San Diego really is a police state: SDNN refused press passes by police until they “prove” themselves

by on March 26, 2009 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Media, San Diego

This view of San Diego is from Pat Flannery's blog.

by Pat Flannery / Blog of San Diego / March 26, 2009

San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne, with Mayor Jerry Sanders guarding his back. Voice of San Diego photo.

I recently got dramatic proof of this shortly after joining a team of young journalists at San Diego News Network, SDNN, a new online news journal. I was supposed to become its political analyst and columnist. I was looking forward to probing the underbelly of San Diego politics with young idealistic journalists. Unfortunately it was not to be.

Unbelievably, the Mayor, through his Police Chief, refused them press credentials until they “prove themselves”. He has put them on a six months probation! After six months of reporting the news to his satisfaction, he may extend press credentials to them. SDNN acquiesced. I quietly withdrew.

In a way, I am not surprised. I was already aware of the control the Mayor and the police have over the local media. They are used to it. There has been only one real training ground for print journalists in San Diego for decades and that has been the Copley press. Many Mayoral and City Council staff are ex-UT people, all nurtured in the same symbiotic coziness. They tear up anybody, like Mike Aguirre, who will not be cozy with them.

What surprised me was how quickly these young SDNN people, barely out of journalism school, accepted it all. How are San Diegans ever going to learn the truth about their city government if the police department, directly under the Mayor’s control, licenses all who may ask questions at city press conferences? Should a journalist be foolish enough to displease somebody important at City Hall (e.g. by asking “impertinent” questions) an editor will quickly assign somebody else to kiss up to the offended potentate.

New ownership at the U-T will not bring change and SDNN is not about to challenge the established order. That became painfully obvious this week. The faceless manipulators at City Hall will still exert their enormous power.

As I said, this is not new. A good example of how journalists become pawns of City Hall is what happened at South Eastern Development Corporation (SEDC) last year is. Will Carless, a journalist with Voice of San Diego, in answering a question from Tom Fudge on the KPBS radio program “These Days” in June 2008, revealed how it works. Fudge asked Carless why he started investigating certain bonus payments paid to SEDC’s President, Carolyn Smith. Carless revealed that he had received an insider tip.

Voice of San Diego then put Carless on the story full time for months. He doggedly pursued what were undoubtedly unauthorized payments to Smith, who was subsequently fired in disgrace. But was that the whole story? I doubt it. I had uncovered a dubious land deal involving SEDC’s chairman, “Chip” Owen and Jim Waring, the Mayor’s land use Czar at the time.

For all the months the Voice of San Diego doggedly pursued the Carolyn Smith story they just as doggedly refused to pursue the Owen/Waring land deal story, despite my urging them to do so. Read my July 2008 blog explaining this dubious land deal. Surely it too warranted investigation. But it was easier for the Voice to look where it was told to look and claim credit for having “discovered” a story. They have since denied receiving a tip. Listen again to the full KPBS tape – Carless clearly admits receiving a tip.

So, my 2008 predictions seem to be coming true in 2009: the Mayor recently announced (and the City Attorney reversed himself in order to agree) that SEDC and CCDC should be retained, with the Mayor having the power to hire and fire the heads of both corporations. That’s what the Carolyn Smith investigation was all about. Somebody wanted rid of her. Her position was too valuable and she had become too independent of City Hall.

Wherever that Voice of San Diego tip came from, it was well placed. The plan worked. Carolyn Smith is gone. Media investigations into shady land deals by insider developers do not happen and two very lucrative city jobs are at the disposal of the Mayor – for faithful services rendered.

When the police license the media, you have a police state.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

nunya March 26, 2009 at 10:03 am

“What surprised me was how quickly these young SDNN people, barely out of journalism school, accepted it all.”

It surprised you, really? People write books about corporate control of US colleges.


Frank Gormlie March 26, 2009 at 10:36 am

This has been SOP in this City for decades: the police issuing press credentials. That’s why reporters from the original OB Rag never bothered.


nunya March 26, 2009 at 11:22 am

Frank, I wasn’t referring to the press issuing press passes. I was referring to the baby journalists being so accepting of the rules. Colleges are not the place to learn to “fight the powers that be,” as the ‘powers that be’ build new chem labs, libraries and control curriculum.


nunya March 26, 2009 at 11:27 am

Oops, I meant the mayor/cops issuing press passes.

SOP is State of the Press?


Frank Gormlie March 26, 2009 at 12:34 pm

SOP – sorry, standard operating procedure.


mr fresh March 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

aaarrrggggh. this makes my blood boil. political control over press passes? probation? i think not.


jim g March 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Can anyone give a brief overview of getting a press pass….thank you…do you apply at the SDPD ?


lane tobias March 26, 2009 at 9:55 pm

i wonder if mayor sanders wipes his ass with the constitution when he makes #2?


Molly March 27, 2009 at 7:09 am

ostensibly, the reason that the cops hand out press passes is because in the old days of press coverage, reporters had to get over police lines. but who does that now? how many murders or fires will the SDNN cover? probably not many. let’s all go down to the SDPD HQ and ask for press passes.


jon March 27, 2009 at 9:29 am

Lane – good thing I wasn’t drinking milk. It would have shot right out my nose and ruined my computer.


Shawn Conrad March 27, 2009 at 10:04 am

I have come to accept my indentured servitude in the city and country. It is a lot less stressful.


Frank Gormlie March 27, 2009 at 10:53 pm

we want to comment shawn with something witty but i’m too wiped out, will have to wait til morning.


Frank Gormlie March 30, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Kelly Davis, of City Beat, makes some very interesting observations regarding Flannery’s assertions, basically saying there’s no police conspiracy regarding the issuance of press credentials. Go here for the link.


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