Guardian Tries to Sell Out

Categories: Media, My Take
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Francisco Barradas
Every progressive has his price. For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, it's apparently $1  million.

For decades, the Guardian and its staff have insulted the Weekly and its writers because we were purchased by an out-of-town corporation. Now that the Guardian is seriously entertaining the idea of selling to a corporate interest group led by out-of-towners ... well, this is the foie gras of Schadenfreude. The delicious hypocrisy is so thick it's spreadable, yet it melts in your mouth like ice cream.

No irony could possibly taste as good -- except maybe Chris Daly moving to the suburbs, a superior, self-proclaimed feminist claiming that his domestic violence issue is a private, family matter, or Supervisor David Chiu being betrayed by the very person he put into power. The fact that all of this happened, that progressive icons have feet of clay up to their necks, ought to tell us something.

Perhaps it's best if we consider the potential sale of the Guardian to an out-of-town corporation to be the dessert course of the '60s: so inevitable it was actually on the menu, visible to anyone who could read.

The essence of the critique against San Francisco progressivism, after all, is that it demands that people be better than they really are. That it is more concerned with establishing who's holier-than-thou than it is actually getting things done. SF Weekly staff writer Joe Eskenazi and I have charted, at length, how that dynamic (among others) helped end the progressives' impressive, improbable 10-year dominance at the Board of Supervisors -- and the Guardian writers appear to be the only people in San Francisco who never understood how that worked.

Every time the Guardian's Tim Redmond ran New Year's resolutions for other people, every time Steven T. Jones said that bicyclists are morally superior beings, every time Editor and Publisher Bruce Brugmann swore that public power was just one more scathing editorial away, the Guardian was setting progressivism up as a movement that would succeed through superior virtue rather than superior policies.

Yes, they claimed their policies were better, too -- often correctly. But the essence of their argument was never "this makes sense," but rather, "This is what good people do." Disagreement wasn't an intellectual process, but a moral one: If you disagree with what good people do, you are a bad person. On a personal level, that's why I applied to work for the Weekly instead -- even though I genuinely believe the Guardian is interested in making a positive difference in its community, and I mostly agree with its policy recommendations.  But the Weekly never asked me: "Are you a good person?" They asked me if I could write well and hold an argument together. I had no interest in working for an employer more concerned about the state of my soul than my pen.

This same dynamic, writ large, goes a long way toward explaining why the Guardian's brand of progressivism has appealed to so few in a place where so many agree with them about so much. As the progressive movement became more concerned with displaying its virtue than solving problems, San Franciscans began moving away from it, in part because we simply didn't believe progressives are any better than the rest of us.

And guess what? Former Supervisor Chris Daly moved to the suburbs, while the Chron's Chuck Nevius moved to the city. David Chiu rides a bicycle, and he stabbed progressives in the back. Meanwhile, Sheriff-in-limbo Ross Mirkarimi walked his long feminist voting record back, because dammit, it was about his family. And now the Guardian has named a price at which it will go corporate.

Progressives, too, are imperfect people, capable of making mistakes and selling out -- which everybody learned from the '60s except Guardianistas and the kids who flock to San Francisco from around the country thinking they'll find a place where nobody's really in it for the money. Poor, stupid kids.

Really, those of us who have been targets of the Guardian's holier-than-thou attitude for all these years deserve an apology -- but I'm not going to ask for one, because I'd expect it to be as poorly written as their insults.

I don't blame Brugmann for wanting to retire anymore than I blamed Daly for doing what he thought was best for his kids. Life is messy. People are imperfect. We have to live in a world where clear moral distinctions are hard to draw.

But progressivism, as a movement, will be much better off if it can put the obsessions of the Brugmann-era Guardian behind them and accept that people who are less than perfect can be part of the solution.

A Guardian that doesn't look down on the world it presumes to improve would be more effective and more honest.

A sense of humor would help, too. But I don't expect miracles.

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I respect the SF Weekly very much, and always look forward to the high quality writing within its pages every week.  That said, something the Guardian does which your paper doesn't is provide consistent, thorough coverage of city politics.  I often get the feeling that if the Guardian wasn't your nemesis, you wouldn't cover local politics at all, favoring instead the long format investigative pieces that serve to entertain more than inform.  I love the stories in the SF Weekly, don't get me wrong.  And you know, frankly, reading the Guardian's coverage of city hall and board of supervisor drama is like eating boring fiber cereal for breakfast.  Still, if they didn't do it, I'm not sure anyone else would. 

