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The Myth of the Unbiased Media

Mainstream news organizations, particularly the San Francisco Chronicle, are often biased toward centrist politicians. The problem is they won't admit it.

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It's undoubtedly true that Stark made a series of verbal gaffes and missteps during the 2012 campaign, but it's also true that the twenty-term Congressman had long had a reputation for making outrageous comments, such as when he declared on the House floor that President George W. Bush "got off" for the Iraq War. It wasn't until a moderate candidate like Swalwell challenged Stark — and appeared to have a shot a beating him — that the Chronicle and Marinucci began to closely scrutinize Stark's every move and write about his mistakes.

After helping propel Swalwell to victory in 2012, Marinucci continued to write positive stories about him, portraying him as courageous for holding town hall meetings with constituents and for "gamely" taking questions from voters. At the same time, she chose to not write about some of his more questionable moves in office. Last year, for example, he voted against extending unemployment benefits to nearly two million Americans before later reversing course. Likewise, he had backed a proposal to allow the government to monitor personal internet histories without a warrant, and then changed his mind after disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed widespread abuse by the National Security Agency. Then when Swalwell falsely stated at a candidate forum in May that he had not supported the proposal to allow internet companies to spy on Americans, Marinucci chose not to write about it again, even though she was in attendance.

Marinucci is exhibiting the same type of bias in this year's Congressional race between liberal Mike Honda and centrist Ro Khanna, according to liberal political observers. "I think there is a bias against Mike, in particular," said Ben Field of the South Bay Labor Council, which is backing Honda's campaign.

Marinucci seems to have gone out of her way this year to record Honda's every misstep, no matter how small. For example, she thought it was newsworthy in July to point out that the outgoing voicemail recording on Honda's Washington, DC office phone still stated "15th District," when it should have been changed to "17th District," because legislative districts had been renumbered through redistricting. Marinucci also has repeatedly noted that redistricting resulted in Honda's home no longer being in his district — a problem he did not create. She also has written about videos that show Honda with his eyes closed, saying that it looked like he was taking a nap during important events — even though his staffers say he often closes his eyes when thinking.

And while Khanna has taken a page from Swalwell's playbook and has attacked his incumbent opponent relentlessly for allegedly being out of touch, Marinucci chose to criticize the Honda campaign for attempting to link Khanna to the Tea Party, writing in a blogpost that Honda's backers had "taken the nuclear route," and that they did so because Honda "may be very nervous" about Khanna. Marinucci then lauded Khanna's support from the tech world, saying he has "a roster of star backers who include some of Silicon Valley biggest names."

As noted previously, the apparent admiration that Marinucci and the Chronicle have for wealthy political campaign contributors from Silicon Valley is striking. In their world, big-money tech donors are not special interests seeking favors from politicians, they're "royalty," "tech royalty," "Silicon Valley royalty," "luminaries," "stars," "brightest stars," "tech stars," "star players," and "A-listers."

But Marinucci's favoritism toward moderate politicians extends beyond the Swalwell-Stark and Khanna-Honda races. Over the years, she has penned several positive stories about Governor Jerry Brown, who appears to be her favorite politician. In a fawning profile last year, she described him as an "energetic, 75-year-old political silverback," and wrote that his dog Sutter Brown is "a brilliant ambassador for the everyman Democrat."

Marinucci also often references her favorite Jerry Brown quote, in which he sums up his brand of centrism, likening it to canoeing: "You paddle on the left, you paddle on the right, and it takes you straight down the middle." Marinucci trotted out that quote yet again in another puff piece that she wrote about the governor and his long political career, published last Sunday by her paper on the front page.


Many media critics say that mainstream press bias toward centrism is pervasive nationwide and has been for a long time. In the Bay Area, it's been particularly noticeable in local election coverage. In Oakland, for example, Mayor Jean Quan, a liberal, has been the target of numerous negative news stories — even about whether she had been using her smartphone while driving. "The Chronicle has been so hard on her," City Council President Pat Kernighan said in a recent interview (Kernighan is not supporting Quan for reelection). "Their coverage has been totally unbalanced. There are times when she deserved to get beaten up in the press — but not like that."

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