If I only had a brain…

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A brilliant piece of commentary, in which San Diego News Room Founder David King quotes an Al Pacino character, knows that his dog Milhouse is more certain than the Labor Council , and asks, “With its only meaningful content coming from op-ed pieces, how is the U-T any different from a blog?”  (SD Rostra will take that part as a compliment.)

Original article appeared 1/31/10 on San Diego News Room.  Republished with permission of the author.

If I only had a brain…

Guest Column by DAVID KING

People have told me that I am courageous (i.e. foolish) for launching an online news venture, joining the already populated fray in San Diego.  While local news media outlets are numerous, the absence of meaningful analysis of relevant subjects from our mother ship newspaper is one of San Diego’s most serious weaknesses.  The oft-made prayers to address San Diego’s failing infrastructure are incomplete for failure to address the missing infrastructure between the ears.

Sunday’s edition of the Union-Tribune addressed several issues stirring at San Diego City Hall, with relevance ranging from the utterly trifling to the your-pants-are-on-fire degree of significance.   Each demonstrates the inadequacy of the U-T.

First, the U-T wrote absolute nonsense about Carl Demaio’s use of roughly $32,000 on public mailings, deriding him as failing to follow his fiscal responsibility mantra.  Carl DeMaio’s mailers are not even newsworthy, but his proposals to reform city government are most certainly newsworthy.   The city of San Diego wastes more than $32,000 every day of the year buying the wrong color post-it pads.

I have supported Carl politically, and I believe he and Donna Frye are the strongest advocates for reform of city hall.   Speaking as a CPA who started my career auditing city governments, and as a former deputy city attorney, over the years I have been stumped by issues raised by Carl’s proposals.  While reflecting his bold, confident and innovative approach to addressing our catastrophic fiscal predicament, Carl’s proposals are only useful if they are challenged and vetted into a workable form.

The Union-Tribune has done little if anything to serve its duty to the public insofar as Mr. DeMaio is concerned.  Instead of vetting his proposals against the city charter, state law and financial realities, the U-T merely seeks to paint a cartoon of a man who is tirelessly dedicating himself to addressing the city’s most pressing problems. Writing an article about $32,000 worth of mailings merely reinforces the trifling biased petty bashing which is appropriate for the U-T’s bush league writers.

Second, Sunday’s edition of the UT covered the ballot proposal to make permanent the strong mayor form of government.  Here we enter the world of the preposterous failure to challenge statements by public figures on the left.  Local union representative Lorena Gonzalez was quoted as saying that her union group is “undecided” whether it supports the strong mayor system.  My dog Milhouse knows that this is untrue.

Her union group has a strong opinion, though it’s a reversible stance, depending on whether they could elect a union lackey as mayor to compliment their union-dominated council.  In the next breath, she expressed concern over the “millions” it will cost to establish a new council district.

Come again?  You believe it’s best for the city to remain with an even number of council members?   You prefer a number which guarantees deadlocks?  This is an obvious organizational flaw with an elementary solution.  Couldn’t her opposition be based on the geographic area expected to be carved into the next council seat (the more conservative north)?   The U-T reporter apparently took her, and Ben Hueso, at face value and didn’t bat an eyelash at these comical assertions.

The U-T’s editorial is as bad as its reporting.  Who feels they know anything more about law or the Supreme Court after reading Ruben Navarette’s countless columns on Sonia Sotomayor?  Such columns were as intellectually enriching as watching the scene in Bird Cage where the transvestite performers lip synch “We are Family, I got all my sisters with me.”

Next, the Sunday U-T finally addressed the question of whether the city’s benighted Ethics Commission is necessary.  Every insider at city hall knows that the city’s ethics ordinance was one of the many fetid eggs laid by the city during the fumbling Casey Gwinn years.  It’s a preposterous ordinance, imposing heavy burdens upon ordinary professionals who do not influence city hall—at all.

The Ethics Commission is charged with giving effect to this ham-handed ordinance, and it routinely abuses its power–deterring good candidates from running from office. The U-T has been mum on this subject until it finally provided some meaningful content–written by Bay Area attorney Jim Sutton.

Finally, the UT addressed the possibility of the city’s bankruptcy.  News of San Diego’s crushing unfunded pension liability broke in 2004.  Following the resignation of Dick Murphy in 2005, Pat Shea ran for mayor on one issue –bankruptcy.  All of the candidates for mayor addressed bankruptcy in 2005 and in 2008, and not a week goes by when it isn’t discussed among the people who run city hall.

Bankruptcy of the city of San Diego is a topic of slightly greater significance than Tila Tequilla’s love life.

Despite the fact that this monumental issue has been on the table–for years– the Union Tribune has provided our community with no meaningful analysis of the viability of bankruptcy protection.  Sunday’s U-T brief content on point was written by Mayor Sanders himself.  We leave it up to the man who has to travel to D.C. to solicit support for our city to educate the public on an issue that warranted attention immediately upon realizing the city’s financial condition.

With its only meaningful content coming from op-ed pieces, how is the U-T any different from a blog?

Apparently the U-T doesn’t employ any staff capable of dissecting this issue, although San Diego News Network was able to afford such writers.  Business lesson from the sale of the U-T:  find third generation owners of a family business willing to sell at a fire sale price just before they completely kill their enterprise.  Buy all of these buildings and we’ll throw in a free paper.  The buyers should have held out for coffee, too.

The U-T’s reporting is trifling and biased, written by a staff incapable of adequately addressing any substantive issue.   As my idol Al Pacino said in Scent of a Woman, “I know exactly where your body is.  What I’m looking for is some indication of a brain.”


David King is the founder of the San Diego News Room and The King Law Group, and serves as Vice Chairman of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.  The opinions expressed herein are his own.


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