Yesterday, the “new” Union-Tribune, now under new management, ran a wonderful main editorial, entitled “Bible of democracy”.
It’s main premise was that like other major dailies, the Union-Tribune faced an uncertain future. It quoted Walter Lippmann who called newspapers “the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct.”
The editorial underscored this by describing that
“for more than two centuries, newspapers have been the backbone of American democracy, providing a daily flow of news and other information essential to an informed society. Without newspapers, government at all levels never could have been held accountable to the people – the very crux of democracy.”
Now this is all true and well and good. In most cases. But with the old Union-Tribune? Hardly. The editorial concludes:
The truth is, there is absolutely no replacement for a strong, financially independent newspaper beholden to no special interests or the government in power. Which is why the Union-Tribune’s transformation under new management is so critical to San Diego’s future.
These are great ideas, great words and great concepts. But to use them to describe this San Diego paper is ludicrous at the least. Have the new owners even read the old paper?
The main idea of the editorial is that with newspapers like the U-T, we have democracy. Actually, it’s more like the opposite. We (still) have democracy despite newspapers like the Union-Tribune.
Geez! How can we say all these nasty things?
All one has to do is review some of the early history of the paper. When John D. Spreckles, son of one of the wealthiest men in California and a true robber baron, owned and managed the paper, he ruled the city as if it was his own fiefdom. In 1912, during San Diego’s famous “Free Speech Fight” when labor activists were battling for their right to publicly speak in downtown, Spreckles’ papers (he owned the Tribune as well) called for violence against the labor activists, the Wobblies and their supporters, editorializing that ”hanging is too good”.
Spreckles had ignited the free speech battle, as he had aligned himself with some of the most reactionary, corporate, and anti-labor forces in the country – such as E.H. Harriman, the huge railroad magnate, and had pushed -successfully – for an ordinance outlawing street meetings and picket lines in a huge area of downtown San Diego. This was truly “democracy in action.” The Wobblies and labor activists did finally win- but ONLY after outside pressure was brought to bear on San Diego’s “civic leaders”
Here are some other notable trends of the San Diego Union-Tribune over the last few decades (if you need proof you haven’t been reading the paper, man) :
- Beholden to special interests – like developers. The U-T has been the platform for the rich and powerful here in San Diego. Developers are always given a special place at the U-T table, for afterall, don’t they help democracy with all their advertisements of housing developments that fill the pages? Of course, with the economic downturn and the tanking of the housing market, developers now have less money to spend on full-page ads and homilies in the Housing section. You’ve heard of C. Arnholt Smith – Mr. San Diego 1960. He constantly was on the receiving end of kudos from the Copley press. His downfall was helped along – not by the investigative reporters of the U-T, but by scrappy underpaid paid reporters with the San Diego Street Journal. Smith went to prison for taking millions of dollars from his own bank.
- Mob connections. To this day, the Union-Tribune still denies that local bigwig developers have/ had mob connections – in developments like La Costa or Penasquitos -.
- Beholden to the GOP. The U-T has acted for decades as the mouthpiece of the local and national Republican Party. The paper has treated Democrats and “others” (minorities, labor, hippies, 3d parties) as irrelevant and not worthy to cover.
- Beholden to government – read Republican government. The Copleys were huge supporters of Richard Nixon, Pete Wilson, Ronald Reagan, and of course, George W. Bush. What do all these politicians have in common? Hmmm…. And Cunningham, do you think the U-T was critical of the North County politician before it uncovered his sleaze?
- Richard Nixon considered San Diego his lucky city. His press people (Herb Klein) came to work for the U-T. Nixon received constant, unqualified backing from the paper, even as he came to be one of the most anti-democratic presidents in our nation’s history. The U-T was on his side until the very last days of Watergate.
- The Union-Tribune worked very closely with the CIA. What? It is true: “According to investigative reports, Copley News Service Reporters – the U-T’s news service – around the world served as handmaidens to the CIA during the Cold War.” One investigative reporter stated that no news service was intertwined more with the CIA than Copley News Service. Not to mention U-T reporters gave notes and photographs of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to the FBI.
- Big supporters of WAR. The U-T backed the Vietnam War to the hilt. In the early months of our national “debate” on going to war with Iraq, do you think the U-T gave balanced views with the different sides carefully explained and researched? No, of course not, along with the rest of the “bibles of democracy” the paper unquestionably pushed Bush’s onslaught to invade Iraq.
In the end, it’s tough not to come to the conclusion that we still have our democracy despite the efforts of San Diego’s Union-Tribune, that the paper has been far from a ‘bible of democracy’, and that its history has shown it to be beholden to special interests and the government that it likes.