Will the real demagogues please stand up?
November 10, 2014
OPINION by DANIEL BLACKBURN
Usually, those unusually insipid things we read so regularly in our local daily newspaper come and go from our thoughts like the pat of a subway groper. Until Joe.
Look, I’ll say from the start that it pains me to criticize another media entity — mostly because it’s a practice most readers find immensely boring and competitively stupid.
So have no doubt about it: giving The Tribune any attention now as it struggles against its business demons is not fun.
But there was Joe. Tarica, that is, one of The Tribune’s regularly featured columnists. Joe writes something called “Joetopia” which I guess is a takeoff on the word “Utopia” which seems to be the dream of his employer — a picture-perfect and happy San Luis Obispo County existing exactly as Joe and his fellow travelers must imagine.
When I read Joetopia’s first words on Nov. 8 — “I don’t understand voters” — my impulse was to send him a quick email reply. Then I figured, why don’t I just share my own insipid thoughts with the half-million-plus people who will have a chance to read this on this site during November? Let them dump me in the trash.
We start by noting The Tribune’s antediluvian practice of “interviewing” political candidates and making editorial recommendations to readers prior to elections.
It’s essentially a publishers’ ego trip dating from the time when newspapers were the only means available for most people to get information about their government and elected officials. The exercise has always been abused by some editors and publishers pursuing their own agendas; I submit, however, that at one time, such recommendations carried some weight, and had some social value. That’s certainly no longer the case, particularly at the smaller, regional newspaper level.
So I must figure that Joe took his cue from the newspaper’s editorial hierarchy when he slapped this headline on Saturday’s Joetopia: “In election’s wake, voters’ choices are difficult to understand.”
If Joe had really free reign to write what he wanted, he’d have penned something like this: “I just don’t understand why the ignorant electorate didn’t follow The Tribune’s insightful recommendations.”
This shouldn’t be a difficult mental pull for Joe: He doesn’t understand because The Tribune can’t detect the truthful pulse of county residents.
Joe wrings his ink-stained hands in frustration at the election of people and the approval of issues not endorsed by The Tribune, which leads him to the only conclusion possible: “I guess we are a people wracked by phantom fears and manipulated by demagogues.”
I guess many of Joetopia’s own fears are based on misconception spread by the newspaper itself.
One example: He bemoans the triumph of new supervisor Lynn Compton in capturing the District 4 seat, writing: “Water is a major challenge, but does the South County elect a supervisor who will help push forward thoughtful regulation of the Paso Robles groundwater basin? No, they pick someone who doesn’t even believe the crisis exists. I guess it isn’t their problem.”
The real problem here, Joetopia, is that Compton says she never, ever said that. The Tribune said she said it, but that doesn’t make it true. There is no evidence she ever uttered the words.
Here’s Compton’s comment on the matter during The Tribune’s own debate (available on their website). Compton said, “We are in a long term drought that could go on for 10 years.” In another debate, Compton questioned the research that went into the emergency ordinance, but not whether there is a water crisis.
And — this is only my observation, not Compton’s — those who do question a genuine “water crisis” in this county have a lot of hard evidence to support that particular position. Excessive pumping? Now you’re talking!
Also, Joetopia didn’t much like the folks Atascadero voters reelected.
And he really seethed about Jim Hill’s already-historic, uphill write-in political performance in Arroyo Grande.
Blind to a decade of exploitation by the city’s sitting mayor, his abuses clearly perceived and willingly articulated by local residents and business owners, The Tribune’s dogged endorsement of long-time incumbent Tony Ferrara colored its coverage of the city’s now-notorious July 3 Adams-McClish City Hall caper and its aftermath.
Joetopia writes how Ferrara “fights for his political life against a write-in candidate whose non-campaign was fueled by backlash over a frothy pseudo scandal.”
Where to start? A “pseudo scandal?” A “non-campaign?”
The city bloomed almost overnight with hundreds upon hundreds of iridescent, hand-made yellow signs supporting Hill’s write-in candidacy. The signs appeared on the lawns of homes, the windows of businesses… everywhere, it seemed, a virtual sea of poster board. And with the kind of virulent retaliation Ferrara and his tax-paid lackeys are capable of wreaking, this was a bold act, uncomfortable for many Arroyo Grande residents.
A committee of some of the community’s prominent and committed folks created what is truly a political miracle (no matter the eventual vote count). They fashioned a grass-roots effort that was visible, outspoken, and most of all, effective in communicating the message to the thousands of voters who wrote in Jim Hill’s name after a five-week campaign. Thousands. Chew on that for a moment.
Easy for Joetopia to miss this phenomenon, now that I think of it; The Tribune’s local coverage sure did.
As to the Adams/McClish incident, first reported by CalCoastNews in August: Residents’ concerns have never been about what this sad pair did or did not do in that darkened city office late that night.
It’s about how Tony Ferrara and his council handled the situation from the very start, with denials, a coverup, verbal attacks on residents and police officers who questioned them, and secret meetings.
It was all that, and not the spectre of illicit sex, that Hill’s supporters tried to convey to The Tribune, without success. Now, those citizens are dismissed as “demagogues” by Joetopia.
Ferrara’s slant on the whole thing — a fallacious one repeated often in The Tribune and parroted by council members — was that officers encountered nothing inappropriate that night, and concluded no violations of city policy had occurred.
Commander Kevin McBride’s statement in a memorandum describing the incident, posted on CalCoastNews and even The Tribune, once, was much more, shall we say, revealing: “Once outside, I contacted Senior Officer Day and he was very concerned that he had witnessed a possible violation of city policy because McClish was in the city manager’s office and appeared to be partially clothed.” Responding officers agreed they had walked into “an uncomfortable situation.”
The reason the election went the way it did, Joetopia, is simply that the voters were listening. But not to you.
There’s a financial reason for The Tribune’s brand of “reporting,” which Joetopia himself was kind enough to point out: “A sense of social responsibility,” he wrote, “often can’t compete with the almighty dollar.”
Daniel Blackburn is senior correspondent and co-founder of CalCoastNews.