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One thing all good journalists are wary of is serving as anyone’s transcription service – it’s not our job to broadcast other people’s messages without also providing the appropriate amount of context. (This has come up a lot over the last couple years as journalists have grappled with how to not just relay things the president has said, but how to also communicate that sometimes what he’s saying includes egregious lies.)
As I’ve covered Sacramento over the last several years, I’ve noticed one area for improvement in this department is in letting people or entities blame things on state laws they don’t like even when the facts don’t support such claims.
That was the case in a recent U-T article in which the lede (and a similar headline) declared: “A small charity that usually feeds about 100 homeless people a week in downtown San Diego said it is dissolving because it cannot afford to comply with new state regulations.”
Though the story never says so outright, the details provided in the article show that claim is at best lacking crucial context, but most likely is plain wrong. The charity was already in jeopardy of closing its doors before the law went into effect. And county officials told the U-T that when it comes to the law the group is blaming for its demise, “the group may have misunderstood some of the rules and also might have found a way of complying with others.”
Regardless of how one feels about the law in question – a measure intended to boost public health by spelling out certain requirements for charities that provide food to the homeless – there’s simply no straightforward case to be made that the law led to the charity’s closure.
It’s a similar story with a recent deadly police shooting of a San Joaquin Valley police officer. After the accused killer was arrested and revealed to be an undocumented immigrant with a prior DUI arrest. Police groups held outraged press conferences blaming SB 54, the so-called sanctuary state law that limits local law enforcement’s participation in federal immigration enforcement activities.
Their claims went trumpeted mostly unchallenged for at least a week until the Sacramento Bee examined the claim and found “it’s not clear how they might have applied to Virgen,” the accused killer. (It’s also worth noting that just a week later, when a white man with a criminal record who’d been ordered to surrender his semi-automatic rifle killed a Davis police officer, law enforcement held no such outraged press conferences arguing that laws should be changed.)
Similarly, many law enforcement groups have decried Prop. 47 since it passed in 2014 as a danger to communities. The law keeps some low-level offenders out of jail. But the first significant data released on the measure since it passed showed “Prop. 47 probably was not the cause of an increase in some types of theft and that there was no link between the ballot measure and violent crime.”
I’m not here to carry water for any of these particular laws on their merits. But the way they’re discussed in public serves as an important reminder that if a journalist is going to repeat public statements blaming a particular outcome on a law, he or she should either validate that it’s true or be willing to say outright that it’s not.
What VOSD Learned This Week
It was a big week for the mayor. By that I obviously mean he appeared on the VOSD Podcast, where he talked about his evolution on housing, the plan for the Convention Center and more. Oh, also, if you’re keeping score, he also delivered his State of the City address this week. We pulled together all the context, background and analysis you need to really understand the speech.
By far the most revelation from the speech is the mayor’s intention to axe building height limits in areas near transit (except along the coast) – a move that could start the YIMBY war we’ve been on the verge of for so long.
Speaking of YIMBY wars, officials in Escondido are wondering why a developer is choosing to build only 450 units on a high-profile site near transit and jobs that could accommodate far more homes than that.
Rep. Scott Peters, for his part, is in for the YIMBY war, but out for the mayor’s race.
Ry Rivard wrote a fascinating history of how the Colorado River came to be treated like a bank by states and even nations all over the West – and why there’s now what amounts to a run on the bank.
A judge says MTS and a private business owner should be embarrassed by the state of the bus station that greets travelers as they enter the United States at San Ysidro.
What I’m Reading
- This one doesn’t really need me to hype it up: Two law enforcement officials say the president directed his lawyer to lie to Congress about his business dealings in Russia. (Buzzfeed News)
- NBC News obtained a document that shows Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s statement that the administration had no policy of separating migrant children from their parents was not true.
- Speaking of which: This is a look inside the life and death of a massive tent city for migrant children. (CityLab)
- This is an incredible package tracking the trajectories of Boston students who were honored as valedictorians. Some found success and traveled the world. Many failed to obtain a degree in four years. A few ended up homeless. (Boston Globe)
- I doubt Portland is alone in this, but this is a good piece highlighting how the city used federal “opportunity zone” money – meant to bring investment into neglected areas – to build up its downtown, which includes plenty of wealthy pockets. (Bloomberg)
- I quit the NFL cold turkey two years ago, but I still read a lot of sports journalism – and this is fascinating. The big threat facing football’s future isn’t public outrage over brain injuries, or backlash from the league’s refusal to let players peacefully protest. It’s that insurance providers no longer want to cover the insanely expensive endeavor. (ESPN)
Line of the Week
“Thanks, Todd. Very kind. What are you up to these days?” – Am I seeing this right? Did a San Diego politician make a good joke?