SF Chronicle Reporters Win Award for False Story

by on April 10, 2023

Photo shows SF Chronicle Editor Garcia-Ruiz
SF Chronicle Editor Garcia-Ruiz Promoted False Story

Reporters Knowingly Falsified and Omitted

What happens when reporters sacrifice the truth for a more compelling story? The SF Chronicle has provided a troubling answer: you aggressively promote the false story and the reporters who knowingly lied win a journalism award.

SF Chronicle reporters Trisha Thadani and Joaquin Palomino just won an award for “best watchdog story” for a story on SRO housing. But the heart of their story—the plight of a tenant they claim was forced to pitch at tent in her room due to the operator’s failure to provide pest control services—was a 100% lie (the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head and which publishes Beyond Chron, operates the hotel).

Thadani and Palomino were told in advance of publication that Pauline Levinson, their tenant “victim,” refused to allow pest control into her unit. They were also told she was being evicted for assaulting a fellow tenant.

The article omitted these key facts.

It did not even mention that the tenant’s account was disputed by management.

Camlo Looper, THC’s Senior Associate Director of Property Management,  told the reporters the truth a week before the story came out.

Looper recalled, “I told the reporters that DPH inspectors closed out her complaint because Levinson did not comply with either DPH or management in helping to remediate the issue. She repeatedly refused to let exterminators in her unit. I explained that health inspectors felt her refusal negatively impacted other tenants health. I also told them Levinson was being evicted because she assaulted another tenant by striking the victim in the face and it was reported to management by the victim, and we confirmed the incident on camera.

DPH wrote on its October 28, 2021 notice of violation: “Closed until cooperation for abatement.” Yet these two “investigative” reporters ignored the public record undermining their account.

It’s obvious what happened. After working on the story for several months Thadani and Palomino thought they struck gold with a stark example of management neglect. A tenant in a city funded unit forced to pitch a tent due to vermin!

But the facts undermined their story. Readers would not sympathize with a tenant who assaults fellow tenants. Nor would they champion a tenant whose refusal to allow pest control allowed vermin to spread to other tenants’ homes.

So Thadani and Palomino ignored the facts. Their false front page story depicted a sensational image of a tenant forced to pitch a tent in her room due to management’s failures.

Thadani and Palomino felt so emboldened to lie that they even wrote, “At the Jefferson Hotel, Pauline Levinson has coped with rodents, violence and neighbors dying of overdoses.”

Coped with violence?  The reporters failed to tell readers that Levinson assaulted a fellow tenant. They falsely turned the perpetrator of violence (for which Levinson was later evicted) into the victim!

Editor Complicit in the Lies

After the article appeared I tweeted the truth about the tenant. I requested that Chronicle Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz correct the facts. I never got a response. Instead, the editor aggressively promoted the false story.

For the rest of their misrepresentations, see our May 16, 2022 story, “The Truth Behind the SF Chronicle’s Shameful “Investigation” of SRO Homeless Housing.”

Readers of the SF Chronicle deserve better. They need to stop seeing ideological agendas drive stories while ignoring and even contradicting the facts.

The SF Chronicle has many solid reporters. But its editor’s refusal to correct a story he knew was false raises troubling questions about the paper’s leadership.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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