Gawker.com, Phil Bronstein Insult Uptown Tenderloin Residents

by Randy Shaw on April 13, 2010

The April 12 New York Times had a wonderful story on efforts to highlight the largely unknown history of the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. But Gawker.com, whose recent stories include “George Michael’s Quest for Random Sex,” “Which Actor Likes to Pleasure Himself in His Car?,” and “Are Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton having Romantic Dinners Together” responded to the Times article by falsely claiming “the area is now being promoted as a human zoo,” essentially describing residents as animals. And then we have former Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein’s response to the Times story: he claims that tourists walking through the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District could “possibly die.”

Having worked in the Uptown Tenderloin for thirty years, I am accustomed to those with a psychological need to put down and stigmatize neighborhood residents. While many journalists are inspired by the many Southeast Asian immigrants who live in the community and operate small businesses, the SRO residents making a life for themselves on a fixed or low income, or the parents walking with their children to our local community school, some writers feel better about themselves if they can look down on others.

Gawker.com is a celebrity gossip site, but that does not mean it has the freedom to describe low-income people as animals. Yet its false claim that the Uptown Tenderloin is being “promoted as a human zoo” does precisely that.

There is nothing in the Times story that even hints at the idea that people should come to the Uptown Tenderloin to stare at residents. Rather, the story clearly focused on why tourists would be attracted by the community’s rich but largely unknown history, and of its historically important architecture.

The editors of Gawker.com should ask themselves why they dehumanized the poor, or the mentally disabled, or others living in the Uptown Tenderloin whose daily struggles give them little time to investigate such breaking Gawker news as the discovery of the latest diaries of Sandra Bullock’s husband. Picking on the poor and defenseless is not funny, and Gawker’s coverage is no joke.

Shame on Phil Bronstein

Phil Bronstein’s once bright career path, where he rose from intrepid journalist in the Philippines to Executive Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, continues its descent with his vicious attack on the Uptown Tenderloin in response to the Times story.

Bronstein actually tells those considering walking, eating or visiting the neighborhood that by entering the community they could “possibly die.” Yet Bronstein provides no facts supporting his conclusion that tourists are at risk.

To the contrary, Bronstein claims that “part of the problem is that the Tenderloin has lost a lot of the edgy frisson it used to have after years of heavier law enforcement, IRS hits on the porn places, the theft of some of the sex trade by more upscale joints and neighborhoods and a big influx of Asian immigrants more interested in safe playgrounds for their kids than in scoring.”

Despite this assessment, as well as his claim that “now it’s mostly poor people coping as best they can,” Bronstein nevertheless concludes that tourists could “possibly die” by visiting the community.

I think the former Executive Editor needed an editor to tell him that his facts conflict with his conclusion.

Excuse for Newsom-Bashing

It seems what really troubles Bronstein is that Mayor Gavin Newsom has been incredibly supportive of improving the Uptown Tenderloin. He claims Newsom supported a city grant to promote the community’s positive identify because he is “never one to miss a spotlight opportunity,” as if politicians are clamoring to help the Uptown Tenderloin because they know it will be front-page news in Bronstein’s Chronicle.

Bronstein then conflates his belief that Newsom allegedly wants his wealthy friends to make donations to blighted areas — I certainly hope this is true! — with the notion that non-residents eat in Uptown Tenderloin restaurants or patronize local theaters or businesses are in fact “slumming.”

Was it “slumming” when Bronstein and his former movie star wife Sharon Stone ate dinner in the Mission District or the Haight? Or anywhere outside of their Pacific Heights neighborhood?

The San Francisco Chronicle frequently bashes progressive politicians for being anti-business. Yet Bronstein’s comments injure businesses in an entire neighborhood. He particularly hurts the primarily immigrant owned restaurants that depend on patronage from non-residents for survival.

Phil, we expected better from you. You had a chance to highlight your belief that the Uptown Tenderloin has greatly improved from the days you covered it in the 1980’s, but instead allowed your need to be cynical get in the way.

Phil, open your heart and eyes to the Uptown Tenderloin’s potentially bright future. You’ll be a happier man, and the neighborhood’s success will make San Francisco a better city.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century, which will be out in paperback in July.

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