Blurring the Line Between News and Editorials

by Randy Shaw on April 9, 2004

Since 1979, the Hearst Corp and the San Francisco Chronicle has opposed every single ballot measure to strengthen tenants rights. During this same period they have supported every landlord measure to weaken or eliminate rent control, and to convert the city’s rental housing supply to expensive condominiums. The Chronicle’s news division rarely covers the financial hardships or widespread eviction fears affecting the city tenants. But the Chronicle provides ongoing coverage of the city’s rich, despite their representing only a sliver of the city’s population.

Last November, the Chronicle editorially opposed a ballot initiative creating an $8.50 per hour city minimum wage. The measure was designed to boost the incomes for the over 50,000 families struggling to stay in the city. After 60% of voters approved the measure, the Chronicle ran a “news” story that echoed its pre-election editorial. The news article claimed the voter-enacted pay increase would hurt low income workers, close down restaurants, and discriminate against workers of color.

In March, the Chronicle strongly backed Prop J, the so-called “workforce housing initiative”. During the campaign the paper ran news stories aggressively promoting the type of upscale housing development that Prop J would provide. The Chronicle’s planning reporter has found merit in every housing proposal designed to attract more affluent residents, and has continually beat the drum for luxury housing that offers easy access to downtown businesses.

On the eve of the Board of Supervisors vote on legislation limiting chain stores, the Chronicle, which editorially opposed the measure, ran a story profiling a young married couple who had built there small soup business into a chain of six restaurants. The story focused on the young hardworking couple–rather than the President of McDonalds or Dominos, and the harm that could be caused to them by the restrictions. Buried within the story was the fact that the legislation only applied to chains of at least 12 businesses, so that the young couple was not only not impacted, but would have to double their existing business to be affected in the future.

The Chronicle has also played cheerleader for Angelo Sangiacomo’s plan for mass evictions and the elimination of 360 units of rent-controlled housing at Trinity Plaza. Chronicle readers have learned little about Sangiacomo’s history of massive rent increases, tenant displacement, and his company’s wrongful withholding of hundreds of thousands of dollars in security deposits. Instead, Sangiacomo is praised for trying to remove “blight”, otherwise known as working-class tenants–from the Mid-Market area.

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