron has not had any recent rounds of layoffs, and is currently expanding. Like many of the other claims in this op-ed, the assertion seems purely pulled out of the air, to serve his agenda.
Mind you, this is a guy whose firm set $210 million on fire by handing it to accused crypto fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried. Moritz’s op-ed claims San Francisco is “crippled by a small coterie who knows how to bend government to its will.” But in the interest of full disclosure, we should note that Moritz is himself writing six-figure checks (see above) to make sure he’s part of the small coterie bending government to its will.
Related: SF Recalls Largely Funded by ‘Neighbors for a Better San Francisco’ PAC, Which Is Based in San Rafael [SFist]