Chronicle Slants News to Boost Westly

by Randy Shaw on June 2, 2006

On the eve of the June 6 election, the San Francisco’s Chronicle’s crack investigative team of Carla “I love Arnold” Marinucci and John Wildermuth have made banner headlines by highlighting that Phil Angelides received millions from his close friend and longtime ally, Sacramento developer Angelo Tskakopoulous. The Chronicle hopes voters believe that there is something sinister about Tskakopoulous’s contributions, even suggesting that Angelides would be put “in the developer’s back pocket.” What the Chronicle does not say is that Angelides has long credited Tskakopoulous for helping build his career, and that the two have a near father-son relationship that has nothing to do with “buying” political favors. The real story here is how the San Francisco Chronicle is recycling and misrepresenting old news to boost Steve Westly, who the paper has endorsed against Angelides.

In San Francisco’s 1987 Mayor’s race, the San Francisco Chronicle (under prior ownership) had a week of front-page stories attacking progressive candidate Art Agnos for his financial relationship with a Sacramento developer named Angelo Tskakopoulous.

Although Tskakopoulos was not politically involved in San Francisco, and had never used his friendship with then Assemblymember Agnos to influence state legislation, the Chronicle tried to tarnish Agnos as an unethical tool of developers.

Agnos survived the Chronicle’s attacks, and went on to defeat the candidate heavily backed by the Chronicle, developers, and real estate interests. Now the Chronicle seeks to undermine another progressive candidate by virtue of his friendship with Tskakopoulos.

Angelo Tskakopoulos is a longtime donor to Democratic Party candidates, and his family has served on ceremonial commissions under Mayor’s Brown and Newsom. Unlike the plethora of insurance companies, oil conglomerates, global corporations and real estate interests that have funneled tens of millions of dollars to secure favors from Governor Schwarzenegger, Tskakopoulos’s donations to Angelides are motivated by friendship, not future political payback.

Fortunately for Angelides, should he prevail Tuesday the Chronicle hit pieces might help him in November. In fact, all of the nastiness between Angelides and Westly will make it harder for Schwarzenegger and his media allies to score points against either Democrat.

Recall what happened in the 1998 Presidential race. After breezing in the primaries, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis headed into September with a large lead over Republican George HW Bush. But then the Bush campaign hammered Dukakis with wildly inaccurate charges about pollution in Boston Harbor and the parole of an African-
American named Willie Horton who killed a white woman upon his release.

Had either of these issues been raised against Dukakis during the primaries, they would have been addressed and become old news when voters started focusing on the presidential race in September. But because the false charges did not surface until it was too late for Dukakis to effectively refute them, he plunged from a 17- point lead to lose the race.

The Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, and his failure to aggressively respond, did not cost him the election, but it sure would have been better from Kerry’s standpoint if the charges against his military service had been made—and rebutted– during the primaries.
As with Dukakis, it was the timing of the false allegations against Kerry that did the harm.

To win in November, Angelides always faced the burden of explaining his relationship with a land developer who has been identified, fairly or not, with supporting suburban sprawl. Thanks to the Chronicle, the Tskakopoulos connection is now old news.

The Dukakis campaign should cause progressives to reconsider their attacks on the way in which Angelides and Westly are running negative campaigns.

Dukakis refused to fight fire with fire with Bush, arguing that Americans wanted politicians to take “the high road.” Ever since that contest, Democrats have demanded candidates who would not let their opponents push them around, and we now know that both Angelides and Westly are willing to do what is necessary to win.

Would it be better for both candidates to have run strictly positive campaigns? Sure, but when is the last time that happened in a race?

The problem is that there is a fine line between informing voters about your opponent’s record and “going negative.” If Westly is going to preach bipartisanship, isn’t Angelides’ argument that he is too tight with the Republican fair game? And if Angelides is going to support a tax increase, doesn’tt Westly have the right to question that approach?

Both Democratic candidates will enter the race against Arnold stronger than if they had not had a fiercely fought primary. Although a Field Poll released yesterday shows that the negative ad war has enabled the Governor to move a few points ahead of both candidates, the fact that his margin is so small after Angelides and Westly have been beating on each other for months while ignoring Arnold bodes better than expected for Democratic prospects in November.

As for the Chronicle, conscientious voters should consider ignoring the paper’s news section until after June 6.

Send feedback to rshaw@beyondchron.org

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