Six Takeaways from That Weird Independent Endorsement
A brief war story: Back before the last Ice Age, our Director of Editorial Opinion and Cheap Shot Personal Attacks was privileged to serve for a time as Editorial Page Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Like most newspapers owned by rich families, the Chron at that time was riven by blood relative personal beefs, financial rivalries and political differences.
Our tenure coincided with the rise in fortune of one of the liberal family members, who approvingly egged us on throughout a months-long campaign of dumping on Governor Pete Wilson for his sponsorship of 1994's infamous Proposition 187, which called for denial of all government benefits – including health care and education – to undocumented immigrants and their children.
“Xenophobe,” “bigot,” and “racist” were some of the nicer names we flung at the Republican governor, then seeking re-election.
When it came time to endorse in the governor’s race that year, however, the realities of family politics suddenly required the appeasement of certain conservative relatives of our progressive patroness. Thus came the assignment to churn out a ringing endorsement of the previously pilloried Wilson.
Tasked with singing the praises of a man he’d spent the previous six months savaging, this reporter tap danced around a “he's good for business” theme in composing the endorsement, with scarcely a mention of immigration.
Whose bread I eat/His song I sing, and all that.
And your point is? All this by way of stipulating that writing newspaper election endorsements can be a lot harder than it looks, given behind-the-scenes cross currents of conflicting personal interests and political pressures that may descend upon a writer from people who make more money than him.
Also to say that, in contemplating the treasure trove of curiosities that is the Santa Barbara Independent’s recent endorsement of Das Williams over Laura Capps for First District Supervisor, we do so with empathy. Take that to the bank.
The much-discussed endorsement is unusual, for many reasons. Crafted by the indefatigable Nick Welsh upon the considered decision of Editor in Chief Marianne Partridge, in recent days it has been Topic A for the cadre of insiders, gossip mongers, political junkies and other hacks closely following the Das-Laura race. In other words, our readers.
1-It’s really long. The Das endorsement is not quite as protracted as War and Peace, although it definitely reads that way. The prolixity contrasts,with the crispness with which the paper conferred its seal of approval upon Monique Limon for state Senate (188 words), Salud Carbajal for Congress (282 words) and even the similarly heated re-election bid of Das colleague, Supervisor Joan Hartmann (554 words). In fact, at 1,359 words, the Williams piece is only slightly shorter than all the other Indy endorsements combined (1,662 words).
2-It reads like it suffered to be birthed. The endorsement at several points scans as a scream of agony or a plea for relief from pain. The process of preparing the endorsement was “excruciating,” we read, along with the news that the unnamed Editorial We “struggled” to make one of “the most difficult decisions” in its history and, having it made it, “have seen enough” of the candidates “to last us a few lifetimes.” Ouch.
3-Laura’s raising money off it. To say the Indy damned Das with faint praise is an understatement. He’s described at various points as an “ego-driven careerist” and a “calculating political opportunist” who is “tone deaf and arrogant,” characterizations so harsh that Laura incorporated them into her latest email fundraising appeal: “It is such an indictment of his leadership that we want you -- our supporters -- to read it,” her money pitch said. “As we make calls and canvas voters we're finding the piece is actually bringing undecideds to vote for Laura."
4-Susan Collins, ghostwriter? After enumerating Das’s many sins, the endorsement lurches for an all’s-well-that-ends-well conclusion, by asserting the Panglossian belief that Das “will learn to admit his mistakes quickly and with compassion, and that he will strive to repair relationships with those who have been his past allies.”
This language instantly reminded anyone who’s followed the impeachment saga in Washington of the much-mocked words of Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who voted to acquit Trump in the Senate’s show trial; she confirmed her belief that he acted improperly but then asserted, without evidence, that he had “learned…a pretty big lesson.”
Alas, former Rep. Lois Capps, mother of Laura, beat Newsmakers to the scoop on the Indy -Collins analogy, becoming the first to point it out for publication, in a letter to the paper's editor.
5-They did find a few good things to say. Although the endorsement kicked Das around a bit, its split-screen assessment in the end slightly favored him, according to an exclusive Newsmakers content analysis of 787 words that present either specific praise or criticism: 55 percent of such statements were positive about him, while 45 percent were negative.
6-The real head scratcher. After providing a laundry list of Das shortcomings, the Indy poses this question: “Is his behavior over the past three years a good enough reason to toss him overboard?” The paper concludes no, because they like other things he’s done during “his 17-year career.”
But wait – hasn’t he been serving as a member of the Board of Supervisors “over the past three years?” And therefore, isn’t his “behavior” during that time exactly what is at issue in deciding whether he should have another term…as supervisor? Inquiring minds want to know.
P.S. The tale of the Chronicle’s 1994 endorsement of Pete Wilson’s re-election had a final twist.
A few days after it published, members of the Newspaper Guild, including the editorial page editor, went on strike, after failed negotiations with management over a new contract.
Selected by union colleagues as editorial page editor of the strike paper, The San Francisco Free Press, he promptly endorsed Wilson’s Democratic opponent, Kathleen Brown, for governor and, in the process, attacked his own endorsement in the Chronicle for rank hypocrisy.
“Trying to separate Wilson's governorship from Proposition 187 is somewhat like saying that Charles Manson would have been a great guitar player, except for Sharon Tate,” the anonymous editorial opined.
You could look it up.
Images: Santa Barbara Independent logo; Screen grab of Indy Das endorsement; Leo Tolstoy (biography.com); Laura Capps; Scream (vix.com); Susan Collins making sure Trump learned his lesson (newsweek.com); Balancing the scales (2yamaha,com); Hmmm... (cutestpage.com); Masthead of the San Francisco Free Press (lemonjuju.com).