It's not like you are free from bias.  Your bias tends towards the younger 2-30 something demographic, and you consistently write about SF from an outsider's perspective, never failing to roll your eyes at the "only in SF" vignettes.  The SF Weekly does cover local politics, but your editorial bias leans towards "what's a good story" over "what do people that live here need to know".  Your paper regularly features city politics as the subject of ironic, comedy-central style puff pieces.  However, unlike The Daily Show, you don't use satire as an opportunity to inform.  Instead you just promote a safe, toothless attitude towards city politics that it's boring stuff that only boring grown-ups (i.e. not your readers) should ever worry about.

That's how you come across.  Your formula is: have one big "serious" cover piece every issue and then fill the rest in with light-hearted entertainment columns.  Anything to do with leftists is summarily dismissed - as in the above - as being about "the 60s".  As if the progressives are all invaders who arrived in a time machine from the 1960s Berkeley to take over the city or something.  Give me a break.

The Guardian, for all its progressive chest thumping, offers a clear & consistent stand that is recognizable as the voice of local people who have a history here and are invested in what goes on here.  You guys seem like you're the voice of people who've moved here (temporarily) from NYC and want to know what shows to go to.  You're quick to criticize, but rarely do I ever see your paper advocating for any position, left, right, or centrist.

Your criticism of the Guardian resonates with me, point by point.  But I would never expect a local weekly to be unbiased - quite the opposite, I would hope it is *very* biased and that it reflects the idiosyncracies of the local community it serves. 

Progressive bias - fanatical as it may be - does not prevent you from absorbing information from their coverage.  They're serving the role of a watchdog more admirably than the Weekly, and that remains true whether or not progressive politicians rise or fall.  I want a local paper that is willing to work hard to expose what our bureaucrats attempt to hide.  That's why I always pick up the the Guardian when I want to know what's been going on in San Francisco, and I pick up the SF Weekly when I want to read a good story.


Without medical marijuana print ads, how much is the Guardian brand worth?

I think the Examiner should update/upgrade its print revenue with some good old fashioned sex'n'drugs adverts


I like mashed taters.

Ans scalloped spuds.

Au gratin, also.

And fried taters.

Mashed is best.

Gravy is nifty keen but not a requirement.

Milk (white) gravy with chunks of meat in it.

Hamburger or chipped beef or sausage or whatever.

Don't tell anybody since it likely isn't PC to prefer white gravy.

Darker colored gravy is also good.

Just butter or margarine on the mashed taters is yummy.

Mix in green beans is fine.

Used to mix in corn but the articles said to help keep blood sugar lower and shun corn.

That really sucks.

And this is life amidst the ridges and hollers of the Ozark Plateau.


So good

All too true, progressives are little different than born again Christians, the Bay Guardian is the 700 club of San Francisco progressive politics.  Steve Jones, Tim Redmond and Brugman... and any number of born again Guardianists talkers are all hard wired the same.  Put things in moral terms and then scream when things don't go your way.

It's so entertaining that they are asking a million bucks at this point for their sub Examiner paper.


Meatsack your name fits.  I just got to comment that you remind me of an adolescent boy in the corner being bitter and cynical glaring at all the other happy children. You need to chill out. Seek out help.I also want to add that I'm a local boy, born and raised here in San Francisco. Picking up a Gaudian to find the hippest and most outrageous articles is like a local pastime. None of my friends even read the SFWeekly so who cares. 


That is so very interesting, thanks for witnessing for Jesus.


There are those that deserve an apology, but the SF Weekly is not one of them.


The Bay Guardian was an exemplar of the major flaw of San Francisco's own particular blend of Progressivism: one which cares more about ideas than about people. For far too long SF voters have been offered meager choices for leadership - Progressives who care more about ideas tan about people, or moderates who care more about money than about people. When will we be able to elect leaders who care more about people?


Wait a second. You "mostly agree" with the BG's policy prescriptions? Knock me over with a feather. They must have really hurt your fee-fees then by being such jerks because just about all your writing evinces a much different political POV. Nice try though. 


are you just stupid or are you a pwogwesive douche too?


Now now, Mssr. Judah, the last time you were mean to me on the netwebs, it did not go so well for you. I thought we were friends now. Remember: your human-ness! Don't lose it. 

