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President Donald Trump has impacted the media in a million different ways, and one of those is that op-ed pieces tend to dominate news cycles in a way I’ve never seen.

This week, Trump himself wrote an op-ed piece slamming Democrats’ Medicare for All plans and making some claims about what he’s done to ensure health care for Americans that were so outlandish they spawned fact checks in the same paper that ran the piece, as well as virtually every other national outlet. It all prompted an obvious question: Should a newspaper op-ed page knowingly publish false claims?

It’s a perfectly worthwhile discussion, yet I fixated on another facet of USA Today’s decision that no one else seemed to care about: Did USA Today do anything to verify Trump wrote the piece himself? He almost certainly did not. Not only would Trump’s own supporters likely agree focus and details are not his best qualities, but most politicians rely on ghostwriters to craft their speeches and public proclamations. Some op-ed pages are OK with this, some turn a blind eye and some take steps to verify the person on the byline did the actual writing of the piece.

Another big media question that’s reared its head under Trump involves the use of anonymous sources. Trump has claimed that outlets that allow anonymous quotes are simply making them up and that there are no real people behind them. This same interest in who the people are pushing facts, claims and ideas into the public sphere should extend to op-eds. It’s strange that newspapers often agonize over what circumstances warrant the use of an anonymous source yet publish pieces “written” by high-profile figures that they are certainly aware didn’t really write them.

The question of who actually writes op-eds became especially relevant for VOSD after County Supervisor Ron Roberts wrote an op-ed defending SANDAG against our blockbuster investigation revealing that the agency knowingly misled voters. Later, it became clear that there were claims in Roberts’ op-ed that weren’t true. He defended himself by saying he hadn’t actually written the piece, just agreed to put his name on it, and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable for its claims.

Since then, we’ve taken an extra step with op-ed authors and the PR reps pushing them by asking them to state definitively that the person on the byline of an op-ed actually did the writing of the piece. At times, it’s resulted in PR reps acknowledging the role they played and adding themselves to the byline. Other times, it’s led to them pulling the piece. Both are an acknowledgment that the person claiming to advance an argument did not actually write it.

News outlets rightly agonize over how to verify and source the claims that appear in news stories. It’s always jarring when that same judiciousness doesn’t appear to translate to op-ed pieces, where someone can slap their name on someone else’s work without even raising an editor’s eyebrow.

What VOSD Learned This Week

For a long, long while, the November election was a hazy faraway thing. Now, suddenly, it’s right around the corner. If you’re scrambling to get up to speed, good news: This week, we published our study guide for the local ballot measures, and a podcast rundown of all 12 state ballot measures. Andrew Keatts spent time campaigning with both candidates for the District 8 City Council seat, and found old rivalries haunting the race. Or, if you’re too cool for the November election and want to be a 2020 election early adopter, check out our live podcast with some of the rumored 2020 mayoral candidates.

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This week, Sweetwater Union High School District officials unveiled a plan for how they’ll cut $19 million from the current school year after some major budget miscalculations. It turns out, as Will Huntsberry discovered, the state warned Sweetwater trustees that its budget situation could turn dire if it didn’t find a way to bring in more money – instead, the board doled out raises.

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We had two stories this week that shed light on efforts to detain two different groups – juvenile offenders, and immigrants.

New data shows that more than half of the immigrants detained in San Diego don’t have criminal records.

Meanwhile, San Diego County is spending a quarter of a billion dollars to renovate one of its two juvenile halls, and keeping the other open as well – even though juvenile detention rates have plummeted, and either facility could on its own hold the entire juvenile detainee population.

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Councilman Chris Ward and Councilwoman Barbara Bry think the city should ground its plan to turn a skydiving facility into a homelessness resource center until the city is able to agree on a more comprehensive plan detailing its overarching approach to homelessness.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“It’s like driving 90 mph the wrong way down a one-way street and interpreting the honking and flailing arms of the other drivers as proof that they’re all just jealous you found the best route.” This analysis of Trump’s meeting with Kanye West this week and the mindset they share is 👌👌👌

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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