All I was pointing out was--though I have certainly not read his entire oeuvre--Mr. Wachs has made a career, as it were, mocking the Guardian and their political allies. Now to hear him say he really agrees with them all the time seems a bit disingenuous, to say the least. Someone with less restraint might even go so far as to call it a tad "douchey." But not me.

Have a nice day.   

Benjamin Wachs
Benjamin Wachs

I agree with most of its *policy* prescriptions.  Not all (pension reform, for example) but certainly a lot.

Where the Guardian and I tend to disagree routinely is on matters of tone, philosophy, and process.

My critique on tone is obvious from this piece:  I've found them humorless, holier-than-thou, and far more interested in preaching to the choir than converting the public.  The result is generally artless and alienating.

One aspect of my philosophical critique is pointed out in this piece:  I believe their view of government depends on people being better than they are, and that this is an open invitation to tragedy and farce.  This is one of what I suspect are a fair number of different "ground level" assumptions (about the nature of religion, for example, or sexuality) and readings of history that separate us.

My critique on process is that I believe in accountability independent of ideology:  efficiency in government, and government employees, counts for more than their ideological leanings.  While the Guardian might support such a proposition in theory, I don't believe they have in practice:  it seems to me that in practice they would support an incompetent but ideologically correct government over a competent one run by people who have their own opinions.  It's a stance that I think guarantees government by Keystone Cop.  

These are real differences, and I won't paper them over.  But I've tried to be vocal about agreeing with the Guardian when we agree -- and on specific policies that's a regular occurrence.  

It may be that the nature of the media is to amplify these disagreements more than our similarities, and neither the Guardian nor I can plead innocent when it comes to "the nature of the media."  But it also may be that I'm just much better at mocking people than agreeing with them.  A case could be made.

That cafeteria comment, though -- I liked that.  That was funny

Benjamin Wachs
Benjamin Wachs

You must be quite the fan to be familiar with just about allof my writing!  I appreciate yoursupport.  But here’s a few that youmissed:

In September of 2008 I supported the Guardian’s then-currentpublic power measure, and I have supported all of them since … including CleanPowerSF.  I think they oversell the programand its benefits, but as I wrote in Feb. of 2010 “I'm a realist about how muchof a headache CleanPower SF will be, but it's a good idea whose time has beenhere for a while. Pass it and do it.”

I supported the charter amendment requiring the mayor toabide by the budgeting decisions of a super-majority of supervisors.  I supported “question time,” and I supportthe idea of making it less scripted.  I agreedwith the Guardian’s stance on the “Twitter tax break,” and the need for raisingadditional revenues.  I agree with themabout the Sunshine Task Force, the Ethics Commission, and issues with theAmerica’s Cup (although there’s no paper trail on that last one since I stoppedregularly covering SF politics a while back). I think Burning Man is nifty.

In November of 2011 Joe and I pointed out that progressives don't get enough credit for “rationalizingdevelopment” and cleaning up the permit process;  for getting the supervisors the power to makeappointment to key bodies;  for limitingchain stores and mandating that developers fund or build affordable housing,among other things. 

Etc. etc..  Hell, Ieven like ranked choice voting.

That's not "everything," but it's a lot of things.  Are you sure you’re familiar with my work? 


Armenian Genocide"With an October 30, 2007 Op-Ed blog entitled "SF's Needs to Kill Its Armenian Genocide Resolution", Benjamin Wachs stirred controversy due to remarks deemed to be extremely offensive by descendants of survivors of the genocide by pondering what gift would most appropriate for his girlfriend to celebrate Armenian Genocide Day.[2] The Weekly's former web editor David Downs responded by musing "If there was a genocide, then why is there so many left of you around to bitch?"[3][edit]EthicsThe SF Weekly was the subject of ethical controversy in Jan., 2006, when a column about the AVN porn awards misidentified the event's location and honorees. The paper's editor had apparently altered a column about a different event from years before."


quoted from Wikipedia......Enough said. Hey Ben, Fox news wants you. Do us locals a favor and more to Orange county. Your columns are a joke.


a know nothing "pwogisvevw" trump rational voting in SF it seems


Dude: get thee to Bruce's digs, stat! Before it's too late! But make sure you ride your bicycle. Or they'll give you dirty looks in the cafeteria. 

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